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Wellsprings (The Richard Ellmann Lectures in Modern Literature) [Hardcover]

Mario Vargas Llosa
5.0 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (3 customer reviews)

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Book Description

June 30, 2008 0674028368 978-0674028364 First Edition

When a master novelist, essayist, and critic searches for the wellsprings of his own work, where does he turn? Mario Vargas Llosa—Peruvian writer, presidential contender, and public intellectual—answers this most personal question with elegant concision in this collection of essays. In “Four Centuries of Don Quixote,” he revisits the quintessential Spanish novel—a fiction about fiction whose ebullient prose still questions the certainties of our stumbling ideals. In recounting his illicit, delicious discovery of Borges’ fiction—“the most important thing to happen to imaginative writing in the Spanish language in modern times”—Vargas Llosa stands in for a generation of Latin American novelists who were liberated from their sense of isolation and inferiority by this Argentinean master of the European tradition.

In a nuanced appreciation of Ortega y Gasset, Vargas Llosa recovers the democratic liberalism of a misunderstood radical—a mid-century political philosopher on a par with Sartre and Russell, ignored because “he was only a Spaniard.” And in essays on the influence of Karl Popper and Isaiah Berlin, the author finds an antidote to the poisonous well of fanaticism in its many modern forms, from socialist utopianism and nationalism to religious fundamentalism. From these essays a picture emerges of a writer for whom the enchantment of literature awakens a critical gaze on the turbulent world in which we live.


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Editorial Reviews

From Publishers Weekly

In seven incisive essays, novelist and Peruvian political aspirant Vargas Llosa reflects on literature and history, the crucial role of fiction in human society and the link between totalitarianism and nationalism. Lucidly and elegantly, he explores the sources of inspiration for his literary oeuvre, analyzing the significance for Latin American writers of Borges, whose works served to dispel a kind of inferiority complex... that kept us imprisoned in a provincial outlook. His social consciousness protests the suppression of the Catalans and the Basques in modern Spain, as well as the treatment of indigenous Indians in Latin America. He conjectures that it's the uneasy blend of two cultures, one Western and modern, the other aboriginal and archaic, that accounts for the prevalence of surrealism in Latin American fiction. Among the greatest influences on his intellectual development he cites his mentor, Porras Barrenechea, a professor of history who illuminated the myths and legends that underlie Peruvian fiction, and the political theorist Ortega y Gasset. Although most of these pieces originated as public lectures, the themes form a unity. The relationship between history and fiction is convincingly explained: [t]he most fertile moments for fiction are those when collective certainties... break down, because then people look to the order and coherence of the fictional world. (May)
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Review

In seven incisive essays, novelist and Peruvian political aspirant Vargas Llosa reflects on literature and history, the crucial role of fiction in human society and the link between totalitarianism and nationalism. Lucidly and elegantly, he explores the sources of inspiration for his literary oeuvre, analyzing the significance for Latin American writers of Borges, whose works served to "dispel a kind of inferiority complex...that kept us imprisoned in a provincial outlook." His social consciousness protests the suppression of the Catalans and the Basques in modern Spain, as well as the treatment of indigenous Indians in Latin America. He conjectures that it's the uneasy blend of two cultures, "one Western and modern, the other aboriginal and archaic," that accounts for the prevalence of surrealism in Latin American fiction. Among the greatest influences on his intellectual development he cites his mentor, Porras Barrenechea, a professor of history who illuminated the myths and legends that underlie Peruvian fiction, and the political theorist Ortega y Gasset...The relationship between history and fiction is convincingly explained: "the most fertile moments for fiction are those when collective certainties...break down," because then people "look to the order and coherence of the fictional world." (Publishers Weekly 2008-02-25)

Vargas Llosa ponders the thinkers, teachers and ideas that mean the most to him. It is a glimpse into the workings of a marvelous mind and an instructive adventure besides...In the end, it is the gaze of this graceful writer who, by shedding a light on what's inspired him, offers a gift to all who care about what fiction, philosophy and politics can do. And as much as readers will value what he has to say about how we humans cope with our turbulent world, it is what he knows about literature that, above all else, makes this little book sing. (Carol Herman Washington Times 2008-06-08)

[Vargas Llosa's] perceptions are detailed and astute. (Nedra Crowe-Evers Library Journal 2008-05-13)

As in his previous collection of essays, The Temptation of the Impossible, Mario Vargas Llosa proves himself to be a superb practitioner, critic and essayist. Too often when critics write about their favourite authors they simply dwell on them. But when Vargas Llosa discusses the works of pivotal Latin American short-fiction writer Jorge Luis Borges, he makes you want to go and re-read Borges...First-rate essays, by a class act. (Steven Carroll The Age 2008-07-26)

Seven stimulating essays by one of Latin America's greatest living writers...[Vargas Llosa] frequently--and tellingly--reminds us that fiction must have the power to enchant us. (Adam Feinstein Times Literary Supplement 2008-11-07)

Product Details

  • Series: The Richard Ellmann Lectures in Modern Literature
  • Hardcover: 208 pages
  • Publisher: Harvard University Press; First Edition edition (June 30, 2008)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0674028368
  • ISBN-13: 978-0674028364
  • Product Dimensions: 0.8 x 4.8 x 7.2 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 6.4 ounces (View shipping rates and policies)
  • Average Customer Review: 5.0 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (3 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #1,757,807 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

More About the Author

MARIO VARGAS LLOSA was born in Arequipa, Peru, in 1936. In 1958 he earned a scholarship to study in Madrid, and later he lived in Paris. His first story collection, The Cubs and Other Stories, was published in 1959. Vargas Llosa's reputation grew with the publication in 1963 of The Time of the Hero, a controversial novel about the politics of his country. The Peruvian military burned a thousand copies of the book. He continued to live abroad until 1980, returning to Lima just before the restoration of democratic rule.

A man of politics as well as literature, Vargas Llosa served as president of PEN International from 1977 to 1979, and headed the government commission to investigate the massacre of eight journalists in the Peruvian Andes in 1983.

Vargas Llosa has produced critical studies of García Márquez, Flaubert, Sartre, and Camus, and has written extensively on the roots of contemporary fiction. For his own work, he has received virtually every important international literary award. Vargas Llosa's works include The Green House (1968) and Conversation in the Cathedral (1975), about which Suzanne Jill Levine for The New York Times Book Review said: "With an ambition worthy of such masters of the 19th-century novel as Balzac, Dickens and Galdós, but with a technical skill that brings him closer to the heirs of Flaubert and Henry James . . . Mario Vargas Llosa has [created] one of the largest narrative efforts in contemporary Latin American letters." In 1982, Farrar, Straus and Giroux published Aunt Julia and the Scriptwriter to broad critical acclaim. In 1984, FSG published the bestselling The War of the End of the World, winner of the Ritz Paris Hemingway Award. The Real Life of Alejandro Mayta was published in 1986. The Perpetual Orgy, Vargas Llosa's study of Flaubert and Madame Bovary, appeared in the winter of 1986, and a mystery, Who Killed Palomino Molero?, the year after. The Storyteller, a novel, was published to great acclaim in 1989. In 1990, FSG published In Praise of the Stepmother, also a bestseller. Of that novel, Dan Cryer wrote: "Mario Vargas Llosa is a writer of promethean authority, making outstanding fiction in whatever direction he turns" (Newsday).

In 1990, Vargas Llosa ran for the presidency of his native Peru. In 1994, FSG published his memoir, A Fish in the Water, in which he recorded his campaign experience. In 1994, Vargas Llosa was awarded the Cervantes Prize, the Spanish-speaking world's most distinguished literary honor, and, in 1995, the Jerusalem Prize, which is awarded to writers whose work expresses the idea of the freedom of the individual in society. In 1996, Death in the Andes, Vargas Llosa's next novel, was published to wide acclaim. Making Waves, a collection of his literary and political essays, was published in 1997; The Notebooks of Don Rigoberto, a novel, was published in 1998; The Feast of the Goat, which sold more than 400,000 copies in Spanish-language, was published in English in 2001; The Language of Passion, his most recent collection of nonfiction essays on politics and culture, was published by FSG in June 2003. The Way to Paradise, a novel, was published in November 2003; The Bad Girl, a novel, was published in the U.S. by FSG in October, 2007. His most recent novel, El Sueño del Celta, will be published in 2011 or 2012. Two works of nonfiction are planned for the near future as well.

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1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
Format:Hardcover
Mario Vargas Llosa, one of the world's greatest living writers, is also well known, especially in Spain and Latin America, as a great defender of the ideals of a free society. In the Spanish-speaking world, he is therefore more than a great writer; he is also a public intellectual in the real sense of that much abused expression, and his regularly aired opinions on political events (as well as on literature, culture, and the arts) are a fixture of the intellectual life of these regions. His writing is always intelligent and urbane. Moreover, it is always informed by a definite classical-liberal point of view. Indeed, he may well be the most prominent expositor of this point of view in the Spanish language today.

The first three chapters of WELLSPRINGS constitute the author's "Richard Ellmann Lectures in Modern Literature," delivered at Emory University in 2006. These lectures deal with "three masters" of Spanish letters: Miguel de Cervantes, Jorge Luis Borges, and José Ortega y Gasset. The chapters on Cervantes and Borges, perhaps predictably, deal with literary matters for the most part, but in the chapter on Ortega the stress is on political thought. Here Vargas Llosa adds what, to many, might seem an unexpected twist: he argues that this presently much-neglected Spanish philosopher should be regarded as a key figure in the development of the liberal tradition. To be sure, Ortega was not much interested in economic matters, and this omission was a shortcoming in his approach to social problems, but Vargas Llosa himself has often pointed out that classical liberalism includes much more than free-market economics. . . .
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2 of 3 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars an intellectual tip of the iceberg July 22, 2008
Format:Hardcover
I am a fan of many topics included in this book. A few years ago I tried to understand Hayek's 1944 hit, The Road to Serfdom, and I sympathize with the effort to stick to gradual progress as approved by Isaiah Berlin to avoid the forms of totalitarianism that dominated power politics in the twentieth century. The final chapter of Wellsprings explains the concepts that were key for Karl Popper in hoping for open societies and avoiding intellectual approaches like his book, The Poverty of Historicism. Revolutions become popular when everybody wants everything to be all different, and people in a superpower are unlikely to appreciate the desires of those who are considered the opposition. Karl Popper was born in Austria, and used words in ways that have not caught on, but Mario Vargas Llosa is an ideal wordsmith for putting the key concepts of open societies in a context that makes Karl Popper understandable.
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5.0 out of 5 stars A wonderful book by a brilliant man June 9, 2012
Format:Hardcover|Verified Purchase
I had the chance to hear the contents of this book given as lectures by MVLL himself at Emory University. It was amazing and inspiring to be in the same room with him as he spoke about Don Quijote and Borges. I go back time and time again to his essay on DQ and share it with my students whenever I teach the novel.
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