Maria Vargas Llosa, Peruvian writer and social activist, was recently appointed the Weidenfield Professor of Comparative Literature at the University of Oxford. I had the pleasure of attending his five lectures on Les Misrable which were given at the Said Business School.
Llosaís bid for the
presidential election many years ago made anonymity impossible. In
Oxford, he could walk the streets, visit libraries and concerts without
being recognised. Left to his pursuits in his Oxford college flat, he
almost becomes faceless, away from his country where he once was a face
in the crowd. It is the quiet life of the writer as a contrast to the
political life that he once led in Lima, surrounded by the security
police and the mob that for some time took him away from the cultured
In Oxford or in his sleek flat in Knightsbridge surrounded by posters from his stage production and contemporary Spanish and Columbian art on the walls, he remains unruffled by any engagement, whether it is a lecture he is to deliver in another hour or he has to fly of to Chile on a lecture tour.
He spoke English fluently but with a heavy accent, full of enthusiasm at what is at hand, may it be a new play that he has written for the stage or is setting out to write a radio play for the European Association of Radios. This enthusiasm is visible when he looks back with dread at the possibility of being elected the President in 1990.
He is of the opinion that his life as a novelist and a playwright would have been destroyed as both politics and writing "are activities that demand total dedication and have a very different attitude towards many things. As a politician, you donít really have the independence, the isolation that is indispensable for a writer; I knew that would mean at least a temporary sacrifice."
In his lectures at Oxford, he showed the oratory of a politician; the forceful style of his spoken word made his lectures rather interesting. The enthusiasm behind his love for drama and poetry indicated the renewed vigour with which he had recaptured his almost lost profession.
The defeat in the elections was a blessing for him. It has enabled him to concentrate on writing plays, short stories as well as take up teaching positions around the world: at Harvard and Princeton he has taught Latin American Literature. Now at Oxford, he plans to lecture on Les Misrable.
He has no intentions of returning to Lima, though his aged mother has gone back after spending 30 years in Los Angels.
He jokingly remarks that he might be "lynched if I return to Peru". Taking advantage of the good relations between Spain and Peru in the early 90s, he obtained the Spanish citizenship.