Roberto Arlt

Roberto Godofredo Christophersen Arlt (1900–1942) was born in Buenos Aires to German-speaking immigrants. Raised in tenement housing, Arlt was the only surviving sibling of three. Although his mother read him Dante and Tasso from an early age, Arlt was expelled from elementary school at age eight. Seeking to escape his austere and abusive father, and under the sway of Baudelaire—a self-proclaimed “spiritual father”—Arlt ran away from home at sixteen and began working odd jobs to support himself as a writer. He published his first novel, The Mad Toy, in 1926. The Seven Madmen, which Arlt considered his masterpiece, and its sequel, The Flamethrowers, followed in 1929 and 1931. In the 1930s, Arlt came to prominence as a journalist; he was probably best known for his column Aguafuertes porteñas (Etchings of Buenos Aires). Although he is posthumously recognized as one of Argentina’s formative modern novelists, during his lifetime Arlt found his work relegated to the margins of a literary world dominated by a wealthier and more polished class of writers. His first wife died of tuberculosis in 1940; he remarried the same year, and died of a heart attack at the age of forty-two, exhausted by travel and hardship.