Commentary on the novel by María Luisa Bombal

The well-kept Brazilian edition of shrouded (1938), the second novel by the Chilean writer María Luisa Bombal (1910-1980) opens with the transcription of a review by Jorge Luis Borges (1899-1986) originally published in the magazine SUR (no. 47, 1938); continues with a presentation by the translator Aurora Fornoni Bernardini, who carried out her work in partnership with the Argentinean Alicia Ferraz del Prado and also contains an interview by Aurora and Lídia Neghme Echeverría, held in Santiago de Chile in July 1978, in addition to an excellent “ear ” by Lídia Echeverría – actually another review.

But, after all, what is the subject of shrouded ? Apparently, a simple theme: the account of the wake of Ana María, supernaturally lucid who, according to Borges, “on that last night of visits that precedes the burial, she intuit, in some way – from the death –, the meaning of her past life and uselessly discovers who she was and the women and men who populated her life. They lean over the coffin, one by one, until the confused dawn, and she, unbelievably, recognizes them, remembers them and justifies them…” Thus, the father, the lover of youth (Ricardo), the lover who couldn't be loved (Fernando), her husband (Antonio), her children, her sister, her maid since childhood (Zoila), Father Carlos, among others, parade through the dense pages of María Luisa's novel.

The author graduated in Literature in Paris (Sorbonne), where she met Eulogio Sánchez, a pioneer of civil aviation, with whom she maintained a troubled relationship, which resulted in two attempted murders against her lover. One of them was decisive for his trip to Argentina, helped by his friend Pablo Neruda. There she met the founding writers of the magazine SUR, having received the influence of Victoria and Silvina Ocampo, Borges, Oliverio Girondo, Guillermo de Torre, Norah Lange and Pedro Henríquez Ureña.

In 1935 he published the last fog, telling the brief story of a woman who, despite being objectified by her husband, bears the burden of her entire existence thanks to an illusory reality. Shortly before the publication of her novel, she married the Argentine plastic artist Jorge Larco, homosexual, and the relationship lasted only about two years.

On his return to Chile, he met Eulogio Sánchez again, which resulted in the second attempt to murder his lover. María Luisa Bombal was arrested, but ended up being acquitted based on Eulogio Sánchez's testimony.

shrouded finds its environment in a mixture of Argentine pampas and Chilean haciendas, although María Luisa uses universal Spanish, avoiding regionalist expressions. The soap opera achieved great success, having received the Novela Prize from the Municipality of Santiago.

Em shrouded, Ana María died relatively young (perhaps just over 45 years old), as she married early, with her youngest daughter being 20 years old and the same priest Carlos who baptized her gives her the last religious services. Throughout her life, Ana María did not realize that in the bourgeois society of the beginning of the century, at least in the affective field, to transgress the established rules was to suffer, to be tortured. She transgresses, gets hurt and can't get out of the oppressive world that surrounds her. Shrouded's trajectory is narrated by himself, but is constantly transferred to the main people who populate his life and who bend over the coffin for the last goodbye. Thus, Ricardo, Fernando and Antonio stand out, the three men who, each in her own way, made her a woman.

Ricardo, the lover of her youth, abruptly abandoned her and never saw her again. The reunion will only occur at the time of death, in a total communion of feelings. With Antonio, the father of her children, she married out of spite, only managing to love him in her dreams or feel united with him through hatred. On the other hand, Fernando loved her madly, but could not be loved: “Only through you, Ana Maria, I felt humiliated love, which resists offense and forgives.” To feel alive, Fernando, I needed your constant suffering by my side.” Perplexed, Ana Maria asks herself, observing the loving reactions of her partners: “Oh, my God, my God! Do you have to die to know certain things?” Exhausted, she finally wants to rest: “She had suffered the death of the living. Now she longed for full immersion, for the second death: the death of the dead.”

In the 1940s, María Luisa Bombal traveled to the United States, where she met her second husband, the French nobleman Henri de Saint-Phalle, with whom she had a daughter, Brigitte, and the union lasted 30 years, until Henri's death. In the US, she worked as a translator at Paramount studios, having sold the rights to The last mist. Widowed, she returned to Chile and, in the 1980s, was awarded two important awards: Joaquín Edwards Bello Prize and Academia Chilena de la Lengua Prize.

María Luisa Bombal lived her last years facing great financial difficulties, a situation aggravated by alcoholism, having died due to liver cirrhosis, on May 6, 1980 in Santiago de Chile, in a nursing home.

*Afrânio Catani He is a retired professor at the Faculty of Education at USP and is currently a senior professor at the same institution. Visiting Professor at the Faculty of Education of UERJ, Duque de Caxias Campus.

*Altered version of text published in extinct Jornal da Tarde, on August 2, 1986.


Maria Luisa Bombal. shrouded. Translation: Aurora Fornoni Bernardini and Alicia Ferrari del Prado. São Paulo, Difel, 1986, 98 pages.


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