Literary Historicism: Conquest and Revolution in the Works of Carlos Fuentes (1928-2012) and Alejo Carpentier (1904-1980)

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Velásquez-Alford, Sandra Liliana  ORCID logo

This doctoral thesis analyses the depiction of the historical topics of Conquest and Revolution across the literary writings of Alejo Carpentier (1904-1980) and Carlos Fuentes (1928-2012). These historical tropes constitute core topics of reflection throughout their literary and critical works, stressing the interplay between literature and history. I propose the concept of literary historicism to analyse their portrayal of historical topics and characterise the role of history in their poetics. This concept denotes the historical awareness that underpins the authors’ literary reinterpretations of historical events; their use of a historicist writing methodology; and the critical relationship established to historiographical sources and narratives. I argue that the authors’ deliberate historicism characterises their narratives, challenges disciplinary boundaries and posits literature as an alternative medium for the production of historical interpretation.

This comparative study focuses on a corpus of fifteen fictional works from both authors that depict Conquest and Revolution. The first section analyses the authors’ literary portrayal of the Conquest of Mexico (1521) and stresses the relationship established to the historical sources consulted and their literary reinterpretation of this historical event. An assessment of the reflections and symbolisms embodied by their literary-historical figures elucidates the authors’ understanding of the Conquest. Thus, this section demonstrates the defining character of these authors’ literary historicism in their writing methodology and semantic interpretation when addressing historical tropes. The second section explores Fuentes’s and Carpentier’s depiction of historical Revolutions including the French, Mexican, Haitian and Cuban Revolutions. This section comprises a transversal and diachronic analysis of their Revolution cycles to demonstrate recurrent narrative, thematic and stylistic patterns in Fuentes’s and Carpentier’s literary portrayals of this historical phenomenon. I highlight the further meaning that these patterns acquire in their works, articulating a critical assessment of these historical revolutions.

This thesis adds to the scholarship on these authors from an interdisciplinary perspective that re-centres attention on History. Through the concept of Literary Historicism, I demonstrate the existence of a central concern in their oeuvres to critically reassess the Latin American past and its historical interpretations from literary discourse. This study contributes to the understanding of history and literature in Latin America, for it analyses the interactions between these branches of written culture.

Boldy, Steven
Literary Historicism, Carlos Fuentes, Alejo Carpentier, 20th-century Latin American literature, Conquest, Revolution
Doctor of Philosophy (PhD)
Awarding Institution
University of Cambridge
The Cambridge Trust King's College Cambridge Gibson Spanish Scholarship Fund