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Jorge Isaacs

Jorge Isaacs

Colombia (1837-1895)

Photograph: Banco de la República, Colombia

He was a writer, military and colombian diplomat, author of one of the most emblematic works of colombian literature, María. Although it is said that he was born on april 1st, 1837, in Cali (Valle del Cauca, Colombia), some historians say that his birthplace was in fact Quibdó (Chocó), because his father made gold digging explorations in that region.

He was son of George Henry Isaacs, jamaican jew of british origins, and Manuela Ferrer Scarpetta, daughter of a spanish navy official. He studied his primary school in Cali and Popayan, and when he turned eleven years old he moved to Bogota, where he studied at several schools. However, due to financial complications, he had to return to Cali in 1852 without completing high school. At that time he wrote his first poems, Mayo and El primer beso, published in 1860 and 1864, respectively.

Due to the multiple wars that hit the country during the last half of the nineteenth century, Isaacs was immersed in an agitated political life that gave him little time to publish his literary works. That is the main reason why his political and merchant life had more failures than succeses, unlike his literary life. He was involved in the Cauca insurrection against general Jose María Melo’s dictatorship, in 1853.

In 1856 he married Felisa González, who was 14 years old. Also he started his literary activity, focusing in drama and poetry. He wrote the unpublished Amy Robsart, María Adrian and Paulina Lamberti.

In 1861, after he got sick of paludism during the construction of the main road between Cali and Buenaventura, to which he was subinspector, he had to return to Cali. There he continued the project which would be later known as María. Shortly after his father died and he had to leave all his parents properties to his brother in order to pay debts. He moved to Bogotá again, and joined El Mosaico gathering, directed by José María Vergara y Vergara, who moved Isaacs to finally publish his first book, Poesías, in 1864.

In May 1867, there were printed the first 800 copies of María. In very brief time the novel gained a lot of fame, and was reedited in several occasions.

In 1881 he was named secretary of the Comisión Científica by president Rafael Núñez, in charge of executing an investigation around the country’s natural regions. He travelled to the atlantic coast and discovered coal deposits. In 1886 Isaacs discovered deposits of coal, petroleum and phosphate of lime.

By 1885, he had already decided to move with his family to Ibagué permanently, where he lived until his death, on april 17th 1895.

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