The Novela de la Selva

Module code: SP3139

Module co-ordinator: Dr Lesley Wylie

Module Aims

This module will explore 'la novela de la selva' – a group of twentieth-century Latin American novels set in the Amazon rainforest. Whilst many of these novels seem to offer a colonial view of the Amazon as a ‘green hell’, full of poisonous insects, lethal diseases, and ‘savages’, they also show an interest in indigenous themes, particularly myths of the forest. As well as tracing the development of the genre from the 1920s to the 1980s, the module will explore how the novela de la selva was fundamental to Latin American expressions of political and literary independence throughout the twentieth century.

Learning Outcomes

On completion of this module students will have developed a critical awareness of the novela de la selva, as well as of the socio-political and literary contexts of the set texts. They will be able to identify the central themes of the genre and compare and contrast Latin American representations of the Amazon with earlier European accounts of the jungle. They will be able to present informed written and oral evaluations of the novela de la selva.

Teaching and Learning Methods

Introductory lectures on each text, followed by seminar presentations and group discussions.


  • One Coursework essay of 2,500-3,000 words (50%)
  • One 3-hour examination (50%)

Set texts

Rivera, José Eustasio, La vorágine (The Vortex), ed. by Montserrat Ordóñez (Madrid: Cátedra, 1998)

Carpentier, Alejo, Los pasos perdidos (The Lost Steps) (Madrid: Alianza Editorial, 1998)

Vargas Llosa, Mario, El hablador (The Storyteller) (Barcelona: Seix Barral, 1997)

Key background reading

French, Jennifer L., Nature, Neo-Colonialism, and the Spanish American Regional Writers (Hanover, NH: Dartmouth College Press, 2005)

Rogers, Charlotte, Jungle Fever: Exploring Madness and Medicine in Twentieth-Century Tropical Narratives (Nashville: Vanderbilt University Press, 2012)

Sá, Lucia, Rain Forest Literatures: Amazonian Texts and Latin American Culture (Minneapolis: University of Minnesota Press, 2004)

Wylie, Lesley, Colonial Tropes and Postcolonial Tricks: Rewriting the Tropics in the novela de la selva (Liverpool: Liverpool University Press, 2009)