Obituary: Silvina Ocampo

Silvina Ocampo, poet, short-story writer, translator: born Buenos Aires 1903; died Buenos Aires 14 December 1993.

ARGENTINIAN literature has suffered one of its greatest losses since the death of Jorge Luis Borges. Silvina Ocampo was one of that writer's most devoted friends, and her husband, Adolfo Bioy Casares, was a close collaborator with him in stories satirising Argentine society. Silvina was one of the leaders of the progressive group of young writers devoted to English and French literary models, whom they translated extensively.

She was the younger sister of Victoria Ocampo, who in 1931 founded the renowned literary magazine Sur. It ran until her death in 1979, and Silvina was a notable contributor to its pages. From the age of four, she spent most of her childhood and youth in France, and throughout her long life made many returns to Paris. She was a gifted artist, and received instruction from Giorgio de Chirico and Fernand Leger.

Ocampo wrote poetry as well as prose, and published eight collections of verse, among them Poemas de amor desesperado (1949) and the long work in praise of her native city and her native land, Amarillo celeste ('Celestial Yellow', 1972).

Like her friend Julio Cortazar, she wrote with fascinated horror of Argentinian petty bourgeois society, whose banality and kitsch settings she used in a masterly way to depict strange, surreal atmospheres sometimes verging on the supernatural. She could reproduce with devastating accuracy the intonations and the peculiar idiom of the Buenos Aires middle classes. Yet her irony was always so subtle and restrained, it could produce effects of unexpected illumination on the life of her times.

Many of Ocampo's contemporaries were obsessed by the form of the literary detective novel and tales of the uncanny, as exemplified by Chesterton, Wells, Conan Doyle and later the hard-boiled school of Chandler, David Goodis and Derek Raymond. The metaphysical lyricism of her poetry sometimes surfaced with poignancy in these tales. Among the best collections of her stories are Autobiografia de Irene (1959), La furia (1961), El Destino en las ventanas ('Destiny in the Windows', 1987). Gallimard has recently begun publishing her stories in excellent translations.

Ocampo was also a prolific translator - of Emily Dickinson, Poe, Melville, Swedenborg. She edited an important Antologia poetic argentina in 1940. She collaborated with her husband on the stories in Los que aman, odian ('Those who Love Hate', 1948).

Her husband held back the news of her death in order to allow for a strictly private funeral in the Recoleta cemetery, which she could see from the windows of her apartment, and where she had hoped to be buried with Borges. Her friend and literary master wrote praising 'the oblique lucidity and cruel innocence' of her writing.

She often wrote about death, even in her tales for children, which, like her adult stories, were charged with a sense of unease, of ordinary lives traversed by obscure, detached, demoniac forces. Yet she treated death with a playful humour: 'Coming to life again is not as pleasant as one might suppose - but it's interesting.'

Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs People

Business Support - Banking - Halifax - £250 pd

£150 - £250 per day: Orgtel: HR Analyst - Banking - HR - Halifax - £150 - £250...

Geography Teacher

£24000 - £33600 per annum + pre 12 week AWR : Randstad Education Manchester Se...

Marketing Executive

£28000 - £32000 per annum: Charter Selection: A professional services company ...

Day In a Page

Noel Fielding's 'Luxury Comedy': A land of the outright bizarre

Noel Fielding's 'Luxury Comedy'

A land of the outright bizarre
What are the worst 'Word Crimes'?

What are the worst 'Word Crimes'?

‘Weird Al’ Yankovic's latest video is an ode to good grammar. But what do The Independent’s experts think he’s missed out?
Can Secret Cinema sell 80,000 'Back to the Future' tickets?

The worst kept secret in cinema

A cult movie event aims to immerse audiences of 80,000 in ‘Back to the Future’. But has it lost its magic?
Facebook: The new hatched, matched and dispatched

The new hatched, matched and dispatched

Family events used to be marked in the personal columns. But now Facebook has usurped the ‘Births, Deaths and Marriages’ announcements
Why do we have blood types?

Are you my type?

All of us have one but probably never wondered why. Yet even now, a century after blood types were discovered, it’s a matter of debate what they’re for
Honesty box hotels: You decide how much you pay

Honesty box hotels

Five hotels in Paris now allow guests to pay only what they think their stay was worth. It seems fraught with financial risk, but the honesty policy has its benefit
Commonwealth Games 2014: Why weight of pressure rests easy on Michael Jamieson’s shoulders

Michael Jamieson: Why weight of pressure rests easy on his shoulders

The Scottish swimmer is ready for ‘the biggest race of my life’ at the Commonwealth Games
Some are reformed drug addicts. Some are single mums. All are on benefits. But now these so-called 'scroungers’ are fighting back

The 'scroungers’ fight back

The welfare claimants battling to alter stereotypes
Amazing video shows Nasa 'flame extinguishment experiment' in action

Fireballs in space

Amazing video shows Nasa's 'flame extinguishment experiment' in action
A Bible for billionaires

A Bible for billionaires

Find out why America's richest men are reading John Brookes
Paranoid parenting is on the rise - and our children are suffering because of it

Paranoid parenting is on the rise

And our children are suffering because of it
For sale: Island where the Magna Carta was sealed

Magna Carta Island goes on sale

Yours for a cool £4m
Phone hacking scandal special report: The slide into crime at the 'News of the World'

The hacker's tale: the slide into crime at the 'News of the World'

Glenn Mulcaire was jailed for six months for intercepting phone messages. James Hanning tells his story in a new book. This is an extract
We flinch, but there are degrees of paedophilia

We flinch, but there are degrees of paedophilia

Child abusers are not all the same, yet the idea of treating them differently in relation to the severity of their crimes has somehow become controversial
The truth about conspiracy theories is that some require considering

The truth about conspiracy theories is that some require considering

For instance, did Isis kill the Israeli teenagers to trigger a war, asks Patrick Cockburn