Colonial (Dis)order: Inheritance and Succession in Jose Milla's Historical Novels

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Literature (CMC), Modern Languages (CMC)

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Nineteenth-century Latin American historical novelists who set their works during the colonial period faced the apparently paradoxical situation of writing historical novels about a time their peers considered devoid of historical significance. Nineteenth-century Latin American intellectuals perceived the colonial era as a historical vacuum, empty of events that could compare in scale and drama to the Conquest or to the Wars of Independence. On the one hand, historical novels set during the Conquest and the Wars of Independence dealt with the violent, abrupt and irrevocable transition from one type of society and government to another, and authors employed these dramatic settings in order to create narratives about the birth of Latin America, the creation of new nations after the wars of independence, and the nascent stirrings of a Creole consciousness, which according to their narratives was dependent upon the independence movement. The colonial period, on the other hand, was seen as defined by an economic and cultural stagnation imposed by Spain's restrictive bureaucratic policies. According to the nineteenth-century view of the colonial period, Spain's total domina tion over its colonies created a uniformity of philosophy and belief. The Chilean historian Jos? Victoriano Lastarria exemplified this viewpoint when he wrote in 1865, "El colono [...] no ten?a conciencia de s? mismo y todo ?l, su vida y sus intereses estaban absorbidos en el poder real y teocr?tico, del cual depend?a ?ntegramente".l In the opinion of Lastarria and like-minded nineteenth-century intellectuals, the Spanish bureaucratic sys tem that divided Latin America into a series of vicerealties and provinces remained untouched by the possibility of ideological dissent until the Wars of Independence erupted in 1810. In short, the colonial period appeared to be free of the drastic upheavals?and the drama?that had marked the birth of Latin American society and culture during the Conquest and that would initiate Latin American independence at the beginning of the nineteenth century.

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© 1999 Latin American Literary Review