Over a hundred years’ wait: the complete works of José Hernández

An illustration of Martín Fierro by Mario Zavattaro, the only artist who illustrated the whole 33 “cantos” of the work in the 1930s (S743:3.b.9.82)

José Hernández (1834-1886) is considered the founding father of Argentinian literature. His epic poem Martín Fierro is regarded as the zenith of the literatura gauchesca genre (which focuses on the figure of the gaucho) that flourished in 19th century Argentina, along with the formation of modern Argentina and the Argentinian national identity.

Doing a search of José Hernández as an author on the catalogue (for the University Library’s holdings only) brings up 24 items as a result. Fifteen of them comprise different editions of the poem in its two parts: El gaucho Martín Fierro (UL’s earliest edition is dated 1894) and La vuelta de Martin Fierro (earliest UL’s edition is from 1892). Other four items are translations of the same work: in English, translated by C. E. Ward (743:36.c.95.133), Walter Owen (743:36.c.90.1) or Frank Gaetano Carrino (S700:01.c.1.244 ), or in German, translated by Alfredo Bauer (743:36.c.95.365).

These numbers could pose a question: did José Hernández write only the Martín Fierro or has the library failed to acquire anything else? The answer is not simple. José Hernández did in fact write extensively but his political writings as a journalist and as a legislator and senator have been always sidelined by his literary masterpiece. Martín Fierro became so iconic that, as argued by many, in a process of “inverse identification”, the canonised character obscures the author himself. This, together with the fact that no other of his scattered literary works have achieved as much praise, seems to be the reason why, effectively, there have not been many other titles published by the author.

In 2018, over 130 years after the author’s death, the effort of putting together his complete works was finally realised. Edited by María Celina Ortale and published by the Universidad de Villa María and the Universidad Nacional de La Plata, the University Library has acquired the first complete works of José Hernández. The seven thick volumes include all his journalistic, parliamentary and literary pieces, together with his writings on education, his correspondence and a bibliography. The print version of the set can be found at: 743:14.c.201.130-136 and the work is also accessible online through our catalogue (Raven password required).

Clara Panozzo

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