The stone age



Presentation of the book of stories by José Carlos Mariátegui

Before becoming a political leader, an excellent “interpreter” of Peruvian reality and one of the most important Latin American Marxist intellectuals, José Carlos Mariátegui wrote chronicles and stories for the Lima press, as well as poems and plays, producing material very different from what he would present to the public years later.

It was his youth, a period he called “the stone age”. At the time, he published in magazines and newspapers such as La Prensa, El Tiempo, La Razón, Colónida, El Turf, Lulú, Mundo Limeño e Nuestra Época. In view of this, the scholar Genaro Carnero Checa suggested that that stage could be divided into “three seasons”: the first, when he used the pseudonym Juan Croniqueur, between 1909 and 1916; then your activity in Weather e Voices (1916-1918); and finally, his collaboration with The Razón e Our Season, in the years 1918 and 1919.

His first article, from 1911, came to light in La Prensa, known periodical published in the capital.[I] It was when he began to use his most famous nickname, as well as others, such as “Jack”, “El de Siempre”, “El Joven H”, “Sigfrido”, “Monsieur de Camomille”, “Val D'Or”, “Kendal ”, “Kendalif”, “Kendeliz Cadet”, “Cyrano III” and “Revoltoso” (some of which were used only once).[ii] Em La Prensa, wrote in the sections “On the margin of art”, “Chronicles”, “Political news”, “Of the moment”, “Today's stories” and “Letters to X: glossary of everyday things”. According to Alberto Flores Galindo, between January 1, 1914 and June 22, 1918, Mariátegui produced more than 700 texts,[iii] which shows an intense activity as a writer and journalist throughout those years.

It is true that José Carlos Mariátegui himself would later reject those writings. And even the pen name Juan Croniqueur. After all, already in mid-1918, on the editorial page of Our Season, an article from that newspaper would say that “our companion José Carlos Mariátegui completely renounced his pseudonym Juan Croniqueur, by which he is known, and decided to ask forgiveness from God and the public for the sins he had committed, writing under this pseudonym.”[iv] (Paradoxically, several of his articles sent when he lived in Italy would appear in Weather with that nickname).

According to the same Carnero Checa, Mariátegui used to tell friends that he very rarely signed his articles with his real name until before returning from Europe, and he did so, certainly, by intuition, by premonition, implying that his material from then wasn't good enough. He commented that he did not recognize any “paternity” of what he had written with sobriquets.

And those texts from his youth “blushed” him, since the verses and chronicles he published then, in his opinion, were too bad and, apparently, made him ashamed of having written them.[v] Maybe that's why, upon returning from his stay on the Old Continent, he ordered his family to destroy all the clippings of his articles that his mother kept in a trunk. All that material would be burned, along with its letters from italy,written later, which also displeased him.[vi]

In an interview given to World, in July 1926, in turn, he stated that “if in my adolescence my attitude was more literary and aesthetic than religious and political, there is nothing to be surprised about. This is a question of trajectory and a question of time. I matured more than I changed. What exists in me now existed embryonically and hiddenly when I was twenty and writing nonsense that I don't know why people still remember. On my path, I found faith. Here's everything. But I found it because my soul had left very early in search of God. I am an agony soul as Unamuno would say. […] A few years ago I had written that I had no ambition other than to realize my personality. Now, I prefer to say that I have no ambition other than to fulfill my destiny. In fact, it's saying the same thing. What had always terrified me was betraying myself. My sincerity is the only thing I have never renounced. I have renounced everything else and will always renounce it without regretting it.”[vii]

Two years later, in a letter to the Argentine writer and editor Samuel Glusberg, director of the magazine La Vida Literaria, he would comment that since 1918 he had oriented towards socialism and broke with his first “tanteos” of literate fiction of finite-century decadentism and Byzantinism.[viii] And even in his most important work, Seven essays interpreting Peruvian reality, Mariátegui would state that in his literary adolescence he was nourished by decadence, modernism, aestheticism, individualism and skepticism.[ix]

These are some of the literary and aesthetic currents that Amauta identified as part of his youthful influences. Among the authors who marked him at that time were names such as Manuel González Prada, Abraham Valdelomar and Amado Nervo. In addition to Pascoli, D'Annunzio, Wilde, Shaw, Mallarmé, Apollinaire, Verlaine, Sully, D'Aurevilly, Heine, Maeterlink, Valle Inclán, Azorín, Bécquer and Herrera Reissig.[X] His “university” in the period in question, according to his biographer Guillermo Rouillon, was “his contact with books, the periodical's writing desk and dialogue with extraordinary men of recognized moral solvency”.[xi]

At that time, he still had an attitude of “snobbery” and “dandyism”, which was reflected in his texts.[xii] Still, according to the same author, the material he produced at the time showed his humanist formation, despite defending a supposed “aesthetic aristocratism”.[xiii] In relation to his group of friends, his main influence on the right would have been Valdelomar (an artist with a “sensual”, “epicurean” and “d'annunzian” temperament) and on the left, César Falcón, reader of Tolstoy, Jaurès and Kropotkin, who “He showed a great inclination towards social problems and tried to link himself to working-class circles”.[xiv] Despite this, at that time he was still guided by “democratic liberalism”, which meant that he acted within the logic of a personalist policy.[xv] Only later would he become a Marxist.

José Carlos Mariátegui’s first short stories, “Juan Manuel”[xvi] and “Los beggars”,[xvii] were published (without his signature) in August 1914. He wrote, in total, seventeen of them[xviii] until 1917, works that were later highly criticized by some scholars of his work,[xx] even though the attitude of several scholars changed over time and his initial production was gradually revalued as fundamental to fully understand his trajectory.[xx] Possibly because of José Carlos Mariátegui's own critical judgment regarding that period, however, his heirs initially left out the popular editions of his Complete works his youthful production, which resulted in a collection that (contrary to what the name indicated) did not, in fact, represent the “complete” set of his writings.

Only years later, with the publication of the series Juvenile writings, in eight volumes, and the two volumes of his correspondence, this question was, in fact, resolved. Alberto Tauro, for example, highlights in those stories the originality, simplicity and balanced verisimilitude of their themes, as well as “the careful description of the characters and the complete adequacy of the style”.[xxx]

Mariátegui's stories feature everyday scenes, romantic relationships that are often inconclusive or failed, Carnival celebrations, horse races and even an episode of war. In general, they end in an anticlimax, without an outcome necessarily favorable to the protagonist.

In “The Beggars”, human misery is presented in an explicit and cruel way to the reader. In this story, two men oppose each other in an environment of constant disputes and lack of empathy. Poverty, dirt and physical disabilities are evident. And these shared characteristics, even so, do not bring them closer together. Despised by society, which ignores them, they live in a marginal and animalistic world, fighting for survival. And they become enemies. In a context of social abandonment, there is no demonstration or attempt at solidarity.

One of the characters, the blind Antonio, tries to hold on to memories of the distant past, when he still had a dignified and decent life, memories represented by a portrait of his former lover in a metal medallion (a photo that, by the way, is not could see), which he kept in his pocket and which was used to gather strength and move forward. His rival, the deformed, hunchbacked and paralyzed Paco, on the other hand, personifies the giving up of any trace of generosity and, apparently, seeks revenge against the unfair world that surrounds him, dissatisfied with his deplorable physical, emotional and economic condition.

He had apparently never loved or been loved by anyone. Therefore, the latter shows recurring signs of evil and sadism, as in the episode where he ties up a dog to be run over by a tram or when he robs other blind homeless people, who lived in similar conditions to him. He does not care. The result, in the end, is the murder of Paco (who tried to steal his colleague's photograph, his greatest treasure) by Antonio, a crime that the other beggars in the vicinity, filthy and despised by the rest of society, like the two protagonists, see already consummated upon arriving at the location shortly after it occurred. There is no way out here, no redemption. Human misery and savagery prevail.

Horse racing, on the other hand, recurs in Mariátegui's youthful work. In both poems and stories, turf appears prominently. On the one hand, the series of Alexandrian sonnets “Sinfonías de la vida metropolitan: emociones del hipódromo”, in El Turf (using the pseudonym Jack), sonnets later reproduced (with revisions) in Weather (this time, signing Juan Croniqueur), and the “occasional rhymes, with an equestrian theme”, such as “Una afternoon de carreras”, “Al margen de un debate (modernista chronicle)”, “Loa a Febo”, “Una mañana de preparations told by Kendalif”, “An afternoon of careers desired by Kendalif”, “On the margin of the poll”, “Recetas eficaces de Kendalif”, “Crónica del paddock”, “Emociones glaciales”, “Reportaje de laweek” and “ With the time clock” (all in El Turf).

On the other, the stories about this sport, such as “Rudyard Ring, winner”,[xxiii] “An afternoon of sport”,[xxiii] “Amid Bey”,[xxv] “It was an apuesta del five o'clock tea”,[xxiv] “History of a horse rider”[xxv] and “El match”.[xxviii] “El jockey Frank”,[xxviii] published in El Turf, number 14, on July 10, 1915, would be revised, modified and republished in the same magazine, in its number 52, on September 2, 1916, with the title “Jim, Willy’s jockey”,[xxix] a leaner, more summarized version with the change of character names. “El Príncipe Istar”,[xxx] another story of the genre (a “very well-known and commented” tale and considered by some as an example of its paradoxical and “colonides”),[xxxii] focuses on the eccentric personality of the protagonist, an Indian aristocrat, and ends with his suicide by poisoning, the same thing that happens in another story, “El jockey de Ruby”,[xxxi] in which a character kills himself, this time, with a gunshot.

As you can see, it is not uncommon to find in Mariátegui's narratives from that time the description of individuals who are constantly frustrated, sad, without prospects, who end up alone, hopeless and prone to ending their own lives or that of others, as is the case with the already cited “Los mendigos” or “El baile de masquerades”,[xxxii] when a homicide occurs during a Carnival dance.[xxxv] In this case, it is possible to notice the constant contrast between the happy and vibrant atmosphere of that popular festival (with crowds dancing, laughing and having fun) and the tension between a mysterious couple and Esteban, one of the characters in the story. The story ends with a crime of passion, a shooting murder of the woman who had decided to dance (and who, therefore, was supposedly cheating on her date) with the aforementioned Esteban, one of the narrators of that episode.

By the way, women, like men, also receive harsh treatment from the author. No one escapes human tragedy. In this case, they are portrayed, at different times, as frivolous, provocative, superficial and little prepared to face the hardships of the moment, as can be seen in “El jockey Frank”, “La señora de Melba”,[xxxiv] “The masquerade ball”, “Epistolary frivolous”[xxxiv] and “El Príncipe Istar”, for example. The problem is widespread and transcends gender and class issues. It's a climate of the times, a drama that can be felt by everyone.

It is possible to perceive in Mariátegui's texts from that period the boredom and idleness of the elite. Betrayals are recurrent and implicitly reprimanded by the author. They can be related to a woman or even a horse. The characters are, to a large extent, unhappy. By the way, even the horses, which gain a human dimension, as in the case of “Amid Bey”. The description of the futility and superficiality of the bourgeoisie (and the petit-bourgeoisie) is highlighted in “El hombre que se enamoró de Lily Gant”[xxxviii] and “Frivolous Epistolary”.

Perhaps the description of the tense atmosphere at the beginning of the last century reaches its peak in “La Guerra que pasa…”,[xxxviii] text that goes beyond personal dramas and shows the widespread catastrophe caused by an armed conflict, in which the intimate tragedy of a family is intertwined with the greater scourge of an entire civilization. Drunk and barbaric enemy soldiers, summary executions, rapes, devastated landscapes, destroyed cities. Mariátegui shows the horrors of a Belgian village devastated by German troops.

Without reference to the date of its publication, this story is a clear reflection of the First World War (it is worth remembering that the author was an “anti-Germanophile” and during the conflict he always supported the French).[xxxix] The author is concerned with creating a suffocating atmosphere and shows the despair of three women (Mrs. Bonneau; her daughter, young Ninette; and a child, granddaughter Adela), in the face of foreign fighters. Ninette, who felt a mixture of fascination and fear for foreign soldiers (not knowing what to expect from them, but having already heard stories about their savagery), ends up witnessing the brutal murder of her mother, and then being raped by one of those men. Her baby, the result of that abuse, would be a constant reminder of what had happened.

It is true that Mariátegui's stories at this stage (all of them very short) have several limitations. Repetitions (incidentally, purposeful), even though they are part of the style and aim to reinforce certain situations, do not always work and are sometimes unnecessary (repetitions of phrases and words in the same text, or even of terms used, ideas and descriptions in different stories). The vocabulary used is still limited during this period.

The characters, as well as the settings, are often poorly developed, receiving little detailed treatment from the author. Despite this, the stories show very interesting features of José Carlos Mariátegui's youthful writings, his readings and aesthetic and literary influences, and are fundamental for readers (in general) and scholars of his thought (specifically) to have an idea more complete of his development as an intellectual, as they show different dimensions and aspects of his work.

* Luiz Bernardo Pericas He is a professor in the Department of History at USP. Author, among other books, of Caio Prado Júnior: a political biography (Boitempo).


Luiz Bernardo Pericás (org.). José Carlos Mariátegui, the stone age: selected stories. Marília, Anticapital Fights, 2023, 83 pages.


[I] See Ricardo Luna Vegas. José Carlos Mariátegui: biographical essay. Lima: Editorial Horizonte, 1989, p. 23. According to Genaro Carnero Checa, the newspaper La Prensa, founded in September 1903, it was “a prestigious informative and political periodical, well done technically for its time, with a magnificent director and editorialist, Alberto Ulloa Cisneros, located in opposition to 'civilism', its government and its men, against whom he developed tenacious campaigns that earned him more than one arrest.” See Genaro Carnero Checa. The written action: José Carlos Mariátegui journalist. Lima: s/e, 1964, p. 65. []

[ii] See Alberto Tauro, “Preliminary study”. In: José Carlos Mariátegui. Juvenile writings, the age of the stone 1. Lima: Biblioteca Amauta, 1987, p. 20-21.

[iii] See Alberto Flores Galindo, “Years of initiation: Juan Croniqueur, 1914-1918”. In: Alberto Flores Galindo. Complete works II. Lima: SUR Casa de Estudios del Socialismo, 1994, p. 523.

[iv] See José Carlos Mariátegui, in Our Season, No. 1, June 22, 1918, p. 3, and reproduced in Genaro Carnero Checa. The written action: José Carlos Mariátegui journalist, P. 118; and Eugenio Chang-Rodriguez. Poetics and ideology in José Carlos Mariátegui. Trujillo: Editorial Normas Legales, 1986, p. 32.

[v] See Genaro Carnero Checa. The written action: José Carlos Mariátegui journalist. Lima: s/e, 1964, p. 55.

[vi] See “Instantáneas”, magazine varieties, Lima, May 26, 1923, and reproduced in Ibid. This information, however, is not included in the material published in Complete works. See “Instantáneas”, in José Carlos Mariátegui. The novel and the life: Siegfried and the teacher Canella. Lima: Empresa Editora Amauta, 1987, p. 138-142.

[vii] See “A survey of José Carlos Mariátegui”, originally published in World, July 23, 1926, and reproduced in José Carlos Mariátegui. The novel and the life: Siegfried and the teacher Canella. Lima: Empresa Editora Amauta, 1987, p. 154-155.

[viii] See letter from José Carlos Mariátegui to Samuel Glusberg, Lima, January 10, 1928. In: Antonio Melis (org.). José Carlos Mariátegui: correspondence (1915-1930), Volume II. Lima: Biblioteca Amauta, 1984, p. 331.

[ix] See José Carlos Mariátegui. Seven essays on the interpretation of Peruvian reality. São Paulo: Expressão Popular/Clacso, 2008, p. 326.

[X] See Guillermo Rouillon. The heroic creation of José Carlos Mariátegui, Tomo I, The age of the stone (1894-1919). Lima: Editorial Arica, 1975, p. 147.

[xi] See Guillermo Rouillon. The heroic creation of José Carlos Mariátegui, Tomo I, The age of the stone (1894-1919). Lima: Editorial Arica, 1975, p. 139. Rouillon mentions, in this case, Manuel González Prada, the meetings with young journalists and literati in the editorial office of La Prensa, his relationship with Alberto Ulloa Cisneros, Luis Fernán Cisneros, José María de la Jara y Ureta, Leonidas Yerovi, Enrique Castro Oyanguren, Federico Larrañaga and Federico Blume, among others.

[xii] Ibid, p. 146.

[xiii] Ibid, p. 147.

[xiv] Ibid, p. 156.

[xv] Ibid, p. 181.

[xvi] See José Carlos Mariátegui, “Juan Manuel”, La Prensa, Lima, August 3, 1914.

[xvii] See José Carlos Mariátegui, “Los mendigos”, La Prensa, Lima, August 3, 1914.

[xviii] See Alberto Tauro, “Preliminary study”. In: José Carlos Mariátegui. Juvenile writings, the age of the stone 1. Lima: Biblioteca Amauta, 1987, p. 56.

[xx] Elizabeth Jane Garrels would say that Mariátegui's tales were frivolous, commercial, indescribable, banal and even mediocre. See Elizabeth Jane Garrels, The Young Mariátegui and his World (1894-1919), PhD dissertation, Harvard University, 1974.

[xx] The exception may be a small book organized and prefaced by Edmundo Cornejo Ubillús in the 1950s, in which he brought together two articles, five short stories, ten poems, six chronicles and three reports. In this collection, Cornejo Ubillús stated that, among the characteristics of Mariátegui's style at the time were simplicity, clarity, short phrases and periods, amenity and, at times, elegance. But, at times, his style became elaborate and artificial. See Edmundo Cornejo Ubillús (org.). Literary pages by José Carlos Mariátegui. Lima: Mimeoimpresos Cumbre, 1955.

[xxx] Ibid, p. 59.

[xxiii] See José Carlos Mariátegui, “Rudyard Ring, ganador”, El Turf, No. 13, Lima, July 3, 1915, p. 10-12, and then published in Lulu, No. 35, Lima, March 23, 1916, p. 8-9.

[xxiii] See José Carlos Mariátegui, “A afternoon of sport”, El Turf, No. 15, Lima, July 17, 1915, p. 13-14, and then published in Time, Lima, September 3, 1916.

[xxv] See José Carlos Mariátegui, “Amid Bey”, El Turf, No. 17, Lima, August 28, 1915, p. 2-4 (date indicated by Alberto Tauro in the book by José Carlos Mariátegui. Juvenile writings, the age of the stone 1. Lima: Biblioteca Amauta, 1987, p. 300; the magazine number and date, however, do not seem to correspond with the edition in question).

[xxiv] See José Carlos Mariátegui, “Fue una apuesta del five o'clock tea”, El Turf, No. 36, Lima, May 6, 1916, p. 10-14.

[xxv] See José Carlos Mariátegui, “Historia de un caballo de carrera”, El Turf, No. 38, Lima, May 20, 1916, p. 1-5.

[xxviii] See José Carlos Mariátegui, “El match”, El Turf, No. 72, Lima, May 16, 1917, p. 2-4.

[xxviii] See José Carlos Mariátegui, “El jockey Frank”, El Turf, No. 14, Lima, July 10, 1915, p. 6-8.

[xxix] See José Carlos Mariátegui, “Jim, Willy’s jockey”, El Turf, No. 52, Lima, September 2, 1916, p. 12-14.

[xxx] See José Carlos Mariátegui, “El Príncipe Istar”, El Turf, No. 63, Lima, November 18, 1916, p. 3-5, and then published in Time, Lima, March 2, 1917.

[xxxii] See Genaro Carnero Checa. The written action: José Carlos Mariátegui journalist. Lima: s/e, 1964, p. 108.

[xxxi] See José Carlos Mariátegui, “El jockey de Ruby”, El Turf, No. 47, Lima, July 28, 1916, p. 12-14.

[xxxii] See José Carlos Mariátegui, “El baile de masquerade”, La Prensa, Lima, July 28, 1915.

[xxxv] In a text from that time, Mariátegui would say that “The carnivals are three days of democratic parranda in which all the criollos of this town live in deplorable promiscuity, we get confused, we get crazy and we get mad... The educated and clean people don't have to go out on the streets in these days... when men that they were seen in white and sold on the street with the only and discourteous intention of breaking the glass on the balcony of their beloved, which is the healthiest and most barbaric that I imagine myself…” See José Carlos Mariátegui, “Letters to X: glossary of everyday things”, La Prensa, Lima, March 9, 1916. Mariátegui would continue to write about Carnival over the years. See, for example, José Carlos Mariátegui, “Serpentinas”, World, Lima, February 27, 1925; and José Carlos Mariátegui, “Motivos de Carnival”, World, Lima, February 24, 1928.

[xxxiv] See José Carlos Mariátegui, “La señora de Melba”, La Prensa, Lima, July 28, 1915.

[xxxiv] See José Carlos Mariátegui, “Epistolario frívolo”, Latin Soul, No. 20, Lima, July 1, 1916, p. 15-17, and then published in Time, Lima, August 2, 1916.

[xxxviii] See José Carlos Mariátegui, “The man who fell in love with Lily Gant”, La Prensa, Lima, August 4, 1915. Later published in Lulu, No. 48, Lima, May 18, 1916, p. 18-20, and in Time, Lima, August 25, 1916.

[xxxviii] See José Carlos Mariátegui, “La Guerra que pasa…”, text without indication of place of publication or date. Signed José Carlos Mariátegui. Text transcribed from a clipping kept by the family and reproduced in José Carlos Mariátegui. Juvenile writings, the age of the stone 1. Lima: Biblioteca Amauta, 1987, p. 214-220.

[xxxix] See Alberto Flores Galindo, “Years of initiation: Juan Croniqueur, 1914-1918”. In: Alberto Flores Galindo. Complete works II, p. 526.

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