A precursor of the magical realists, the Chilean writer Maria Luisa Bombal (1910-80) was part of a sophisticated literary elite that sought to break with late nineteenth-century realism by integrating fantastic elements and social criticism in her work. Two of her masterpieces, The House of Mist and The Shrouded Woman, have long been considered essential components of the Hispanic canon. They combine that "certain strangeness" with the "strange familiarity" that Harold Bloom sees as essential to canonical works. On the one hand, they introduce innovative narrative techniques that imbue the text with an elusive, otherworldly quality. On the other, they depict with searing accuracy the oppressive existence of the upper class Latin American woman, condemned to a life of idleness and boredom. Today, these two novels are revered by both partisans of the canon and feminists, for they are key works in early twentieth-century Latin American literature and, at the same time, represent an important step toward the creation of a feminine literary presence.
Bombal wrote the exquisitely lyrical short novel, La ultima niebla, in 1935 while she was sharing an apartment in Argentina with Pablo Neruda and his wife. Later, she herself translated it into English, revising it and adding new material. La amortajada was first published in Argentina in 1938 and later appeared in the author's own English version, which does not deviate significantly from the original.
Helga, the protagonist-narrator of House of Mist, is the orphaned illegitimate daughter of a landowner and his foreign lover. After her father's death, she is raised by a haughty, disdainful aunt who conceals from her the circumstances surrounding her birth. While Helga is treated as an outcast, her beautiful cousin Teresa is showered with privileges. Puzzled by her inferior treatment, Helga seeks refuge in fairy tales. When she meets Daniel, the son of a neighboring landowner, the two become inseparable, but while Helga's sentiments are romantic, Daniel's are not. He is in love with Teresa and contrives to have Helga cut her cousin's beautiful locks for him. When the devoted Helga attempts to comply, she is caught and sent away. Eventually, Daniel marries Teresa, who, not long after the wedding, mysteriously drowns on his estate.
Alone and disconsolate, Daniel seeks solace in Helga's arms. They are married, and he carries her off to the eerie manor house engulfed in mist on the remote property where...