Isabel Allende: The Life of an Extraordinary Writer

Learn more about Isabel Allende and her life by reading this article.
Isabel Allende: The Life of an Extraordinary Writer
Gema Sánchez Cuevas

Reviewed and approved by the psychologist Gema Sánchez Cuevas.

Written by Sonia Budner

Last update: 21 December, 2022

Isabel Allende is a Chilean writer whose work has been translated into thirty-five languages. With more than 70 million books sold, she’s considered the world’s most widely read Spanish-language author. She’s also the daughter of diplomat Tomás Allende Pesce, cousin of former president of Chile, Salvador Allende, who was overthrown by a military coup on September 11th, 1973.

Through her writing, Isabel Allende reveals the sublime beauty within everything feminine and magically invokes these usually-repressed and latent qualities in her readers. During a time of huge political turmoil, she chose literary activism against patriarchal ideological guidelines and gave women a great manifesto towards their personal awakening and self-discovery.

With exquisite sensitivity, Isabel Allende has been able to transmit an unconditional love for beauty, for everything beautiful in the world, and people. In all honesty, reading or listening to her work can lift the spirits.

Allende always focused on trying to make the world a better place. More than a writer, she’s an activist who uses love and beauty as her weapons. In this article, we’ll talk about her journey and some of her work. Our intention is to pay tribute to this great woman who’s inspired many people.

Her early years

Allende was born in Lima, Peru, where she lived during the time her father worked as a diplomat. Her parents then divorced which, as a consequence, she moved to Chile with her mother and siblings. For a while, they lived in their maternal grandfather’s house. This man was an authority figure that influenced Isabel in very important aspects of her life. After finishing her studies, she married her first husband, Miguel Frías, with whom she had two children: Paula and Nicolás.

In 1967, Isabel became the editor of Paula, a women’s magazine. Her articles focused on the role women played in Chilean society. They were hilariously ironic, and because of that, they were very controversial. At this time, many changes took place in Chile. There was a modern revolution and a movement regarding the liberation of women within a Catholic, conservative, and patriarchal society.

Isabel Allende answering questions during a conference.

Her career and exile

After the ever-so-famous military coup, Isabel Allende was forced to exile to Venezuela. She lived in that country for 13 years, where she worked at a newspaper and at a school. During her stay in this country, she received the news of her grandfather’s very serious health condition.

Unable to go back to Chile to be by his side, Isabel began to write a letter that ended up becoming an unprecedented literary success for this Latin American woman: The House of the Spirits. In 1993, Bille August brought this piece of work to the big screen and it was highly successful.

After the success of her first novel, Isabel Allende wrote two more books that, once again, became an absolute success: Of Love and Shadows and Eva Luna. Later, shortly after the publication of her third novel, Isabel decided to leave her job at the school and dedicate herself entirely to writing.

After divorcing her first husband, Isabel married American lawyer William Gordon and moved to the United States. She lives there since the year 1988.

The death of her daughter Paula and her awakening

In 1992, her daughter Paula died tragically at the age of 28 in a hospital in Madrid. This greatly affected Isabel, to the point where she entered a state of deep sadness and despair that she couldn’t seem to get out of. During this long and painful period, Isabel wrote Paula, a tribute to her beloved daughter. It became another great hit due to how many other women related to it.

Paula, just like The House of the Spirits, began as a letter, a declaration of love and, at the same time, a way for her to learn to accept her daughter’s death. She began writing while tending to her daughter at the hospital. Paula isn’t just a letter to her daughter, but an autobiographical narrative through which Allende tells the story of her family.

“There is no death, daughter. People die only when we forget them,’ my mother explained shortly before she left me. ‘If you can remember me, I will be with you always.”

-Isabel Allende, Paula

Allende let everything out in this novel. The narrative follows the context of the situation of her country, her family dramas, family trips, among other things. On many occasions, she’s commented on the healing power of writing and that it has helped her face the things she has experienced. Through Paula, we perceive how Allende herself accepts the circumstances and the death of her daughter. You can say that, in some way, writing Paula was a therapeutic exercise and a reality check.

With the money raised from Paula‘s sales, she created the Isabel Allende Foundation as a tribute to her daughter. Four years later, Isabel wrote Aphrodite while she was in the process of overcoming her depression. This book is all about celebrating life: feeling lively and enjoying the senses. Many see Aphrodite as a ‘life song’ where the main tunes revolve around gratitude and sensuality

Isabel Allende smiling.

The amazing reflection of femininity

All of Isabel Allende’s work reminds us of Dante’s beloved muse, Beatrice (Bice), who consolidated the incredibly idealized “screen lady.” She was a lady who, by the mere fact of existing, made her beloved better. She referred to those women who served as a reflection of those who loved them. The so-called “great other” through whom one connects with one’s own divine nature. The source behind the mirror where creativity, inspiration, and the best aspects of oneself emanate, elevate, and go beyond human potential. Dante saw his Beatrice as the “screen lady.”

In both a personal and professional way, Isabel Allende has been able to transmute that traditional archetype of “screen ladies” that we learned from Dante. Instead, with her literary work, she created a new mirror that reflects women who selflessly end up falling in love with themselves.

Throughout Isabel Allende’s work, we find a myriad of women protagonists. For example, in The City of Beasts, although a woman isn’t the main character, she does play a fundamental role in it. To this we must add that the woman in The City of Beasts is elderly and nothing ever stops her despite that.

Another significant feature of the Chilean writer is her reflection on Latin America. Their customs, traditions, existing duality, and indigenous tribes always inspired her. Isabel Allende appreciates the beauty of the world and the charming aspect of every society.

“Write what should not be forgotten.”

-Isabel Allende-

This text is provided for informational purposes only and does not replace consultation with a professional. If in doubt, consult your specialist.