Madame Bovary? Try Doña Bárbara

In the wake of the Paris terrorist attacks, some thoughts on the struggle between civilization and barbarism.

Our thoughts and prayers are with the French people. Still, not to be self-centered or anything, but we Venezuelans feel we have something to say regarding the struggle between civilization and barbarism. In fact, our magnum opus, our best-known, most widely-read novel … is precisely about the topic.

Years ago, Rómulo Gallegos wrote Doña Bárbara about the struggle of one man, Santos Luzardo, trying to be civilized in a barbaric world.

In one particular passage, Santos tries to impose “civilized” ways of herding cattle on peasants long accustomed to doing things rough, the llanero way. Santos soon realizes his is a lost cause, succumbing to the ancient, barbaric rituals that were the norm of the land.

“Santos shared the danger of these attacks with his men, and his intense emotion made him once more forgetful of his projects. The Plain was good thus, rude and wild. It was barbarism, but since the life of one man was not sufficient to put an end to it, why should he waste his in struggling against the past? After all, he said to himself, barbarism has its enchantment, is something beautiful and worth the trouble of living, in its fullness and intolerance of all imitation.”

The book is not particularly optimistic about civilization’s chances against barbarism, but to each his own. May our Paris readers stay safe and, above all, hopeful … no matter what Gallegos says.