Horacio Quiroga, the Biography of the Great Uruguayan Writer

Uruguayan writer Horacio Quiroga penned short stories inspired by the jungle before committing suicide in 1937. He's considered one of the greatest Latin American storytellers of all time. Read on to learn more!
Horacio Quiroga, the Biography of the Great Uruguayan Writer

Last update: 05 July, 2021

Did you know that Horacio Quiroga is now considered one of the greatest Latin American storytellers of all time? In fact, this Uruguayan writer penned intriguing short stories inspired by the jungle. Horacio Quiroga was born on December 31, 1878, in Salto, Uruguay. In 1901, he published his first collection of poems, Coral Reefs. Over the next 30 years, he wrote and published more than 200 dark stories.

Jungle life inspired many of these stories. Struggling with severe depression and terminal cancer, Quiroga committed suicide on February 19, 1937, in Buenos Aires, Argentina.

Believe it or not, this great Uruguayan writer had dark origins. His father accidentally shot himself during a hunting trip a few months after he was born.  This was just the first of several tragic events that took place during Quiroga’s life. Sadly, this was represented in many of his later works.

His family moved around a lot during his youth, eventually settling in Uruguay’s capital, Montevideo. Quiroga attended university in Montevideo, developed an interest in literature, and began to publish his short stories. 

Shortly thereafter, Quiroga returned to his hometown and founded both a literary magazine and a cycling club. However, tragedy struck again in 1899, when his stepfather committed suicide. Seeking solace from the overwhelming experience, Horacio Quiroga traveled to Paris on a four-month trip.

“Tell the story as if it were only of interest to the small circle of your characters, of which you may be one. There’s no other way to put life into the story.”

Horacio Quiroga-

An image of antique books.

New beginnings

After traveling in Europe during his youth, Quiroga spent most of his life in Argentina. While living in Buenos Aires, he took frequent trips to San Ignacio in the jungle province of Misiones. This provided the material for most of his stories. Although he was a journalist for the greater part of his life, he had other jobs.

When he returned from Europe in 1900, Quiroga settled in Montevideo once again. The following year, his first literary collection, Coral Reefs, was released. The poems, poetic prose, and stories within its pages didn’t bring Quiroga to national attention. In other words, the work was that of a novice looking for his footing.

Regardless, the death of his two beloved brothers overshadowed his achievement. They succumbed to typhoid fever that same year. Unable to escape the cruel hand of fate, the following year, Quiroga accidentally shot and killed a friend while checking his pistol before a duel. After a brief stint in jail, Quiroga was cleared of all charges. Nevertheless, he was unable to escape his feelings of guilt and left Uruguay for Argentina.

He spent the rest of his tragic life in Argentina. He settled in Buenos Aires, found work as a teacher, and continued to develop his writing. Additionally, he published the collection The Crime of Another in 1904 and the story “The Feather Pillow” in 1907. Both of these showed promise, as well as the considerable influence of the work of Edgar Allan Poe.

Love, madness, and death

During Quiroga’s time in Buenos Aires, he frequently made forays into the nearby jungle. In 1908, he moved to a farm in the nearby jungle province of Misiones. Ensconced there, he began publishing stories that led his reader into the jungle right along with him. Both physically and metaphorically, he haunted them with his dark viewpoint and metaphoric horrors. 

Quiroga also continued to work as a teacher. In 1909, he married one of his students, Ana Maria Cires, and moved her to his jungle home. They had two children in the upcoming years. Still, the remote and dangerous life they led proved too much for Ana. She committed suicide by drinking poison in December 1915. Following this tragedy, Quiroga returned with his children to Buenos Aires and worked in the Uruguayan consulate. 

He also continued to write. The stories from this period made him utterly famous. They led to Quiroga’s identification as the father of the modern Latin American short story. Such works as Tales of Love, Madness, and Death (1917) and Jungle Tales (1918) brought Quiroga’s world to life.

An image of green jungle.

Legacy

Quiroga continued his prolific output in the new decade. He published several brilliant pieces. For instance, the play The Slaughtered (1920) and the short-story collections Anaconda (1921) and The Desert (1924).  Similarly, he published Other Stories (1925) and The Exiled (1926). He also became a critic during this time. 

He authored a screenplay for an unrealized film project. In 1927, Quiroga remarried a young woman named Maria Elena Bravo. Two years later, he published his second novel, Past Love. In 1932, they moved back to his farm in Misiones. Sadly, the difficulties that plagued Quiroga all his life followed him there. 

Amidst a persistent illness, he published his last work in 1935. Around that time, his wife left him and returned to Buenos Aires. Quiroga returned himself in 1937 to receive treatment. He was diagnosed with terminal prostate cancer. On February 19 of that year, he committed suicide by drinking poison.

Quiroga’s imaginative portrayal of the struggle of man and animal to survive in the tropical jungle earned him recognition. He quickly became the master of the short story. Quiroga also excelled in depicting mental illness and hallucinatory states in his stories. In other words, stories that anticipate those of later 20-century masters, such as American writer William Faulkner.

“There’s nothing as beautiful and empowering in life than a memory.”

-Horacio Quiroga-

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  • Orgambide, P. (1997). Horacio Quiroga: una biografía.