Autobiographical Discourse as Biographical Tribute: Isabel Allende's Paula

Citation metadata

Author: Miriam Fuchs
Editor: Jeffrey W. Hunter
Publisher: Gale, part of Cengage Group
Document Type: Critical essay
Length: 16,988 words

Document controls

Main content

Article Preview :

[(essay date 2004) In this essay, Fuchs, highlighting both the biographical and autobiographical aspects of Paula, posits that the text can be separated into two parts--a catastrophe narrative and a crisis narrative--and analyzes the storytelling strategies Allende employed as she witnessed her daughter's last year of life.]

Isabel Allende did not start to write novels until she was almost forty years old. She composed a letter to her grandfather as he was dying in Chile in 1981, which she continued after his death and expanded into The House of the Spirits.1 In less than a decade Allende established a reputation as a major writer of fiction, publishing four novels--The House of the Spirits, Of Love and Shadows, Eva Luna, and The Infinite Plan, and the collection Stories of Eva Luna--between 1982 and 1991.2 These works were translated widely, sold millions of copies, and two of them, The House of the Spirits and Of Love and Shadows, were made into films in the 1990s. When asked by interviewers in May 1991 about forthcoming projects, Allende responded that she had many ideas for other volumes of fiction and anticipated few obstacles to her productivity.3 She was eager to write, no longer occupied with the personal, career, and political activities of her earlier years. In Chile she had written primarily for magazines and television. Going into self-imposed exile after Pinochet's military coup in 1973, she had raised her children in Venezuela while working as a journalist and school administrator. Allende also told interviewers in May 1991 that because she did not publish her first novel until her middle years, her chief problem was time: "There are so many things that I want to write about, so many stories that I want to tell."4

The book that Allende began approximately eight months after this interview shows how mistaken she was in thinking that the pressure of time would be the most serious obstacle to her career as a fiction writer. She could never have anticipated the catastrophe that devastated her family and irreversibly changed the course of their lives. In December 1991 her twenty-seven-year-old daughter, Paula, became extremely ill and fell into a coma. She remained in this state for several months in a Madrid hospital and then was moved to her mother's home in California. Paula died in December 1992, one year after the onset of the coma. According to Allende, her daughter had learned earlier that she had the genetic disorder known as porphyria but believed that she was successful in managing it.5 When Allende arrived in Madrid to launch the publication of The Infinite Plan, she found Paula suffering presumably with the flu. Her condition worsened, however, and she soon had to be rushed to the hospital. Allende recounts that just after the two of them exchanged words of love, "true horror was unleashed" (20). Her daughter's body convulsed in a series of violent spasms. Looking blank but directly at her mother, Paula...

Source Citation

Source Citation   

Gale Document Number: GALE|H1100088063