Seven Madmen

Overview

First published in 1929, The Seven Madmen perfectly captures the conflict of Argentine society at a crucial moment in its history. Arlt's exploration of the still mysterious city of Buenos Aires, its street slang, crowded tenements, crazy juxtapositions, and anguish are at the core of this novel. In this seething, hostile city, Erdosain wanders the streets, trying to decipher the teeming life going on behind dark doors. He searches, literally, for his soul which is causing him so much pain, wondering what it ...
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Overview

First published in 1929, The Seven Madmen perfectly captures the conflict of Argentine society at a crucial moment in its history. Arlt's exploration of the still mysterious city of Buenos Aires, its street slang, crowded tenements, crazy juxtapositions, and anguish are at the core of this novel. In this seething, hostile city, Erdosain wanders the streets, trying to decipher the teeming life going on behind dark doors. He searches, literally, for his soul which is causing him so much pain, wondering what it might look like.
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Editorial Reviews

Patrick Markee
Roberto Arlt is one of the great lost Latin American writers of this century, and the translation of his most famous novel The Seven Madmen is a literary event worth celebrating. br— Book
Publishers Weekly - Publisher's Weekly
Arlt (1900-1942) was an Argentinian writer of the '20s and '30s whose work was unheralded during his lifetime. Now it is recognized as a seminal influence on Argentinian modernism. In translating Arlt's best-known novel, written in 1929, Caistor notes that he has retained the "incoherencies" of Arlt's hurried prose, but the power of Arlt's vision remains strong. The protagonist, Remo Erdosain, is an inventor and a crank. His search for 600 pesos to pay back the sugar company he swindled leads to the kidnapping and supposed murder of his wife's cousin, Gregorio Barsut. The most sinister of Erdosain's friends is the Astrologer, a messianic terrorist. One of the Astrologer's followers, a pimp known as "The Melancholy Thug," gives Erdosain the money to pay back his employers, but the embezzlement suddenly seems like a minor problem compared to Erdosain's spiritual deterioration. When Erdosain's wife runs off with an army captain, he plots with the Astrologer to kidnap and kill Barsut. Erdosain wants revenge, and the Astrologer wants to use Barsut's money to buy a brothel. As Erdosian's fantasies blur into reality, we are treated to a world reminiscent of the intense Georg Grosz paintings of sex murderers. The Astrologer, with his enthusiasm for both the KKK and Bolshevism, is perhaps Arlt's most frightening creation, and a shocking prefiguration of Juan Peron, 15 years before anyone had heard of the dictator-to-be. Arlt's magnum opus will lure new readers into a keenly rendered dystopia where official facts and psychic fictions tend to change places. His dark imagination uncannily foretold the impending political milieu. (Mar.)
Patrick Markee
The immortal Jorge Luis Borges famously described him as "a great writer who wrote badly." He was born in 1900 in Buenos Aires to parents from Eastern Prussia and Trieste, and he lovingly chronicled the chaotic, new-urban immigrant life of the Argentine capital. He worked at various times in a bookstore and a brick factory, apprenticed with a gold leaf artisan and studied to be a mechanic. He was a failed inventor whose early creations, a postage-franking machine and a device to mold bricks, had already been invented.

His one successful patent was an invention to prevent runs in women's stockings. In response to the critical indifference generated by his sprawling, manic, impossibly rich tales of Buenos Aires, he wrote, "If you are familiar with the true heart of literature, you would realize that a writer is a man who has the job of writing, just as another builds houses. Nothing more. What differentiates him from the house builder is that books are not as useful as houses, and more-that the house builder is not as vain as the writer."

Roberto Arlt is one of the great "lost" Latin American writers of this century, and the translation of his most famous novel, The Seven Madmen (first published in 1929), is a literary event worth celebrating. It tells the story of Remo Erdosain, a hard-luck bill collector for the impersonal Sugar Company. Erdosain is also a frustrated inventor, who fervently believes that his fortune will be made from copper-plated roses and salons where pet owners can have their dogs dyed pink and green. Trapped in an unhappy marriage, Erdosain daydreams Hollywood-inspired fantasies of romantic encounters with princesses. In the first scene of the novel, the company discovers that Erdosain has been embezzling small sums, and he is given a day to repay the firm. Thus begins Erdosain's descent into the netherworld of Buenos Aires' small-time gangsters, pimps and prostitutes as he desperately seeks six hundred pesos.

Erdosain is not entirely a stranger in this underworld. He frequents the brothels of Buenos Aires' red-light district in bouts of self-loathing and mixes with gamblers and petty thieves. But it is his encounter with the Astrologer, a misogynistic pimp and gangster with Napoleonic ambitions, that leads Erdosain into the wild conspiracy at the heart of the novel.

The Astrologer hatches a half-mad scheme to overthrow the Argentine government and assembles a secret society that draws its intellectual inspiration from a chaotic blend of socialism, industrialism, a sort of cynical mysticism and even the Ku Klux Klan. Along the way Erdosain falls in with the other madmen of the novel's title-the Melancholy Thug, the Man Who Saw the Midwife, the Major-and his own desperate scheme to murder a rival becomes drawn into the conspiracy.

Much of the novel involves long, hyperbolic discourses on the failures of modern Argentine and European society; indeed, Erdosain and his low-life co-conspirators prove to be, after their fashion, the intellectual match of the revolutionaries in Dostoyevsky's The Possessed, a clear inspiration for Arlt. Likewise, the principal emotion that defines the novel is, as the translator Nick Caistor notes in his afterword, anguish. Erdosain initially wanders the streets of Buenos Aires humiliated that his theft has been discovered, unsure how he'll be able to repay the six hundred pesos and avoid imprisonment, and veering between fantasies of suicide and romantic redemption. But later it becomes clear that Erdosain's anguish goes deeper than his failed marriage, his abusive childhood and his loss of faith, and is an indictment of his times.

As chronicler of those times, Arlt was nothing if not prescient. Indeed, even a relatively minor character such as the Major, who typically may or may not be an actual military officer, predicts the military coup carried out in Argentina by General Uriburu a year after the novel's publication. The Seven Madmen is a sort of literary blueprint for the so-called "Infamous Decade" of 1930-1943, a period of Argentine history defined by economic crisis, political instability and the long malaise that followed the utopian dreams of the nineteenth century. As in North America, waves of European immigrants, many of them peasants displaced by war and famine, migrated to Argentina, attracted by the great stretches of land in the Pampas and Patagonia. Instead, what they found were wealthy estates controlling the best farmland, and so they were crowded into the conventillos, or rooming houses, of the capital where Erdosain resides in the novel. The immigrants also brought with them new revolutionary ideas, such as socialism and anarchism, and new dreams for Argentine society.

These are the dreams, even in their anguished form, that Arlt traces in The Seven Madmen and his other novels. They also resonate in the works of two other great Argentine writers of this century, Borges and Julio Cortazar. Cortazar consciously looked to Arlt when writing the Buenos Aires chapters of his masterpiece, Hopscotch, one of the most influential works of the Latin American "boom" of the 1960s. Even in Borges, a writer who could not be more dissimilar, one hears echoes of Arlt, especially in his great short story "The Congress," which also chronicles a secret (if somewhat more literary) society bent on reshaping the world. It is a Borgesian conceit that writers write the future. It is fitting that his compatriot Arlt and his seven mad conspirators foretold such a crucial chapter of Argentine history.

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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9781852425920
  • Publisher: Serpent's Tail Publishing Ltd
  • Publication date: 2/28/1999
  • Series: Extraordinary Classics Series
  • Pages: 256
  • Product dimensions: 5.40 (w) x 8.52 (h) x 0.84 (d)

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