Jorge Luis Borges, Collected Fictions (London: Allen Lane, The Penguin Press, 1999), a new translation by Andrew Hurley. First U.K. Edition, ix + 565 pages, octavo, 24.1 x 16.5 cm, hard cover, bound in mid-blue boards with gilt titling on spine. The jacket cover and spine show details of the central panel of The Garden of Earthly Delights by Hieronymus Bosch, in the Prado, Madrid. Contents; A Universal History of Iniquity, 1935; Fictions, 1944; Artifices, 1944; The Aleph, 1949; The Maker, 1960; In Praise of Darkness, 1969; Brodie’s Report, 1970; The Book of Sand, 1975; Shakespeare’s Memory, 1983; A Note on the Translation; Acknowledgments; Notes to the Fictions.
Fine. Book and dust jacket as new.
The convenience of Andrew Hurley’s translation of Collected Fictions is that it assembles the collected fiction of Borges in a single volume, and is the first in English by a single translator. Hurley was Professor of English at the University of Puerto Rico in San Juan. Collected Fictions was first published in English in the U.S.A. as Selected Non-Fictions in 1998 by Viking Penguin to celebrate Borges’s centenary; the present volume is the first U.K. edition, published in 1999. Contemporary reviews included those in The New York Times, which described it as “an event, and cause of celebration”; and in the Washington Post, which thought it represented “the major work of probably the most influential Latin American writer of the century”.
Collected Fictions reveals the surreal dream world of Jorge Luis Borges (1899-1986) as evidenced in his choice of subjects and themes in short and sometimes very short fiction, ranging eruditely in Ficciones (Fictions, 1944) and El Aleph (The Aleph, 1949) and several other works across labyrinths, mirrors, libraries, fictional writers, identity, philosophy and religion. Until the 1960s, the Argentinian writer’s work was best known to other writers in Buenos Aires, his birthplace. His literary reputation received a considerable boost in 1961 when he shared with Samuel Beckett the Prix International, an award with some similarities to the Nobel Prize, judged by literary specialists and writers assessing quality. Borges’s short stories, essays, poems and literary work in other diverse categories were increasingly recognised as classics of 20th century world literature. By the 1980s, the fictions of Borges were being compared with Franz Kafka’s imaginative world.
Jorge Luis Borges learned English before Spanish; his father had been a teacher in an English school, and the young Jorge read a good deal of British and American fiction in his father’s library. The family moved to Switzerland in 1914, returning to Argentina in 1921. The year 1938 proved critical for Jorge’s future: he obtained a major library post; his father died; and Jorge suffered a head wound which led to near-lethal blood poisoning and deprived him of speech. These experiences seem to have released in him deep creative forces.
Despite his successes with fiction, lectures and editing, in 1946 Borges lost his library post for supporting the Allies in World War II, when Juan Perón became Argentina’s President. After Perón was deposed in 1955, Borges was appointed as honorary Director of the National Public Library and Professor of English and American Literature at the University of Buenos Aires. Like his father, Jorge Luis Borges suffered from hereditary problems with his eyesight, and encountered declining vision after the 1920s; he became blind in the later 1950s, forcing him to abandon the writing of long texts in favour of dictating short pieces.
Collected Fictions closes with the texts of “Shakespeare’s Memory” (1983), a work never before translated and collected in English.
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