Julio Cortázar was born in 1914 in German-occupied Brussels, Belgium, to Argentine parents Julio Cortázar and María Herminia Descotte. When Cortázar was age two, his family moved to Switzerland, where they waited for the end of World War I. Soon after they returned to Buenos Aires, Argentina, in 1918, Cortázar’s father abandoned the family, a desertion that Cortázar found unforgivable. Cortázar attended the University of Buenos Aires and then worked as a teacher in small-town high schools. In 1944, he began teaching French literature at the National University of Cuyo in Mendoza.
Cortázar opposed the rule of General Perón and therefore moved to France in 1951. He would remain there until his death. Beginning in 1952, Cortázar worked as a translator for UNESCO. In 1953, he married Aurora Bernárdez, an Argentinean translator. He would later divorce and remarry twice, first to Ugné Karvelis and then to Carol Dunlop. A 1961 trip to Cuba marked the beginning of Cortázar’s political shift leftward. He said that the trip, his first to Cuba, opened his eyes to his own “political uselessness” and showed him the value of being informed. He supported the Cuban Revolution and Nicaragua’s Sandinista government, and some of his writings were used as part of Nicaragua’s literacy campaign.
Cortázar demonstrated a talent for writing from an early age. He composed poetry when he was a boy and wrote his first novel when he was only age nine, a novel that was so accomplished that many in his family wondered if it was plagiarized. He launched his professional writing career as a poet and playwright. In 1938, he published a collection of poems called Presencia under the pen name Julio Denis. He published Los reyes, a play inspired by the Greek myth of Theseus, in 1949. Los reyes was the first work Cortázar published under his own name. Cortázar’s novels and short stories, however, won him greater critical acclaim and financial success. He has spoken dismissively of his poetry collection Presencia, saying, “Happily, the book has been forgotten.”
In 1951, Cortázar published the short story collection Bestiaro, which he followed in 1956 with the collection Final del juego. His novels include Los premios (The Winners), published in 1960, and Rayuela (Hopscotch), published in 1966. His work was introduced to an English-language audience in 1965, when The Winners was published in the United States. In 1967, a volume of his short stories translated by Paul Blackburn was published under the title End of the Game and Other Stories. The same volume was later republished under the title Blow-Up and Other Stories. Michelangelo Antonioni made a film called Blow-Up inspired by Cortázar’s story “Las babas del Diablo” (“Blow-Up”). Perhaps Cortázar’s most famous short stories are those that, like “Continuidad de los parques” (“Continuity of Parks”), have a fantastical quality. “Continuity of Parks” (1956) is a representative example of Cortázar’s humor, elegant style, structural daring, and economy.
Cortázar wrote Los autonautas de la cosmopista (The Autonauts of the Cosmoroute) in 1983 with his third wife, Carol Dunlop, and gave the copyright to the Nicaraguan government. Cortázar’s many other works, which run the gamut from essays to poetry to long fiction, include Las armas secretas (1959), Historias de cronopios y de famas (1959), Último round (1969), Deshoras (1982), Adiós Robinson (1995), and Cartas (2000). Cortázar died in Paris in 1984 at age seventy. He was buried in a tomb with his wife, Carol, in the cemetery at Montparnasse.
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