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Martin Rivas is an 1862 novel by Alberto Blest Gana (1830–1920), and is widely acknowledged as the first Chilean novel. The social realist novel is at once a passionate love story and an optimistic representation of Chilean nationhood. Written shortly after a decade of civil conflict, this national epic is an indispensable source for understanding politics and society in nineteenth-century Chile.


The hero of the story is Martin Rivas, an impoverished but intelligent, ambitious young man from the northern mining region of Chile, who is entrusted by his late father, a gold rush speculator, to the household of a wealthy and influential member of the Santiago elite. While living there, Martin Rivas falls in love with his guardian's haughty daughter Leonore. The tale of their tortuous but ultimately successful love affair represents the author's desire for reconciliation between Chile's antagonistic regional and class interests. Indeed, many critics have interpreted Martin Rivas as a blueprint for national unity that emphasizes consensus over conflict.

In addition to providing humorous and biting commentary about the mores of Chilean society, Blest Gana documents the enormous gap that existed between the rich and poor classes. An invaluable text for its portrayal of contemporary social, political, and class conditions, Martin Rivas illustrates the enriching influence that romanticism had on nineteenth-century social realism.


  • Martin Rivas, English translation by Tess O'Dwyer, scholarly introduction by Jaime Concha, Oxford University Press, 2000. ISBN 0-19-510713-6

Further reading

  • Foundational Fictions:The National Romances of Latin America, Doris Sommer, University of California Press, 1993. ISBN 0-520-07110-7
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