"House by the Railroad," Edward Hopper, 1925

About Poets: JOHN AGARD

In Ñspel: The Guardian view on Bruno and Dom’s legacy: defend nature’s defenders

The relatives of British journalist Dom Phillips and activists with a banner with his image, on the left, and that of Indigenous activist Bruno Pereira, in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil. Photograph: Bruna Prado/AP
Ɖ reḷtivz v Britiś jrṇlist Dóm Filips n acṭvists wɖ a banr wɖ hiz imij, on ɖ left, n ɖt v Indijṇs acṭvist Bruno Pereira, in Rio de Janeiro, Bṛzil. Foṭgraf: Bruna Prado/AP

Ɖ Gardịn vy on Bruno n Dóm’z leġsi: dfnd nećr’z dfndrz

(Transcription of a Guardian editorial of 5 June 2023)

Wn yir aftr Bruno Pereira n Dóm Filips wr cild in ɖ Aṃzn, ɖer wrc xplenñ ẃt z haṗnñ ɖr gz on

Munde, 5 Jūn 2023

Ɖ  dsiźn bî Bṛziłn p’līs t ćarj tū mor men wɖ ɖ mrdrz v Bruno Pereira n Dóm Filips, in ɖ Javari Vali rījn v ɖ Aṃzn, brñz ɖ posbiḷti v justis wn step closr. T ɖ ʈri fiśrz olrdi in cusṭdi fr ɖ śūtñz, ẃć tc ples wn yir ago, hv bn add ɖ alejd līdr v a trnznaśnl ilīgl-fiśñ netwrc, Ruben Dario da Silva Villar, nicnemd Colombia (ẃr h olso hz sitiznśp). A forʈ fiśr, Jânio Freitas de Souza, z alejd t hv bn wn v Silva Villar’z hnćṃn on ɖ Itaquaí Rivr, ẃr ɖ cilñz tc ples.

Fr frendz n s’portrz v ɖ tū men’z wrc dfndñ ɖ Aṃzn n its Indijṇs inhabitnts, ɖ invstgeśn’z progres ofrz sm rlif. F sć acts v vayḷns g unpuniśt, criminl orġnîześnz ɖt wīld pǎr in ɖ Aṃzn wl b frɖr imboldnd in ɖer ys. Bt īvn f cnvix́nz r s’krd, ɖs wl b ɖ xpśn n nt ɖ rūl ẃn it cmz t atacs on invîrnmntl dfndrz – dfînd bî ɖ Ynîtd Neśnz az ppl hu strîv t pṛtct hymn rîts rletñ t nećr.

Ɖ riscs asośietd wɖ sć wrc n actvizm hv rizn az ɖ clîṃtcrîsis hz esc̣letd. Cilñz linct t invîrnmntl campenz hv bn monitrd bî Globl Witnis, an NGO, fr a deced. It rcordd 200 in 2021. Fr rportrz, last yir wz ptiklrli dedli. Ɖ Cmiti t Pṛtct Jrṇlists cǎntd 67 victimz, includñ Filips. Fiftīn v ɖz wr in Ycren; olmst haf wr in Latin America n ɖ Caṛbiyn. Ɖs yir ɖr hv so far bn 12 deʈs.

It z tù sn t asrt wɖ confidns ɖt Prezidnt Luiz Inácio Lula da Silva hz s’xidd in endñ ẃt h cōld ɖ “nîtmer” v Jair Bolsonaro’z ira v devsteśn, includñ dīfoṛsteśn n hymn-rîts abysz. Ẃt z srtn z ɖt ppl arnd ɖ wrld, az wel az in Bṛzil, nīd akṛt inḟmeśn abt ɖ complex sićueśn in ɖ wrld’z larjist renforist, ẃć plez a vîtl part in ɖ clîṃtsistm n z amñ ɖ most bîodîvrs plesz on ɖ planit.

Orġnîzd crîm z wn ʈret, wɖ wn formr p’līsćīf wornñ ɖt ilīgl mainrz n drugtraficrz cd form armiz, n tec ovr ɖ rījn, az hapnd in Colombia. Bt multinaśnl mainñ n agṛculćṛl bizṇsz olso cōz hyj damij ẃl mcñ vast profits līġli. Dīfoṛsteśn linct t catlranćñ n logñ axeḷretd dṛmaticli undr Bolsonaro. Bt Lula’z atmts t rvrs it fes pǎrfl opziśn. Ɖ Wrld Banc, ẃć prīvịsli fînanst foristclirñ inḍstriz, hz b’letidli rec̣gnîzd ɖ dstrux́n v ɖ Aṃzn az a marcitfełr on a masiv scel. It, alñ wɖ uɖr globl insttyśnz, mst nǎ b proactiv in fînansñ ɖs jaynt carbn snc. Justis az wel az slf-inṭrest dmandz ɖt globl-norʈ cuntriz contṛbyt t ɖs eḟt, n d nt līv it t Bṛzil.

Wrc t cnsrv ẃt z left v ɖ Aṃzn, in conṣt wɖ its Indijṇs rezidnts, mst b inṭnaśnl bt olso locl. Wɖt îz on ɖ grǎnd, dīp in ɖ jungl az wel az in ɖ wrld’z bōrdrūmz n parḷmnts, nwn nz ẃt z acć̣li haṗnñ ɖr. Pereira n Filips lost ɖer livz trayñ t unḍstand, n t tel ɖ wrld, abt eḟts t dveḷp ɖ Aṃzn – n abt eḟts t rzist sć dveḷpmnt in fevr v les dstructiv oltrṇtivz. It’s in ol ǎr inṭrests t cari on ẃt ɖe bgan.

Instroduction to Ñspel

"House by the Railroad," Edward Hopper, 1925


"House by the Railroad," Edward Hopper, 1925

From Portuguese: NEW CALIFORNIA by Lima Barreto

(My translation of the short story A Nova Califórnia, which was written in 1910 and first published in 1915)

No-one knew where he’d come from. All the postman knew was that the letters were sent to him under the name Raimundo Flamel. And there were a lot of letters! Almost every day the postman had to carry a great bundle of them from all over the world, thick journals in obscure languages, books and packets out to the very edge of the town, where the mystery man lived.

So, not surprisingly, when Fabrício, a black man who was the local builder, was summoned to the newcomer’s house about some work that needed doing, everyone in the store wanted to know what it was. “He wants me to build an oven in his dining room,” said Fabrício.

Imagine the surprise of the little town’s inhabitants: an oven in the dining room!

In the following days, Fabrício was able to tell them about the delivery of glass bowls, blunt knives, crucibles – a whole list of things which, when placed on the tables and shelves, made the place look like the Devil’s own kitchen. And that caused quite some apprehension in the town. The more enlightened deduced that the newcomer was a coin forger; the less enlightened, that he was in league with Satan. When Chico da Tirana, the carter, was walking along, beside his creaking cart, by the mystery man’s house, he couldn’t help making the sign of the cross and muttering an “I believe”; and it was thanks only to the apothecary’s efforts that the mayor was dissuaded from ordering a siege of the house – the house that had caused such disquiet among the townsfolk.

Jerônimo Bastos, the apothecary, was alone in deducing from Fabrício’s information that the mystery man was most likely an éminence grise, a great chemist, who had taken refuge in that remote part of the world in order to be able to carry out his scientific studies in peace and quiet. Bastos himself was well-respected in the town: he was a qualified doctor but, because he didn’t like writing prescriptions, he’d become a partner at the apothecary’s to make life easier; and he was also a town councillor.

So Jerônimo’s opinion on the matter eventually calmed the fevered speculation, and people even began to feel quietly proud that such a great chemist had come to live in their town. If they happened to meet him on one of his evening walks around the outskirts – on which he’d take a seat here and there and gaze at the pellucid waters of the brook, or would seem to be lost in crepuscular melancholy – the townsmen would take their hats off to him, and would not infrequently add “Doctor” to “Good evening.”

And it particularly softened people’s hearts when they saw the deep sympathy he had for children: when he looked at them his eyes seemed full of pain at the thought that they’d been born only to suffer and die. Indeed, in the mellow light of evening he seemed like Jesus in his kindness to the children, whether the black children, with their smooth skin and air of sadness, trapped as they were in the swamp of slavery, or the white children, with their unhealthy skin – broken and rough through constant exposure to the malevolent tropical climate. It seemed as if he were wondering why Bernardin de Saint-Pierre had wasted so much sympathy on Paul and Virginie and forgotten about the slaves round about them.

Thus the initial apprehension soon turned into almost general admiration. Almost, because there was still one person who didn’t think much of the newcomer. Captain Pelino, the school master and editor of the Tubiacanga Gazette – which was affiliated to the government party – could be heard expressing sceptical opinions about the éminence grise in their midst.

“Mark my words,” he’d say. “You’ll be sorry when you find out your mistake. He’s a swindler, a chancer… He might even be a bandit on the run from Rio.”

This opinion wasn’t based on anything at all, or rather, it was based on Pelino’s hidden resentment at suddenly having a rival to his own status as local éminence grise. Not that Pelino was a chemist or anything like that; but he was clever and he knew a thing or two about grammar. Nobody could write anything in Tubiacanga without Pelino picking it to bits; and even when there was mention of famous men in Rio he couldn’t resist saying:

“Yes, he’s talented, I’ll give you that. But he writes ‘owing to,’ when it should be ‘due to,’ he starts paragraphs with ‘And’ and ‘But,’ he has paragraphs with only one sentence, and…”

And he’d purse his lips as if he’d just swallowed something  unpleasant.

But the whole town of Tubiacanga had respect for the grave and solemn Pelino, given that he could find grammatical mistakes even amongst the country’s most famous authors.

In the evenings, after he’d read a little of Sotero, Candido de Figueiredo or Castro Lopes, and after he’d added some more dye to his hair, he’d saunter out of his house in his Mineiran jacket, with all the buttons done up, and head for the apothecary’s for a bit of chat – although “chat” is not exactly the right word, because he much preferred listening to speaking. It was just that, whenever the smallest linguistic infelicity escaped from a speaker’s lips, he’d immediately call things to order.

For instance the postman might be saying, “We ensured him that…,” and, lo and behold!, with evangelical dedication to the cause, Pelino would interject, “What you’re trying to say, Senhor Bernardes, is ‘assured,’ not ‘ensured.” And the conversation would limp on until the next correction.

As a result there were many would-be conversationalists who preferred to keep their distance, but Pelino, undeterred, persevered in his work as the Apostle of Good Grammar – until, that is, the arrival of the mystery man distracted him somewhat from his mission. All his efforts were now turned towards combatting this rival, who had appeared on the scene so unexpectedly. But Pelino’s eloquent denunciations were in vain: not only did Raimundo Flamel pay his bills on time, he was also generous – a father to the poor – and the apothecary had seen mention of him, in a trade magazine, as a notable chemist.


The chemist had been living in Tubiacanga for some years when, one fine morning, Bastos was surprised and delighted to see him enter his apothecary’s shop. Up until that day, the great man hadn’t deigned to pay anybody a visit and, when Orestes, the sacristan, had once dared to enter his house to request a donation for the forthcoming feast of the Immaculate Conception, he’d had a distinctly frosty reception.

So, as soon as Bastos saw him, he hurried out from behind the counter to greet him in a way that would make it perfectly clear how honoured he was by the visit and, in the most grandiloquent voice he could manage, he declared, “You’re most welcome, Doctor.” But the éminence grise appeared surprised neither by the apothecary’s demonstration of respect, nor by the title of Doctor. Instead, he looked around for a moment at the shelves full of medications and said, “I’d like word with you in private, Senhor Bastos.”

The apothecary was amazed. How could he possibly be of use to a man who was known throughout the world and of whom the learned journals spoke with such awe? Could it be money? Perhaps he’d fallen behind with his rent. Who knows?

As Bastos led the chemist towards the back rooms of the store, his apprentice looked on in surprise, letting the pestle rest in the mortar where he’d been grinding some herbal concoction or other.

Bastos eventually led his guest into a little room at the very back that he used for lengthier medical examinations or for the little operations that he did from time to time. No sooner had they sat down than Flamel started speaking:

“As you probably know, I’m a chemist and am well respected among fellow scientists.”

“I’m well aware of it, Doctor,” replied Bastos, “and I’ve made my friends aware of it as well.”

“Thank you. Well, I’ve made a great, an extraordinary, discovery…”

Embarrassed by his own enthusiasm, the éminence grise paused for a moment.

“…a discovery, but I’m not yet in a position to divulge it to my scientific colleagues, if you understand.”

“…Oh! Completely.”

“For that reason I need three competent people to formally witness a demonstration of it, so that I can patent my invention… You understand, unforeseen things can happen and…”

“Oh! Certainly. Without a doubt.”

“You need to know that it has to do with making gold…”

“What? How?” said Bastos, his eyes almost popping out of his head.

“Yes! Gold!” Flamel replied decisively.


“You’ll find out,” the chemist said drily. “The immediate question – I’m sure you’ll agree – is who the three witnesses should be.”

“Yes, of course. We need to make sure your rights are protected, and therefore…”

“One of them,” the éminence grise interrupted, “will be you. And you’ll do me the favour, Senhor Bastos, of selecting the other two yourself.”

The apothecary was lost in thought for about three minutes as he passed all his acquaintances in review. Finally he asked:

“Will Colonel Bentes do? Do you know him?”

“No, I don’t. You’re probably aware that I’m not really acquainted with anyone in the town.”

“I can guarantee that Bentes is not only rich, but he’s also a serious fellow, and discreet.”

“Is he religious?” Flamel asked briskly. “The reason I ask is that it has to do with bones from corpses. Nothing else will do.”

“Religious? Good heavens no! He’s practically an atheist.”

“Good. Bentes will be the second. And who will be the third?”

Bastos immersed himself in thought once more, and this time he took a little longer as he consulted his memory. Eventually he said:

“Lieutenant Carvalhais, the tax collector. Do you know him?”

“As I said before…”

“So you did… He’s reliable and he’s also a serious chap, but…”

“But what?”

“He’s a freemason.”

“Even better.”

“And when will it take place?”

“On Sunday. On Sunday the three of you will come to my house to witness the demonstration and I hope you’ll all lend your signatures to authenticate its veracity.”

“Say no more.”

So, on Sunday, as promised, those three respectable residents of Tubiacanga went to Flamel’s house and, some days later, he disappeared, without trace or explanation.


Tubiacanga was a small town of three or four thousand inhabitants. It was a very quiet place, even though the express trains deigned to stop at its station once in a while. There had been no reports of thefts or burglaries for five years, and the only reason the houses had doors and windows was… because they had them in Rio. And the only entry in the town’s little criminal register in recent years was a murder during the municipal elections; but, because the murderer was a member of the government party, and his victim was of the opposition, the event in no way altered the town’s habits: it continued exporting its coffee beans, and its low, unassuming houses continued to be reflected in the meagre waters of the little river that had given it its name.

So it was with stunned incomprehension that, all of a sudden, the town found itself the scene of one of the most horrible crimes imaginable. Not a lynching or a parricide, not the murder of an entire family or an attack on the revenue office. It was something much worse, a sacrilege in the eyes of any religion and any conscience: the graves in the town’s “Sossego Graveyard” – in that holy ground – had been violated.

At first the gravedigger thought it must have been dogs, but all he could find were small holes when he inspected the wall. And, even after he’d filled those up, the desecration continued. On the very next day a tomb was smashed and the bones stolen; and the day after that, a marked and an unmarked grave. It was either people or the devil.

This was beyond anything the gravedigger could cope with, so he reported it to the mayor, after which the news quickly spread through the town. The outrage was, understandably, immense. The Religion of Death is the top religion and it will certainly be the last one to die out. The Presbyterians – or the bible-bashers as they’re more commonly called – condemned this profanation; it was condemned by the former cadet Agrimensol Nicolau, who was a religious positivist of the Teixeira Mendes variety; it was condemned by Major Camanho, who was president of the New Hope Lodge; it was condemned by the Turk Miguel Abudala, the haberdasher, and by the one-time student Belmiro, who was a sceptic and took each day as it came, drinking cachaça in the pubs. Even the daughter of the resident railway engineer, the beautiful and aloof Cora,  who couldn’t stand the place, who wouldn’t demean herself by noticing the impassioned looks of the local youths, and who was forever hoping that the next express would bring a prince who would carry her away and make her his princess, even she could not help but share the indignation and horror that the crime had provoked in all the townsfolk. Which was remarkable, because what had she to do with the graves of old slaves and country bumpkins? How could the destiny of such common bones possibly interest her beautiful dark eyes? And why should their theft disturb her dream of being the centre of attention on the pavements in Rio? No, there was no reason.

But it was Death, the Implacable and the Omnipotent, to whom even she realised she was enslaved and who, one day, would carry off even her beautiful skeleton to the eternal peace of the graveyard. And, that being so, she really wanted her bones, after the worms had had the pleasure of her flesh, to lie quietly, peacefully and comfortably in a well-made coffin beneath a well-built tomb…

But the person who outdid all the others in outrage was Pelino. The schoolmaster wrote an editorial in the following fulminating style:

“Never, in the history of crime, even though that history is replete with repugnant facts, e.g.: the hanging, drawing and quartering of Maria de Macedo, the death by strangling of the Fuoco brothers, never has there been a crime to compare with that of the Sossego grave robbery…”

So the town was at sixes and sevens. Worry was etched on every face, business paralysed, courtship suspended. For days without end black clouds hung over the houses and, at night, everyone could hear supernatural noises, murmurings and groans. It seemed as if the dead were pleading for vengeance…

But the robberies continued. Every night, two or three graves were opened and emptied of their funereal contents, as a result of which the townsfolk decided to go there en masse to guard the bones of their loved ones. It didn’t take long, however, for tiredness and sleep to take a toll: first one person took himself off, then another until, by dawn, not one vigilante remained. Thus, even on that night, the gravedigger found that two graves had been opened and the bones whisked away.

So they organised special guards: ten doughty men took an oath before the mayor that they’d guard the mansion of the dead during the night. On the first night nothing unusual occurred, nor on the second, nor on the third; but, on the fourth, when the guards were already beginning to doze, one of them thought he’d caught sight of a figure slipping between the gravestones.

The guards immediately made chase and they managed to catch two of the vampires. Their pent-up fury was such that they could no longer contain themselves and they gave the macabre thieves such a beating that they left them more dead than alive.

The news of the capture spread like wildfire and it was in front of the whole population that, in the morning, the villains’ identities came to be revealed: Tax Collector Carvalhais and Colonel Bentes, a rich farmer and president of the Assembly. The latter was still alive and, under repeated questioning, he said he’d taken the bones to turn them into gold. And not only that: he said he’d had a third accomplice – the apothecary.

The effect of this revelation was electric. How could gold be made out of bones? Surely it wasn’t possible! But how would that rich and well-respected man have turned into a grave robber, were it not true?

And if it was true, if those miserable human remains could be turned into something so valuable, how could that possibly not be a good thing for everyone! The postman, who had long dreamt of sending his daughter to university, immediately saw a way of making his dream come true. Castrioto, the court clerk, who had managed to buy a house the previous year, but hadn’t been able to put a wall around his garden and his animals, now saw a way of doing so. Marques, the smallholder, who’d been wanting for years to get hold of a decent piece of land, was thinking of Costa’s meadow, where his oxen would wax fat and strong…

Dead bones that could turn into gold would more than meet the needs of every single one of them. And it didn’t take long before that crowd of two or three thousand men, women and children were running pell-mell, as if they were one person, to the apothecary’s house. It was all the mayor could do to stop them ransacking the place and to make them wait outside in the square, waiting for the man who possessed the secret of this new Potosí.

That man didn’t take long to appear. Climbing on to a chair at the front of his store – a little bar of gold glinting in his hand –, Bastos begged for mercy and promised he’d tell them the secret, if only they’d spare his life.

“We want to know it now!” they shouted.

So he told them he’d have to copy out the formula, with the reagents, and specify the stages; it would take him a long time and he wouldn’t be able to hand it to them until the following day. At this there was an ominous muttering in the crowd, and some of them began shouting; but the mayor said he’d take it upon himself to ensure that Bastos kept his word. That did the trick, and everyone – with that peculiar meekness that can sometimes take hold of furious crowds – headed for home, with just one thought in their heads: how to get hold of as many bones of the deceased as possible.

In the meantime the news had even reached the house of the resident railway engineer. There was conversation about nothing else at the dinner table. After concatenating in his head a few things he remembered from his university course, the engineer declared it impossible: it was just alchemy, a defunct science; gold is gold, a single substance, and bone is bone, a compound mainly comprising calcium phosphate. To think you could make one thing out of another was “bonkers”.

Cora took the opportunity to laugh, in a metropolitan way, at the primitiveness and cruelty of these backwoodsmen, but her mother, Dona Emília, was inclined to think it might be true.

Nevertheless, when, at night, the engineer perceived that his wife was asleep, he jumped out of the window and ran off in the direction of the graveyard. Cora, in her bare feet, and holding her slippers in her hands, went to look for the maid, to get her to accompany her to the bone harvest; but, as she couldn’t find her, she went on her own. Meanwhile, Dona Emília had woken up and, finding herself alone, guessed what had happened and headed off in the same direction.

And this happened throughout the whole town:  without saying anything to his son, the father left; hoping to fool her husband, the wife left; sons, daughters, servants – the whole population ran, under the dreamlike light of the stars, to their satanic rendezvous at the Sossego. And no-one was missing: the richest and the poorest were there; the Turk Miguel was there, as was Pelino, the schoolmaster, and Dr Jerônimo, and Major Camanho, and Cora – the stunningly beautiful Cora, whose lovely alabasterine fingers were even now digging away at the dirt of the graves, pulling away the rotting flesh that still clung tenaciously to bones, and clasping those bones to her virginal bosom. It was her dowry she was collecting and her nostrils, so delicately pearlescent, didn’t even notice the stench of the rotting remains and the putrid mud.

It didn’t take long, however, for discord to break out: there were not enough dead to satisfy the hunger of the living. There were blows, stabbings, gunshots. The only ones who weren’t fighting were the postman and his eleven-year-old son, who were working as a team. The boy was a bright lad. “Daddy!” he said, “Let’s go to Mummy’s grave, she was so big.”

In the morning there were more dead bodies lying on the graveyard than had ever lain under it during the thirty years of its existence. The only person who had not been there, who had not taken part in the killing, and who had not profaned any graves, was Belmiro, the drunkard. Entering into an untended shop he filled his bottle with cachaça and went off for a drinking session on the bank of the River Tubiacanga, where he watched its waters gliding over the rough, granite bed. Both of them – he and the river – were indifferent to what they had just witnessed, and even to the escape of the apothecary, carrying away his Potosi and his secret, under the eternal canopy of the stars.


(The following biographical details have been translated from the [now defunct] Casa Lima Barreto website.)

Afonso Henriques de Lima Barreto was born in Rio de Janeiro on 13 May 1881 and died in the same city on 1 November 1922. The son of a typographer at the National Printing Works and of a state-school teacher, he was of mixed race. He was taught at first by his own mother, who died when he was seven. Through the influence of his godfather, Viscount Ouro Preto, an imperial minister, he completed his studies at the Pedro II National School, from where he went, in 1897, to the Polytechnic with the intention of studying to be an engineer. He had to give up his course, however, in order to become the breadwinner at home, after his father – bursar at the Colony for the Insane on Governador Island – himself became mentally ill in 1902. In the same year he had his first work published in the student press. The family moved to the Rio de Janeiro suburb of Engenho de Dentro, where the future writer decided to take part in a public examination for a vacancy in the Ministry of War. He came second but, because the first-placed candidate withdrew, he was able to take up the post, which he did in 1903.

Because his salary was only small, the family moved to a modest house in the suburb of Todos os Santos in which, in 1904, he began the first version of his novel Clara dos Anjos (Clara of the Angels). In the following year he began his novel Recordações do escrivão Isaías Caminha (Memoirs of the Clerk Isaías Caminha), which was published in Lisbon in 1909. He also published a series of reports in the Correio da Manhã newspaper and commenced the novel Vida e morte de M. J. Gonzaga de Sá (Life and Death of M. J. Gonzaga de Sá), which was not published until 1919. He participated in the Fon-Fon magazine and in 1907, together with some friends, launched the Floreal magazine, which survived for only four numbers but attracted the attention of the literary critic José Veríssimo. During this period he devoted himself to reading, in the National Library, the great names of world literature, including the European realist writers of the period; he was one of the few Brazilian writers who became familiar with the works of the Russian novelists.

In 1910 he was a juryman in a trial that condemned some soldiers involved in a student’s murder, an incident that came to be called ‘The Spring of Blood’; as a result he was passed over when it came to any possibilities of promotion in the secretariat of war. In the space of three months, in 1911, he wrote the novel Triste fim de Policarpo Quaresma (The Sad End of Policarpo Quaresma), which was published in instalments in the Jornal do Comércio, for which he wrote, and also in the Gazeta da Tarde. In 1912 he published two instalments of the Aventuras do Dr. Bogoloff (The Adventures of Dr. Bogoloff), in addition to little humorous books, one of them printed in the O Riso magazine.

Although alcoholism was beginning take hold of him, it did not prevent him from continuing to work for the press and, in 1914, he commenced a series of daily feuilletons in the Correio da Noite. In 1915 the A Noite newspaper published his novel Numa e a ninfa (Numa and the Nymph) in instalments, and he began a long phase of work with the Careta magazine, writing political articles on various topics.  In the first months of 1916, the novel Triste fim de Policarpo Quaresma appeared as a book, together with some notable short stories such as ‘A Nova Califórnia’ (New California) and ‘O homem que sabia javanês’ (The Man who Spoke Javanese); these were warmly received by the critics, who saw Lima as a true successor to Machado de Assis. He began writing for the political weekly A.B.C. After being hospitalised in July 1917, he delivered to his editor, J. Ribeiro dos Santos, the manuscript of Os Bruzundangas (The Bruzundangans – Bruzundanga being Lima’s satirical name for Brazil), which was not published until a month after his death, in 1922.

He applied for a vacancy in the Brazilian Academy of Letters, but his application was not even considered. He published the second edition of Isaías Caminha and, subsequently, the novel Numa e a ninfa in book form. He started publishing articles and feuilletons in the alternative press of the period: A Lanterna, A.B.C. and Brás Cubas, which published an article of his showing sympathy for the revolutionary cause in Russia. After being diagnosed with toxic epilepsy, he was pensioned off in December 1918 and he moved to another house in the Rua Major Mascarenhas in Todos os Santos, where he lived until his death.

At the beginning of 1919 he ceased his collaboration with the A.B.C. weekly, because he took issue with an article it published criticising the blacks. He published the novel Vida e morte de M. J. Gonzaga de Sá, which was personally edited and sent for typing by the editor Monteiro Lobato; this was the only one of Lima’s books to receive such standard editorial care and for which he was well paid; it was also well advertised, being praised by both old and new literary critics, such as João Ribeiro and Alceu Amoroso Lima. At this time he applied once more for a vacancy at the Brazilian Academy of Letters; on this occasion his application was accepted, but he was not elected, although he received the permanent vote of João Ribeiro. Under the title of ‘As mágoas e sonhos do povo’ (The People’s Sufferings and Dreams), he started publishing, in the Hoje magazine, weekly feuilletons of so-called ‘urban folklore’ and he entered into a second phase of collaboration with Careta, which lasted until his death.

From December 1919 to January 1920 he was hospitalised in consequence of a nervous breakdown, an experience recounted in the first chapters of the memoir O cemitério dos vivos (The Cemetery of the Living), which was not published until 1953, when it was issued in a single volume together with his Diário íntimo (Intimate Diary). In December 1920 Gonzaga de Sá was short-listed for the literary prize of the Brazilian Academy of Letters for the best book of the previous year; it received an honourable mention. In the same month, the short-story book Histórias e sonhos (Stories and Dreams) was published, and the manuscript of Marginália (Odds and Ends), comprising articles and feuilletons already published in periodicals, was delivered to his friend, the editor F. Schettino; the manuscript was lost, however, and the book did not come to be published until 1953.

A section of O Cemitério dos vivos was published in January 1921 in the Revista Souza Cruz, under the title ‘As origens’ (The Origins); but the work remained incomplete.  In April of that year he went to the little town of Mirassol in the State of São Paulo, where a doctor friend of his, Ranulfo Prata, who was also a writer, tried to put him together again, but in vain. With his health badly undermined, he turned into a sort of recluse in his little house in Todos os Santos, where friends came to visit him and where his sister Evangelina looked after him devotedly. Whenever possible, however, he would embark on another walk through the city he loved, keeping reading, meditation and writing for home, despite the constant presence of his father’s madness, which got worse through a series of crises.

In July 1921 Lima applied for a vacancy in the Brazilian Academy of Letters for the third time, but he withdrew his application for ‘entirely personal and private reasons.’ He delivered the manuscript of Bagatelas (Trifles) to the publisher; this book was a collection of his principal journalistic work from 1918 to 1922, in which he analysed, with rare vision and clarity, the problems of the country and of the world after the 1st World War. However, Bagatelas was not published until 1923. In November 1921 he published, in the Revista Souza Cruz, the text of a speech ‘O destino da literatura’ (‘The Destiny of Literature’) that he had been due to make – but had not managed to do so – in the town of Rio Preto, near Mirassol. In December he began work on the second version of his novel Clara dos Anjos, which he finished the following January. The manuscript for Feiras e mafuás (One Thing and Another) was delivered for publication, which did not happen until 1953.

In May 1922 the magazine O Mundo Literário published the first chapter of Clara dos Anjos, ‘O carteiro’ (The Postman). His health was declining steadily as a result of rheumatism and alcoholism amongst other things, and Lima suffered heart failure and died on 1 November 1922. They found him holding the copy of the Revue des Deux Mondes – his favourite journal – which he had just been reading. Two days later, his father died. They were both buried in the São João Batista cemetery, in accordance with Lima’s wishes.

In 1953 a publisher issued some volumes of his unpublished works. But it was only in 1956, under the direction of Francisco de Assis Barbosa and with the collaboration of Antônio Houaiss and M. Cavalcanti Proença, that all his work  was published in 17 volumes; these comprised all the novels mentioned above and also the following titles that were not published during his life: Os bruzundangas, Feiras e mafuás, Impressões de leitura (Literary Impressions), Vida urbana (City Life), Coisas do reino de Jambon (A Report from the Kingdom of Jambon), Diário íntimo, Marginália, Bagatelas, O cemitério dos vivos and two further volumes containing all his correspondence – both letters sent and letters received. In the following decades Lima has been the subject of many studies, both in Brazil and abroad. His works, particularly his novels and short stories, have been translated into English, French, Russian, Spanish, Czech, Japanese and German.  He has been the subject of doctoral theses in the United States and Germany. To mark the centenary of his birth in 1981, conferences were held about him throughout Brazil, resulting in the publication of innumerable books, including essays, bibliographies and psychological studies of the author and his works. There is currently a growing interest in him among new Brazilian writers, who see him as a pioneer of the sociological novel. His literary production, which is vast in view of his early death, is gaining him – quite rightly – more and more distinction.

Translator’s note: In an obituary for Lima in the Jornal do Brasil on 5 November 1922 , Coelho Neto – who had given the oration at Machado’s funeral in 1908 – described him as:

one of the best novelists Brazil has had, who observed things with the power and precision of a microscope, and who wrote with magisterial assurance, describing ordinary life like no one else has done. Just as he was neglectful of himself, of his own life, so was Lima Barreto neglectful of the work he constructed, not seeking to correct its defects of language, presenting it just as it flowed from his pen, without the necessary revision, the indispensable polishing, the definitive final touch which a work of art needs. Despite everything, however, what has remained to us of this man is worth so much by way of observation of life and depiction of characters that the rough edges cannot destroy the beauty: sometimes they compromise it here and there but only in the same way that a wall with stains and cracks can affect the harmony of a fresco, but cannot negate the magnificence of the painting.

Despite the nit-picking, this might be considered gracious in view of the virulent criticisms made of Coelho Neto by Lima.


"House by the Railroad," Edward Hopper, 1925

Fṛm Đ Gardịn: ‘We’ve done so much damage’: Beatriz Milhazes’ carnivalesque odes to nature

Beatriz Milhazes’z 'Douradinha em cinza e marrom,' 2016. Photograph: Private Collection courtesy Weiler Seiler Fine Art/Manuel Águas & Pepe Schettino/Beatriz Milhazes Studio
Beatriz Milhazes’z ‘Douradinha em cinza e marrom,’ 2016. Foṭgraf: Prîṿt C’lex́n crṭsi Weiler Seiler Fîn Art/Manuel Águas & Pepe Schettino/Beatriz Milhazes Stydio

‘W’v dn so mć damij’: Beatriz Milhazes’ carniṿlesc ǒdz t nećr

(Transcription of a Guardian article of 18 May 2023)

Ahd v a historic srve v hr wrc at Marget’s Trnr Cntmprri, ɖ Bṛziłn artist dscusz hr globl insṗreśnz, śep-śiftñ patnz, n ẃ ś’z stl an opṭmist

Skye Sherwin

Scai Śrwin, Ʈrzde 18 Me 2023

Naṿgetñ Beatriz Milhazes’ fībrîl riinvnśn v jịmetric abstrax́n cn fīl lîc trayñ t mc hedwe ʈru a carnivlcrǎd. Hūps, mandalaz, flǎrz n uɖr srklr mtīfs spin lîc dansrz acrs hr canvsz, ɖer brît culrz slamñ intu ć uɖr. Wɖ its iruptñ formz, ẃć hv ivolvd fṛm tumbli, lêsi aṛbescs t hard-éjd gridz, sprǎtñ līvz n flowñ wevz, ɖ Rio de Janeiro-best artist’s wrc hz ɖ xes v a strītparti, a b’roc ćrć, a jungl.

“I’v traid t brñ ny posbiḷtiz t ɖ cors v abstrax́n,” ś sz ẃl gtñ redi fr hr frst YC insttyśnl śo in mor ɖn tū decedz: a srve, at Marget’s Trnr Cntmprri, v 20 ci pentñz spanñ hr 30-plus-yir c’rir az wn v ɖ wrld’z līdñ abstract pentrz. “Mî ćalinj z hǎ t wrc wɖ jioṃtri n lîf. I’m in fevr v lîf, w nīd it!”

Milhazes rcōlz hǎ, ẃn ś studid art in Rio in ɖ 1980z, pentñ hd bn a lesr fors in Bṛzil’z culćṛl sīn. Instd it wz doṃnetd bî ɖ Tropicália insṭleśnz v Lygia Clark n Hélio Oiticica ɖt mltd bǎnḍriz btwn art n lîf. So Milhazes lct t Yṛp. Hr frst n indyrñ tućstonz includd Piet Mondrian n hiz inṭrest in nećr n strucćr az wel az Henri Matisse, a fōrber in c’lāźd śeps, vivid culrz n ɖ psyt v byti, wɖ hūm ś flt “ɖ dīpist cnx́n”.

T brñ ny hīt t ɖz îdīaz, ś trnd t Rio, tecñ insṗreśn fṛm its arc̣tecćr n vnaklr culćr. Hr grajụt wrcs c’lāźñ spangld carnivlfabrics wr inspîrd bî ɖ spectaklr crieśnz v ɖ gret carnivl dzînr Fernando Pinto, ẃl historicl dres n wimin’z dmestic lebr mcñ lês n crośe wz anɖr rli refṛns. In 1989 ś bgan dveḷpñ hr sigṇćr transfrtecnīc, yzñ cut-ǎt plastic śeps lodd wɖ pent t imprint formz on ɖ canvs. Ɖ rzultñ srḟsz hv intns culrz bt r nt postr-smuɖ. Rɖr ɖ’r viẓbli leyrd, txćrd n cract.

At Trnr Cntmprri, Milhazes’ rliist pentñz wl cm az a s’prîz t ɖoz fmiłr wɖ ɖ artist’s lêtr bold abstrax́nz. Rcōlñ lêswrc, wōlpepr n floṛl fabricprints, ɖer patnz r lūsr n mor obvịsli handwrced. Flǎrz, ɖo, r a constnt mtīf n nt jst bcz v ẃt Milhazes siz in Rio’z femd btanicl gardnz or naśnl parc. “Ɖe orṇmnt ɖ sad momnts, ɖ bytifl momnts, n r part v ppl’z lîf,” ś sz.

Az hr viźn pṛgresz, ɖ compziśnz bcm staġrñli complex. In Maracorola, an inorṃs 2015 pentñ v olmst ʈri mītrz, ś cmpozz a lanscep wɖ pulsñ hūps, wevz, vejitl sqiglz n a blezñ sún acrs a ćécrbōrd grǎnd. It’s a cntrold rayt v form n culr, wɖ tū ci mtīfs: ɖ srcl n wev. “Ɖ srcl z an organic śep n hz no end,” ś sz. “It’s spirićl n medittiv. Mî inṭrest z mor abt muvmnt, ɖo. Y nvr riyli fînd ɖ sntr in mî wrc. I cōl it a maʈ̇maticl drīm.”

Inspîrd bî Rio’z cǒst n parcs, Milhazes hz groun mor inṭrestd in nećr lêtli, n it z a foc̣s v hr Marget xbiśn. “W’v dn so mć damij; it’s nt jst abt stopñ ɖt bt olso xaṃnñ ǎr hop fr nećr t rny,” ś sz. “I’m an opṭmist n I wont t śo hǎ mć w nīd ɖ breʈ v ɖ līvz, ɖ wōtr, scî n sún. Mî wrc z abt lîf. Ẃrvr it’s śoun, ppl cnct t it.”

Beatriz Milhazes: Maresias
Trnr Cntmprri, Marget, 27 Me t 10 Sptmbr.

Srclz v inflụns: for wrcs fṛm Maresias

Douradinha em cinza e marrom
2016 (mn imij)

Ɖs î-popñ rīsnt wrc, huz jịmetric formz puls ǎtwdz fṛm its sitṛs sntr, śoz Milhazes’ pạniyrñ ys v fiğṛtiv elimnts – hir flǎrz n līvz – in abstract pentñ.



Milhazes siz ɖs vast pentñ az cmbînñ ci aspects v hr dveḷpmnt az an artist, includñ hǎ ś ʈncs v compziśn in trmz v lanscep’s posbiḷtiz. It xplorz ɖ sī’z riɖmz, sìn clirli in ɖ riplñ wevformz.

Photograph: Courtesy Ivor Braka Ltd/Manuel Águas and Pepe Schettino/Beatriz Milhazes Studio
Foṭgraf: Crṭsi Ivor Braka Ltd./Manuel Águas n Pepe Schettino/Beatriz Milhazes Stydio



Ɖs wrc gvz Milhazes’ xbiśn its tîtl, n mīnz “sì er”. Lîc wn v hr fōrberz, ɖ avãgard Frenć artist Sonia Delaunay, Milhazes hz xplord búzñ srklr formz. Ɖs pentñ sjsts multipl refṛnsz, fṛm mandalaz t targits n floṛl dec̣reśn.

Photograph: Fausto Fleury/Beatriz Milhazes Studio
Foṭgraf: Fausto Fleury/Beatriz Milhazes Stydio


A Casa da Maria

In wn v ɖ rliist wrcs in ɖ śo, Milhazes drwz on ɖ hisṭri v dres-mcñ n wimin’z dmestic lebr in Bṛzil, refṛnsñ “ɖ cnd v crośe mî granmuɖr yst t d”. Its gold pálit rcōlz ćrć orṇmnteśn.

Photograph: motivo/Jonathan and Wendy Grad/ Vicente de Mello/Beatriz Milhazes Studio
Foṭgraf: motivo/Joṇʈn n Wndi Grad/ Vicente de Mello/Beatriz Milhazes Stydio

Instroduction to Ñspel

"House by the Railroad," Edward Hopper, 1925


"House by the Railroad," Edward Hopper, 1925

About Artists: SONIA BOYCE

"House by the Railroad," Edward Hopper, 1925


"House by the Railroad," Edward Hopper, 1925

About Artists: HEW LOCKE


"House by the Railroad," Edward Hopper, 1925

From Portuguese: EVOLUTION by Machado de Assis

(My translation of the short story Evolução by Machado de Assis, which was first published in the collection Reliquias de Casa Velha in 1906)

My name is Inácio; his, Benedito. I won’t tell you our surnames, for a reason that any discrete person would understand. You’ll have to be content with Inácio and Benedito. It’s better than nothing and is in line with Juliet’s philosophy: “What’s in a name? That which we call a rose / By any other name would smell as sweet.” But let’s turn to Benedito’s smell.

And it’s immediately apparent that he was the least Romeo-like of any man in this world. He was forty-five when I got to know him; I won’t say when that was because everything in this story has to be oblique and mysterious. So, forty-five, and lots of black hair. For the hair that wasn’t black, he used a chemical process that was so efficient that you couldn’t tell the natural from the fake – except when he got out of bed; but no one saw him when he got out of bed. Everything else was natural: legs, arms, head, eyes, clothes, shoes, watch chain, and cane. Even the diamond pin he wore on his tie – one of the most beautiful I’ve ever seen – was natural and legitimate; it has cost him quite a bit; I saw him buying it in the jeweller’s shop; I don’t remember the name of the shop, but it was in the Rua do Ouvidor.

A fine character. No-one’s character changes, and Benedito’s was good – or, more precisely, peaceable. But he was less original when it came to intellect. We could compare him to a busy guesthouse where all sorts of ideas can be heard when the guests are sitting at the table with the owner’s family. At times, two of the guests might be antipathetic to each other, if not outright inimical; but the owner ensured it would never come to blows; he demanded reciprocal tolerance. That’s how Benedito managed to reconcile his vague sort of atheism with founding two religious confraternities – I can’t remember whether they were in Gávea, Tijuca or in the Engenho Velho. So he availed himself, promiscuously, of devotion, irreligion and silk stockings. I never saw his silk stockings, but he didn’t keep secrets from his friends.

We first met when we both happened to be travelling to Vassouras. We’d alighted from the train and got into the carriage that was going to take us from the station to the town centre. We exchanged a few words and soon began talking more freely – as far as that was possible in the circumstances, i.e. we still hadn’t introduced ourselves properly.

Of course, the first subject of conversation was the progress that the railways would bring to Brazil. Benedito could remember when the whole journey was made on the back of a donkey. Then we exchanged some anecdotes, we spoke about a few well-known people, and we agreed that the railways were essential to the country’s progress. Someone who’s never been pulled along behind one of those solid, stolid locomotives can have no idea how they can dispel the tedium of travel. One’s spirit is lifted, one’s muscles relax, one’s heart beats calmly, and one remains at peace with God and men.

“Our children won’t live to see the whole country criss-crossed by railways,” he said.

“No, you’re right… Do you have children?”

“No, none.”

“Nor me… It will take at least fifty years; but it’s essential. I think of Brazil as a little child that’s just learnt to crawl; it will only walk when it’s criss-crossed with railways.”

Benedito’s eyes lit up:

“What a lovely comparison!”

“Never mind ‘lovely.’ What’s important is whether it’s correct.”

“Lovely and correct,” he replied good-humouredly. “Yes, you’re right: Brazil is crawling; it will only begin to walk when we’ve got lots of railways.”

We arrived at Vassouras; I went to the house of the district judge, an old friend of mine; Benedito stayed in the town for a day before continuing to the interior. Eight days later, I returned to Rio de Janeiro, but alone this time. He returned a week after that; we met at the theatre, talked a bit and exchanged news; Benedito ended up inviting me to lunch with him the next day. I duly went, and it was a lunch fit for a prince, enriched by good cigars and lively conversation, although I must confess I’d found what he said during our train ride more engaging – lifting one’s spirit and leaving one at peace with God and with men; but perhaps I was too engaged with the lunch on this occasion. It was really magnificent; and it would have been a great injustice to relegate it to a mere background to chit-chat, elbows on the edge of the table, and looking at the smoke rising from our cigars.

“On my travels just now, I saw how right you were with that idea of Brazil just crawling.”


“Yes, exactly as you were saying in the carriage to Vassouras. We won’t start walking until our country’s criss-crossed with railways. You can’t imagine how true that is!”

He went on to talk about lots of thing: the customs of the people of the interior, the difficulties of their lives, and their backwardness; but he was pleased to see their good heartedness and their hopes for progress. Unfortunately, the government wasn’t abreast of the needs of the country; it even seemed to want to keep it out of step with the other American nations – as if it was indispensable to persuade us that principles are everything and people nothing. People aren’t made for the sake of governments; governments are made for the people; abyssus abyssum invocat.

Afterwards, he took me to see the other rooms, which were all beautifully decorated. He showed me his collections of paintings, coins, antiquarian books, stamps, and weapons; he had swords and épées, but he admitted he didn’t know how to fence. One of the paintings was a beautiful portrait of a woman; I asked him who it was. Benedito just smiled.

I smiled too: “I won’t press you on it.”

“No, no,” he replied hurriedly. “I can’t deny it. I was much in love with her. Pretty, isn’t she? But you can’t imagine how beautiful she was in real life: carmine lips, rosy cheeks, eyes as dark as the sky at night. And teeth like pearls. A wonder of nature!”

We carried on to his office, which was enormous and elegant, although nothing so out of the ordinary. All present and correct. There were two bookcases, full of beautifully bound books, a map of the world, and two maps of Brazil. The ebony writing-desk was a piece of fine workmanship; and on it, lying casually open, was one of Laemmert’s almanaques. The inkwell was made of crystal – “rock crystal,” as he explained, in the same way he’d explained other individual items. There was an organ in the adjacent room. He spoke enthusiastically about it: he played the organ and loved music. He mentioned particular operas and which parts of them he liked best, and he told me that, when he was a boy, he’d started to learn the flute but had soon given it up – which was a pity, he said, because it’s such an emotive instrument. After showing me other rooms, he accompanied me to the garden, which was splendid: a wonderful balance of art enriching nature and nature enriching art. He had roses – “the Queen of Flowers,” he said – of every type and from every region.

I left enchanted.

Subsequently I had occasion to appreciate Benedito’s character further when we met on various occasions, in the street, in the theatre or in the houses of mutual friends.

Four months later, I left for Europe on business, which was going to keep me there for a year. Benedito remained, immersed in the elections because he wanted to be a deputy. It was I who’d encouraged him, not for any particular reason, but just to be agreeable; it wasn’t really much different from praising his waistcoat. But he’d caught hold of the idea and had put his name forward.

One day, when I was crossing the road in Paris, I suddenly bumped into him.

“What on earth…?!”

“I lost the election, so I came to see Europe.”

He didn’t part from me; we travelled together the rest of the time. He told me that losing the election hadn’t put him off having another go. In fact it had made him even more determined. And he told me his great plan.

“I want to see you become a minister,” I said.

Benedito hadn’t expected that. He beamed, but immediately tried to hide his satisfaction.

“Don’t say that. But if I were to be a minister, it would have to be minister for industry. We’ve had enough of political parties; we need to develop the latent power of our country, its huge resources. You remember what we were talking about in the carriage in Vassouras? Brazil is crawling; it will only walk when we have railways…”

I was somewhat amazed: “Quite right! And why do you think I’m here in Europe? I’ve come about a railway. I’ve been arranging things in London.”



I showed him the paperwork: appointments, statistics, publicity material, reports, copies of contracts, and everything about the engineering side of things. He looked at it all as if transfixed and told me he was going to put something similar together. And, indeed, I soon saw him going off to ministries, banks and associations, from which he returned with notes and booklets that he stored in his suitcases; but his enthusiasm waned almost as quickly as it had arrived – it was a passing fad. Benedito immersed himself once more, and with much more pleasure, in the minutiae of political and parliamentary language. He had a whole arsenal of the stuff in his head and often gave me the benefit of it in our conversations; he found it all greatly prestigious and of inestimable value. A lot of it had come via English translation, which he preferred to the others, as the English versions had a hint of the House of Commons about them. He savoured it all so much that I wondered if he’d accept liberty if it didn’t come with all that verbal apparatus; I think not. Indeed, if he’d had to choose, I think he’d have chosen all those short and pithy formulas, some of them beautiful, others sonorous, and all of them axiomatic, and which don’t require reflexion, which fill the silences, and which leave one at peace with God and with men.

We returned to Brazil together; but I remained in Pernambuco, before returning subsequently to London, whence I came to Rio de Janeiro a year later. By that time, Benedito was already a deputy. I went to visit him and found him preparing his maiden speech. He showed me some notes, parts of reports, books on political economy – some of them with the pages marked with strips of paper headed: Exchange Rates, Land Tax, English Corn Laws, Opinion regarding Ab ovo…

He was clearly determined to demonstrate to the practical men of the Assembly that he too was a practical man.

Then he asked me about the company; I told him what there was to know:

“Sometime in the next two years I’m expecting to inaugurate the first stretch of the railway.”

“And what about the English capitalists?”

“What about them?”

“Are they satisfied? Are they optimistic?”

“Very. You can’t imagine.”

I told him some of the technical details, which he listened to absent-mindedly – either because what I had to say was terribly complicated or for some other reason. When I finished, he told me it was good to see me so involved in industry; that’s exactly what we need, and, on that pretext, he did me the favour of reading me the draft of the speech he was due to deliver a few days later. It went like this:

In the midst of the growing agitation of spirits and of the clamour of political parties, which drowns out the voices of legitimate interests, allow me to give voice to the supplication of the nation. Honourable Members, it is time to concentrate exclusively – note that I say ‘exclusively’ – on the material improvement of our country. I am not unaware of what might be said to me by way of objection; I will be told that a nation does not solely comprise a stomach for the purposes of digestion, but also a head to think and a heart to feel. I reply thus: that all of that is of no or little consequence if the nation has not legs to walk; and here I shall repeat what I said, some years ago, to a friend during a journey through the interior: ‘Brazil is a little child that’s just learnt to crawl; but Brazil will only walk when it is criss-crossed by railways…’

I didn’t hear the rest because I was lost in thought – or rather, amazed and astounded by the abyss that psychology had just torn open at my feet. This man is sincere, I thought. He believes what he’s written. And I descended into the abyss, hoping to discern the highways and byways through which that snatch of conversation in the carriage to Vassouras had passed. And I found there – forgive me if I got carried away – I found there one more example of the law of evolution as defined by Spencer. Spencer or Benedito, one of them.


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).

"House by the Railroad," Edward Hopper, 1925