Category Archives: Translations from Portuguese

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.”

“Really?”

“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.”

“Really?”

“Really.”

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.

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).

From Portuguese: CAPTAIN OF THE VOLUNTEERS by Machado de Assis

(My translation of the short story Um Capitão de Voluntários by Machado de Assis, which was first published in 1905)

No sooner had the Republic been proclaimed, than Simão de Castro set his mind to embarking for Europe. Before he did so, he gathered all his letters and notes and tore them up – all except the story you’re about to read, which he entrusted to his friend Marcelo, with the intention of having it published once Simão had departed; but Marcelo didn’t do so because, as he explained in a letter to Simão, he thought it might hurt the feelings of an acquaintance. Simão replied that he was happy for Marcelo to do whatever he thought fit; as he didn’t have any literary aspirations, he wasn’t really bothered whether it was published or not. But now that both of them – and the acquaintance – are dead, I’m publishing it myself.

***

There were us two men and the two women. The two of us used to go there to amuse ourselves, but eventually it was out of friendship. I became friends with the owner of the house. After supper – which used to be taken early in 1866 – I’d go there to smoke a cigar. The sun would enter from the window that looked out on a hill with some houses at the top of it; the opposite window looked out on the sea. I’m not going to tell you the street name or exactly where it was, other than it was in Rio de Janeiro; and I’m not going to tell you my friend’s name either, so let’s just call him X. He was big and strong. One of the women was called Maria.

When I entered, X would be in the rocking chair. There wasn’t much in the way of furniture, and what there was was simple. After X had shaken my hand, I’d go and sit by the window, alternately looking round the room or out at the street. If Maria wasn’t already there, she’d appear shortly. Neither of us had much interest in the other; X was the only real connection we had.We’d have a chat, I’d go home, and they’d go to bed. On some evenings we’d play cards, and eventually I’d spend most of the evening there.

I was in thrall to X. To his figure in the first place. He was robust, whereas I was weedy, but my weak, feminine look would disappear next to his masculinity, his broad shoulders, his wide hips, his strong legs and his large feet, which hit the floor so decisively when he walked. I had a thin and sparse moustache; he had long, thick, curly whiskers; when he was thinking or listening, he had the habit of running his fingers through them, making them even more curly. His large, beautiful eyes completed the picture; they smiled even more than his mouth.

X was forty, I was twenty-four. He’d had an eventful life in various places, from which he’d eventually retreated to that house, with Maria; I’d had no life to speak of and hadn’t lived with anyone. And to cap it all, he had something Castilian about him, some of the blood that circulates in the pages of Don Quixote.

They’d fallen in love a long time ago: Maria was now twenty-seven and seemed to have had some education. I heard that the first time they’d met had been at a masked ball in the old Provisional Theatre. She was wearing a short skirt and had been dancing to the sound of a tambourine. Her feet were beautiful, and it was they, or her story, that first caught X’s eye.

I never asked her how it had all started; all I know is that she had a daughter, who was at a boarding school and didn’t come to the house; it was Maria’s mother who used to visit her there. Our relationship was reserved: we simply accepted the situation as it was.

A couple of months after I started going there, I got a job in the bank; but our relationship remained the same. Maria would play the piano; sometimes she and her friend Raimunda would manage to drag X to the theatre, and I’d go with them. Afterwards we’d have tea in a private room; and, once or twice, if the moon was shining, we’d end up taking a trip over to Botafogo.

Barreto didn’t take part in any of that; it was only later that he began visiting the house. He was good company – cheerful and chatty. When the two of us left the house one night, he started talking about the two women and suggested courtship.

“You choose one of them, Simão, and I’ll take the other.”

That stopped me in my tracks.

“Or rather,” he continued, “I’ve already chosen – Raimunda. I like her a lot. You can choose the other.”

“Maria?”

“Who else?”

What Barreto said was so tempting that I failed to object in any way whatsoever. Everything seemed natural and necessary. So, yes, I agreed to choose Maria. Maria it was! She was a few years older than me, but that would be ideal for teaching me in the ways of love.

The two of us embarked upon our mission of conquest with ardour and tenacity. For Barreto it was quite easy: Raimunda didn’t currently have a lover, but had recently split up – unwillingly – with a young man who’d gone off to marry a girl from Minas; and so she soon allowed herself to be consoled.

One day, when I was having lunch, Barreto came in and showed me a letter he’d received from her.

“Success?”

“Yes. And you two?”

“No.”

“So, when?”

“Just wait. I’ll tell you when.”

I felt rather ashamed afterwards. With the best will in the world, I hadn’t had the courage to express my feelings to Maria. It’s not that I was passionate about her: rather, it was curiosity. Whenever I saw her – so elegant and fresh-looking, so warm and lively – I was overcome by a completely new feeling. On the one hand, I’d never been in love; on the other, Maria was my friend’s companion. I’m writing this, not to make myself out to be particularly honourable, but simply to explain my shyness. X and I had been the best of friends for a number of years. He had absolute confidence in me, he told me about his business dealings and his past life. Despite the difference in age between us, we were like students in the same class.

I was thinking so much about Maria that something I said or did must have given her a glimpse of my feelings; in any case, when we shook hands one day, I felt that she left her hand in mine longer than usual. Two days later, when I went to the post office, she happened to be there sending a letter to Bahia.

Did I tell you she was from Bahia? Well, now you know. She spoke to me before I’d noticed her. I helped her attach the seal, and we started making our way out. I was about to say something, when I noticed X standing by the door.

“I’ve just sent a letter to my mother,” she explained rather rapidly.

Then she said goodbye and headed for home, while X and I walked off in the other direction. He took the opportunity to sing her praises; without entering into any details about how their relationship had begun, he told me they were deeply in love; he was a happy man.

“I won’t get married: we’re like husband and wife, and I’ll die by her side. There’s only one thing that bothers me: that I live such a long way from my mother.”

He stopped walking and added, “My mother knows.”

Then he started walking again. “She knows. She made a vague remark about it, but I understood: she doesn’t disapprove. She knows that Maria is serious, a good person. My mother’s happy as long as I’m happy. Marriage wouldn’t add anything to it.”

He told me a lot more, which I heard as if in a trance. My heart was pounding and my legs felt weak. I couldn’t think of anything to say, and if I’d tried it would have come out all garbled.

After a while, X noticed how quiet I was, but he misinterpreted it. He laughed and said he was boring me with all that.

“Not at all!” I protested. “It’s fascinating to hear about people for whom I have nothing but respect.”

I think I was giving way to the inevitable. When I left him, I no longer felt so tormented. My first impressions, from what he had told me, had disappeared, and all that remained was a delicious curiosity. X had described Maria as a modest and homely person – no mention of her physical attractions. But, at my age, I didn’t need any direct mention of them. As I walked along, I could see her as if she were there in front of me. I could see her languid but firm gestures. And I was feeling more and more entranced.

When I got home, I wrote her a long and diffuse letter, but I tore it up within half an hour and went to have something to eat. Finally, I went to X’s house.

It was late in the evening. He was in the rocking chair. I sat down in my usual place and looked around the room and out at the hill. Maria arrived some time later and clearly wasn’t in the mood for conversation. She sat and dozed a bit, then played the piano a bit, and then left the room.

“From first thing today,” X told me, “Maria’s not been able to think of anything other than collecting contributions for the war effort. “I told her it might not be a good idea to look as if… You understand… In her situation… But she’ll get over it. She has these mad ideas from time to time…”

“And why shouldn’t she?!” I said.

“Well, why not?” replied X. “I’m not saying the war in Paraguay is not a war like any other war, but – believe me – I can’t get excited about it. I was outraged after Olinda, indeed, but then I calmed down and I really think we’d have done better if we’d joined López against the Argentinians.”

“Not me. I prefer the Argentinians.”

“I like them too, but I think it was in the interest of our people to stick with López.”

“Not at all! I was almost on the point of signing up as a volunteer.”

“Ha! I wouldn’t have signed up even if they’d made me a colonel.”

I didn’t pay much attention to the rest of what he said because I was listening out for whether Maria would return. So I just mumbled indeterminate replies at what seemed appropriate points. But the devil of a girl just would not and would not return.

I suggested we play a round of voltarete.

“Why not?” he said.

We went into the office. X placed the cards on the table and went to call Maria. Eventually I heard a whispered conversation, the only part of which I could make out was:

“Come on! It will only be for half an hour.”

“How tedious! I’m not feeling well.”

She was yawning as she entered the office. She told me she could only play for half an hour as she had a headache and wanted to go to bed early.

She sat down to my left like a heap of woe, and we began the game. I regretted having torn up my letter; I could remember some bits of it that would have described my feelings with the necessary warmth and persuasiveness. If I’d kept it, I would have given it to her that night. She often came to the top of the steps to say goodnight before closing the gate. That would have been the moment I could have given it to her; it would have eased my agony.

After a while, X got up and went to get his tin tobacco box from the writing-desk. At that point, Maria did something that took my breath away: she raised her hand of cards to shield her eyes, turned her face and gave me a piercing, mesmeric look. It was just a matter of seconds.

By the time X came back, rolling a cigarette, Maria had lowered her cards and was pretending to study them. Trying to compose myself, I stared at my own cards, but without managing to say anything. Fortunately, Maria calmly filled the silence by saying one of the words of the game – Pass or Stick, I don’t remember.

We played for about an hour, by which time Maria’s eyelids were drooping, and X suggested it was time to go to bed. I took my leave and went into the corridor, where I’d left my hat and walking-stick. Maria stood at the door of the room, waiting to accompany me to the gate. As I was about to descend the steps, she flung an arm around my neck, pulled me to her, and kissed me full on the lips. Rapidly but passionately. And I felt something pushed into my hand.

Wishing me goodnight, she closed the gate.

I was stunned, still feeling the impression of her lips on mine, still with the vision of her eyes, but somehow I managed to walk down the steps. And that something was still in my hand.

Once I was out of sight of the house, I ran to the nearest streetlamp and looked at it. It was an advertisement for a haberdashery shop, on the back of which, written in pencil was: “1 o’clock tomorrow afternoon. The jetty for the Niterói ferry. Wait for me there.”

Emotions came in great, breaking waves, and for the next few minutes I had no idea where I was or what I was doing. Until, that is, I found myself in the Largo de São Francisco de Paula, where I read the card again. Then I forced myself to walk a bit further, until I came to a halt again not far from a couple of policemen, who probably wondered what I was up to. Fortunately, hunger eventually overcame my emotions and I went to the Hotel dos Príncipes to get something to eat.

I didn’t get to sleep until the early hours but, even so, I was up at six, and the morning was slow agony. I got to the jetty at ten to one. Maria was already there, swathed in a cloak and with a blue veil covering her face. We boarded a ferry that was about to depart.

It was a relief to leave the shore. There were few other passengers at that time of day, and everything – the bobbing boats, the birds and the bright blue sky – seemed to be serenading this first proper conversation between the two of us. But what we said was so awkward and confused that I can’t remember more than half a dozen words, and none of them was the name of X, and none of them referred to him at all. We both felt like traitors, me towards my friend, and Maria towards her companion and protector; but there wasn’t time enough for either of us to actually mention it, and there certainly wasn’t enough time for the infinity of what we wanted to say to each other.

Our hands met and remained, our eyes met and remained, and our hearts were probably beating at the same insistent pace. At least, that’s how I felt when I parted from her after the circular trip to Niterói and São Domingos and back. At each of those stops, I suggested we disembark, but she declined; and when we got back to Rio, I suggested we get a closed carriage, but she just said, “What on earth would people think of me?!” Her modesty made her even more beguiling. So we said goodbye, and I promised I’d carry on coming to visit them, as usual, in the evenings.

I didn’t pick up my pen to write about my happiness, so I’m omitting the most delightful parts of our romance – all the rendezvous, the letters, the words, the dreams, the hopes, the endless longing, and the waves of desire. Romances are like calendars in that, for all their variety, they have to follow the same days and months, the same feast days and festivals. Our calendar didn’t even stretch from one half-moon to the next; not even an eclipse of the sun.

Maria was a model of grace, life and movement. She told me she was from Bahia but had been brought up in Rio Grande do Sul, in the countryside, near the border. When I asked about her first meeting with X, in the Temporary Theatre, dancing to the beat of a tambourine, she told me it was true, she’d been dressed in Castilian style and had been wearing a mask. When I asked her if she’d dance with me – even if only a lundu – but without the mask, she seemed shocked:

“It would drive you mad!”

“But X wasn’t driven mad.”

She laughed: “He’s still not in his right mind. Imagine if this was all I did…”

At which point she made a lightning-quick twirl, which could, indeed, have almost driven me mad.

Our three months ended suddenly, as three months of that kind often do. Maria simply failed to turn up one day. She was usually so punctual that I felt disconcerted as soon as the appointed hour passed. Five, ten, fifteen minutes; then twenty, then thirty, then forty… I can’t tell you how many times I walked up and down, in my living room, in the corridor, looking and listening, until it was beyond doubt that she wasn’t coming. I’ll spare you the details of how depressed I felt, of how I lay rolling about on the floor, talking to myself, shouting and crying. When all that tired me out, I wrote her a long letter, hoping she’d reply and explain why she hadn’t come. I didn’t send it; instead, I went to their house that night.

Maria told me she hadn’t come because she was afraid she’d be spotted and pursued by someone who’d been following her about for some time. I had, indeed, heard something about some neighbour or other who’d been courting her assiduously; once, she told me he’d even followed her as far as the door of my house. I accepted her excuse and suggested another place to meet, but she didn’t seem to think it appropriate. She thought it would be best for us not to meet until any suspicions had died down. She’d stay at home. I didn’t realise that the main reason was that her ardour had diminished.

She seemed like another person. You can’t imagine what became of that beautiful creature: it was like fire and ice; but fierier and icier than anyone.

When I became convinced that everything was over, I decided not to return but, even so, I didn’t lose all hope. Imagination, which makes the past seem present, made me believe that, through my own efforts, I could restore those first weeks. Five days later, I returned; I couldn’t live without her.

X welcomed me with his big, childlike smile, his honest eyes and his firm, sincere handshake. He asked me where I’d been. I said I’d had a bit of a temperature and, by way of explaining my low spirits, which I couldn’t shake off, I said I’d still got a headache. Maria understood everything, but that didn’t make her show any kindness and, when I left, she didn’t go out to the corridor as she used to do.

All of that increased my anguish. I even thought of killing myself, including – by way of romantic symmetry – taking the Niterói ferry again and throwing myself overboard in the middle of the bay. But I didn’t take that idea, or any other, further.

I needed to speak to someone and, when I bumped into my friend Barreto, I told him everything. Of course, I asked him to keep it secret, in particular not to say anything to Raimunda.

That very night, Raimunda knew everything. She was a feisty lady who loved nothing better than to get involved in other people’s business. She probably wasn’t particularly interested in either me or Maria, but it would be something new, and she decided to reconcile us. And that’s the real reason why I’m writing this.

She spoke to Maria a few times. Maria professed ignorance at first but ended up confessing everything. She regretted her foolhardiness. I imagine she didn’t say all that directly: it would have been by way of circumlocutions, imprecise phrases and, at times, just gestures.

I learnt all that from a letter Raimunda herself sent me, which included an account of how she’d managed to get Maria to talk. Raimunda was evidently very pleased with herself. Her letter ended with an invitation to call round.

“Don’t despair,” she said, when I got there. “I told her you might kill yourself.”

“And I will!”

“Well, not yet. Hold on.”

The next day, the papers had a list of citizens who’d gone to enlist as volunteers the previous day. Among the names was that of X, who’d been given the rank of captain. I didn’t believe it first of all, but it really was him. One of the papers even mentioned his father, who’d been an officer in the navy, and went so far as to say what a fine figure of a man X was. So, yes, it was definitely him.

At first I felt elated: we’d be alone. Maria certainly wouldn’t be going south with him as an auxiliary. But, after a while, I recalled what X had said about the war; it seemed strange that he’d have volunteered, although he was, indeed, prone to making grand gestures from time to time. He’d said he wouldn’t go even if they made him a colonel, and there he was accepting the rank of captain. And then there was Maria. Given his great affection for her, and how little enthusiasm he had for the war, how could he leave her so suddenly?!

It had been three weeks since I last went to their house. The news of his enlistment was justification enough to pay them an immediate visit, without need for further explanation. I went there straight away after lunch.

Adopting a serious expression appropriate to the circumstances, I entered the house. X came into the living room after a few minutes. The constrained look in his face contrasted with his words, which he tried to make cheery. Shaking my hand, he said, “So, you’ve come to see the Captain of the Volunteers?”

“I’ve come to hear that it’s not true.”

“Not true?! It couldn’t be any more true. It was probably the latest news that did it… I’m not sure. Why don’t you come with me?”

“So it’s true?”

“Yes.”

After a few moments of silence, rather lost for words, and trying to mask my real feelings, I muttered that it would be better if he didn’t go, and I mentioned his mother. X replied that his mother was all for it; after all, she was the widow of a military man. He tried to smile, but his face was stony, and his eyes seemed to have lost focus. We said very little after that.

Eventually he got up from his chair, saying he needed to wind up some business or other. At the front door, he said, rather haltingly:

“Come for dinner one of these days, before I leave.”

“I will.”

“Look, why don’t you come tomorrow?”

“Tomorrow?”

“Or today, if you’d like.”

I wanted to give him my regards to Maria; it would only have been natural, but I didn’t have the heart.

As soon as I got to the foot of the steps, I regretted not doing so. I went over our brief conversation in my mind; I thought I must have looked tongue-tied and confused. He’d seemed not only reserved, but also haughty. I had a vague feeling of unease. His handshake when he entered the living room, and when I left, seemed different.

That night, Barreto came to see me. He’d also been stunned by the news and asked me what I knew. I told him I knew nothing, but I did tell him about my visit in the morning, about our conversation and my suspicions.

After a few moments, he said, “Maybe it’s a mistake.”

“How come?”

“Raimunda told me today that she spoke to Maria, that Maria denied everything at first but then confessed all, and that she refused to carry on seeing you.”

“I know.”

“Yes, but apparently he was in the next room and caught the end of the conversation. Maria went and told Raimunda that he’d changed completely. Raimunda offered to go and see him, to get a first-hand impression, but I wouldn’t let her. Then I saw the news in the papers. Later I saw him walking down the street. He was stepping out as usual, but he looked terribly preoccupied – not like him at all.”

Taken aback as I was by this confirmation of my own impression, I nevertheless went there the next day. Barreto offered to go as well; I could see he just wanted to give me support, but I said no.

X hadn’t said anything to Maria; I found them in the living room, and I can’t think of any other occasion in my life when I’ve felt more awkward. I shook their hands, but without looking at Maria. I think she was diverting her eyes too. Whereas he, lighting up a cigarette, hardly paid any attention to us at all.

At dinner he spoke as naturally as he could, but without much success. The effort to appear normal was even more apparent in his face than it had been the previous evening. In order to explain his low spirits, he told me he was due to embark at the end of the week, and the nearer it came, the harder he found the thought of it.

“But I’ll be fine once we’ve set sail. I’ll be myself again, and then, on the battlefield, I’ll be the man I’m meant to be.”

Those were the sort of words he used, like an actor who’s just started practising his lines. I noticed that Maria was on the brink of tears. I learnt later that, like me, she’d only learnt of his decision from the newspapers – which suggests something more personal than patriotism – and that, the night before he was due to embark, she’d wept as she tried to persuade him not to go. All of which explains why she said nothing at the table.

X tried to fill the silence, talking about battalions, recent appointments and the chances of victory, before going on to recount random anecdotes and bits of gossip. He did his best to seem cheerful. At one point he said it was a foregone conclusion that he’d return as a general, but he seemed to find the joke even less amusing than we did. So the dinner ended in silence.

Sitting again in our armchairs, the two of us smoking cigarettes, he tried to say something else about the war, but thought better of it. Before leaving, I invited him to come to dinner at my house.

“I can’t. There’s too much to do in the next few days.”

“Come for lunch then.”

“Not even that. But I will come and see you on the third day after I get back from Paraguay.”

I understood that to mean that the first two days would be reserved for his mother and Maria, which suggested there might not be any hidden motives for his decision.

Not only that, but he told me to choose something as a keepsake, perhaps a book. Instead, I chose the latest photograph of him, which he’d had taken at the request of his mother, and in which he was wearing his captain’s uniform. In order to complete the picture, I asked him to sign it; promptly, he wrote, “X, Captain of the Brazilian Volunteers, to his loyal friend Simão de Castro.” But his expression was even more grave, and his eyes even more sinister. He ran his fingers nervously through his moustache, and we parted.

He embarked on the Saturday, leaving Maria with the necessary resources for her to live here in Rio, or in Bahia, or in Rio Grande do Sul. She preferred the latter, and went there, three weeks later, to await his return. I wasn’t able to see her before she left: she’d closed her door to me, just as she’d closed her face and her heart.

Before a year had passed, it was reported that X had died in battle, at which he’d evidently displayed more valour than skill. I heard that he’d already lost an arm, and I suppose it was the shame of being crippled that made him throw himself, suicidally, at the enemy. That was probably the case because he had a taste for grand gestures. But the reasons wouldn’t have been straightforward.

I was also told that Maria had died in Curitiba, on her way back from Rio Grande, although some people said she’d died in Montevideo. Her daughter was only fifteen years old.

I remained here with my regrets and my fond memories. Until it was just regrets. And now it’s just admiration, a particular admiration, an admiration which is as great as it makes me myself feel small. No, I wasn’t able to do what X did. In fact, I never knew anyone like X.

And why am I persisting with that stupid letter?! Let’s call him by the name he was given at the font: Emílio. Gentle, strong, simple Emílio.

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).

Frank Poems: AND THE SABIÁ SINGS

Sabiá-laranjeira

(My translation of the words of a song
in a short story by Aluísio Azevedo)

If you’d like to know why
I sometimes fly
Away in my dreams
To that angel who sings
Up there in the sky,
Come with me, love,
To the heavens above
And then you’ll know why
I fly, and the sabiá sings.

Se queres saber os meios
Porque às vezes me arrebata
Nas asas do pensamento
A poesia tão grata;
Porque vejo nos meus sonhos
Tantos anjinhos dos céus,
vem comigo, oh doce amada
Que eu te direi os caminhos
Donde se enxergam os anjinhos,
Donde se trata com Deus.

From Portuguese: ANACLETO’S WIFE by Lima Barreto

My translation of the short story A mulher do Anacleto by the Brazilian writer Lima Barreto.

This is a true story about Anacleto, an ex-colleague of mine from the office.

At first, he was an excellent clerk: punctual, elegant handwriting, and the bosses were very pleased with him.

He got married quite young, and you’d have thought a life of marital bliss lay ahead. But you’d have been wrong.

Two or three years after his marriage, he started going off the rails, via drink and gambling.

Not surprisingly, his wife started expressing disapproval.

At first, he listened passively to these strictures from his better half, but it wasn’t long before they made him furious and he started responding with violence.

She’d done nothing wrong, but might there have been hidden extenuating circumstances to explain the transformation in her husband? She, however, wasn’t interested in that: she carried on complaining. Which only made her husband’s reaction more violent. Even so, she put up with it for quite some time.

One day, however, she’d had enough; she left her unhappy home and went to stay with a couple she knew; but they treated her like a skivvy; she left that house as well and descended into poverty, ending up – homeless, dirty and in rags – selling her body in the most insalubrious parts of Rio de Janeiro.

Whenever anyone raised concerns with Anacleto about what had happened to his wife, he fell into a rage:

“That filthy tramp can die, for all I care! She means nothing to me.”

(He said even worse things, which I think it better not to recount.)

She died in the street. When I read the news about the death of an unidentified vagrant woman, I suspected it was her and immediately urged Anacleto to go and identify the body. But he just shouted, “It’s all one to me, whether it’s her or not, whether dead or alive!

I didn’t insist, but everything suggested it really was the body of Anacleto’s wife that was lying in the mortuary.

Several years later, Anacleto lost his job as a result of his disordered life; but, thanks to the intervention of some old friends, he managed to get another, as a civil servant in the north.

A year or two after that I received a letter from him asking me to get a police certificate confirming that his wife had died in the street and had been buried at public expense. This was because he needed to prove he was a widower, as he wanted to marry a widow who was reputed to be wealthy.

I did my best, but it proved impossible: because he hadn’t identified the body of his poor wife, for all intents and purposes he was still married.

And that’s how Anacleto’s wife took her posthumous revenge. He’ll never remarry, be the bride rich or poor.

• • •

From Portuguese: THE PRETTIEST GIRL IN RIO by Artur Azevedo

(My translation of the short story A moça mais bonita do Rio de Janeiro, which was published in Contos cariocas in 1928.)

I

t was 1875. In a small house in the suburb of Engenho Novo lived the prettiest girl in Rio de Janeiro, together with her parents. Because she was born on the second of May, she’d been given the name of Mafalda at the baptismal font, simply because it was the feast of St Mafalda; but no one knew her by that name – ever since she’d been little, everyone in the house had called her Fadinha, a diminutive and corruption of Mafalda, meaning Little Fairy. And those three syllables suited her well because, when she was eighteen, she possessed all the charms that the faries have, or should have; and in her extraordinary beauty there really was something supernatural and magic.

Coffee-coloured – but that sort of fluid coffee colour that only Murillo could find on his wonderful palette – with dark, twinkling eyes, dilated nostrils, big but elegantly contoured lips that opened, once in a while, to reveal the most beautiful teeth, with abundant, slightly wavy hair as dark as her eyes, always arranged in an untidy, but aesthetically pleasing way so as to give a glimpse of her little ears, which were so faultlessly designed that it would have been a crime to cover them, and with all these aspects completing each other in the oval harmony of her face, there could be no doubt that Fadinha would win first prize by the unanimous decision of the most rigorous jury if it had only occurred to someone, in those days, to run a beauty contest in Rio de Janeiro. The rest of her body was a fitting complement to her head: slim, without being tall, robust without being fat, and her figure represented an extraordinary correctness of line. Her hands and feet were exemplary.

Perhaps you’ll think I’m exaggerating when I say that, in addition to these physical gifts, her character was outstanding; but the truth is, she was good, affectionate, submissive and understanding. She had a touch of vanity, I admit, but which other woman wouldn’t, were she so pretty?

However, there were two things she regretted: having been born on the second of May and thus being called Mafalda, when she could have been born on the tenth of July and been called Amélia – and not having been born rich, very rich, so as to enhance her beauty even more. Nevertheless, she cheerfully resigned herself to the precarious situation of being the daughter of a very poor public servant. Yes, that’s how it was, because her father, Raposo, had reached the age of fifty as a simple clerk at the secretariat and found himself obliged to supplement his wages by doing the books in a bakery or a shop or a pawn brokers. And his sedentary life caused him to become enormously fat. Dr Souto, the family doctor, used to say ‘Raposo is an apoplexy waiting to happen.’

Fadinha wasn’t the only child: she had an older brother who’d got a place in business, and another who was still very young and was studying to be a doctor, because his father considered him ‘the talented one.’

Their mother was forty-five years old and didn’t look anything like her daughter. I don’t know what physiological phenomenon caused this splendid specimen, this sculptural creature, this impossible beauty, to issue forth from such an ugly couple (because Raposo, poor fellow, was another one who’d not been blessed by nature)! Note also that the two boys were equally ugly, particularly the future doctor, who was big nosed, big-eared, rickety, anaemic, insignificant.

Not content with dedicating part of her existence to the saints of her private oratory, Sra. Firmina – the name of Fadinha’s mother – would constantly be visiting churches to adore yet more saints; but, despite all that piety, she could not forgive her daughter for being beautiful and was deeply bitter about the singular monopoly the girl had received from nature, as if it were something scandalous; nevertheless, all her hopes for good luck and better times resided in her daughter. Given that a prince didn’t come into the equation, her dream was to be the mother-in-law of a rich man. If Raposo hadn’t been a proper head of family, this woman would have dominated him, usurping all domestic authority; fortunately he put his foot down and wouldn’t agree to anything he didn’t like.

But our Fadinha has a boyfriend. It’s time to introduce him to the reader.

II

B

eautiful as she was, she had no shortage of admirers, of all ages and categories. Many decamped to Engenho Novo from the city centre just for the pleasure of contemplating her, many of them out of simple curiosity, many others spurred on by the vague hope of a promise hidden in a smile or a glance. It could be said that, for a long time, Fadinha’s famous beauty contributed to the increase in the profitability of the suburban trains and to the hustle and bustle of the district, which had a much smaller population in those days. Many of those admirers got as far as speaking, declaring their intentions to be of the purest, and among them were some who really were worthy of marrying Fadinha; she, however, rebuffed them all, with the greatest delicacy and composure.

One day, Raposo invited Remígio to come to his house for dinner. Remígio was his colleague, a good lad, employed in the same section in which Raposo carried out his official functions. This Remígio was one of the stars of the secretariat, a paragon of dedication, intelligence and assiduity, an official with ‘a very promising future,’ as everyone said; but he was neither good-looking nor elegant, nor was there anything else exceptional about his exterior. But, of all those who passed in front of Fadinha’s beautiful eyes, this was the only man who merited her attention. Accredited, wealthy traders, well-placed functionaries, lawyers, doctors, officials of the Army and Navy etc. – all of them had to give way, in Fadinha’s heart, to this pallid, clumsy, badly dressed amanuensis who earned just 166.666 reais a month.

The young lady seemed anxious to let her heart speak; she immediately gave Remígio to understand that it would be he – among her numerous admirers – who would be victorious. The clerk, who was modest by nature, and had never even dreamt that he’d marry the prettiest girl in Rio de Janeiro, was amazed by this preference that he’d never sought, and duly fell head over heels in love with Fadinha.

No sooner had the first symptoms of that love appeared than there was a commotion in the home. Sra. Firmina had seen the danger approaching and, after breakfast one day, when her husband was getting ready to leave the house and drag his obesity to the train station, she told him of her fears; but Raposo, who had a fatherly affection for Remígio, and didn’t look at all askance at the prospect of his marrying Fadinha, merely smiled and said:

‘It’s only natural they should be attracted to each other and get married.’

‘You mean that seriously?’

‘What a question! Of course I do! Who could possibly say Remígio isn’t worthy of our little girl!’

‘He’s a clerk!’

‘And what am I?.. And what was I when we went to the church?.. Fadinha will marry whoever she likes; if she prefers a clerk to a government minister, so be it! She doesn’t want to be rich, which is a good thing, because money doesn’t bring happiness. And anyway, Remígio isn’t some poor devil lugging all his possessions around in a carpetbag; his father left him a bit; he’s got two or three little houses, some insurance policies and, most importantly, lots of common sense. He’s so highly thought of in the secretariat I wouldn’t be surprised if he’s not head of section in five years’ time. Even if you go looking with Diogenes’s lamp, you won’t find a better son-in-law.’

‘Don’t talk nonsense! Our daughter is very pretty and…’

‘Off you go again about how pretty our daughter is! That means nothing, absolutely nothing! She’s very pretty, that she is, but she hasn’t got two cents to rub together, and if she was forced to marry some rich fellow the marriage would look more like a business deal than anything else. Anyway, it would be embarrassing for us: we could hardly be poorer. Damn it! I don’t want to speculate with my daughter’s beauty, and I don’t want to make her unhappy by opposing her wishes. I might have expected you, being so religious, to agree with me…’

‘But we could make Fadinha see that…’

‘That’s enough! It’s clear we’re not going to see eye-to-eye about this. In my opinion, Remígio is an excellent fellow, and I don’t see any reason why our little girl should want someone else!’

‘But…’

‘No buts! We’ll let her decide, because – and I want you to mark my words – Fadinha won’t marry who you or me want her to marry; she’ll marry the man she chooses of her own free will, whether he’s a clerk, a tradesman, the Tsar of Russia or the Shah of Persia!..’

‘I…’

‘Not one word more, Firmina! You know very well this house isn’t Gonçalo’s! Under this roof, no voice will be louder than mine!’

‘But you’re talking twaddle!’

‘Twaddle?!.. Twaddle?!.. How dare you say that to me?!..’

‘Yes, I do… Twaddle! I’m sick and tired of playing second fiddle in this house.’

‘In that case, why don’t you put on my trousers and I’ll put on your skirt! Don’t be ridiculous! I’m going to tell Remígio today that our little girl is his!..’

‘But I’m telling you she can’t be! I want good fortune for my daughter!’

‘Don’t lie!.. What you want is good fortune for yourself, not for her! Don’t force me to say what I think, because if I do I’ll create such a scene as you never ever saw!’

And Raposo forced himself, with difficulty, to whisper, so as not be heard by others in the house:

‘You never thought as much of her as you should have; you never loved her, never gave her a real mother’s love!.. And now you want to sell her… That’s good!.. I’m going to tell Remígio this very day!..’

‘This is scandalous! I know I’m her mother. Can you be sure you’re her father?..’

‘Eh?!.. What do you mean?..’

Raposo squared up to Sra. Firmina, but the blood rushed up to his head, his eyes and his mouth opened unnaturally wide, he waved his arms about and fell as if hit by lightning.

By the time Dr Souto arrived, having been summoned urgently, he was already dead.

‘Didn’t I say he was an apoplexy waiting to happen!’

III

R

emígio showed himself to be a real gentleman: he asked Sra. Firmina to let him take care of the funeral, and neither she nor the children have ever found out, right up until today, how much it all cost.

This great kindness, together with the bitter tears the young man shed over his old colleague’s corpse, enhanced Fadinha’s feelings for him even more; now it wasn’t just affection, it was also gratitude that drew those two hearts together. After Raposo’s death, they both felt like orphans, and this equivalence in their situations cemented still further the mutual sympathy that had taken hold of them.

Sra. Firmina didn’t have a word of thanks for such kindness, but Remígio attributed this omission to the extremity of the widow’s grief, which she demonstrated through unending tears and groans. When the funeral took place, it needed three men to pull her away from the coffin and, seven days later, when the mass was over, she had such a violent attack of nerves in the sacristy of the church of São Francisco de Paulo that it seemed her last hour had arrived.

Nor did the boys, neither the student, nor the one employed in business, thank Remígio for arranging the funeral and the mass; it was as if everyone in the house considered it his duty.

Or rather, not everyone: Fadinha praised his generosity at every turn, but her words, to which no one replied, were heard with indifference by her mother and brothers.

The older one, Alexandre, a lad of twenty-two, who worked for Baron Moreira’s firm, felt flattered beyond words by the fact that his boss had deigned to attend the funeral personally. He could scarcely believe his eyes when, in an aisle of the church, he came across the Baron standing there, holding his hat behind his back with one hand, with his head raised, examining closely a portrait by Fragoso of one of the benefactors of the religious order. At first, the counter clerk assumed the Baron had come to attend some other mass but, despite his sadness, he felt as pleased as Punch when, once the ceremony had begun, the nobleman took his place among those who had come to pay their last respects to the deceased Raposo.

When the mass was over and the priest, accompanied by his acolyte, had returned to the sacristy, genuflecting at every altar along the way, the Baron was the first to embrace Alexandre, who was standing near his mother.

‘Courage! We all have to pass through these trials… That’s how it goes…’

‘Thank you, Baron.’

‘I don’t know your family – would you introduce me to the ladies?’

It wasn’t possible to introduce the widow, because she was shedding an ocean of tears and didn’t have time for anything except her spectacular grief; but the Baron, stupefied by Fadinha’s beauty, gave her a long handshake.

‘Young lady,’ he said, ‘your brother is an employee of my firm, and I greatly appreciate those who serve me well. Please tell your mother that Baron Moreira is at her disposal for anything at all she may wish to request.’

‘Thank you very much, Baron Sir.’

This offer surprised Alexandre, who wasn’t used to his boss being friendly – although the Baron was still young, he was humourless, severe, cold, proud of his education, his elegance, his title and his wealth; in his subordinate humility, Alexandre imagined the Baron wouldn’t even say ‘Hello’ to him, were they to meet in the street; so he was duly amazed that this rich egoist should have come all the way from Botafogo to attend mass for an obscure clerk and should show so much interest in the family. This phenomenon will be explained, for the benefit of the reader, a little later.

When all those invited had left and the Raposo family remained alone in the sacristy, the two boys took their leave of their mother and sister: the older went off to his workplace, which is where he also had lunch, and the younger to the medical school: the exams were coming up and he couldn’t afford to miss lectures; he took lunch at Rocher de Cancalle, just off Ouvidor Street.

Remígio offered to accompany the ladies to Engenho Novo, but the widow who, in the absence of spectators, no longer looked so grief-stricken, gave him an ornate refusal: ‘No, sir; I don’t want to put you to that trouble; you need to go to your workplace too.’

Fadinha interrupted:

‘One day won’t make any difference. Come and have lunch with us, Remígio.’

‘I’ve already said “No”!’

The clerk bowed and accompanied the two ladies to their tilbury: he helped them enter and closed the door.

‘Come and visit us,’ said Fadinha sadly, and she waved him a delicate little ‘Adeus.’

For her part, Sra. Firmina didn’t utter a word; but when the tilbury had drawn away, in the direction of Teatro Street, she pronounced the following, with an indescribable look of anger in her eyes:

‘What you’re going to do now is forget all about that fellow! You don’t have your soft-brained father with you anymore! I’m the one who gives the orders now, do you understand?..’

IV

A

nd now for the explanation of the phenomenon:

Baron Moreira had come to the office earlier than usual and was enjoying a conversation with his friend Pimenta, who occasionally came to have a chat with him and to remember the good old days when they’d both been students at Vitório College.

Pimenta had also gone into business, but he hadn’t been as fortunate as his old colleague. Over the years, he’d worked for a large number of firms, but in none of them had he found the fortune his prodigious activity merited. Already over thirty, he still didn’t have a definitive position in business, but he’d always managed to do a bit of goods brokerage, and the resulting sales, through an intermediary, brought him a profitable return.

Fifteen years of employment in a haberdashery store in Ouvidor Street, which he’d left with his hopes and dreams unfulfilled, infuriated with his bosses, and none the richer, had at least bestowed on him unrivalled knowledge in two areas: that particular branch of business, and comings and goings in Rio de Janeiro. There was no event, scandalous or not, that Pimenta hadn’t stored away in his memory, and that he couldn’t avail himself of at an opportune moment.

He was a backbiter and, without that defect, he’d perhaps have been rich and free like Baron de Moreira, with no need to hawk samples, bills and gossip from door to door, up and down, sweating blood. Some people said: ‘Pimenta’s not a bad sort, if it wasn’t for his tongue’; others: ‘For all his being busy and clever, nothing seems to go right for him.’ But, as he was still single and didn’t have any family obligations, he put up with his ill-fortune cheerfully and contented himself with earning enough to live on without being a burden to his friends.

As I’ve already mentioned, on that day he’d appeared in Baron Moreira’s office for a bit of a chin-wag with his childhood friend and, if he was lucky, a free lunch.

They were both chatting when Alexandre entered the office to inform the Baron that he’d just received the news of his father’s sudden death and to ask for a few days of compassionate leave.

The Baron, who maintained an autocratic hauteur towards his firm’s employees, said, without lifting his eyes:

‘That’s a matter for Sr. Motta; have you spoken to him?’

‘Sr. Motta’s not in.’

‘Alright, you may go.’

And Alexandre left, without hearing a single word of condolence.

‘Do you know that employee?’ Pimenta asked the Baron.

‘No; it was my partner, Motto, who took him on; I think that’s the first time I’ve spoken to him; as you well know, I don’t generally pay much attention to the clerks.’

‘That’s why I asked if you know him.’

There was a pause.

‘In that case, you won’t have known his father, Raposo, who’s just died suddenly?’

‘No, I didn’t know him.’

‘And you don’t know that his sister’s the prettiest girl in Rio de Janeiro?’

‘No!’

‘How strange! You’ve never heard of Fadinha from Engenho Novo?’

‘I think, perhaps…’

‘Well, that’s her!’

‘And is she really pretty?’

‘What a question! She’s beautiful! She’s more than beautiful!.. Take my word for it!’

‘You’re whetting my appetite, damn it! How can I get to see her?’

‘Simple! Go to the mass of the seventh day. Because her brother works in your firm, you can use that as a pretext for offering your services to the family, right there in the church, and you’ll be able to get a close look at her.’

‘Good point. That’s the only way I could go to the mass for the father of Sr… what’s the boy’s name?’

‘Alexandre.’

And that’s how it came about that Baron Moreira appeared at the mass: simple sacrilegious curiosity.

When the aristocrat returned from the church, he found Pimenta waiting for him in the office.

‘Well?’

‘She isn’t the prettiest girl in Rio de Janeiro, my friend, she’s the most beautiful woman in the world!..’

V

I

f Alexandre had been amazed to see Baron Moreira appear at the church, he was even more amazed when, from that day forward, his boss began treating him kindly and affably, which didn’t take long to turn into familiarity. He summoned him to help in all the office work, entrusted important tasks to him, let him handle large sums of money or take them to the bank and, one day when the young man was making the fair copy of a letter – a confidential letter, a very important letter –, his boss offered him one of his magnificent Havana cigars, with the words: ‘Have a puff, Alexandre.’

Motto, the Baron’s partner and his antithesis, being good company, affable, friendly towards the staff, was nonplussed and had no idea what could have caused this favouritism; but the book-keeper and the other clerks, who’d become jealous and had perhaps picked up a thing or two from Pimenta’s caustic remarks, murmured: ‘There’s nothing like having a pretty sister…’

The Baron was constantly asking for news of the family and showed great solicitousness for the widow, repeating, almost daily, his offer of help and friendship, in order to prevent, remove or resolve any difficulties resulting from old Raposo’s sudden demise. The lad couldn’t thank him enough and, when he got home, he’d tell his mother all the marks of kindness he’d received from his boss that day.

Perspicacious and crafty, Sra. Firmina soon realised it was the effect of Fadinha’s beauty that was causing the Baron to find every means he could of inveigling himself into the family; so one day she advised her son to invite him home and tell him that she, Sra. Firmina, was very grateful for all the Baron’s kindness and would be very happy if she could thank him personally.

She couldn’t have been more pleased with the result of Alexandre’s missive: the Baron wasn’t going to pass up an opportunity which, as we’ve seen, he’d been fishing for during the past two months. One fine Sunday he decided to go for lunch to Engenho Novo. To give extra solemnity to the visit, Sra. Firmina went to wait for him at the station, accompanied by her two sons, because Fadinha, knowing that the Baron was coming, had shut herself in her room on the pretext of a terrible migraine, and neither pleading nor chiding, neither kindness nor threats, could make her come out.

The girl was desperate: she hadn’t seen her dear Remígio for more than a month. Firmina and the boys were so rude to him that, understanding their wish to be rid of him, and seeing the impossibility of standing firm against that pack of ingrates, he did as they wanted, without, however, abandoning his marriage plans, because Fadinha was still the same and he considered her worthy, in all respects, of his affection and constancy.

‘They can do what they like, I’ll be yours, just yours – I promise you on the soul of my father! The more they constrain me, the more they offend you, the stronger, were it possible, will my love for you burn. I’m your betrothed!’

Uplifted by these ardent words, in which Fadinha had put all the energy of her soul, all the sincerity of her heart, Remígio waited resignedly for an opportunity to secure the rights that his love merited; but – it has to be said – his vacillating and timorous spirit didn’t have enough strength for the battle being fought against him. He really was in love, but he began silently to curse the singular beauty that turned Fadinha into an object to be coveted, a pledge of good fortune, a type of life assurance for a whole family. Notwithstanding the venerable Raposo’s last wish, his ultimate and sacred desire, Remígio was afraid that his insistence would bring disunity and disgrace to the family. Meanwhile, whenever she managed to escape her mother’s vigilance and write to him, Fadinha repeated over and over again her vehement promises of fidelity.

But let’s return to Baron Moreira who, at Engenho Novo station, in his light flannel suit, his white straw hat, his multi-coloured cravat, his bejewelled tie-pin and an enormous rose in his lapel, contrasted markedly with that matron and her two boys, who were dressed in the most severe mourning, so that even their cuffs and collars were black.

VI

W

hen he entered the Baron’s office the next day, Pimenta found him in a bad mood.

‘Well? Did you go?’

‘I did. I went to Rome and didn’t see the Pope.’

‘I don’t understand.’

‘Engenho Novo is Rome and Fadinha is the Pope; do you understand now?’

‘You didn’t see her?’

‘As I’ve already said. She was unwell; she didn’t make an appearance.’

‘Really?’

‘How stupid is that? To have lunch with Sra. Firmina and her sons, and not even catch sight of her! “Have lunch” in a manner of speaking, because I didn’t eat anything. I was desperate!’

‘And what did the old woman say?’

‘She was even more annoyed than I was. I could see it in her eyes. She kept apologising for her daughter’s absence and telling me – but completely without conviction – that she really was unwell.’

‘You don’t think she was.’

‘Of course I don’t think so.’

‘You’ve got a rival.’

‘I thought as much.’

‘A serious rival. They told me everything this morning.’

And Pimenta told the Baron what the reader already knows: about the love of Remígio and Fadinha, old Raposo’s last wish, the kindness shown to the family, the opposition of Sra. Firmina and her sons, Remígio’s retreat – and he added:

‘The girl suspected they wanted to force her to marry you, and she shut herself in her room. So that’s how you went to Rome and didn’t see the Pope.’

‘What’s your advice?’

‘Before I can answer that question, I need to know, first of all, what your intentions are.’

There was a long silence.

‘Do you like her?’

‘A lot. I liked her already and, after that wretched lunch, I liked her even more!’

‘Are you prepared to be her husband?’

There was another silence, even longer than the first.

‘If you don’t want to make her a baroness,’ Pimenta continued, ‘forget about her. Devil take it! She might well be happy with that Remígio, seeing he’s an honest fellow.’

‘But who told you my intentions weren’t good?’

‘You didn’t say anything…’

‘I didn’t say anything because marriage scares me. My liberty is so deliciously complete! Yes, I admit that marriage has never figured in my plans, but were it necessary…’

‘What do you mean, “were it necessary”? You haven’t been thinking that Fadinha could belong to you without the intervention of a priest?! The family is poor, but it’s just as respectable as yours! If you want to be her husband, fight for her and – perhaps – you’ll win her; if not, abandon an idea that’s unworthy of you!’

The Baron had a good, long look at the Havana cigar he was holding between his fingers, let the ashes fall into a spittoon, stuck the cigar in his mouth, stood up and announced resolutely, amid a cloud of cigar smoke:

‘I shall fight!’

When Pimenta left the office, he met Alexandre in the store and muttered to him in passing:

‘He’s going to marry her.’

TRANSLATIONS FROM PORTUGUESE

From Portuguese: THE ORACLE by Machado de Assis

(My translation of the short story O oráculo by Machado de Assis, which was first published in Jornal das Famílias in 1866)

I  once knew a man who was a prime example of what bad luck can do to a mere mortal.

His name was Leonardo, and he started off as a tutor for boys. But it didn’t work out well: he lost the little he possessed, and ended up with just three students.

So, he tried the civil service. He got together the necessary testimonials and even went so far as to vote against his convictions; but just when it seemed a done deal, the political party that ran that particular ministry lost control of it, and the party Leonardo had previously always voted for took over. His recent vote now made him suspect, and he was turned down.

With the help of a family friend, he set up a business; but bad luck, combined with the dishonesty of some of his employees, soon resulted in bankruptcy. The only thing he could be thankful for was that the debtors didn’t demand immediate payment of all they were owed.

Next, he founded a literary journal. (It should be said that, even though he wasn’t unintelligent, he did this more from necessity than from literary enthusiasm.) But, given that the readers were of that substantial number who prefer to read for free, this enterprise folded after five months.

In the meantime, the party to which he’d sacrificed his conscience had got the upper hand once more. Leonardo went and reminded them that they should be grateful to him; but gratitude is not one of the principal characteristics of political parties, and Leonardo was passed over in favour of some influencial supporters of the new lot.

Despite this succession of set-backs and bad luck, Leonardo never lost his faith in Providence. Yes, he’d suffered all those blows, but he’d always bounced back, prepared to try his luck once again. This was based on an axiom he’d read somewhere or other: “Fortune, like a woman’s heart, favours the brave.”

So, he was getting ready to try his luck again, which would have involved a journey to the North, when he came across Cecília B…, daughter of the businessman Atanásio B…, for the first time. The young lady was endowed with a sympathetic face and a hundred contos in ready money. She was the apple of Atanásio’s eye. It appears she’d only been in love once, namely with a naval officer called Henrique Paes. Her father was opposed to their marriage because he didn’t like the young man; and it seems that Cecília herself wasn’t overly in love with him: she cried for one day, only to wake the next morning fresh and happy as if it were all a matter of nothing.

It wouldn’t be quite true to say that Leonardo was in love with Cecília either, and truth, in respect of both facts and feelings, is paramount for me; but, for the same reason, I have to say that she did make some impression on him.

What did greatly impress our ill-starred young man, and what immediately won his affection, was the dowry of one hundred contos – so much so, that he rejoiced in the bad luck that had eventually thrown him into the arms of such a fortune.

What impression did Leonardo make on Cecília’s father? Good, excellent, marvellous. The young lady herself received him with indifference, but Leonardo was confident that, given he already had her father on his side, he’d overcome that indifference.

At any rate, he cancelled the journey north.

Atanásio’s sympathy grew to the point where Leonardo was always being invited for dinner; and, ever hopeful, our ill-starred Leonardo was only too happy to accept every little favour.

Before long, he was like one of the family.

There came the day when Atanásio called him to his office and said, in a fatherly tone:

“You’ve justified the esteem I have for you. I can see you’re a good young man, and that, as you told me, you’ve suffered misfortune in the past.”

“That’s true,” replied Leonardo, unable to repress a triumphant smile.

“So, having considered the matter, I’ve decided to treat you as that which heaven has not granted me: my son.”

“Ah!”

“But wait! That’s not all. You already are my son in the light of my esteem for you. Now I wish to reinforce that by the assistance you will give to our house. I’m going to employ you in my business.”

Leonardo was a little taken aback; he’d been expecting that the old man was about to offer him his daughter’s hand in marriage, instead of which it was just the offer of a job. But then it occurred to him that it was, indeed, a job that he was really after. It was no small thing, and it was quite possible that it might lead to marriage in due course.

“Oh! Thank you!”

“So, you accept?”

“Oh yes! Without a doubt!”

The old man was just about to stand up from his chair when Leonardo, on the spur of the moment, gestured to him to remain seated.

“But listen…”

“What…?”

“There’s something I don’t want to keep from you. You’ve been so kind to me that I can’t be other than completely frank. I accept your generous offer under one condition. I love Dona Cecília heart and soul. Every time I see her that love only increases in strength and passion. If you could see your way to allowing your generosity to admit me into your family, I would accept it. Otherwise, the suffering would be too much for a mere human.”

I should say, in appreciation of Leonardo’s perspicacity, that he only dared risk the job in this way because he’d noticed that Atanásio had a tendency to grant him whatever he wanted.

And he wasn’t wrong. On hearing these words, the old man embraced him, saying:

“Oh! I couldn’t wish for anything better!”

“Father!” replied Leonardo, as he embraced Cecília’s dad.

It was a moving scene.

“Don’t think I haven’t noticed the impression Cecília has had on you,” said Atanásio, “and I was really hoping it might lead to marriage. I think nothing stands in the way now. My daughter’s a sensible girl, and I’m sure she’ll respond to your affection. Would you like me to speak to her now, or shall we wait a bit?”

“As you wish.”

“Or rather, please be honest: are you already assured of Cecília’s love?”

“I can’t give you a positive answer, but I believe she’s not indifferent to me.”

“I’ll undertake to find out. Not forgetting that my wishes need to be taken into account: she’s an obedient girl…”

“Oh! I wouldn’t want you to compel her!”

“Compulsion my foot! She’s a sensible girl, and she’s certain to see the advantages of having such an intelligent and hard-working husband…”

“Thank you.”

They separated.

The next day, Atanásio was due to instal his new employee.

But that night the old man raised the subject of marriage with his daughter. He began by asking her if she’d like to get married. She replied that she hadn’t thought about it; but as she was smiling, her father had no hesitation in telling her that he’d had a formal request from Leonardo.

Cecília received this news in silence. After a while, still smiling, she said she’d go and consult the oracle.

Non-plussed by this talk of consulting an oracle, her father asked her what on earth she meant.

“It’s very simple,” she replied. “I’ll go and consult the oracle. I don’t do anything without consulting it; I don’t go visiting, I don’t do anything at all without consulting it. This is really important; as you can see, I just have to consult it. I’ll do what it tells me to.”

“Extraordinary! But what is this oracle?”

“That’s a secret.”

“Can I at least give the lad some hope?”

“It all depends – on the oracle.”

“Come, come! You’re making fun of me…”

“No, Father, I’m not.”

He went along with Cecília’s wishes, not because she was really so imperious, but because of the way she spoke and the way she was smiling; he was convinced she was open to the offer and was just being coquettish.

When Leonardo heard how Cecília had responded, he became worried. But Atanásio tried to calm his fears by telling him his own opinion.

The next day, Cecília was due to tell her father how the oracle had responded. He, however, had already decided what to do: if the response of the mysterious oracle was negative, he’d oblige her to marry Leonardo. The marriage would go ahead whatever3.

The first thing that happened was that two of Atanásio’s nieces turned up. They were both married and had both been supportive of Cecília when she’d wanted to marry Henrique Paes. They hadn’t been back to the house since her father put his foot down: although Cecília had reconciled herself with her father, they hadn’t.

“To what do I owe this visit?”

“We’ve come to ask forgiveness for our error.”

“Ah!”

“You were right, Uncle. And it seems that there’s a new suitor.”

“Who told you?”

“Cecília. She sent us a message.”

“So, I suppose you’ve come to object.”

“On the contrary.”

“Thank goodness for that!”

“All we want is that Cecília should get married – to whoever. That’s the only reason why we intervened in support of the other one.”

Gratified by this reconciliation, Atanásio proceded to update his nieces on the situation, in particular how Cecília had replied. He also explained that she was due to convey the oracle’s response that very day. They all laughed at how odd it was, but were happy to wait and see.

“If it’s a No, will you support me?”

“Of course,” said both the nieces.

Soon afterwards their husbands arrived.

And soon after that, Leonardo turned up, wearing a black jacket and a white tie – very different attire from that in which the people of antiquity went to seek responses from the oracles of Delphi and Dodona. But every age and every place has its own customs.

During the whole time that the two young women and Leonardo were conversing, Cecília was in her room consulting – allegedly – the oracle.

The consultation had to do with the subject that had brought them all together.

Finally, at about eight o’clock in the evening, Cecília made her appearance.

They all gathered round her.

After they’d exchanged greetings, Atanásio – half-serious, half-smiling – put the question to his daughter:

“So, what did Mr Oracle say?”

“Oh! Father! He said No!”

“You mean to say,” replied Atanásio, “Mr Oracle is against your marrying Leonardo?”

“Yes.”

“Well, in that case I’m sorry to say that my opinion is contrary to that of Mr Oracle; and given that everyone knows who I am and the oracle is a complete mystery, you shall do as I say, even if that is contrary to Mr Oracle.”

“Oh! No!”

“What do you mean, No? Whatever next?! I only went along with that nonsense to humour you. I never had the slightest intention of submitting to the decisions of any mumbo-jumbo oracles. Your cousins agree with me. And what is more, I want to know what this jiggery pokery is about right now… Let’s go and unmask the oracle!”

At that precise moment, a figure appeared at the door and said:

“No need.”

Everyone turned towards him. The figure advanced into the middle of the room, holding a document in his hand.

It was the above-mentioned naval officer, in his uniform.

“What are you doing here?” the old man spluttered.

“What am I doing here? I’m the oracle.”

“Don’t expect me to put up with such nonsense. What right do you have to be here?”

By way of reply, Henrique Paes handed over the document he was holding.

“What’s this?”

“It’s the reply to your question.”

Atanásio moved towards the light, took his spectacles from his pocket, put them on his nose and read the document.

During all this time, Leonardo stood there open-mouthed and dumbfounded.

When the old man got half-way through the document, he turned to Henrique and said in amazement:

“You’re my son-in-law!”

“Duly confirmed as such by all the sacraments of the Church. As you’ve just seen.”

“But what if this is a forgery?”

“Hold on!” said the husband of one of the nieces. “We were the best men, and our wives were the bridesmaids, at the wedding of our cousin Dona Cecília B… with Henrique Paes, which took place a month ago in the oratory in my house.”

“Oh!” said the old man, as he sank into an armchair.

Muttering “That’s the last straw!” Leonardo tried to slip out unnoticed.

Epilogue

Even though he lost his bride – and in such a ridiculous way –, Leonardo didn’t lose the job. He told the old man that it would be difficult, but that he’d stay, on account of the respect Atanásio had for him.

Unfortunately, Fate had not yet finished with the poor lad.

A fortnight later, Atanásio contracted a respiratory illness, which killed him.

His will, which had been drawn up a year before, left nothing to Leonardo.

As for the business, it went into liquidation. Leonardo received two weeks’ pay.

The ill-starred lad gave it all to a beggar and went off to drown himself in the sea, by Icaraí Beach.

Henrique and Cecília couldn’t be happier.

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).

From Portuguese: AND THE SABIÁ SINGS by Aluísio Azevedo

(My translation of the short story No Maranhão, by Aluísio Azevedo, which was published in Pégadas in 1897)

When I was thirteen, up there in Maranhão, one of the families that was closest to mine was that of old Cunha. He was a good man, who’d retired after having made his money in the retail trade. His wife was Dona Mariana.

They had two children: Luís and Rosa – or Rosinha, as we called her. Luís was a year older than his sister and a few months younger than me.
You could say we were brought up together, because when I wasn’t at their place they were at ours.
The Cunhas lived in a large and beautiful colonial-style house, the back of which – as with all those houses along the shore – looked directly out to sea.
Apart from that house, Cunha had another place, where he went frequently with his family on Sundays, in their own boat.
They nearly always took me with them. The place was called “Boa Vinda” and was on the banks of the River Anil, not too far from Vinhais.
Those trips to Boa Vinda are among my fondest childhood memories. Brought up, as I was, by the seaside, I loved the water. At twelve years of age I was not only a strong swimmer but could steer a boat, take down a sail in a storm and row just as well as any fisherman on the prowl for piaba fish.
We used to leave São Luís in the small hours, arriving at Boa Vinda at dawn.
How delightful, the boating on the river! What beautiful, fresh mornings spent gliding between mango groves and scenting, on the breeze, the salty smell of the not-far-distant sea! And how pleasurable those lunches under the roof of the veranda, sitting on wooden benches around the linen-covered table, drinking new cashew wine from glazed terracotta mugs! And then… time to play! Running through the scrubland, hair blowing in the wind – foot-loose and fancy-free!
Then, in the evenings, when nature began its melancholy decline into night, we’d all sit on the terrace in front of the house and listen to the sweet, plangent song of the sururina birds, as they settled down for sleep in the surrounding bushes. Eventually, Luís would go to get his flute, Rosinha her violin, and – to their accompaniment – I’d sing some beautiful old Maranhão songs.
Dona Mariana and Cunha loved to hear me sing. At that time, my voice was still fresh and innocent – as was my soul.
Afterwards the plates and things were packed away in a large basket, which we carried on to the boat and then spread a canvas sail over it. Finally Luís, Rosinha and I sat on top of it, Cunha took up position at the helm with his wife by his side, and three slaves took the oars to row us back to the city.
Whereas the morning voyage had been cheerful and lively, the return at night always seemed slow and sad. Dona Mariana would keep dropping off to sleep, and Cunha would talk to us about what we’d be doing at school the next day. Luís would usually lie down, with his head on his sister’s lap, and I’d stretch myself out on the canvas, gazing at the stars.
On one of those nights when we were returning home, there was a beautiful moon. And the moonlight! As if it were specially for night-time voyagers on the water – conjuring up, ahead of us, white, sighing phantoms, which sped across the water, alternately appearing in their silver shrouds and then vanishing – like anguished drowned souls.
We’d already left Vinhais far behind and were gradually passing the large old properties on the Caminho Grande, which look out, on one side, on to the River Anil. Propped up with a cushion, Dona Mariana was dozing as usual, resting her head on the palm of her hand; Rosinha – with one arm over the side of the boat – was dreamily trailing the tips of her fingers in the rippling water, which sparkled at each pull of the oars; Luís was humming distractedly; old Cunha was bent over the handle of the tiller, with his big, carnaúba-palm hat pushed to the back of his head – shirt and cotton-duck coat open at the chest – while he gazed at the beaches as they slid by, as if the beauty of that northern night and the loneliness of that beautiful blue river had ensnared his bourgeois soul and miraculously carried him off to some poetic dreamworld.
But no! After a prolonged period of silence he sighed, turned to me, and said:
“What a waste of money! What utter carelessness! … Look at those overgrown ruins! It was a good forty years ago they started building. A big customs house… but they never got any further. Just like the Sagração wharf and the Mercês embankment. Scandalous!”
As I looked at those ruins, which seemed to grow in the moonlight, Cunha’s indignation continued to rumble over the lugubrious waters of the Anil, railing against all those accursed presidents of the province who’d taken so little care of our poor, beloved city.
Meanwhile, as our boat pushed sluggishly on, all that steeply sloping part of the city came opening up alongside us.
And it wasn’t long before the Praça dos Remedios came into sight in the distance, looming over the beach like a fortress from the times of war.
We could hear the leaves rustling in the casuarina trees.
“There it is!” shouted Cunha, pointing towards the shore. “Why squander money on a statue like that when there are so many things we really need but no one cares about…”
I looked in the direction he was pointing and saw – very tall, very white, and very sad-looking in the moonlight – the statue of Gonçalves Dias in the middle of the Praça dos Remedios.
I could summon up neither the spirit nor the words to protest against what old Cunha was saying. All I knew about Gonçalves Dias was that he was a poet who died tragically. Nothing more.
“Indeed!” growled Cunha. “The money it must have cost to hoist that big booby sky-high on to that humongous marble stick! A fortune! Everyone in Maranhão contributed! Whereas they couldn’t cough up even a couple of réis for the Campos Melo warehouse, which business has been crying out for for ever. A pack of idiots! I swear it makes me so angry, I almost regret taking out citizenship!”
I turned to look at the statue once more and – I don’t know why – Cunha’s words no longer filled my young mind with the respect they always used to command. Instead they upset me, like a blasphemy spat out at a sacred image. At home, all my family venerated the memory of our national poet and, at the school where I learnt to write the Portuguese language, my teacher always referred to him as “the great Gonçalves Dias.”
But I still said nothing in the poet’s defence – the poet who’d sung about the palm trees of Brazil. Instead I gazed more intently at that white, stone figure, who, in turn, was looking out, in mute glory, at that same sea that had become his sepulchre. And I thought he was so calm, so elevated, so distant from me and Cunha. So much so that I eventually blurted out:
“But Senhor Cunha, if the people made that statue for him, it must have been because the poor man deserved it!”
“Deserved?! How? What did he do? … My country has palm trees where the sabiá sings. The birds of my homeland sing sweeter by far?! That’s all he did! Write poems!”
And, beside himself with anger, off he went again, with a new tirade against the madmen who raise statues to poets instead of building the warehouses the retail trade so desperately needs.
Just at that moment, however, the boat came directly opposite the Praça dos Remedios.
The moon – lost and alone in the luminous sky – was bathing that rigid, white marble figure in its mysterious rays. And Rosinha, who’d paid no attention to our conversation, began to sing, in her high, crystalline voice, one of the most popular songs in Brazil:
If you’d like to know why
I sometimes fly
Away in my dreams
To that angel who sings
Up there in the sky,
Come with me, love,
To the heavens above
And then you’ll know why
I fly, and the sabiá sings.

In her innocence, and in sight of the statue, she’d unwittingly rebutted her father’s vituperation, paying the poet the highest compliment: reciting his words without mentioning his name.

I’m not superstitious, and I wasn’t back then, but I really did get the impression, at that moment, that the statue smiled.
A trick of the light. Of course.

From Portuguese: MILITARY EFFICIENCY (A little Chinese story), by Lima Barreto

[My translation of the short story Eficiência militar (Historieta chinesa) by the Brazilian writer Lima Barreto, which was first published in the Careta newspaper in Rio de Janeiro in 1922]

PDF

Li-hu Ang-Pô, the Regent of Canton, which was part of the Chinese Empire – “the Celestial Empire” or “the Middle Kingdom,” as it was called – had noticed that his army didn’t look at all warlike; nor had it demonstrated, in the most recent manoeuvres, any great military aptitude.

As everyone knows, during the ancient Chinese regime, the powers of the Regent of Canton were akin to those of an absolute monarch. He governed his province as a kingdom inherited from his parents, and his word was law.
The only restriction on his powers was the obligation to pay a hefty annual tax into the treasury of the Son of Heaven. The latter was comfortably ensconced amongst dozens of wives and hundreds of concubines in the mysterious imperial city of Peking but was invisible to the great masses of his people.
Having realised what a miserable state his army was in, Li-Hu Ang-Pô, the Regent of Canton, began to wonder what he should do to raise the morale of his army and make it more like… more like an army. As a result he doubled the soldiers’ rations of rice and dog meat; but this greatly increased the military expenditure of the kingdom; so, to mitigate that problem, it occurred to him – or rather, it was pointed out to him – that all he need do was double the taxes on fishermen, potters, and collectors of human manure (one of the main occupations in the labyrinthine city of Canton).

***

After a few months, he decided to test the success of the measures he’d introduced to enhance the pride, enthusiasm and martial vigour of his trusty soldiers. This took the form of general manoeuvres that would take place, when the cherry trees came into blossom in the spring, on the Plane of Chu-Wei-Hu – “Happy Days Plane” in our language. So, in due course, about fifty thousand Chinese soldiers, comprising infantry, cavalry and artillery, set up camp on the Plane of Chu-Wei-Hu under silk tents – silk being as common in China as canvas is here.

The commander-in-chief of that extraordinary army was General Fu-Shi-Tô, who’d begun his military career as a rickshaw-puller in Hong Kong. Indeed, he’d been so competent at that trade that the English governor had taken him for his own exclusive service.
The latter fact gave the General exceptional prestige amongst his countrymen because, although they generally detest foreigners – especially the English – they nevertheless respect the dreaded “red devils,” as they call the Europeans.
Having left the service of the British governor of Hong Kong, Fu-Shi-Tô could have no post in his own country other than general of the army of the Regent of Canton; and once appointed to that post, he immediately showed himself to be an innovator, making improvements both to troops and to ordnance – in recognition of which he was awarded the solid gold medal of the Imperial Order of the Dragon. It was he who replaced the cardboard cannons of the Cantonese army with those of Krupp, earning billions of taels in the process by way of commission, which he shared with the Regent. The French firm Canet wouldn’t have been so generous, which convinced him that Krupp’s cannons were better. So it’s clear that the ex-servant of the governor of Hong Kong knew a thing or two about artillery.

***

Li-Hua Ang-Pô’s army had been camping for over a month on Happy Days Plane, when the Regent decided to go and inspect the manoeuvres before conducting the final review.

Together with his retinue, which included his brilliant hairdresser Pi-Nu, he set off for the beautiful plane, fully expecting to see manoeuvres befitting a genuine Teutonic army. He was imagining glorious victories and how his profitable position as almost-king of the rich province of Canton would be secured for ever. With a powerful army at hand, no-one would dare to try and oust him.
When he arrived, he observed everything attentively and with curiosity. At his side, Fu-Shi-Tô explained strategies and tactics with a breadth of knowledge indicative of someone who had studied the Art of War between the shafts of a rickshaw.
But the Regent wasn’t happy. He’d noticed hesitancy and lack of élan in the troops, lack of speed and accuracy in the manoeuvres, and lack of obedience to the commander-in-chief and the officers; in short, instead of an army that should have been able to threaten the whole of China – should it wish to oust him from his comfortable and profitable position as Regent of Canton -, instead of all that, a decided lack of military efficiency. He pointed this out to the General, who responded thus:
“Your Most Excellent, Venerable, Powerful, Gracious and Celestial Highness is right; but those defects can easily be put right.”
“How?” asked the Regent.
“Simple! Our current uniforms are too similar to the German. We’ll make them more like the French, and that will fix everything.”
Li-Hu Ang-Pô pondered for a few moments, remembering that time he was in Berlin, the banquets the court dignitaries of Potsdam had laid on for him, the welcome he’d been given by the Kaiser and, above all, the taels he’d received via General Fu-Shi-Tô… It would be ingratitude on his part; but… He pondered a bit more until, finally, he barked out an order:
“Change the uniforms! Immediately!”

 ABOUT THE AUTHOR

(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.

From Portuguese: THE ROAD TO DAMASCUS, by Machado de Assis

(My translation of the story O caminho de Damasco, which was originally published in the Jornal das Famílias in Rio de Janeiro in 1871.)

PDF

I

THE THREE FRIENDS

It was two o’clock of an afternoon in June and it was a magnificent winter’s day – neither cold, nor rainy, nor sunny. That’s to say, the emperor star was still dominating the skies with his splendid rays but, on that particular day, his rays were soft and gentle. So, it wasn’t a sun for lizards to warm themselves by, but it was just the right sun for someone who was walking across Aclamação Square.

Ouvidor Street was just as busy as usual. There were people standing in front of the shops or sitting inside them; people walking down the street, people walking up; men, ladies and, once in a while, a horse-drawn carriage – all of which gave the principle road in Rio de Janeiro a bright and breezy look. Here and there, you could see a group of politicians exchanging news or ogling the ladies as they passed by, which, after all, is far more pleasurable than talking about the defence budget. As it happens, the minister of defence was speaking about that very thing in the House of Representatives at that very moment.There were also dandies – la jeunesse dorée –, who were discussing the latest goings on or the latest fashions. And amongst them, funnily enough, were some grey beards and even white beards. But if you were to ask those grey beards and white beards what they were doing there, they would no doubt have replied that youth has more to do with what’s inside than what’s out, and that ice can cover the mountain tops without descending to the plain. (And by “the plain” they mean “the heart.”)

Near Quitanda Lane, between the Garnier bookshop and the offices of the Jornal do Commercio, three elegant young men had been having a chat. One of them was just heading off downhill, another uphill and the third was about to get into a tilbury, which was standing there waiting for him. The first had black sideburns, the second a full beard, while the third just had an elegantly waxed, chestnut-brown moustache.

“So we’re agreed,” the sideburns called out to the others. “Ten o’clock at the door of the Alcazar Theatre.”

“Whoever arrives first will need to wait,” said the full beard.

“Yes,” said sideburns. “But let’s try not to be late.”

The moustache agreed, but asked for some laxity for himself. “I need to take care of the old lady.”

Sideburns shook his head impatiently.

“Really, Aguiar! I don’t know what to make of you. You’re a grown man, but you live like a nun!”

Full beard couldn’t help smiling: he was well aware of how little his friend resembled a nun. And he knew that sideburns was equally well informed about what Aguiar got up to.

Aguiar explained, as well as he could, the situation with the old lady, and the three of them promised to be at the door of the Alcazar at 10 o’clock that evening.

And just when Aguiar was about to say his final goodbye, a carriage drove out of Quitanda Lane into Ouvidor Street. It was pulled by a chestnut horse and driven by a youth dressed in white, whose expression of disdain for the pedestrians he passed would almost make you think that Cleopatra or Achilles must be inside the carriage; but one glance would disabuse you of such a notion: lolling on the seat of the carriage was a thin, blond girl, whose looks might have come from heaven, but whose dress and adornments were more reminiscent of purgatory.

The tears of sinners were crystallised in the refulgent jewellery that adorned her ears, her neck and her fingers. She was looking lazily at the passers-by to the left of the carriage, but without moving her head, and with such an aristocratic expression that one could understand both the arrogance of the coachman and the curiosity of the passers-by.

When she saw our three friends, she smiled and inclined her head slightly. Sideburns gestured something to her, to which she responded with a raised hand. All of it without the carriage stopping.

“Good – Candinha knows,” said sideburns. “We won’t have to send a note.”

And, after once more promissing to be there at ten, the three friends continued on their separate ways.

Of the three, it’s Aguiar who’s of most interest to us. He’s off in the tilbury, but it doesn’t matter: we’ll arrive in time to enter his house with him.

II

THE BLACK SPOT

At the time, Jorge Aguiar was 23 years old. The previous year he’d returned from São Paulo with a degree certificate in his pocket and a number of young ladies jostling in his heart. I could say he also brought some knowledge of the law in his head, that is, if I didn’t intend to be scrupulously historically accurate. The fact is, he’d learnt only the minimum necessary to scrape through the exams, and even that minimum had remained behind on the Cubatão Mountains, without him missing it at all. The young ladies in his heart had been carried as far as Guanabara Bay, but it’s certain they didn’t disembark with him. Anyway, they weren’t worth it: his affection for none of them had merited being brought back home.

He’d have had a hard time if he’d had to make his living from what he’d learnt at college. But even though some say fortune is blind, in his case it had the eyesight of a lynx and knew it would have to make some adjustments to his life if he wasn’t to come a cropper. Jorge’s family was sufficiently well-off to keep him in the style to which he was accustomed. So he could sleep soundly and awaken in peace.
But it wasn’t all roses for him. There was a black spot in his blue sky. A black spot that wasn’t his father, who had that sort of blind affection for him that would accept no ifs or buts. In that respect he was a sort of Dr Pangloss, seeing a good reason for each and every deviation of his son from the straight and narrow. Not only that, but he nursed a dream of seeing Aguiar become a government minister. For that, he said, it was necessary to allow him a few months of freedom; after which he’d rein him in and try and get him the first seat that became available in a provincial assembly.
Such were the thoughts and plans of old Silvestre Aguiar, whose own youth had not been exactly monastic.
No, the black spot was Jorge’s mother. Dona Joaquina was an austere and respectable lady, even though sharp-tongued, loud, despotic and possessed of unusual energy for a fifty-two-year-old. No-one in the Aguiar household could remember her ever having been quiet for a whole hour – other than when she slept, of course, which did provide some blessed relief for the rest of the family. But she slept very little, waking at five in the morning.
You wouldn’t need to be terribly perspicacious to notice that Dona Joaquina was the real boss of the house. Silvestre was one of those anything-for-a-quiet life husbands: he never got annoyed, impatient or bored; he was known to have had various affairs, but none of those ladies had displaced his affection for his “plump little pudding.”
“Nature,” he used to say, “includes raging rivers and placid streams. If we were all raging rivers, humanity would have no placid streams. It’s good to have both. Providence likes there to be a tranquil rivulet, like me, at the foot of a mighty waterfall like Joaquina. And that’s called ‘harmony’.”
I should point out that, when he married Dona Joaquina, Silvestre was aware neither of her garrulousness, nor of her impetuosity. But it’s possible that, at the time, those gifts of hers weren’t yet fully developed. Their romance had begun on the occasion of the coronation festivities. One of Silvestre’s relatives had given a dinner, at which the two families – his and Joaquina’s – had met. It was generally thought she’d never marry because she’d already had five or six suitors and had despatched each and every one with a decisiveness that gave a foretaste of her future modus vivendi. So it was quite a surprise when, three months later, after Silvestre had gone to ask her parents for her hand, she replied to them in the affirmative.
“They’ll be happy together,” said her mother. “The reason she refused all those offers of marriage must be that God has been keeping this one for her especially.”
And, indeed, they were happy, Silvestre’s character perfectly complementing that of his wife. Dona Joaquina would occasionally get annoyed with the passivity of her husband, and would have no hesitation in letting him know; but, as he didn’t offer any sort of resistance, she always ended up having – as he explained it to himself – to “forego the joys of battle.”
So, this was the Dona Joaquina who was the black spot in Jorge’s sky. He had to be home by 10 p.m. at the latest, despite Silvestre’s feeble attempts to support his son’s cause. This he’d do by remarking that the lad couldn’t be expected to live the life of a nun; and that word “nun” – so insignificant in the mouth of anyone else – would then, in Dona Joaquina’s, give material for a lecture running to ten fullscap pages. Her husband would resort to silence, and 10 p.m. at the latest it was.
For a long time, Jorge followed his mother’s orders, but his friends helped to pervert his upright and chaste character; with the result that one night he arrived home at 11. His mother was still up and came to open the door for him in person.
“Oh! Mummy!” he exclaimed in shock.
Dona Joaquina said nothing. She closed the door and ascended the stairs quietly in front of him. It was the only occasion she hadn’t used her mouth to deal with a problem, and her reaction was all the more sublime on that account.
From then on, Jorge was scared of disobeying his mother; but, as strolls and visits to the theatre and to parties didn’t really fit with such obedience, the young man eventually got a key made for himself, which gave him ample opportunities to take wing.
In addition he managed to conjure up lots of invitations to dinner parties and dances, which the good lady didn’t object to.
And in these ways, and various others, our Jorge Aguiar managed to evade the vigilance and the orders of his mother. The one who wasn’t fooled was his father, who frequently saw him slipping out and guessed the real reason for all those invites; but good old Silvestre applauded his son’s craftiness, thinking it augured well for a career in politics.

III

CLARINHA

When Jorge Aguiar arrived home, Dona Joaquina was giving her final orders in respect of a large quantity of coconut cakes and checking on the task she’d given to two young seamstresses that morning. Silvestre was playing backgammon with Fr Barroso, and Clarinha was playing some German variations on the piano.

This Clarinha, who’s suddenly appeared in this story unannounced, was a niece of Dona Joaquina, and thus a cousin of Jorge. She’d lost here mother while still a child; and her father had become infatuated, two years before, with an Italian woman who’d arrived in Rio on the dubious pretext of being a singer; so he’d hitched his star to the lady of his dreams and was now accompanying her around Italy. Thus, to all intents and purposes, Clarinha had lost both her parents. But Dona Joaquina treated her just as if she were her own daughter.
The young woman was extraordinarily beautiful, which was only enhanced by her air of deep melancholy – a melancholy that was understandable, given that, having been born into a well-off family, she’d seen her father squander his inherited wealth and had lost her mother at an age when she most needed her; and then to be completely abandoned by her father and obliged to depend on the goodwill of her aunt and uncle. Consequently it was no surprise that she didn’t often laugh.
However, she overcame the slings and arrows of her outrageous fate by learning to work with a docility which her aunt found enchanting. Dona Joaquina used to say her neice had inherited her own competence in the art of home management. Indeed, it would have been difficult to find another young woman – Clarinha was 18 at the time – possessed of such gravity, prudence, energy and orderliness. She spent such spare time as she had in studying music and French, because she was hoping to become a teacher eventually and to be able to make her own way in the world.
Whilst admiring her niece’s prudence, Dona Joaquina sought to allay the fears that gave rise to it by assuring her that, for as long as she was alive – and even afterwards – Clarinha would want for nothing. In addition, she was young, and it wouldn’t be long before marriage would provide her with absolute security.
“Marriage?” said Clarinha, sadly. “That’s not for me.”
“Why not?”
“Who’d want to marry me?”
“Any young man who’s not an idiot, Clarinha. You think it’s easy to find a wife like you?”
Clarinha shook her head and said nothing.
Indeed, her behaviour confirmed a predisposition to spinsterhood. She seemed indifferent to men, she didn’t beautify herself before going to balls, she didn’t dance at them, she didn’t linger by the window, and she was perfectly deaf to the admiration that her beauty elicited. She usually wore dark clothes because she was drawn to their melancholy colours; her manners were modest and reserved; she didn’t talk much and, as I said, she laughed even less.
So, at the request of Fr Barroso, she was playing the piano in the lounge. The priest was crazy about music and, with the insouciance of a born backgammon player, was wont to remark that music would take the edge off Aguiar’s defeats. It certainly was the case that the host rarely overcame his guest.
“A two and a one,” said Commander Aguiar as he threw the dice and tapped one of the priest’s boards.
“No chance!” replied the priest as he shook the dice.
“Now you’ll see what it’s all about! I need double four.”
“Stop gabbing and throw!”
The priest threw the dice.
“Double four!”
Silvestre Aguiar scratched his nose, while the implacable priest, having beaten his opponent twice, blew his nose noisily into a red handkerchief.
“It’s no good without snuff,” he muttered.
“Hasn’t the boy come back yet?” said Aguiar. “It was careless of me. I should have bought some yesterday.”
Clarinha stopped playing and was just about to go and check whether the boy had returned when her uncle told her there was no need.
At that moment, Jorge entered the lounge. He kissed his father’s hand, shook hands with Fr Barroso and went to greet his cousin.
“You know what?” the priest whispered to the commander. “Why don’t the two of them get married?”
“I wouldn’t get in their way, if they wanted,” Silvestre replied. “But it’s up to them. I don’t think they’re courting. And anyway, the lad hasn’t quite left the folly of youth behind yet.”
“Forgive me for saying so,” said the priest, “but he’s heading for trouble like this. Youthful habits are rarely left behind. You need to rein him in before it’s too late.”
“I was no different myself at his age,” said Silvestre, “but nowadays I’m second to none when it comes to behaviour. Leave him be. He’ll follow the same path as his father.”
Jorge exchanged a few words with his cousin before heading to his room, leaving her to continue playing the piano, and the two old gentlemen to finish their game.
But then a new character appeared upon the scene: Dr Marques – forty-four years old, ruddy-faced, energetic, with greying hair and beard. He was the family’s doctor and had known the commander since they were boys. Indeed, they were the closest of friends. He and the priest were the most regular guests in the house.
“Just the person!” said the priest. “Have you got the box?”
“Of course,” said the doctor, after going to shake hands with Clarinha.
“Thanks be to God! Let’s have a pinch then.”
“Two!” Silvestre corrected him. “Two pinches! The attack has to come from both port and starboard.”
The two backgammon players wiped their fingers before each taking a generous pinch from the doctor’s bag. The priest inserted his in both nostrils, after which he used his handkerchief to brush off the dust that had fallen on his shirt. For his part, the commander pressed down his right nostril with his thumb before introducing the whole pinch into his left.
Dr Marques left them to carry on with the backgammon and went over to the piano, just as Clarinha was about to get up and leave the room.
“Don’t you want to play any more?” he asked.
“I need to do something,” she whispered, without looking up.
Dr Marques gave a quick glance at the two backgammon players. Seeing they were concentrating on the dice, he whispered in her ear:
“And your reply?”
“Let me go…”

She walked rapidly to the door and disappeared, leaving Marques standing awkwardly by the piano – as the reader will certainly imagine. Meanwhile Fr Barroso threw the dice before exclaiming happily:

“Poor you, Commander! Poor you!”

IV

A PIECE OF ADVICE

Dr Marques went to look for Jorge and found him in the study, sitting in the sofa and reading a novel by Feydou. He shut the door and pulled up a chair. Without changing his position, Jorge closed the book, using a bill from his tailor as a bookmark.

“Any news?” he asked.
“No,” came the reply. “And that’s the worst of it.”
“How come?”
“I asked her for her reply just now, but she didn’t say anything; and the way she left the room has left me with no hope. I think your advice about writing the letter wasn’t so good.”
“Nonsense! It was perfectly good advice: a letter doesn’t prove anything about her not liking you. It could still turn out fine. Let me tell you something.”
“What?”
“Don’t get disheartened. My cousin will have to yield because she won’t find a better husband than you… You’ll make her happy. The only reason she didn’t reply is because she’s so shy. She’s worried it might be taken amiss. Look, why don’t you have a word with my mother?”
“Your mother?”
“Yes. Clarinha has great respect for her; I’m sure it’s the thing to do. Go and speak to her. That should do the trick.”
Dr Marques stood up, took a pinch of snuff, walked to the mirror, patted his whiskers and returned to his seat by the sofa.
“Are you sure she hasn’t got another suitor?”
“Well, I can’t be absolutely sure, but nothing suggests she has. Clarinha’s a very private person; she spends her time looking after the house. So, I can’t see inside her head, but I haven’t heard anything… Take my advice: speak to my mother.”
“Fair enough!” said Marques. “I will.”
As can be seen, the family doctor was in love with Silvestre Aguiar’s niece. I don’t want to make out that this was one of those fiery, unbridled passions of youngsters, nor one of those mellow, latter-day loves of maturity. Rather, it was a mild, temperate and considered affection. Dr Marques had never married; everything suggested permanent bachelorhood, and so it would have been until the day he died, if Clarinha’s qualities – her industry and her innocent and grave demeanour – had not impressed themselves on him so far as to awaken the idea of marriage.
The prospect of staid family life began to seduce him. And reason soon backed up the idea, comparing a solitary old age with an old age made easier by the care of a worthy and solicitous wife. Clarinha seemed to have all the necessary qualities to be his companion, and he’d confided in his friend Jorge. In turn, Jorge had recommended an epistolary approach, and – with the docility of an obedient dog – Dr Marques had duly plucked up the courage to write a letter to the young lady.
And that’s the letter they’d been talking about. We already know that the young lady not only had not responded, but had even, apparently, fled from her suitor. This could have been because she was in love with someone else, as he’d suggested to Jorge, or it could simply have been the result of her timidity, accustomed as she was to comply with the rigid doctrines of Dona Joaquina. In the opinion of that good lady, a bride should only get to know the groom on the day of her marriage.
“And that’s more than enough,” she used to say.
It’s certainly the case that old Aguiar’s wife no longer remembered their wedding day, not to speak of their courtship. But that’s only natural: people have ideas appropriate to their age; fifty-year-olds don’t have much sympathy for the folly of twenty-year-olds, and the latter find the austerity of fifty-year-olds distinctly odd.
Clarinha, however, was happy to be guided by the ideas of her aunt, and it’s quite possible that her reserve was simply the result of that influence.
What’s certain is that Marques had made no progress when Jorge suggested going to speak with his mother, a suggestion which the doctor accepted and resolved to put into practice the following day.
It should not be thought, however, that Jorge’s advice originated in sympathy for his friend’s cause. In fact he was completely indifferent who his cousin might marry. He would have given the same advice to any man who’d asked for it. The principal concern of the commander’s son was to be completely free to enjoy life as he wished, without the need to worry about anything. The lady who’d passed by when he was talking with his friends in Ouvidor Street was – hard as it is to say – more important to him than his cousin. In a nutshell, he was well advanced in the career of a libertine.
As soon as the doctor had left the study, Jorge resumed his reading. Shortly after that, he was called to dinner. He dined, he dozed a little, later on he pretended to be having a cup of tea and, at half past ten, when his mother thought the whole house was reposing in the lap of her virtuous doctrines, our Jorge opened the door and hurried eagerly towards pleasure.

V

HOW A LAD IS LOST

I  think the reader can do without a description of the party at which Jorge was the life and soul. It was one of the most magnificent suppers there had ever been in the hotels of Rio. And it finished when dawn was sweeping the darkness from the sky, and the sweepers were sweeping the streets.

Jorge had rather overdone it with the wine, as a consequence of which his mind was a little dulled. Fortunately no-one saw him enter the house, where he slept until midday, having ordered the servant – who was privy to his adventures – to tell the old lady he had been unwell in the night. The good woman was greatly alarmed when she was told, but nevertheless she ordered that he should not be woken up – exactly as her son wanted.
Jorge’s adventures were legion. He’d completed his education so successfully that he’d acquired the reputation of being one of the greatest madcaps in the whole of Rio. As a result, there was hardly a banquet, an outing or some hare-brained scheme in which he wasn’t a conspicuous participant.
His father was giving him a generous allowance, and Jorje didn’t tarry in squandering it. Although he used it, at first, for his necessities, it wasn’t long before his allowance became much less than his expenditure; and when such a situation arises, either in the finances of an individual or in those of a country, the result is a thing called “a deficit.” Finding himself in possession of such a thing, Jorje was faced with two choices: work or credit. The latter had the great advantage of dispensing with the former. So, Jorge addressed the problem partly by leaving some of his debts open and partly by having recourse to lenders.
He did this without losing either his glittering social position or the disinterested affections of some of the young ladies of that time. These affections generally showed themselves in the form of a mad, headlong passion. And during two or three weeks they’d conjure up for him visions of a heavenly, romantic life, filled with the purest and most devoted love. They wouldn’t hesitate to sacrifice, for his sake, all and every suitor, past or present. Jorge was in seventh heaven. Although, in theory, he didn’t believe in love, whether in relation to these young ladies or to anyone else, in practice he was flattered by the attentions of such frivolous and giddy butterflies.
His self-satisfaction, however, tended to be dented somewhat, round about the end of the second or third week, when the butterfly would send the object of her attentions a bill for some present he’d bought her, or a simple request for repayment of a loan. So Jorge’s illusions proved costly.
And there were other outgoings. In the society in which he occupied such a prominent position, there was a certain class of men whose communist ideals had only one defect: they related to other people’s pockets. Jorge’s pocket – ever available and ever generous – was one of that number. Not only that, but the commander’s son had his pride and would have been mortified to have been called a cheapskate.
The real person who suffered all those setbacks was his father, who paid for his son’s frivolities, including his bills and debts. After a few months, the Commander came to the conclusion that Jorge’s apprenticeship was proving rather costly. So he decided it was time for it to end.
After all, he thought, he must be bored with bachelor life by now and ready to turn to more serious things. It’s very wrong to try and engage young men in serious things before they’ve become bored with frivolities. A man who doesn’t make mistakes in his youth, makes them in his old age. So, let’s sort it out.
But it was too late.
Jorge was thoroughly entrenched in his bad habits; he’d gone further in that direction than many others in a lifetime. He was no longer open to reason. Silvestre tried gentle persuasion, but to no avail. And when he tried more robust methods, the resistance he encountered made him realise how bad the situation was – the situation he himself had created.
Dona Joaquina didn’t let the opportunity pass of justifiably pointing out to her husband, in the strongest possible terms, the error of his ways. The boy wouldn’t obey her any more, which she blamed on Silvestre’s complacency when their son first set out on the wrong road. I could give a verbatim transcript of the speech in which Dona Joaquina described the situation to her crestallen and shamefaced husband; but I won’t, if you don’t mind, because she didn’t stop until she ran out of breath.

VI

THE WEDDING

During those months in which Jorge gave free rein to his every whim, Dr Marques had advanced his cause vis-à-vis Clarinha, albeit only a little. After hesitating for two months, he’d plucked up the courage to reveal his feelings to the young lady’s aunt. The latter responded favourably, imposing just one condition: that her niece should love him.

“Ah! Senhora,” said Marques, “I can’t guarantee anything in that regard. I don’t know whether she loves me or not. Donna Clarinha is so shy that there’s no way of knowing…”
“Fair enough,” replied Donna Joaquinha. “I’ll make it my job to find out. But the reason I imposed that condition is that I know Clarinha very well; I know she’s a very sensible girl who is perfectly able to choose her own husband. Were it otherwise, it would be down to me to find her a fiancé.”

***

Donna Joaquina was as good as her word. She asked Clarinha if she’d ever thought of marriage.
“Marrying? Me?”
“Yes, you.”
“No, I’ve never thought about it.”
Clarinha’s tone was cold and indifferent; nevertheless, it seemed to her aunt that the idea had saddened her.
Perhaps she’s already in love with him, she thought.
There followed some moments of silence.
“Did you know that a man has expressed a desire to marry you?” asked Aguiar’s wife in the end.
Clarinha’s eyes opened wide. “To marry me?”
“Yes, you.”
“You’re pulling my leg, Auntie.”
“Why would I do that? Don’t you deserve to have a husband?”
Clarinha didn’t reply.
“And that man is a good acquaintance of ours.”
“Ah!”
“So you’ve noticed?”
Clarinha laid her hand on her heart.
“No,” she murmured.
“Can you guess who it is?”
“No, I’ve no idea.”
“It’s Dr Marques.”
Clarinha went pale. The dear old lady kept her eyes on her face, trying to read her feelings. But – truth be told – Donna Joaquina didn’t know how to read physiognomies. Whatever the cause of the commotion in Clarinha’s face, her aunt decided it was a good omen for the doctor.
She loves him, she thought. There’s no doubt. Everything’s settled.
It took Clarinha ten minutes to recover her voice.
“You know what’s best for me, Auntie. I’ll do as you wish.”
“What I wish!” exclaimed Donna Joaquina. “No, no!
Nothing of the kind! This is just a discussion.”
“Dr Marques is an excellent man,” said Clarinha.
“And will be an excellent husband?” asked a smiling Donna Joaquina by way of conclusion.
Clarinha didn’t reply, which the Commander’s wife took for agreement. Consequently she lost no time in letting the doctor know the result of her mission.

***

As soon as Clarinha was alone, she ran to her room and burst into tears – silent, stifled tears, so that no-one would hear or even suspect. Then she took a portrait from a draw, gazed at it for a long time and kissed it over and over again. When she reappeared in the sitting room, there was no sign that’s she’d been crying. She just looked sad but, as that was her natural state, no-one sought to know why.

***

When Marques heard how Donna Joaquina had got on, he couldn’t contain his joy.

“But,” said Aguiar’s wife, “I think it would be a good idea for you to hear it from Clarinha’s own lips, because I was only reading her face.”
Marques lost no time to personally sound out Clarinha’s heart. He was an honest man and would have hated to think of her marrying him against her will.
The result of this new attempt was more satisfactory than the result of the first. Although the young lady didn’t exactly confess her love in the words of a passionate heart, she did speak very affectionately to the doctor. So Donna Joaquina set about arranging the wedding.
Silvestre Aguiar’s participation in that process amounted to suggesting that his niece’s wedding should take place within a month and a half. His agreement to the wedding itself had been requested as a mere formality, because Donna Joaquina’s decision was perfectly sufficient in that respect. And, in any case, Aguiar had no objections at all; on the contrary, he was all in favour.
“I always said the doctor was a crafty old so-and-so,” he observed. “The way in which he’s stolen the young lady from us is proof perfect.”
However, Fr. Barroso, who was considered one of the family, was not so happy when it was his turn to be approached for approval.
“I’ve nothing against it,” he said, “but… does Clarinha love him?”
“No question!” said Dona Joaquina.
The priest looked at the commander’s niece; the satisfaction he saw in her face was so pronounced that he did no more than shrug his shoulders and congratulate her and her aunt and uncle.
But that afternoon, finding himself alone with the young lady, he asked her:
“What’s this all about, Clarinha? What about your love for…?”
“It died,” she replied sadly. “It was a hopeless love – the sort of love that kills you if it doesn’t die. It probably would have been better if it had killed me; but God just wanted it to die. I’m not complaining; I’m resigned to my fate.”
The priest shook his head.
“No, Clarinha. Your love didn’t die: you still feel it, and that’s bad, my daughter; it’s wrong to be marrying one man when you love another…”
“Oh, no!” said Clarinha. “No! I assure you it died; and even if it hasn’t yet, I swear that it will.”
“You swear! My poor child! Do you know what you’re saying?”
Two tears appeared in her eyes. The priest saw them and embraced her.
“Never!” she said. “What would be the point of being married to a man who doesn’t love me, who can’t love me?”
“Yes,” the priest murmured sadly, “Jorge is on the road to ruin.”
“I’ll be marrying an honest man,” Clarinha continued. “It’s true I don’t love him; but I do have some affection and respect for him; you might even say I’m happy – as happy as a wretched person can be. But please don’t mention any of this; it would only cause trouble for all of us.”
Barroso hugged her again.
“You’re a good soul, Clarinha, and you deserve to be happy. This is all your father’s fault. If he hadn’t abandoned you, you would probably never have fallen in love with your cousin; it all came from living in the same house. Your father…”
“Forgive him,” she answered. “My father has a bad head but a good heart. Come now! Promise me you won’t try to stop this marriage.”
“If that’s your wish, I promise.”
She kissed his hand. “Thank you.”
And it was good old Fr Barroso who celebrated the marriage, and who was trembling when he had to say the sacred words. When the ceremony was over, he whispered – with a tear in his eye – to the groom:
“Make her happy. She deserves it.”
Jorge attended the wedding. He complimented the bride rather nonchalantly, made a few off-colour jokes to some of his male friends, and left to spend the night in the Alcazar.

***

Now we leap forward about eleven months. All the main characters in this story are still alive. The commander still plays backgammon with the priest; Donna Joaquina’s loquacity has diminished somewhat with the passage of time; and, as for Jorge, he’s making the most of the debauched reputation he’s gained at his father’s expense. Silvestre has tried everything he could think of to drag his son back from the benighted path on which he himself unwittingly set him, but in vain; the die’s been cast.

Aguiar had achieved something, however: he’d arranged a civil-service job for his son, to see if he’d get the habit of work. But Jorge saw it principally as a source of income and spent as few hours on it as he could. He clocked in at 9 a.m., which was, in itself, quite an effort, and left the office at 11 a.m. On many occasions he didn’t go into work at all, so that the state wouldn’t get into the habit of expecting him. But he always went in on the first day of the month, which was pay day.
Meanwhile, Marques was happy; his wife was all he could have dreamt of: homely, affectionate, devoted and respectful. For her part, Clarinha wasn’t happy, but it could have been worse. Her husband was an honest man, who lived for her and tried as hard as he could to make her happy. And it pained him to see the melancholy look in her face; but she assured him it was just her nature.
“I’ve always been like this. It’s just how I am. You’ve never known me any different, have you?”
“That’s true,” the doctor replied, “but if only I could find a way…”
“I’m happy, I really am,” she said, smiling sadly.

***

One night, Commander Aguiar, who rarely, if ever, went to the theatre and had very old fashioned ideas on the subject, decided to go to see a play by Ginásio. His wife didn’t accompany him; she hated the theatre.

Having bought his ticket, he entered the auditorium. At the end of the first act, he went out to the vestibule, where he came across a friend.
“Fancy seeing you here!” said the friend.
“Yes, I know,” said Aguiar. “But, just like anyone else, I do like to see new things once in a while. And you?”
“I still haven’t retired… Where are you sitting?”
“In the gallery.”
“Come to my box.”
So Aguiar went to his friend’s box, which was at the second level.
The curtain was raised, and the second act began. Half way through, the door of the next box opened, and a woman entered. From the extravagance of her dress and her manners, it was clear she was a lady of fashion. All eyes, all binoculars and all eyeglasses turned in her direction and, for five minutes, the action wasn’t on the stage but in the auditorium. And although the anonymous lady had the air of an ingénue, she wasn’t: she’d elicited exactly the effect she wanted.
Like everyone else, Silvestre turned to look at her. And shortly afterwards a young man followed her into the box – an elegant, red-faced young man who was a little unsteady on his feet.
It was only with difficulty that Aguiar managed to keep quiet: it was Jorge.
Shaking with anger, Silvestre stood up and glared at his son. But Jorge didn’t notice; instead he scanned the opposite boxes before sitting down on the far side of the your lady, which was about all he could do for the sake of decorum.
The commander stayed on his feet, still glaring at his son. It was not until after Jorge had looked through his binoculars at the stage and then at some of the boxes on the other side, and until after he’d stretched himself lazily on his chair, that he noticed his father.
He froze.
Silvestre continued to glare at him. Jorge diverted his eyes twice, only to return them – twice – to his father. Finally he stood up, picked up his hat and left.
Aguiar didn’t wait for the play to finish.
He returned home and asked if his son had arrived; he was told that he had. He ordered that Jorge be summoned, and the latter was not tardy in arriving; on entering his father’s study, he flung himself at his feet.
The commander gave him a thorough dressing-down, with the conclusion that, if he didn’t mend his ways, he’d be thrown out of the house.
Jorge returned to his room, embarrassed and annoyed – but still not repentant. What extraordinarily bad luck to have met his father in the theatre, given that his father almost never went! He imagined some ill-wisher must have been behind it. He ran various plans through his head before falling into a deep sleep, from which he didn’t wake until breakfast-time.
Old Aguiar told the priest what had happened in the theatre and asked for advice what to do if his son didn’t mend his ways. After a few moments thought, Fr Barroso replied:
“I don’t know what to say. Maybe it would be best to wait and see if he does mend his ways… Would you like me to speak to him?”
“Yes please.”
“But it’s your own fault, Commander. Spare the rod, spoil the child. How many times did I tell you it was a bad idea to let him run wild like that? And this is the result.”
So Fr Barroso sent an invitation to Jorge to come to the presbytery – an invitation that caused the young man some alarm. What might the priest want to talk about? But, deep down, he knew.
His first instinct was to ignore the invitation but, eventually, he went. The priest was awaiting him impatiently.
The presbytery was a modest building, modestly furnished. The priest was sitting in a high-backed leather chair in front of a writing desk and was engrossed in a large book. He didn’t move when the commander’s son was shown into the room by the servant. After a few moments, he gestured for the servant to leave and continued reading until he got to the bottom of the page. Then he closed the book and invited the young man to take a seat in front of him.
“Jorge,” he asked, “how long are you intending to continue with this sort of life?”
As the priest expected, there was no answer. So he continued:
“Your father had such hopes for you! He did his utmost to get you a good job and a position in society. And you’ve squandered it all for the life of a libertine. By the time your father realised how bad it had got, it was almost too late. But he never expected to see what he saw last night. Imagine – if you can – the shame and the pain that it caused him.”
The priest fell silent again before continuing:
“There’s still time; everything’s not lost. You can save yourself; you must save yourself.”
“Fr Barroso,” said Jorge, “I don’t deny my life’s been a bit free and easy, but I haven’t done anything so completely out of the ordinary.”
“And well do I know it,” replied the priest. “You’ve been doing the ordinary things of this world. And some of the ordinary things of this world are among the very worst things…”
“But I don’t do anything that needs to be changed…”
The priest made a gesture of impatience.
“And what about the scandal yesterday evening?”
“What happened yesterday was just a coincidence.”
“An honest man wouldn’t expose himself to such a coincidence.”
Jorge frowned.
“Oh! Forgive me for being taken aback! I’m old, I’m simple, and I’m a priest; but I have the right to tell you the truth: you’re an idiot. That’s the least I can say to you.”
The priest had raised his voice, and his anger was more than evident. Despite himself, Jorge felt cowed by the authority of that good, old man. He said nothing, but Fr Barroso insisted he promise to devote himself to his career and overcome his bad habits.
Jorge thought for a while before replying, “Alright, I promise to turn over a new leaf.”
“And you really mean it?”
The young man hesitated again before saying, “Yes.”
He didn’t really mean it, but the reverend father was an honest man who preferred to believe in the honesty of others.
“Glad to hear it. Turn over a new leaf, Jorge; it will only do you good, you’ll see. Just think how happy it will make your parents! When I think…”
The old man sighed.
“When you think?” said Jorge.
“When I think,” Fr Barroso continued, “that today you could have been a happy man alongside a happy wife… a woman who loved you…”
“Which woman?” asked Jorge. “Who was she?”
The priest was just about to say, when he suddenly remembered how inappropriate that would be, given that Clarinha was now married. So he said nothing.
“Which woman?” Jorge repeated.
Without replying, the old man stood up.
Jorge stared at him, trying as hard as he could to think who it could be. But he couldn’t think of anyone, so he asked yet again, “Which woman?”
“What’s the point?” said the old priest. “The benefits she would have brought you are no longer available…”
“No longer?”
“That’s right: no longer.”
“Why? …”
“Because… Because she’s dead.”
Jorge couldn’t believe what the priest had just said.
“But if she’s dead, what harm is there in telling me her name? … Hold on! … Are you trying to tell me… It’s Clarinha, isn’t it?!”
The priest shook his head.
I’m right, Jorge thought. It’s her.
“It doesn’t matter,” said Fr Barroso. “The past is the past. You’ve promised to turn over a new leaf; are you prepared to do that?”
Jorge at least felt sufficiently constrained as to avoid repeating a promise he had no intention of keeping; instead he proferred his hand, as if in response to the question.
“May God be your guide,” said the priest. “It was I who baptised you; don’t let me die knowing I couldn’t save, for a second time, a soul entrusted to my care.”
Having summoned up an appearance of humility in response to those heartfelt words, Jorge took his leave as soon as he could.

VII

PITCHED BATTLE

The austere old priest was wrong: Jorge hadn’t left as a changed man; all the advice and all the promises had evaporated from his mind. Of all that Fr Barroso had said, the only thing that remained with him was the thought of Clarinha’s love.

If he’d been told back then, he’d almost certainly have shrugged and gone to tell his closest friends about it. Being loved by her was one thing, but marriage would have meant less freedom and serious obligations, things that were anathema to his way of thinking. But now the situation was different; the idea that a married lady was in love with him when she was single opened his eyes to new hopes and possibilities.
It’s true, he thought to himself, it’s all getting a bit tedious. It will be good to take a break; I can get back into the swing of things afterwards. An affair would be something new. Clarinha used to love me; who knows if she won’t love me again?
Jorge spent the whole night entertaining himself with these and similar thoughts. A passionate affair with his cousin would have the advantage of making it look as if he really had turned over a new leaf, as he’d necessarily have to devote to it the time that he’d otherwise devote to painting the town red.
It was with these ideas that he awoke the following day. His father still looked like thunder; so, to start creating the illusion he planned, he stayed at home that day. He took himself off to his study, where his mother found him reading. And from that day forward he adopted a way of life that completely fooled both his family and Fr Barroso. So much so, that Silvestre recovered the cheerfulness that his visit to the theatre had caused him to lose; and the priest – delighted to see the change in the young man – readily forgave all his previous stupidity. Happiness was flowering once more at home.

***

Up until that point, whenever Clarinha went to visit her aunt and uncle, her cousin hadn’t been home, which had been a great relief to her. After the apparent change in Jorge’s habits, however, not only did she find him at home, but he seemed to have a much better relationship with his parents. Whereas, before, they preferred not to talk about him, now they were overflowing with joy at the return of the prodigal son. Marques expressed his amazement to Jorge at the sudden change.

“Well,” said Jorge, “it’s simply that I’ve turned over a new leaf.”
“Really?”
“Really.”
Marques was delighted at this unexpected turn of events – unlike Clarinha, who saw Jorge’s presence as an obstacle to her relationship with her aunt and uncle; not because she still loved him, nor because she was afraid for herself, but because he’d be a constant reminder of a recent past.
Jorge had acquired skills of dissimulation beyond his years. He treated his cousin with no more than routine affability and didn’t let slip the slightest sign that he knew she used to love him.
He did notice, however, her reserve towards him, and the awkwardness his presence caused her – those vague signs that she really had been in love with him before she married the doctor.
Very well, Doctor! Jorge said to himself. You’ve got a new and more difficult campaign in front of you. Before it was just skirmishes. Now I’m challenging you to pitched battle: winner takes all!
He began to frequent the doctor’s house; at first, Clarinha didn’t appear; but, one day, her astute cousin invited himself for dinner. The young woman had to make her appearance. She managed to remain reserved, but it was difficult when faced with Jorge’s respectful manners and affectionate language. The sinner appeared to have undergone a Damascene conversion.
In addition, Clarinha’s innocence and naivety led her to a dangerous conclusion: that to continue to steer clear of her cousin would be a proof of weakness and unjustifiable fear; and that it would be more appropriate to her married state if she faced up to him. Avoiding him would be like acknowledging he still had some power over her, whereas she now knew he didn’t.
So it was not long before their old intimacy was re-established, even though – as in the past – an intimacy that was no more than superficial. Jorge deluded himself into thinking she was in love with him again. Even so, he’d wait for her to make the first move; to do so himself would be too risky.
Let the enemy get tired, he thought. A good tactic. Worthy of a general!
And with that thought he let the days pass without breaking his self-imposed silence.
He noticed how attentive and affectionate the young woman was to her husband, and the peace that reigned between them – so much so that he began to envy Marques. It might be said it was only then that a window of redemption, however small, began to open up for him. The sight of the others’ happiness invited him to seek his own happiness, but he was convinced his happiness lay only in his cousin, and she was lost for him.
One morning, between puffing on his cigar and drinking his coffee, his train of thought ran as follows:
What am I doing? It can’t go on like this. I need to do something. The poor girl must think I’m a terrible lover.
So, later that day, while sitting talking to his cousin, he came straight out with a declaration of love.
Furious, Clarinha immediately stood up, responding to what he’d said with chilly silence before leaving him alone in the room.
But the young man was not to be rebutted so easily. He ceased his visits for a few days; and when he did return it was together with his mother and father, so that Clarinha could hardly fail to appear. Jorge calculated, correctly, that she wouldn’t have confided in her husband about what had happened.
Good! he thought. All is not lost.
In time, the situation returned more or less to what it had been before.
One day he wrote a letter to Clarinha, left it on the piano while she was playing, and promptly headed for the door. She called him back. He turned and said, “You need to open it.” She didn’t. Instead, when he approached, she returned it to him unopened.
“Cousin,” she said. “You might at least acknowledge the kindness I’ve shown you as a relative. Because it is kindness, to have heard your insulting words and not to have conveyed them to my husband. If there’s one thing you could do to make up for it, it would be to forget I exist and never return to my house.
“But why such cruelty?” said Jorge, trying to give his voice a tone of misery and despair.
Clarinha didn’t reply.
“And yet,” said Jorge, “once upon a time…”
The young woman looked at him in astonishment.
“Once upon a time you were head over heels in love with me.”
Clarinha went pale.
“That’s nonsense. I always treated you with respect, but… My husband’s coming! Try repeating to him what you’ve just said to me.”
Indeed, she’d heard his footsteps in the corridor, and he was just entering the room. She’d raised her voice for the final words, in the hope of resolving things with a short, sharp shock; but Marques hadn’t heard; he approached and shook Jorge warmly by the hand.
For the next three days, the latter refrained from visiting; on the fourth day, he entered the room with the intimacy of a family member – an intimacy that Marques was only too happy to encourage between the two families.
On this occasion, Marques was sitting on the sofa and Clarinha was sitting in front of him on a stool; she was looking at him with such affection and respect that the young man felt forced to avert his eyes. It was the first time the serpent of jealousy had bitten his heart.
“Come in!” said the doctor, noticing how Jorge had hesitated at the door. “Don’t be alarmed! We’re just two happy creatures, and that’s partly thanks to you.”
Clarinha looked at her husband.
“That’s a surprise for you, isn’t it?” Marques said to his wife. “It was Jorge who encouraged me when I didn’t dare do more than admire you in silence. The idea of writing that first letter, to which you didn’t reply, was his.”
“Ah!” she said, before extending her hand to her cousin and adding, “Thank you!”
The happiness that seemed to be expressed by that gesture and those words delighted her husband; whereas Jorge, offended and jealous, hardly touched her fingers.
Meanwhile Clarinha was thinking:
So he had no idea at that time that I loved him; but who could have told him? Fr Barroso? … Impossible! … And yet no-one else knew; it was him, it had to be. But why?

VIII

FROM BAD TO WORSE

One shouldn’t play with fire – a simple truth that Jorge learnt the hard way when he found himself engulfed in the flames he’d lit so carelessly.

Just to be clear, they weren’t purifying flames; his love had not been ignited in heaven. The fire came from the earth or from hell: a raging, voluptuous, insensitive passion, a mixture of caprice, sensuality and madness.
But the situation had changed: he noticed that the doctor’s affability towards him had completely disappeared.
She’s told him everything, he thought.
He tried to find out the truth, but how? He could drag it out of Clarinha, but she wasn’t giving him the opportunity: she would no longer receive him when she was alone, only speaking to him in the presence of her husband.
Jorge was desperately trying to find a way of resolving the crisis caused by the free rein he’d given to his criminal passion; he was furious with his cousin and he hated Marques; in fact, he hated the whole world in so far as it was placing obstacles in the way of his deplorable ambition.
One Sunday, when he was mulling over all this in his room, Fr Barroso appeared at the door. Jorge stood up to speak to him but, with a look of thunder, the priest ignored him and went to sit in a chair.
Jorge tried to make a joke about how grumpy Fr Barroso looked, but the priest interrupted the attempt:
“I haven’t come to make jokes, Jorge, but to give you a piece of my mind and, if needs be, to punish you. Don’t be surprised! I can easily tell all to your father, who’s an honest man. You might think I’m meek and mild, but it’s just my thin outer shell; inside I’m burning with hatred for anything that offends morality and virtue.”
“But I’ve mended my ways…”
“No,” said the priest. “It’s even worse than it was. New wine shouldn’t be poured into old bottles.”
Jorge realised that the reference was to the current state of his passions and, in his heart of hearts, he had to admit that he hadn’t changed for the better.
The priest sat in silence for a while, before saying, “I know everything.”
“What everything?”
“I know that you dared to set your sights on someone who only deserved your respect; and I regret that, inadvertently, I was the cause of it; but that doesn’t excuse you: it was vile, what you did. She told me everything and asked my advice. I advised her to tell her husband, but she didn’t want to; she said it would only make him feel ashamed, and she didn’t want that. I accepted her point of view, but I too had something on my conscience, and I told her everything.”
“You did!” Jorge got to his feet all of a sudden.
“Yes, I did,” said the priest calmly. “What’s that to you? I did what I saw as my duty: I listened to my conscience.”
Furious, Jorge stood there biting his lips.
Fr Barroso continued:
“I also asked her not to let it become a scandal, for her own sake and for the sake of your parents, who are decent people. You yourself were irrelevant to my request. She promissed, and she was as good as her word – which doesn’t prevent her from holding you in contempt.”
“And?” said Jorge, with a gesture of impatience.
“At first she wasn’t in agreement: she was afraid that if she said anything it would disrupt her domestic harmony and the happiness of her aunt and uncle. But when I assured her that nothing of the kind would happen, she thanked me… I can see you find all this mortifying, but bear with me… Clarinha deserves to be adored like an angel. You have forfeited that treasure… Yes, I can say that now, given that you already know it; you’ve forfeited it because she loved you in silence and you knew nothing about it, so immersed were you in the world of bought love and futile pleasures.”
This was salt added to Jorge’s wound. He felt humiliated and angry. He wanted to speak, but the priest wouldn’t let him.
“So,” said Fr Barroso, “I’ve come to ask you or, to be more precise, to insist, that you never go back to your cousin’s house, and that you forget her. You must do that whether you like it or not. And let me tell you: I’m prepared to do whatever it takes to protect her.”
“Protect her?” said Jorge, after a pause. “But she doesn’t need to be protected: I’ve never done her any harm. Is it my fault that I fell…”
The priest interrupted him.
“Let’s not talk about love, let’s talk about duty. Do you agree never to return to her house and to stop thinking about her?”
“Fair enough,” said Jorge. “I won’t go there again, but when it comes to thinking about her…”
“My son,” said the priest, lowering his voice. “There are sins of thought as well as of deed. It will be better if you wipe her from your mind. May I give you some advice.”
“What advice?”
“Leave Rio for a while. When you return, I’m sure you’ll come and give me a hug because you’ll have realised what an abyss I’ve saved you from.

IX

GOING AND COMING

Fr Barroso’s visit had left the amorous young man irritated, but a few hours of reflection were enough to convince him that further efforts would be in vain. Everything and everyone was against him; it was a contest he couldn’t win.

Added to this was his growing annoyance at the knowledge that his cousin had been in love with him and that he hadn’t noticed.

The most sensible thing would be to call it a day.
But his vanity got in the way; that great motor of human activity is often more powerful than any reasons of conscience or impulses of the heart. Jorge asked himself if it was appropriate to lay down his arms in the face of danger, no matter how great; and if it was appropriate to succumb to a stupid imposition of polite society. His vanity said No. But, as his vanity was saying one thing, and reality another, he found it best – like it or not – to adopt the priest’s suggestion.
When she finds out, he thought, that I’ve left for her sake, in order to assuage the pain, she’ll believe my pain is real, and that will only be to the good. Once upon a time she loved me, and she won’t have forgotten that.
Having obtained permission from his work, he left Rio after a few days. He told his father he hadn’t been feeling too well and needn’t to go to the country for a bit of rest and quiet. Aguiar and Dona Joaquina were suspicious, but Fr Barroso managed to convince them their son was telling the truth.
“Off you go,” said the priest to Jorge the day before his departure. “I’m glad you’ve listened to me and that you can still hear the voice of your conscience.”
The poor priest! If he’d only known that this was just another ruse! A way of giving the rejected lover a certain je ne sais quoi.
And so Jorge departed.

***

That night, Aguiar and Fr Barroso sat down to start a game of backgammon.

“Tell me, Father: do you think my son has really turned over a new leaf?”
“Yes, I do, Silvestre. He’d gone off the straight and narrow, but his heart is sound and he’s pulled himself together now. Believe me!”
In recent times, Clarinha had looked even sadder than usual but, after her cousin’s departure, she looked really cheerful and was even more affectionate towards her husband. This was due, in no small part, to the unshakeable confidence the doctor had shown in her during the previous goings-on.
When she consulted her heart, she found nothing relating to her cousin.
Or rather, there was something: a shade of disgust, a bitter memory that this honest wife could not forgive. A comparison of the affection, kindness and respect she received from her husband with Jorge’s cold and calculating passion was all in favour of the former.
This is the way things were when Dr Marques fell gravely ill. From the very first days, it was clear the illness was terminal. His suffering was considerable and, if anything, Clarinha’s was even more so. A secret voice seemed to be whispering to her that she was going to lose her companion. One of the doctors who was attending Marques thought it best to tell her the sad truth; on hearing it, she held herself together bravely, even though the depth of her sorrow was clear. Meanwhile Fr Barroso visited the patient as often as the priest’s age and duties permitted.

***

One day, Jorge appeared from out of the blue. He’d found out about Marques’s illness and had returned to Rio as fast as he could. At least, that was the explanation he gave. The truth was that he was fed up with being away; he’d only heard that Marques was ill when he arrived in Rio. He’d gone to his home, but his parents weren’t in. One of the servants, however, had told him the illness was terminal.

He hurried to his cousin’s house.
The sight that met him affected him more than he’d expected. Clarinha was sitting beside her husband’s bed, sad but resigned, and indifferent to everything around her.
Marques looked at Jorge and recognised him. He extended a skinny and tremulous arm, and the young man grasped and held his hand. Jorge then offered his hand to Clarinha, but she either didn’t notice his gesture or didn’t want to cause grief to Marques. The patient smiled weakly.
Jorge left the room.
The doctors gave Marques only five or six days more. He was aware of his state and was preparing himself to die.
No matter how sad all this was, however, it wasn’t enough, at first, to stop Jorge thinking almost exclusively of his cousin – except that he eventually started to experience a new sensation. It was as if the presence of death had started to purify his passion. Seeing the poor wife on the verge of widowhood and dedicating herself entirely to caring for her life’s companion until his last breath; seeing how zealously she was looking after him, her silent tears, the hours and hours she stayed with him, her words of consolation, her tenderness; it was as if all of this awakened something that had lain dormant in his heart, and the pure flower of his eighteen-year-old self began to bloom anew.
On many occasions he sat with the patient himself, in the course of which he often found himself alone with his cousin. They helped each other with whatever needed to be done; but whenever Marques fell asleep, they both remained silent, she with her eyes fixed on her husband, he with his on her.
It wasn’t easy for her to agree to her cousin’s presence; but her uncle had insisted on it, and she had to concede.
The old priest was also not happy about Jorge being there, but it was the young man himself who’d said to him, the day after he’d arrived, “You’re probably surprised that I’m here.”
“I am,” said the priest.
“I swear to you that…”
“Swear nothing,” said Fr Barroso. “All I ask is that you respect death.”
When it came to the end, Marques died in the arms of his wife. The widow’s tears and despair were heart-rending. Everyone tried to console her – everyone except Jorge, who left the house and didn’t return until the next day.

X

THE ROAD TO DAMASCUS

Three months later, Fr Barroso was in the house when Jorge appeared. He was cheerful and unusually polite.

“Father,” he said. “I’m arriving happy, but I could be leaving sad. It all depends on you.”
“On me?”
“Yes, Father.”
“Explain.”
Jorge sat down.
“Do you remember me telling you I’d turned over a new leaf?”
“I do.”
“I was lying.”
“And I’m sorry to hear it.”
“Yes, I was lying, Father. You shouldn’t be surprised. At that time, I thought common sense was just prejudice, and that I was right while everyone else was wrong. But now, Father, I’ve really turned over a new leaf.
The priest smiled.
“And you won’t be surprised,” he said, “that I have every right not to believe you.”
“You do, but I hope to convince you this time.”
After a few moments, Jorge continued.
“When I agreed to leave Rio, it was not with the best of intentions. I was just pretending to go along with your advice; but, in the depths of my soul, I was only interested in one thing. I returned unexpectedly because the thought of… of the person we both know had taken control of me.”
“I guessed as much,” said the priest.
“But when I arrived,” Jorge continued, “and when I saw that divine woman, so tormented, so sad, at the side of her dying husband, lavishing ever care on him that nature or religion could inspire, when I confronted that sombre spectacle, I swear to you, Father, that at that moment all my recent past dissolved, and I became a new man.”
What? thought the old priest. Is this really the same Jorge?
“I didn’t tell you this at the time,” Jorge continued. “I wanted to make sure I wasn’t mistaken, that I really loved that girl with the pure adoration she deserves. Three months have passed, and I still feel the same… I love her, and I beg you to say a word on my behalf.”
“What do you want then?” asked the priest.
“I want to marry her.”
“Really?”
“With all my heart and soul.”
The priest stood up and took the young man in his arms.
“That’s good,” he said, “that’s very good. You can count on me, Jorge. I shall be the advocate for your cause. Didn’t I say you still had a good heart? Everything was not lost…”
Jorge’s response to the old priest’s kindness was no less sincere; he told him all his hopes and fears, the greatest of which was that he’d be turned down.”
“Why?”
“It would be entirely understandable if she won’t forgive me for the way I behaved.”
“She will forgive you,” said the priest. “Perhaps she won’t love you now, but she’ll grow to love you. Go in peace and leave it to God, who loves sinners who repent.”
Jorge left the presbytery torn between fear and hope. But he believed in the old priest, and he knew that if anyone could convince Clarinha it was he. And when his parents got to know the situation, they too would speak in his favour.
Jorge didn’t want to get married without there being an alliance of hearts first; but what seemed most essential to him was to convince his cousin that he was desperate for her love.
Would she grow to love him again? Aye, there’s the rub, as Hamlet said.
Jorge headed straight for home. On the way, he met some friends. All of them were amazed at the change that had come over him.
“God help us!” said one. “You look like an anchorite!”
“Finally!” said another, who was standing a little way off.”
“Finally what?” asked Jorge.
“You’ve finally fallen in love. Why else would you look so pale?”
Others – those who owed him money – gave him a wide berth. Jorge didn’t even notice them; he had just one thought: Clarinha.
No surprise, therefore, that when, continuing on his way, the lady we met briefly in the first chapter of this story called his name on passing him by, he didn’t so much as raise his hat. She felt mortally offended and, that night, seated between two acquaintances at the Alcazar, painted a sorry picture of him.
“Do you remember,” said one of them, “that it was Jorge who bought you your carriage?”
“That’s all water under the bridge,” she replied philosophically. “Whatever he bought me or didn’t buy me back then, he’s turned into a complete lout.”

***

Fr Barroso was as good as his word; he went to speak to Clarinha. The widow greeted her old friend with real affection. It was a week since he last visited, and she was becoming concerned for his health.

“It’s good to see you,” she said. “I was worried you might not be well.”
“No, I’m perfectly well,” he said. “On the contrary, I’ve never been so healthy. And do you know why?”
“Why?”
“Because I was talking to your cousin Jorge yesterday.”
Clarinha said nothing.
“He’s saved, he’s cured, the good fellow. He’s just worried about one thing: that you won’t forgive him. You need to forgive him, Clarinha.”
“I forgive him everything.”
“No, not like that; you need to forgive him sincerely, with a bit of oomph! Because he’s truly sorry, and all he needs to be as happy as he was once upon a time, and as he should be now if he hadn’t gone off the rails, is to be pardoned by you. You will pardon him, won’t you?”
“You know very well,” said Clarinha, “that I can’t disobey you. I grant him forgiveness as you request.”
“With all your heart?”
“With all my heart.”
“It’s a question,” said Fr Barroso, “of saving a soul. Anyone else would happily refuse to get involved, but I’m a priest; it’s my duty to contribute to the cessation of sin. Jorge has come back to life, but anything could knock him off course again, and forever.”
Clarinha had already guessed the rest.
“It’s only three months since my husband died,” she said. “Give me time to grieve for the best of men. As for Jorge, his soul is beyond saving. I’ve forgiven him; that’s all.”
The young woman remained resolute, and Jorge didn’t find out how the conversation had gone because the old priest thought it best not to tell him – perhaps, despite everything, because he still felt a touch of resentment about the way Jorge had behaved. But he did try to console him.
Old Aguiar insisted on his niece coming to live in her old home; but she declined – she didn’t want to live so close to her cousin.
Meanwhile Jorge lost no opportunity to meet her and see her. His presence, the respect he showed her, the proofs of his dedication, his exemplary life and, in addition, certain memories that remained in the young woman’s heart, all of this set in motion the natural denouement.

***

A year after the death of Dr Marques, the cousins got married. The news caused amazement in the dubious society that had been Jorge’s early education in adulthood.

“He was half lost already,” was the mocking comment of the lady he’d accompanied that night at the Ginásio when the Commander had seen him.
It was Fr Barroso who conducted the wedding ceremony. His joy can hardly be imagined, almost as if it was all his own work. And, in truth, he wouldn’t have been far wrong.
A month later, when he was visiting the new couple in their house, Jorge recalled the profound impression he had in the five days during which he’d accompanied the death throes of Dr Marques.
“It was only then,” he said, “that I really fell in love.”
The priest smiled.
Nihil sub sole novum,” he said. “Nineteeen centuries ago, the same thing happened to a famous man who used to persecute Christians. When he was on his way to Damascus, a vision turned his life around. That man was St Paul. He married the best of brides, the Church, and – please God – you two will love each other as those two did. God will forgive me the comparison because to love is to be close to heaven.”

TRANSLATIONS FROM PORTUGUESE

Fṛm Đ Gardịn: GENOCIDE OF ISOLATED INDIGENOUS PEOPLES IN BRAZIL

Below is my translation of an article from the Brazilian Instituto Socioambiental about the genocidal policy of President Jair Bolsonaro. It’s important the world should know.

———

DEADLY CONTACT

5 February 2020

“The appointment of a missionary to co-ordinate the territory of the isolated indigenous peoples overseen by the National Foundation for Indigenous Peoples (‘Funai’ in the Portuguese acronym) is a significant step in Bolsonaro’s genocidal policy,” according to the Instituto Socioambiental.

The appointment this Wednesday, 5 February, of Ricardo Lopes Dias, a pastor who has previously been associated with the North American sect Ethnos360 (previously known as The New Tribes Mission), to exercise the Funai Coordination of Isolated Indians and of Indians of Recent Contact (“CGIIRC” in the Portuguese acronym) puts indigenous peoples who prefer to remain isolated in danger of being the victims of genocide. There are 115 records of such groups in Brazil, 28 of which have been confirmed. The appointment of a missionary to run the CGIIRC indicates the return to a policy of forced contact which, when it was government policy in the 1970s, led to the death of thousands of Indians through diseases brought, and violence perpetrated, by the government agents themselves. All of this could happen again with the return of religious proselytising.

View of an isolated Moxihatëtëma village in the Yanomami territory
View of an isolated Moxihatëtëma village in the Yanomami territory

The indigenous peoples who prefer to live in isolation are survivors of massacres that happened throughout the 20th century, the largest of them during the 1970s when Brazil was a military dictatorship and implemented a policy of “coaxing out” indigenous peoples, supposedly to make contact with and “pacify” their communities, but in reality to occupy their lands. In addition to outright violence – there were innumerable reports of massacres, including aerial bombardment of villages –, those communities fell victim to epidemics brought by non-indigenous people as part of official expeditions to enforce contact. Some indigenous populations lost 90% of their people as a result of diseases against which they had no antibodies.

This was the case, for instance, of the Nambikwara people, whose territory covered parts of the states of Mato Grosso and Rondônia. Nine thousand of them died as the result of epidemics of measles, flu, whooping cough and gonorrhoea. Similarly, in the case of the Panará people, in the north of Mato Grosso: between 1973 and 1976, 75% of the population died as a result of flu and malaria. Of 400 people, only 79 remained. Such cases are endless. In 1982, missionaries of the New Tribes of Brazil Mission, the sect to which the new Funai coordinator belongs, implemented a policy of forced contact with the remaining members of the Zo’é people, in the north of Pará. This contact resulted in an epidemic and many deaths. In the end, the missionaries were driven out of the territory.

Putting an end to the genocide of whole communities was the principal reason for the implementation of Funai’s no-contact policy in 1987. That policy, which had the backing of regional experts, anthropologists and other formulators of public policy, led to the establishment of the CGIIRC. The main motive was to guarantee protection of the territories where those peoples live by keeping out interlopers and harmful business enterprises. Up until now that has been CGIIRC responsibility, as set out in Funai Directive 281/2000.

With the appointment of this missionary to run the CGIIRC, there is again a threat of forced contact and, with it, the imminence of yet more tragedies.

The Brazilian government is obliged, under the Constitution, to guarantee the physical and cultural survival of these peoples in the lands they occupy. That means protected territories where they can organise themselves in accordance with their customs, languages, beliefs and traditions.

Forced acculturation of indigenous peoples is an affront to the Constitution, but is a regular practice of evangelical fundamentalism, including of the sect to which the new coordinator belongs, catechesis being its principle mission. Article 129(v) of the Constitution makes clear that judicial defence of the rights and interests of the indigenous peoples is an institutional responsibility of the Office of Public Prosecutions. It is high time that the Public Prosecutor, Augusto Aras, did something. Up until now, not a word has been heard from him about this deplorable situation. This omission has brought into disrepute the reputation of an institution that is meant to defend society – and minorities in particular – against any arbitrary measures by the government.

Non-contact should be seen as a manifestation of the desire of these peoples for self-determination, a right that is guaranteed by the Universal Declaration of Human Rights. The choice of isolation is protected by Convention 169 of the International Labour Organisation, to which Brazil is a signatory, and which guarantees minimum rights to indigenous peoples in respect of preserving their cultures and identities in the context of the societies of which they form part.

The anti-indigenous policy of Jair Bolsonaro infringes the Constitution and disgusts the whole world. Scrapping the no-contact policy means ending a strategy that has helped to save lives during the last 30 years. Brazil has already seen the result of forced contact – contact with death. We sincerely hope the tragedy is not about to be repeated.

———

From Portuguese │ CLARA DOS ANJOS, by Lima Barreto │ Contents and Introduction


INTRODUCTION: The Three Claras of Lima Barreto

By Mauro Rosso

(Translated by me)

Clara dos Anjos, published here for the first time in English translation, is one of Lima Barreto’s most important works and is of unique relevance, not only because it was his first work of fiction, but also on account of the way in which it represents and synthesises his literary evolution, marking how his literary ideas changed, and determining the principal direction that his writing was going, eventually, to follow. There are three versions of it: a completed novel, a short story and an incomplete novel. Across the three versions, a clear picture emerges of the various ways in which Barreto approached the question of the position of women in society, a question of extreme social, cultural and political importance for Brazil at the beginning of the 20th century.

Lima Barreto and Rio de Janeiro

Clara dos Anjos fully justifies the description of Barreto as ‘the most Carioca of Brazilian writers’, because it presents life in the suburbs of Rio de Janeiro at a time – the first decades of the 20th century – when huge urban, architectural, social and cultural changes were taking place. So much is this the case that, in Clara dos Anjos, the city itself becomes a protagonist (even more so than in Barreto’s other fiction), even though – or perhaps because – everything is concentrated in one specific area (the district of Todos os Santos, where Clara lives). Through the optic of that suburb, the work presents a rich picture of the cultural and social life of the city. In short, the work has the social and cultural DNA of Rio de Janeiro on every page.

Barreto had a visceral relationship to his home city: he used to say it lived in him just as much as he lived in it. And, in that sense, the city was a sort of laboratory in which he could study Brazil and think deeply about society – and all its manifest contradictions – in the newly republican Brazil.

Indeed, one of the most striking characteristics of Barreto’s oeuvre is how it chronicles the life of Rio in a way that is unmatched by any other writer of the time. And his love for the city made him a traditionalist. Even though he feigned contempt for the past as ‘a sump of prejudice’, he was equally up in arms against each and every inroad of modernisation, be it the cinema, skyscrapers (and the consequent destruction of old buildings that were ‘intimately linked to the history and the soul of Rio’) or – last but not least – football.   

In that way his work was an extraordinarily accurate reflection of the time, which witnessed the advent of the Republic and contained all sorts of contradictory movements within the overall process of modernisation – backwardness and stagnation on the one hand, civility and evolution on the other. And, having become the political, economic, administrative and cultural centre of the country, Rio de Janeiro displayed those characteristics in ample measure. These were the paradoxes Barreto would have had in mind when he referred to ‘the physical city and the symbolic city, the urbs and the sub-urbs’, the former being the republican metropolis, modernised according to an essentially foreign template and which Barreto denounced for ‘excluding the people’, the latter being the shabby city of the slums, of boisterous street markets and amusement parks, of yellow fever and of the ‘animal game’ – a lottery that originated in 1892 as a way of raising money for the zoo in Rio and subsequently became hugely popular (even though, since 1946, it’s been illegal).

Despite being a chronicler of his ‘beloved suburbs’, however, Barreto also harboured an intense dislike of the rich districts and everything they stood for: the dandies, the bourgeoisie, the ‘academic’ intellectuals, the pseudo literati and their dinner parties.  He loved ‘those gloomy streets, those humble cottages, bursting with children and domestic animals, those country habits, the hearty Sunday lunch, the chit-chat at the shop door and all those people who were prisoners of their environment’.

Lima Barreto and Women

Thinker and campaigner as he was, and never divorced from the problems of his time, Lima Barreto could not but consider the situation of women in Brazilian society at the beginning of the 20th century, a time of such wide-ranging and profound social transformation. He portrayed women as prominent characters in his short stories and novels, and wrote about them in articles and essays published in newspapers and magazines. And he did this in an ambiguous way, sometimes criticising, even attacking, them, sometimes defending and, very frequently, exalting them. He called himself an ‘anti-feminist’ and was openly opposed to feminist movements, whilst, at the same time, being a staunch advocate of women’s education. He was against the entry of women into the civil service, but defended divorce and justified adultery by women (seeing both as a form of revolt against the male oppressor and the concept of marriage imposed by society). Imbued with the outlook of his time, he portrayed women as they were generally seen, whilst denouncing as absurd their dependence on men.

The accusation of misogyny sometimes levelled against Barreto is totally false. The women he criticised were, above all, the bourgeois women, the snobs, whereas he was sympathetic to proletarian, suburban women. One of the biggest interpretative mistakes is to suggest that he was against the movements and actions in favour of women’s emancipation. For him, the feminist movement of the time was not working or fighting in defence of women; it was ‘fragile, inconsistent, innocuous, and concerned itself only with perfumes, accessories and trivia’; it looked down on working-class women and ignored their demands for better conditions; in short, it simply divorced itself from the question.

Both in his fiction and his non-fiction, Barreto always devoted a significant amount of space to women, portraying and commenting on: women’s situation with respect to marriage; the moral code imposed on women by men and by society; the unfair way in which women’s adultery was viewed by the law; women’s lack of educational and professional opportunities; prostitution; and all of this cut across by the always present and relevant racial (and social) question, as is made clear in Clara’s concluding words in the completed novel: ‘In this life, we’re nothing.’

It is true that his articles and essays – whether about feminism, the women’s movement, the vote for women, women’s rights, women’s literature, or whether about everyday life, fashion, behaviour or female customs – always display a critical, ironic stance, and that the way women are portrayed in his short stories and novels shows them dependent on men and submissive to the social ‘norms’ of the age. But it is also true that, on innumerable occasions, he shows them acting and behaving progressively, and as superior to men.  Examples are: Olga in Triste fim de Policarpo Quaresma; Edgarda in Numa e a ninfa; Efigênia in O cemitério dos vivos; Cecília in Diário íntimo; Cló, Adélia, Lívia and other women in his short stories.

Barreto’s writing about women should be viewed in the light of his position in respect of marriage. He thought the way society elevated men, as if they were automatically gifted with exceptional attributes, made it impossible for wives to enjoy a fulfilling emotional life and left them repressed and frustrated. It should be emphasised that Barreto respected the institution of marriage and saw it as almost the only way for women to achieve fulfilment; it was just that he was unable to overlook the reality of marriage in that bourgeois, republican society: for men, a sort of ‘commercial transaction’, ultimately reducing the wife to ‘a stepping-stone for the husband’; for women, on the other hand, a way of realising themselves through dedication to ‘the superior man’, especially when he was deified by addition of the title ‘Doctor’. And, as a general rule, women went along with this flawed attitude, which led so often to deception and bitterness.

Barreto paid particular attention to women’s education, both as it was and as it should be. He was a trenchant critic of the lack of educational opportunities for women and he spoke with passion about the absolute need to provide them with those opportunities. Indeed, most women at the start of the century saw education simply as a way of making themselves more appealing to their male companions; they were not looking for intellectual emancipation. And it was the latter that Lima was advocating by campaigning for better educational opportunities for women. In general, women were largely restricted to their homes, which reflected the cultural mores of the time, and they were thought of as sentimental/emotional rather than intellectual/philosophical. Lima considered that to be the cause of so much unhappiness for women, both inside and outside marriage. He saw women’s education as essential for improving men’s education and for good citizenship, because the fate of the generations to come – and of society as a whole – depended on the education given to children.

Lima Barreto and Politics

Lima Barreto paid more attention to politics than to any other theme. None of his contemporaries wrote so much on the subject or, by extension, about social questions. His ‘militant literature’, as he called it, went hand-in-hand with his focus on the margins of society; and his critical view of society was complemented by a genuine and irreversible commitment to the struggle for social change, so that, in his articles in the press, he attacked the whole panoply of power and, in his fiction, he denounced the profound injustices in Brazilian society.

All Barreto’s work evolved on the basis of, and around, a central theme: power and its exercise – power seen and described by him as ‘the various combinations of elements, vectors and procedures interwoven in society and comprising prisons, both large and small, both visible and invisible, that tend to restrict and constrain men’s thought, to limit their possibilities for personal, cultural, professional and social fulfilment and for them to have their just place in society.’ He analysed power at every level: the government, ideologies, cultural institutions such as the press, science, and the general models that determined everyday behaviour and relationships. And, in all this, he showed himself to be, above all, an anti-capitalist.

He was an implacable critic of the supposed modernity the Republic claimed to be implementing, an opponent of all forms of assimilation of foreign values (especially football, cinema and other cultural imports), and an often intransigent defender of ‘Brazilianism’, which – he maintained – should permeate ‘the authentic national language’. But he was also an active opponent of the ultra nationalism that emerged at the end of the 19th century and the beginning of the 20th, questioning the erroneous self-image Brazil was creating, and revealing, one by one, the ultimate ridiculousness of the nationalistic clichés and myths. (In Triste fim de Policarpo Quaresma, he implicitly parodies the jingoistic booklet by Afonso Celso, the son of Barreto’s protector, entitled Why I’m proud to be Brazilian (1901), which was very popular at the beginning of the 20th century and which gave rise to the expression ufanismo (ultra nationalism). He himself tried to map out a patriotism with a historical and social conscience that would emphasise citizenship, be both anchored in real Brazilian culture and resistant to cosmopolitanism and would embrace the ethnic, social and cultural cross-fertilisation in the country.

All of this can be clearly seen in the tripartite development of Clara dos Anjos.

A similar change of direction can be seen in the novels Recordações do escrivão Isaias Caminha, which was also begun in 1904 (and completed in 1905), and  Vida e morte de M.J. Gonzaga de Sá, which was written during the same period as Isaias Caminha.

Those two books share many philosophical and ideological themes, but Barreto was more interested in publishing Isaias Caminha, Gonzaga de Sá not being published until 1919 (at the insistence of Monteiro Lobato, its eventual editor).

As mentioned previously, Barreto gave up his idea of writing a historical novel about slavery in Brazil in favour of critical, incisive observation of the political and institutional life of the Republic, becoming the Republic’s arch-critic in the process.

The unfinished 1904 version of Clara dos Anjos could be said to have prepared the ground for those two 1905 novels (Isaias Caminha and Gonzaga de Sá), Isaias Caminha  morphing from a work about racial prejudice to one with a wider psychological and existential theme, and from a denunciation of social and racial discrimination to a critique and satire of the journalistic and literary worlds. (This is a good example of ‘intentional fallacy’, an expression coined by the French critic Pierre Macherey in his work Pour une théorie de la production littéraire, which has to do with how an author’s preliminary, a priori ideas, when conceiving a work, can be overturned and altered during the actual construction of the narrative – as if the author were ‘discovering’ the story.) Thus the change of course that took place after Barreto’s initial conception of Clara dos Anjos, towards the narrative threads that were going to predominate in Isaias Caminha and  Gonzaga de Sá, proved to be the direction he would take until the end of his (short) literary career.

The notes and sketches for Clara dos Anjos constitute,  in themselves, a foundation for Isaias Caminha which, in certain subtle ways, incorporates the projected work about slavery, but with a different focus and literary structure, especially in view of the political context, identified by Barreto as oligarchic, sectarian and elitist.

Together with those two novels that followed in its wake, Clara dos Anjos synthesises Barreto’s philosophical and ideological evolution even more than his literary evolution. And it does so especially in the shift from an ethnic focus to a more all-embracing fictional world.

It would not be out of place to see this process in the light of the ‘religious perception of art’ proposed by Tolstoy in his famous essay ‘What is Art?’, because it was the main – and crucial – influence on Barreto’s literary career, particularly with respect to the transformation of his literary ideas, the adoption of a new thematic direction in his fiction, and his concept and advocacy of ‘literature as mission’.

Literature as mission

Most writers, like most intellectuals, welcomed the advent of the Republic enthusiastically, but their enthusiasm waned when they experienced the reality of the first years of the new regime. Nevertheless, the general rule, whether in the sphere of journalism or, especially, of literature, was that they had to defer to a greater of lesser extent to the tastes and preferences of readers if they were not to suffer cultural and professional ostracism (and the financial consequences). The need to be in tune with a city that was buzzing with the urge to modernise and the desire to get rich quick caused writers to produce material that was superficial and ephemeral in style, language, form and content, i.e. ‘adapted to the taste of the petite bourgeoisie created by the Republic’.

On the other hand, in resolute opposition to almost all the contemporary styles of writing, and particularly the predominant aristocratic style, there was Lima Barreto. Despite being a respected writer of articles and essays for the newspapers, and recognised as an exceptional novelist for the highly praised Recordações do escrivão Isaias Caminha (1909) and Triste fim de Policarpo Quaresma (1915), he absolutely refused to turn either his journalistic work or his literary work – whether fictional or non-fictional – into ‘an instrument of propaganda for the republican dream of false progress and false civilisation’. He maintained that his was ‘a militant literature, works that debate the questions of the age (…) as opposed to the sort of literature that limits itself to questions of form, to sentimental love stories and to the idealisation of nature’.

Unlike most of his contemporaries, whose writing was as ornate as it was vacuous, snobbish and futile – totally in accordance with literature as ‘society’s smile’, as advocated by Afrânio Peixoto – Barreto brought to his fiction the militant sense of ‘a social mission, with a view to contributing to the happiness of a people, of a nation and of humanity’. In his opinion, literature had to be ‘militant’, with a clear, defined objective, as he stated in an interview published in A Época on 18 February 1916:

We don’t want this ethereal literature any more, a literature that’s false and aimless, full of curlicues and affectation, and not like literature used to be; nor do we want this descriptive literature, searching for beauty in the form of gods that are dead and gone and are now no more than mannequins, because the spirit that animated them evaporated once their worshippers were dead. Let’s say No to literature that’s purely contemplative, all about style, without a thought for anything other than poetry and which has been given the imprimatur of a high society stupefied by money, and which is so readily churned out by pseudo intellectuals, graduates and politicians… A work of art should say what simple facts don’t say. That’s my aim. I’ve brought all my honesty and courage to literature. It’s my life’s purpose and all I ask from literature is the one thing it can give me – glory!

Thus, through the vigorously ideological slant of both his fictional and non-fictional output, Barreto sought ethical meaning through the politicisation of literature. He made this clear in the only lecture he was due to give (in Rio Preto, São Paulo, in February 1921). He ended up not giving the lecture, but it was published, under the title ‘The Purpose of Literature’, in the Revista Souza Cruz in Rio de Janeiro in 1921 – together with an excerpt from the novel O cemitério dos vivos. In it, he wrote:

Beauty doesn’t reside in form, in visual enchantment, in the proportion and harmony of parts, as our latter-day Hellenists believe. Without denigrating perfection of form or style, the beauty of an important literary work must reside principally in the exteriorisation of certain specific thoughts that are of interest to humanity… And the purpose of literature is to spread that great ideal of fraternity and justice among people, to make it real and easily accessible. That’s the way for it to fulfil its mission – a mission that is almost divine. There is no other spiritual activity of our species that is greater than Art – and especially Literature, to which I have dedicated myself and to which I am married; as a result of its contagious power, no other means of communication between men has had, has or will have such a great destiny within our sad humanity.

Whether in his novels or his short stories, or whether in his essays and articles, Barreto always criticised modernity in so far as it resulted in social oppression and political hypocrisy, as was frequently the case in the implementation of the Republic. His choice of militant literature determined the marginal – and ‘revolutionary’ in the opinion of many researchers – character of his work: his critical view of society, politics and culture brought him bitter rewards – public denigration, poverty, alcoholism and illness, including internment in psychiatric hospitals – but he resolutely refused to compromise his principles in order to gain popularity. That is to say, he would not turn himself into a bourgeois writer by kowtowing to the political, economic, social and cultural interests of the Republic. Nothing ever made him bow to those values.

Clara dos Anjos

Clara dos Anjos appears among Lima Barreto’s fictional works in three versions, under the same title in each case. These were written at different times and differ in themselves, not so much on account of the plot, which stayed basically the same (a mulatto girl from a poor family in a suburb of Rio de Janeiro is seduced by a white man and then abandoned), but of the principal themes on which Barreto focussed in the course of time.

The first version, of 1904, comprises just four chapters of an incomplete novel, which were inserted in Diário íntimo (after being seduced and disgraced, Clara is taken advantage of by various men). The second version is a short story that was published in the collection Histórias e sonhos (after being seduced, Clara faces up to her disgrace and lives a sad life of poverty). The third version, the completed novel (where the narrative focusses on the minute details of the seduction), was written between December 1921 and January 1922, but only saw the light of day after Barreto’s death. First of all, the chapter ‘The Postman’ was published in the journal Mundo Literário in May 1922, with the introduction: ‘a previously unpublished excerpt from the novel Clara dos Anjos, which is due to be published shortly’. Then, between January 1923 and May 1924, it was published in 16 instalments in the Revista Souza Cruz. It was not published as a book until 1947, being the last of Barreto’s fictional works to be published.

The significant differences between the three versions have to do with the changes in Barreto’s focus, reflecting developments in his thinking and ‘literary aesthetics’ over the course of time. From his initial focus on the situation of the blacks in the city of Rio, in 1904, to a focus, in 1921–2, less on the racial question and more on poverty and social injustice in general, regardless of race. This was characterised as a ‘social novel’, with the author emphasising the tragic fate of men and women – indiscriminately – who were forced by poverty to live lives of shame. It is worth noting , in this sense, the difference in the way in which Barreto treats tragedy, a literary category he never really engaged with until this, his final work. Nevertheless, despite the move from the pre-eminence of the racial/social theme of the first text to the multiple – social, economic, psychological – themes of the last, racial discrimination and prejudice were a constant, integral theme throughout his fiction.

So, in its three versions, Clara dos Anjos represents a crucial, and intentional, change of focus from the question of negritude and the situation of the blacks in Brazil – the initial idea for the novel and for an (unrealised) History of Slavery in Brazil – to a full-scale novel, but with a more political focus on Brazilian institutions and society – and this also applies to his later novels and short stories.

There is no indication whatsoever, however, that Barreto ‘abandoned’ or distanced himself from his political ideals, i.e. from the ideological fulcrum at the very heart of his life and work. Never…

The question of ethnicity and ‘its influence on our nationality’ was always present – in his own DNA, at the core of his social conscience, in his non-fiction (especially his essays) and in his fiction. And it is particularly present in the three versions of ‘Clara dos Anjos’ – in a more focussed and central form in the incomplete novel, still with a significant presence in the short story, and integrated into a wider, political view in the completed novel.*

* An example of how Barreto neither distanced himself nor deviated from a preoccupation with the condition of the blacks in Brazil and the exploitation of the black race by the slave-owners is a drama he wrote in 1905 entitled ‘The Blacks’. This was one of only two dramas he wrote – and which he called ‘dramatic exercises’ – and it is very little known, having hardly been brought to the public’s attention at all; the texts of the two pieces – the other one was called ‘The Poet’ – were originally published in the 2nd edition of Histórias e sonhos (BARRETO, 1951) and subsequently only in my book Lima Barreto e a política: os ‘argelinos’ e outros contos (ROSSO, 2010)

Mauro Rosso
2015


 ABOUT LIMA BARRETO

(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.

From Portuguese: THE MAN WHO SPOKE JAVANESE by Lima Barreto

(My translation of the short story O homem que sabia javanês – The Man Who Spoke Javanese – by the Brazilian writer Lima Barreto, which was published in the Gazeta da Tarde in 1911)

 

PDF

I

 was in a coffee shop, telling my mate Castro how I’d conned people in order to earn a living. Once, when I was in Manaus, I’d even had to pretend I hadn’t been to university so that my clients wouldn’t think me unqualified for being a fortune-teller-cum-magician.

Continue reading From Portuguese: THE MAN WHO SPOKE JAVANESE by Lima Barreto