Brother Simão, by Machado de Assis

(My translation of the short story Frei Simão, which was published in Jornal das Famílias in 1864 and, in book form, in Contos fluminenses in 1870.)

I

B

rother Simão was a Benedictine monk. You’d have thought he was fifty when he died, but in fact he was only thirty-eight. The reason for that premature ageing was the same as for his having entered the cloister at the age of thirty and, as far as one can tell from some fragmentary memoirs he left, it was a sufficient reason.

Taciturn and distrustful by nature, he used to spend entire days in his cell, leaving it only at meal times and for the divine office. He didn’t have any friends at all in the monastery, because he wasn’t even open to the preliminaries of making a friendship.

In a monastery, where the communion of souls should be easier and more profound, he seemed an exception to the rule. One of the novices gave him the nickname ‘The Bear,’ which caught on, although it didn’t really go beyond the novices. As for the professed monks, they felt a certain respect and admiration for him, despite any aversion caused by his solitary spirit.

One day it was announced he’d become seriously ill. Help was called and every possible care provided, but his illness was terminal: he died five days later.

During those five days of his illness, with at least one monk continually in attendance, he hadn’t said a word; it was only on the last day, when his final moment was approaching, that he sat up in his bunk, asked the abbot to come closer and whispered in his ear, in a strange, strangulated voice:

‘I die hating humanity.’

When he heard these words and the way they were said, the abbot retreated to the wall. Meanwhile Brother Simão fell back on his pillow and slipped into eternity.

After it had paid the respect due to its dead brother, the community asked its leader what the dreadful words were that had shocked him so much. The abbot obliged, crossing himself at the same time. The monks, however, thought those words could only refer to some past secret, no doubt important, but not sufficient to explain the abbot’s horrified reaction. So the abbot explained that, when he heard Brother Simão say those words, accompanied by that tone of voice and that piercing look, it had occurred to him he was mad; and, even more, that he’d been mad when he entered the monastery – the taciturn life of a hermit to which he’d dedicated himself being symptomatic of a sort of mild and pacific mental disturbance; the monks said they thought it almost impossible that insanity wouldn’t have become evident in a more obvious way in the course of eight years; but the abbot persisted in his opinion.

Meanwhile an inventory was made of the deceased’s possessions, among which was found a neatly tied roll of papers, labelled as follows: ‘Notes for Memoirs, Brother Simão de Santa Águeda, Benedictine monk.’

This roll of papers was a great discovery for the curious community: at last the mysterious veil covering Brother Simão’s past would be lifted slightly and perhaps the abbot’s suspicions would be confirmed. The roll was opened and read out in front of everyone.

In the main it contained incomplete and intractable fragments – jottings and notes – but, even so, there was enough to conclude that, for some time, he really had been mad.

Ignoring those parts of the Memoirs that have no importance whatsoever, the narrator will avail himself of the parts that are less irrelevant or less obscure.

II

B

rother Simão’s notes don’t say anything about where he was born, nor do they mention the names of his parents. What we do know about his youth is that, when he’d finished his basic education, he couldn’t follow a literary career as he’d wanted, because he had to become a book-keeper in his father’s firm.

At that time a female cousin of Simão was living in his father’s house; she was an orphan, and Simão’s father had been entrusted with her education and upkeep. Evidently Simão’s father had enough money for that. As for the father of this orphan cousin, he’d gone from riches to penury, having lost all his money on gambling and ill-fated business ventures.

The orphan was called Helena; she was beautiful, sweet and extremely good. Simão, who’d been brought up alongside her, living under the same roof, couldn’t resist his cousin’s outstanding charm and beauty. They fell in love. Their dreams of the future revolved around marriage, which seems the most natural thing in the world for loving hearts.

It didn’t take long for Simão’s parents to find out the two of them were in love. But I should say – even though there’s nothing explicit about it in the monk’s notes –, I should say that the above-mentioned parents were uncommonly selfish. They were ready enough to provide Helena with her daily bread, but letting their son marry the poor orphan was out of the question. They’d set their sights on a rich heiress and, as far as they were concerned, she was the one their son would marry.

One afternoon, when the boy was getting on with entries in the master ledger, his father walked into the office wearing a serious sort of smile and told his son to stop working and listen. The boy obeyed.

‘You’re going to leave for the province of ***,’ his father said. ‘I need to send some letters to Amaral, my business partner, and because they’re very important I don’t want to trust them to our hit-and-miss postal service. Would you prefer to go by steam boat or in our ketch?’

The old businessman had put the question carefully, in such a way that his son had to reply, but couldn’t object. Well aware of that, the boy looked down at the floor and replied: ‘I’ll go whichever way you prefer, Father.’

Mentally thanking his son for being so compliant, thus saving him the price of a steam-boat ticket, the father went off happily to tell his wife that the boy had no objections at all.

That night the two lovers had a chance to meet alone in the dining-room and Simão told Helena what had happened. They both shed some furtive tears and hoped he’d be away for no more than a month.

At the supper table, Simão’s father talked about the boy’s journey and about how it should only take a few days, which gave fresh heart to the two lovers. The rest of the evening was spent with the old man giving his son tips about how to behave in the business partner’s house. At ten o’clock they all went off to bed as usual.

The days passed quickly until the day finally dawned when the ketch was due to leave. Helena emerged from her room with her eyes red from crying. In reply to her aunt, who asked her brusquely what the matter was, she said her eyes were inflamed from reading too much the previous evening. Her aunt told her to abstain from reading and to bathe her eyes in marshmallow water.

Meanwhile her uncle called Simão over, entrusted him with a letter for the business partner and embraced him. Suitcase and servant were ready. It was a sad parting. The parents wept a little; the girl wept a lot.

As for Simão, his eyes were dry and burning. He wasn’t good at crying and therefore suffered even more.

The ketch set sail. As long as he could see land, Simão stayed on deck, but when – in Ribeyrolles’ picturesque phrase – the walls of his mobile prison closed in, he went down to his cabin, sad and heavy-hearted. A presentiment was telling him, inside, that he’d never see his cousin again. It seemed like he was heading into exile.

When he arrived at his destination, he went to look for his father’s business partner and gave him the letter. Mr Amaral read the letter, looked at the boy and, after a long silence and much twiddling of the letter, he said:

‘Right. You need to stay here now, until I carry out your father’s request. In the meantime my home will be your home.’

‘When will I be able to return?’ Simão asked.

‘In a few days, as long as things don’t get complicated.’

In Amaral’s mouth, this ‘as long as’ sounded like the main thing he had to say. The letter from Simão’s father read as follows:

My dear Amaral,

I have serious reasons for needing to send my son away from this city. Please keep him there as long as you can. I have informed him that his voyage has been necessitated by my need to complete some business with you. Please make the little fellow think that he will be coming home in next to no time. Having entertained, in your youth, the ill-conceived idea of becoming a novelist, you should not have any difficulty in contriving such pretexts and eventualities as will result in his not returning until I summon him.

I remain, as always etc.

III

D

ays passed and more days passed, without any hint of a time for going home. The ex-novelist was, indeed, imaginative and didn’t tire of thinking up new obstacles in such a way as to convince the boy.

Because, however, lovers are no less ingenious than novelists, Simão and Helena discovered a way of writing to each other and thus each of them was able to find consolation for the absence of the other in the form of paper and ink. (So Héloïse was quite right when she said the art of writing was invented by a lonely lover.) In those letters the two of them vowed to be ever faithful.

After two months’ fruitless waiting and busy correspondence, Helena’s aunt came across one of Simão’s letters – his twentieth, if I’m not mistaken. There was a great to-do in the house. Her uncle, who was in the office, rushed out to discover what it was all about. The result was that ink, pens and paper were banished from the house and the unfortunate girl was kept under rigorous watch.

So the letters to the poor deportee became less frequent. He wrote asking the reason in long, tearstained letters but, as the vigilance in his father’s house had acquired extraordinary dimensions, all Simão’s letters were ending up in the old man’s hands, who – after appreciating the style of his son’s amorous epistles – had them burnt.

Days and months passed by, without any letter from Helena. The seam of the business partner’s imagination was wearing thin and he was hard pressed to find new ways of holding on to the boy.

A letter arrived for Simão. It was a letter from his father. The only difference from the others he’d received from his father was that this was longer – much longer. The boy opened the letter and read it, pale and trembling. The distinguished businessman related in the letter that Helena – that fine girl whom he’d intended to become his daughter through marriage with Simão – had died. The old man had added some homely words of consolation (which he’d plagiarised from a recent funeral notice he’d seen in the papers). The final consolation was that Simão should sail back to discuss his future with his father.

The last sentence read:

In any case, things have not worked out as I intended; I have not been able to marry you to Helena, given that God has taken her from us. But you must come home, my son; come home, where you will find consolation in marrying another girl, Counsellor ***’s daughter, who is of age and a good match. Do not be disheartened and please think of me.

Simão’s father wasn’t well-versed in his son’s love and, even if he were, he’d have needed the eyes of an osprey to plumb its depths. Pain of this kind is not assuaged by a letter, nor by wedlock. It would have been better to summon him home and then prepare him for the news; but doing it cold like this, by letter, was certain death for the boy.

Although Simão was still physically alive, his spirit was dead, so dead that he left that place with the intention of finding his own grave. It might have been helpful, at this point, to include some of Simão’s notes about the suffering the letter caused him; but they’re full of mistakes and I don’t intend to correct the monk’s honest but artless writing.

The grave he chose was a monastery. He sent a reply to his father, thanking him in respect of the counsellor’s daughter, but averring that henceforth his life belonged to God.

His father was amazed. He never suspected anything like that could enter his son’s head and hurriedly wrote to persuade him to change his mind, but without success.

As to the business partner, he’d lost any desire to continue playing a part in a plot that was becoming thicker and thicker, and he was quite happy to see the boy leave for the monastery.

IV

A

 long time after the events I’ve just narrated, Brother Simão de Santa Águeda was entrusted with a religious mission in his native province. He made his preparations and embarked.

Although the mission wasn’t in the State capital but in the interior, when he got to the capital he thought he should visit his parents. They’d changed, both physically and mentally, no doubt through the pain and remorse of having forced their son to take that fateful decision. They’d sold the firm and were living off the proceeds.

It was with real emotion and true love that they welcomed him. After shedding tears and proffering heartfelt words, they broached the purpose of his visit: ‘What brings you, my son?’

‘A priestly mission: I’ve come to preach, to exhort the Lord’s sheep never to stray from the true path.’

‘Here in the capital?’

‘No, in the interior, beginning in the town of ***.’

The old couple turned pale, but Simão didn’t notice. He departed the next day, not without some further efforts by his parents to make him stay. Although they themselves had no intention of raising the painful subject, they were aware he hadn’t once mentioned Helena.

Some days later, in the town Brother Simão had mentioned, people were impatient to hear the missionary preach. The old church was full to overflowing.

At the appointed hour, he ascended the pulpit and began his sermon. Before long half the congregation had left in disgust. The reason was simple: accustomed as they were to vivid evocations of hellfire and brimstone – and suchlike pearls – from the ordinary run of preachers, they were hardly going to enjoy listening to simple, mild and reasoned language based on the words of the founder of our religion.

The preacher was about to finish when a married couple hurriedly entered the church; he was a small-holder, a decent type of man, not too badly off what with his piece of land and his willingness to work; she was a woman renowned for her virtue but who always seemed irredeemably sad. After blessing themselves with holy water they positioned themselves where they could easily see the preacher.

A scream rings out. Everyone runs to the woman, who’s just fainted. Brother Simão has to interrupt his discourse while she’s attended to, but there’s a gap in the crowd around her. He can see her wan face.

It’s Helena.

At this point in the monk’s manuscript there are eight lines of dots, as if to say ‘I’ve no idea what happened next,’ although what did happen next was that no sooner had he recognised her than he resumed his sermon; but it was now something else: a discourse with neither head nor tale, no subject, nothing but delirium.

General consternation.

V

B

rother Simão remained delirious for several days. With care and attention he came round and everyone thought he was better, except the doctor, who wanted to continue the treatment. The monk, however, insisted on returning to the monastery, and there wasn’t a person on earth who could have stopped him.

The reader will have had no difficulty in realising that Helena had been forced to marry by her uncle and aunt.

The effect of seeing Simão was traumatic. She died two months later, leaving her husband – who had truly loved her – inconsolable.

Back in the monastery, Brother Simão became even more solitary and taciturn. A touch of insanity remained.

We already know the circumstances of his death and the impression it made on the abbot.

For a long time, out of piety, the empty cell of Brother Simão de Santa Águeda remained shut. It wasn’t opened till some time later, when an old layman was admitted; with the help of a donation he’d managed to get the abbot to allow him to end his days among doctors of the soul. It was Simão’s father, the mother having died.

The word was – during that old man’s last years – that he was even madder than his son.

TRANSLATOR’S NOTE

A quote from Gilberto Freyre may help to explain why the congregation, ‘accustomed as they were to vivid evocations of hellfire and brimstone,’  would have been quite so disgusted by Brother Simão’s simple sermon. In his 1957 book Ordem e progresso, Freyre refers to the ‘over-valuation’ of oratory, eloquence and rhetoric in Brazil during this period and calls the phenomenon ‘a sticky and contagious flower.’

ABOUT THE AUTHOR

The following biographical details have been translated from the Academia Brasileira de Letras website.

Machado de Assis (Joaquim Maria M. de A.), a journalist, short-story writer, feuilletonist, novelist, poet and playwright, was born in Rio de Janeiro on 21 June 1839, and also died there, on 29 September 1908. He was the founder of Chair No. 23 of the Brazilian Academy of Letters. A good friend and admirer of José de Alencar, who died about twenty years before the establishment of the Academy, it was natural that Machado should choose the name of the author of O Guarani as his patron. He was President of the Brazilian Academy of Letters for more than ten years, the Academy becoming known, familiarly, as ‘The House of Machado de Assis.’

He was the son of Francisco José, a labourer, and Leopoldina Machado de Assis. His mother died when he was little, but information is scarce about his early years. He was brought up on Livramento Hill and was an altar server at Lampadosa church.

Without the means to have proper schooling, he published his first literary work – a poem called Ela (She) – in the Marmota Fluminense magazine in 1855. The next year he got a job at the National Press Works as an apprentice typographer.

By 1859 he was a proof-reader and correspondent for the Correio Mercantil newspaper and in 1860 he became a member of the editorial staff of the Diário do Rio de Janeiro newspaper. He also wrote regularly for the magazine O Espelho, where he made his debut as a theatre critic, for the Semana Ilustrada – from 1860 to 1875 – and for the Jornal das Famílias, where he mainly published short stories.

His first book, Queda que as mulheres têm para os tolos (How Women are Attracted to Fools), was printed by Paula Brito in 1861, although he was described as its translator. In 1862 he became theatre censor, an unpaid role, but one which gave him free entry to performances. He also began to collaborate with O Futuro, which was produced by Faustino Xavier de Novais, the brother of his future wife.

His first book of poetry, Crisálidas (Chrysalids), was published in 1864. In 1867 he was appointed assistant director of the government bulletin Diário Oficial. Three months after Faustino Xavier de Novais’s death in 1869, he married his friend’s sister, Carolina Augusta Xavier de Novais. She was a perfect companion during the remaining 35 years of his life and introduced him to the Portuguese classics and the works of various English authors.

His first novel, Ressurreição, was published in 1872. Shortly afterwards he was appointed first official at the state secretariat of the ministry of agriculture, commerce and public works, thus embarking upon the civil service career that would be his main source of income throughout the rest of his life.

In 1874 he began to publish, in instalments in the Globo newspaper, the novel A mão e a luva (The Hand and the Glove). He also wrote feuilletons, short stories, poetry and serialised novels for newspapers and magazines such as O Cruzeiro, A Estação and Revista Brasileira.

One of his plays, Tu, só tu, puro amor (You, just You, Pure Love) was staged at the Imperial Dom Pedro II Theatre in 1880. From 1881 to 1897 he published his best feuilletons in the Gazeta de Notícias.

1881 saw the publication of the book which would give a new direction to his literary career – Memórias póstumas de Brás Cubas (The Posthumous Memories of Brás Cubas), which had been published in instalments in the Revista Brasileira from 1879 to 1880. He also revealed himself as an extraordinary short story writer in Papéis Avulsos (Loose Pages, 1882) and in a number of subsequent collections of short stories.

In 1889 he was promoted to director of commerce at the ministry.

He had continued to work for the Revista Brasileira in the period when it was under the direction of his great friend José Veríssimo. The group of intellectuals connected with the Revista had the idea for creating a Brazilian Academy of Letters and, when the Academy was inaugurated in 1897, he was elected President, a task he devoted himself to for the rest of his life.

His oeuvre covers practically all literary genres. His first works of poetry were the Romantic Crisálidas (1864) and Falenas (Moths, 1870); this was followed by indianism in Americanas (1875) and parnassianism in Ocidentais (Occidentals, 1901).

The Contos fluminenses (Rio Stories) were published in 1870 and the Histórias da meia-noite (Midnight Stories) in 1873; the novel Ressurreição (Resurrection) in 1872, A mão e a luva in 1874, Helena in 1876 and Iaiá Garcia in 1878, all of which were considered part of his Romantic period. From that point onwards he moved into the phase of his masterpieces, which evade literary categorisation and which make him the greatest Brazilian writer and one of the greatest authors in the Portuguese language.

During his life, his work was edited by the Livraria Garnier from 1869; in 1937, W. M. Jackson, of Rio de Janeiro, published the Obras completes (Complete Works) in 31 volumes. Raimundo Magalhães Júnior organised and published, in Civilização Brasileira, the following volumes of Machado de Assis: Contos e crônicas (Stories and Feuilletons, 1958); Contos esparsos (Random Stories, 1956); Contos esquecidos (Forgotten Stories, 1956); Contos recolhidos (Collected Stories, 1956); Contos avulsos (Separate Stories, 1956); Contos sem data (Undated Stories, 1956); Crônicas de Lélio (Lélio’s Chronicles, 1958); Diálogos e reflexões de um relojoeiro (Dialogues and Reflections of a Watchmaker, 1956). In 1975 the Machado de Assis Commission, which was established by the ministry of education and culture and was chaired by the president of the Brazilian Academy of Letters, organised and published, also in Civilização Brasileira, the Edições críticas de obras de Machado de Assis (Critical Editions of the Works of Machado de Assis), in 15 volumes, comprising short stories, novels and poetry by that greatest of Brazilian writers.

Publications: Desencantos, comedy (1861); Queda que as mulheres têm para os tolos, prose satire (1861); two comic plays: O protocolo and O caminho da porta (1863); Quase ministro, comedy; Crisálidas, poetry (1864); Os deuses de casaca, comedy (1866); Falenas, poetry (1870); Contos fluminenses, short stories (1870); Ressurreição,  novel (1872); Histórias da meia-noite, short stories (1873); A mão e a luva, novel (1874); Americanas, poetry (1875); Helena, novel (1876); Iaiá Garcia, novel (1878); Memórias póstumas de Brás Cubas, novel (1881); Tu, só tu, puro amor, comedy (1881); Papéis avulsos, short stories (1882); Histórias sem data, short stories (1884); Quincas Borba, novel (1891); Várias histórias, short stories (1896); Páginas recolhidas, short stories, essays, plays (1899); Dom Casmurro, novel (1899); Poesias completas (1901); Esaú e Jacó, novel (1904); Relíquias da casa velha, short stories, criticism, plays (1906); Memorial de Aires, novel (1908).

Published posthumously: Crítica (1910); Outras relíquias, short stories, criticism, theatre (1932); Crônicas, feuilletons (1937); Correspondência (1932); Crítica literária (1937); Páginas escolhidas (1921); Casa velha (1944).

To mark the centenary of Machado’s birth, in 1939, Monteiro Lobato wrote the following at the request of the Argentinian newspaper La Prensa:

‘The short stories of Machado de Assis! Where can we find stories more perfect in form, more sparkling with ideas and more permeated by philosophy? Where can you find stories more universal and more human whilst simultaneously local and individual? We’d need to go to France to find one of his brothers in the person of Anatole France. But Anatole France blossomed in the most propitious of gardens, amidst a highly developed civilisation, encouraged by all sorts of awards, and surrounded by all the finesse of comfort and art; Machado de Assis was born into poverty, amidst the squalor of colonial Rio, and received no awards other than his own auto-approval, and his monthly wage was scarcely enough to live on. Rather than having readers throughout the world, like Anatole France, Machado de Assis had just half a dozen friends as his readers. The paltry sum for which he sold the copyright for all his works to the Garnier publishing house […] shows clearly how limited was his readership.

Even so, despite all these limitations, it was his pen that produced the first masterpiece of Brazilian literature, Memórias Póstumas de Brás Cubas (The Posthumous Memoirs of Brás Cubas), a book that’s going to surprise the world one day. They’ll all be saying: ‘How on earth could this have appeared in such an inferior country, in a South American backwater?!’

And then he gave us Dom Casmurro (Mr Grumpy), that perfect novel, and Esaú e Jacó (Esau and Jacob) and Quincas Borba and, finally Memorial de Aires, a work that brings style and romance to emptiness, to the emptiness of old age, to the emptiness of his own almost seventy years.

In between the novels, he was producing short stories – and what stories! What marvellous stories, different from anything produced in Brazil, or in the whole of America! Stories without tricks, without stage props, without lots of landscape, everything based on the most meticulous design, like the paintings of Ingres. Human types and more human types, souls and more souls – an immense procession of figures more vivid even than their models. And with what style, with what purity of language!

There are few great heights in Brazilian literature: plenty of writers, plenty of books, plenty of printed paper, but also plenty of vain pretension and, in recent times, plenty of impostors. But all those defects have been redeemed by the appearance of works of eternal value, works that will endure as long as the language in which they were written. ‘Missa do Galo’ (Midnight Mass), ‘Uns Braços’ (A Pair of Arms), ‘Conto Alexandrino’ (An Alexandrian Tale), ‘Capitulo dos Chapeus’ (A Chapter of Hats), ‘Anedota Pecuniária’ (A Pecuniary Anecdote) [Translations of the first four are available in John Gledson’s A Chapter of Hats (2008)] – it’s difficult to choose between Machado’s stories, because they’re all drawn from the same spring. Ah! If only Portuguese wasn’t this clandestine language…

Before writing these lines, I re-read several of Machado de Assis’s works and it’s only because I promised La Prensa I would that I forced myself to speak about him, so little, so insignificant, so miserable did I feel! I felt ashamed of judgements I’d made previously in which, either out of snobbery or stupidity, I’d dared to make ironic remarks about such work. And, given that I didn’t withdraw from this undertaking, at least it gives me a chance to undergo public penance – because, in all honesty, I find it grotesque that anyone nowadays should dare to speak about Machado de Assis without removing their hat. Our attitude should be marked by complete and reverential humility. If anyone doubts that, let them re-read ‘Conto Alexandrino’ or ‘Missa do Galo.’

In your presence, Machado, we’re all bit players…

The wariness with which Machado de Assis lived his life in Rio de Janeiro was supremely felicitous in his case – a difficult case, of extreme intellectual superiority allied to extreme awareness that it wouldn’t do to flaunt it, in view of the colour of his skin and his mundane job in public administration. How many proud but empty ministers must have been his legal and social superiors – superior to him, who was, simply on his own merits, the highest of the highest in Brazil! Time’s broom has already swept the names of all those bigwigs, all those ‘superiors,’ into the bin; but the name of Machado de Assis continues to rise higher and higher.

He was oddly gregarious. He always liked literary associations and societies, going so far as to found an academy of ‘immortals’ (the Brazilian Academy of Letters), of which he was the president, and he was the only one who really became an immortal, without the quotation marks. The explanation may reside in his innate need to observe ‘the puppet show’: gathering the puppets around whatever human stupidity, he had them conveniently to hand for his study, just as, in his laboratory, an anatomist has a collection of rabbits, dogs and monkeys in cages for his experimentation.

Machado’s philosophy was permeated by melancholy: he’d studies the guinea pigs too much, he knew the human soul too well. A calmly resigned philosophy, the ultimate point of which appears in Brás Cubas, that hero of self-satisfied vulgarity, who concludes his posthumous memoirs with the balance sheet of his earthly existence, a positive balance sheet. How come, positive? ‘I didn’t have children, I didn’t pass on to any other being  the legacy of our misery.’

The life of Machado de Assis also had a positive balance. He didn’t have children and, given that he couldn’t pass on his genius, at least he didn’t pass on to any other being the colour of his skin, his stutter, his epilepsy, his disenchantment with the puppets. And there could have been nothing more generous in his life. What a terrible thing for any being – even for a being of some capacity – to carry the stupendous burden, for your whole life, of being the child of Machado de Assis!

‘Do you know who that is, the sad old crow coming out of that office?’

‘That miserable-looking mulatto, the one with the hunchback?’

‘Yes, that one. That’s the son of Machado de Assis…’

Just imagine the look of pious sympathy this piece of information would evoke!

Nature permits geniuses only one child: their work. Machado de Assis understood this better than anyone and, having given the world this most beautiful child, he walked sadly away from the madding crowd, with the tranquillity of those who’ve succeeded in the most challenging of all tasks – that of not leaving behind the merest shadow of pain.’

For his part, Lima Barreto – who was initially often referred to as the true successor of Machado – was less fulsome in his praise:

Not denying his merits as a great writer, I’ve always found a considerable aridity in Machado, a marked lack of sympathy, a lack of generous impulses, some puerile characteristics. I’ve never imitated him and he’s never been my inspiration. You can mention Maupassant, Dickens, Swift, Balzac, Daudet, perhaps, but Machado, never! You could go as far as Turgenev or Tolstoy in order to find my exemplars; but Machado, no! […] Machado wrote […] hiding what he felt so as not to be humiliated […] I’m not afraid to say what I think and what I feel, without calculating whether I’m going to be humiliated or praised. I think that’s a big difference.

(Obras Completas de Lima Barreto, Correspondências, Vol.2, 1956).

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