Vallejo clearly took an enormous risk when he flouted the law and returned to Paris, despite the court order. But this time he was lucky. Vallejo was told that he would be allowed to remain in France if he desisted from political activity and reported to the Prefecture monthly. On 22 March 1932 Vallejo wrote to Gerardo Diego and told him that they had found a buyer for the apartment, and that they intended to sell up and return to Madrid the following month in order to pay back the loan he had generously extended them. He gave his work address, Avenue de l'Opéra, as his domicile though this would be the last time he used this address.
It is clear that, during the next few years, Vallejo decided to keep a low profile in order not to endanger his right to stay in France. But the militancy of his Madrid days sometimes caught up with him. He signed a statement dated 8 August 1932, published in the Madrid newspaper Luz on 12 August, denouncing the Peruvian president Luis Miguel Sánchez Cerro, who had ousted August B. Leguía from Peru's highest office in a coup d'état on 22 August 1930, since he ‘desarrolla la más brutal represión contra los trabajadores principalmente y contra todos los partidos' (is carrying out the most brutal repression of the workers above all and against all parties). Quite apart from politics, though, Vallejo needed to solve his economic problems.
In May 1951 Georgette travelled on the steamboat Reina del Pacífico from Paris to Lima. She was met as she stepped off the boat in Callao by, inter alia, Raúl Porras Barrenchea and Sebastián Salazar Bondy. She was taken on a tour of César Vallejo's birthplace, Santiago de Chuco. Georgette had brought with her Vallejo's manuscripts, along with some memorabilia; and she would live in Peru for the rest of her life. In 1957–1958, as a result of Raúl Porras Barrenchea's intervention, Georgette was granted a modest monthly allowance of 2,700 soles from the Ministry of Education. The understanding was that, as a result of this allowance, she would be able to publish Vallejo's remaining works – those which had not been published during his lifetime. The first major publication came in 1965, Vallejo's second travelogue based on his third visit to the Soviet Union; it was published in Lima with the title Rusia antes el segundo plan quinquenal (Rusia Facing the Second Five-year Plan) by the publisher Gráfica Labor.
Three years later, in 1968, Georgette published the most significant work, a facsimile edition of the typescripts of the posthumous poetry, now divided up as Poemas humanos (Human Poems) Poemas en prosa (Prose Poems) and España, aparta de mí este cáliz (Spain, Take this Cup from Me). Her pension from the Ministry of Education was unexpectedly curtailed, which led to a cooling of her relationship with the Peruvian authorities, and indeed with the academic community.
Santiago de Chuco, the capital of Santiago de Chuco Province, one of the twelve provinces of the La Libertad Department in Northern Peru, is a remote, picturesque town set high up in the Andes, at the foot of the San Cristóbal mountain, first discovered by Hernando Pizarro in 1533; it is renowned for its clear blue skies and its open-hearted locals (Figure 1). Permission was granted on 23 July 1610 to found a town in the region and two days later a thanksgiving Mass was held and the first foundation stone laid by a group of Santiago de Chuco's founding fathers. Santiago de Chuco became a town in 1851 and, by decree of the law establishing municipalities, one published on 12 July 1867 and the second on 3 November 1874, Santiago finally achieved the status of city. A bustling city of some 25,000 inhabitants, Santiago de Chuco even nowadays has a remote, rural feel about it; the visitor needs to journey all night on a local bus from the nearest major city on the coast, Trujillo, to get there.
It was here on 16 March 1892 that the now famous Peruvian poet César Abraham Vallejo was born at 96, Calle Colón (now Calle César Vallejo), the twelfth child of Francisco de Paula Vallejo Benites (1840–1924) and María de los Santos Mendoza Gurrionero (1850–1918), who had married on 22 June 1869.
When he learned that the court case against him had re-opened – and not only that it had been transferred to the Supreme Court in Lima – Vallejo decided to jump ship. He would leave Peru and never return. It is clear from the letter that he wrote to his brother Manuel Natividad on 16 June 1923 that the trip was provoked by the law trial and only secondarily by the temptation to visit the City of Light, Paris:
Te pongo estas líneas para anunciarte que mañana me embarco rumbo a París. Voy por pocos meses, seguramente hasta enero o febrero y nada más. Voy por asuntos literarios, y ojalá me vaya bien. Hubiera querido, antes de partir, haberlos visitado por algunos días siquiera. La suerte no ha querido y qué hacer. Hoy les envío desde aquí mis caricias y adioses y les ofrezco el pronto regreso. Consuelen a papacito. Hoy creo que les escribo una carta algo triste, y no le vaya a impresionar. Son las 3 de la mañana, hora en que te escribo. Para un viaje tan lejano, me he fatigado mucho con los preparativos durante estos últimos días. En este instante casi desfallezco de cansancio nervioso. Hoy les escribiré a Godoy y Echevarría sobre el juicio. Avísame qué ocurre y no se pierdan en silencio, pues yo me desesperaré.
(I'm writing to you to tell you that tomorrow I'm leaving for Paris. I’m going for a few months, for sure until January or February and no longer than that. I’m going there for some literary business, and I hope it all goes well. I would have liked, before leaving, to drop by to see you for a few days. But destiny has not wished this to be so, and what can I do. I’m sending you my best wishes and a farewell and I promise I won’t be gone long. Look after Dad. I think today that I might write you a sad letter, and I don’t want to upset you. […]
Vallejo set out for Lima, and arrived there on 30 December 1917; he stayed in a little hotel in calle Pescadería, a road leading off from the Plaza de Armas in the historic centre of Lima. It was to be the beginning of a new chapter of his life. In emotional terms he was leaving behind a string of women, from his first love – his niece Otilia Vallejo Gamboa – to the sixteen-year-old who had inspired the poem ‘El poeta a su amada’, who had so shocked Trujillo's bourgeoisie, ‘Mirtho’. And now he was ready for new intellectual pursuits. The world was being transformed around him, and he was changing in tandem with that world. With the end of the First World War in 1918, Vallejo's generation came of age. Indeed, Lima in 1918 was teetering on the brink of a radical political and social change. It was the penultimate year of the so-called Aristocratic Republic, which had been inaugurated by Manuel Pardo's presidency in 1872, a period when Peru was governed by the descendants of old colonial families who had profited from the guano boom of the nineteenth century and had made fortunes in ‘sugar, cotton, mining, banking, insurance, real estate and manufacturing’. Lima was the home of high finance, of education, of government, and the arts, and by moving to Lima, Vallejo was following the well-trodden path of a number of provincials who sought to better themselves in the capital.
The Peruvian poet César Vallejo (1892–1938) is an enigmatic figure. He has been at the centre of some of the fiercest literary debates in Latin America. To this day, scholars argue over the meaning of his work, his politics, his religion, even what the weather was like during his funeral. He was not particularly famous during his lifetime, but he became enormously famous after his death – to such an extent that there are many who argue he is Latin America's most important poet. There are remarkably few photographs of him considering that he lived in the twentieth century. He is known to have given only one published interview. There is no extant recording of his voice, and while some film footage of him when he went to the Writers' Congress in Spain in June 1937 has recently emerged, it offers only fleeting images of his presence there. Despite the wealth of critical studies on Vallejo's work, there has, to date, been no biography published on his whole life, and this book is designed to fill that gap.
This literary biography is the first biography to focus on Vallejo's life from cradle to tomb. There are good biographies which focus on certain sections of Vallejo's life – Juan Espejo Asturrizaga for his Trujillo years, Georgette de Vallejo and Juan Domingo Córdoba Vargas for the Paris period – but none which brings everything together in one book. Some of these works are problematic; it is clear, for example, that Espejo Asturrizaga was economical with the truth when dealing with specific events of Vallejo's life, particularly his relationship with women.
On 19 October 1928 Vallejo left for Moscow; his planned itinerary was Paris–Berlin–Moscow–Budapest–Berlin–Nice–Paris. One of the first articles Vallejo wrote about his impressions of the Soviet Union shows that he was gradually being drawn into a foreign world, and, indeed, enjoying the experience: ‘Se puede distinguir, en detalle, la topografía del terreno bajo un cielo claro y transparente. El tren avanza con lentitud y el viento de la estepa arroja hacia atrás y muy bajo el humo sonrosado de la locomotora' (The topography of the land beneath a clear, transparent sky can be seen in detail. The train advances slowly and the wind from the steppe blows the pink smoke of the locomotive backwards and low across the ground). His companion is unable to contain himself when they finally cross the border into the Soviet Union: ‘¡Mire usted! Me dice, con vehemencia incontenible, mi amiga comunista. Allí está la bandera internacional … ¡Viva el Soviet!' (Look! My Communist friend says to me, unable to contain her vehemence. There's the Soviet flag! Long live the Soviet Union!). In a later article Vallejo does make it clear that he is not politically aligned: ‘Yo no pertenezco a ningún partido. No soy conservador ni liberal. Ni burgués ni bolchevique. Ni nacionalista ni socialista. Ni reaccionario ni revolucionario' (I do not belong to any political party. I'm neither conservative nor liberal. Neither bourgeois nor Bolshevik. Neither nationalist nor socialist. Neither reactionary nor revolutionary).
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