Category Archives: Lima Barreto

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: 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]

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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 │ 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

From Portuguese: The Clairvoyant, by Lima Barreto

(My translation of the short story A Cartomante, by Lima Barreto, which was published in Histórias e Sonhos in 1951)

No doubt about it: only the evil eye could explain all the trials and tribulations of the past five years. Whenever he tried to achieve anything, it all went wrong. Take, for instance, his application for the public health job; no sooner had he secured the backing of a government bigwig than politics did a flip-flop. And if he bought a lottery ticket, it would always be the next group of numbers or the one just before. Everything seemed to be telling him he’d never get on in life again. If it wasn’t for his wife’s sewing, they’d really have been in dire straits. It was five years since he’d earned anything at all; and on the rare occasions he’d had such a thing as a banknote in his pocket it had been at the cost of grovelling to friends and acquaintances.

If only he could run away from it all! Somewhere far away, where people wouldn’t know he was once well-off. But where? Where could he find enough money to take him, his wife and his children to that far-away place? His life had turned into a continual martyrdom: dragging his undeserved shame around like a ball and chain!

But, paradoxically, the idea that all his misfortune was due to the evil eye gave him a glimmer of hope. After all, if it was magic that had done it, magic could undo it. So he felt much happier when he woke up the next day, and the only reason he didn’t share some of that happiness with his wife was that she’d already left. The poor woman! All those years of working like a slave had left her frail, infirm and prematurely aged; but she still somehow managed to find enough energy to keep the family afloat.

Well, soon, all that trudging round the city, carrying bundles of clothes and collecting the meagre payments, none of that would be necessary. Because he’d decided to go to a clairvoyant, or some such, to find out what it was that was holding him back.

So he went and bought a newspaper at the kiosk. The classified adds contained all sorts: fortune-tellers, mediums, theosophists etc. etc. But the one that caught his eye was: “Madam Dadá, possessor of the sixth sense and interpreter of dreams. Reads the cards. Undoes all kinds of evil spells, especially African. Such and such an address.”

He knew immediately that Madam Dadá was the one for him, because he was convinced his life was being blighted by some African witchdoctor in the pay of his brother-in-law. (Castrioto had never approved of their marriage.)

So he sponged the necessary money off the first friend he met and headed off, almost running, to the house of Madam Dadá.

The evil spell was about to be broken! Prosperity would return to his home! He’d buy a suit for Zezé and some nice shoes for his youngest daughter, Alice! And that nightmare existence of the past five years would soon be just a memory!

And as he half-walked, half-ran, everything seemed to be smiling at him: the radiant June sun; the happy faces of the passers-by; and the whole world! That world, which up until then had seemed so base and rotten, suddenly looked all sweetness and light.

Having entered, he took a seat, at the behest of Madam Dadá’s assistant, in the little waiting room.

His heart seemed to be beating its way out of his chest.

Eventually he was ushered into the presence of the oracle.

It was his wife.

 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: A Christmas Miracle, by Lima Barreto

(My translation of the short story Milagre do Natal)

The Andaraí district is very melancholy and very damp. The mountains that adorn our city are even higher out there and are still covered by the dense vegetation that must have been even more abundant in bygone days. And the dark grey of the trees turns the horizon almost black, and the general ambience even sadder.

Continue…

From Portuguese: Cazuza’s One and Only Murder, by Lima Barreto

(My translation of the short story O único assassinato de Cazuza, which was published in Contos reunidos in 1949. There’s a strong autobiographical element in this story.)

Hildegardo Brandão, known to his friends as Cazuza, had got to the age of fifty and a bit, and was down but not out. After acute crises of despair, bitterness and resentment brought on by the injustice which had thwarted him in all his worthy ambitions, a sort of grave and calm beatitude had descended on him, as if he were preparing himself for death.

Continued…

From Portuguese: Revolver, by Lima Barreto

(My translation of the short story Despesa filantrópica, which was published in Histórias e sonhos in 1920.)

A farmer is talking to Felício, an old college-friend, about an incident at a farm he used to own in the Brazilian outback.

 

Farmer: I had no idea who it was when he arrived at the gate of my house, accompanied by an unpleasant-looking individual. After I’d invited them into the living room and they’d sat down, I ordered coffee. While we were waiting, he told me who he was. It was quite a surprise, I can tell you!

Continued…

From Portuguese: Good Idea, by Lima Barreto

(My translation of the short story Boa medida, which was first published in the Careta newspaper in 1921. “Kambalu” = one of Lima’s satirical names for Brazil; “Sultan Abbas the First” = Epitácio Pessoa, President of Brazil between 1919 and 1922. Any similarity to the current president of Brazil – 1 January 2019→20? – is purely coincidental.)

O

nce upon a time, Sultan Abbas the First of Kambalu, otherwise known as “The Magnificent,” – who was directly descended from Manuel José Fernandes from Trás-os-Montes in the Kingdom of Portugal, and Japira, a native of the Potiguar tribe, which used to inhabit the Empire of Brazil, but is now no more – seeing the misery of his people and the starvation and plague which were wiping them out, decided to convene the bigwigs of his domains, regardless of their religion or their theories, to help him solve the problem. There duly arrived: a bishop, a wise man from the orient, a learned doctor of medicine, a clairvoyant, a jurist, an engineer and a brahmin.

Continued…

From Portuguese: Clara dos Anjos, a short story by Lima Barreto

(My translation of the short story of the same name, which was written in 1919 and published in the collection Histórias e sonhos (1920, 1951, 1956))

Joaquim dos Anjos, the postman, wasn’t one for going out serenading in the streets, but he did like the guitar and modinha songs. He himself played the flute, an instrument more highly regarded in those days than it is now. He even considered himself a musician, because he used to compose waltzes, tangos and accompaniments for modinhas.

He’d learnt “the knack” of music in his childhood home, on the outskirts of Diamantina, but the music he’d mastered was rather limited. The thing is, he wasn’t very ambitious, either in music or in the other aspects of his life. He’d worked for a famous lawyer, but had always wanted to get a modest job in the civil service, something that would provide a pension for him and a gratuity for his wife and daughter when he died. He’d got his postman’s job, in Rio de Janeiro, about eighteen years ago and was quite content with it, despite the hard work and low pay.

As soon as he was appointed, he sold his land in Diamantina and bought himself a house in the suburbs of Rio. Although the price had been modest, he’d not been able to buy it outright, and had to pay most of it off in instalments. But now he’d been in full ownership for several years. It was a simple house with two bedrooms, one of which was entered via the sitting-room, the other via the dining-room. A kitchen – which accounted for a third of the whole house – had been added at the back and, separate from the main body of the house, there was the toilet, the washroom etc. In the garden, which was quite big, there were some unkempt goiaba trees and a large, pollarded tamarind.

The road wound its way across a plain, and whenever it rained it turned into a quagmire; but there were houses along it, and it offered a beautiful panorama of the mountains that, although a long way off, seemed to press in on it from all sides. Some of the houses were quite good. There was even a large farm, with one of those old–fashioned farmhouses – the long façade, the squat roof, and the tiles covering the bottom half of the walls. On the whole, rather ugly, it has to be said. No airs and graces, but perfectly in harmony with the gnarled mangos, the sturdy jacks and all those other big, old trees that probably never gave any fruit to the people who planted them.

In those days the farm had been taken over by the Bible-bashers. On the Sabbath, you could hear their psalm-singing at regular intervals all day long. The people weren’t hostile to them. Some of the poorer ones were even quite sympathetic, on the grounds that the Bible-bashers weren’t like the Catholic priests, who wanted money for everything.

The leader of those Protestants was an American, a Mr Sharp. A steadfast man, and his eloquence when expounding the Bible must have been magnificent in English. But in his halting Portuguese it was merely quaint. He was one of those curious Yankees who, on the basis of their particular interpretation of a verse or two of the Bible, found and propagate Christian sects. And they have no trouble in gaining disciples – disciples who have no clear idea why they’ve joined up, or what the difference is between this belief and their old one.

Whenever he had enough novices to form a group, he put them up in huts that sprang up around the farmhouse or between those old unkempt and uncared for trees. Preparations for group initiation – largely comprising psalm–singing – lasted a week and, what with the psalms and the huts, the old farm presented the strange sight of an open–air monastery crossed with a sort of military encampment.

Few of the local Catholics signed up, but many of them went to have a look to satisfy their curiosity or to enjoy Mr Sharp’s oratory.

They had no reluctance in going, because our common folk like to confabulate all sorts of religions and creeds, and to avail themselves of this one or that one as they feel the need. If you have set-backs in your life, you need a shaman; if you’re suffering from a chronic illness, you need a clairvoyant. But heaven help you if you tell our common folk not to have their child baptised by a Catholic priest! The response will be furious: “You want my child to be a pagan? Whatever next!”

Joaquim was no exception to this rule, nor – very decidedly – was his wife Engrácia.

They’d been married for nearly twenty years, but only had the one child, their daughter Clara. The postman was coffee-coloured, but had what we call “bad hair”; whereas his wife, despite being darker, had smooth hair.

Their daughter had her father’s complexion and her mother’s hair. And she was shorter than him, but taller than her. Joaquim was tall – well above average height when he stood up straight; Engrácia was somewhat below average height, with a petite, well-proportioned face, which couldn’t be said for her husband, who had a big, flat nose. Half way in everything between the two of them, it was clear that Clara was the daughter of both. Imbued with her father’s music, she was full ­– to the brim of her girlish heart and soul – of the lilt of the modinhas and the sweet melancholy of all those ballads and songs.

She was sixteen years old, and both her mother and father treated her with kid gloves. Rather than send her daughter, Engrácia used to go herself to Nascimento’s store to buy odds and ends. Not that Nascimento’s was a hang-out for disreputable types; quite the contrary.

One of the people who could often be found there was Alípio, an interesting young man who, although poor, was nevertheless well-behaved and respectful. He looked like a fighting-cock; but he was far from having the ferocity of those Malayan birds so beloved of the punters; or, to be more precise: there was no ferocity in him whatsoever.

Someone else who frequented the place was an Englishman, a Mr Parsons, a draughtsman in a big mechanics workshop nearby. When he left work he’d pop into Nascimento’s, sit himself down in a folding chair and remain there till nightfall, having the odd drink and reading Senhor Nascimento’s newspapers. He was a man of few words, engaging little in conversation, but getting hot under the collar if someone addressed him as “Mister”.

Then there was Meneses, an old white man who suffered from oedema and considered himself a philosopher although, in fact, he was just a backstreet dentist who’d happily spout nonsense about anything. But he was a good-natured fellow. With his magnificent white beard he had something of the Roman emperor about him.

Sometimes J. Amarante would appear as well. This was a poet – a proper poet, who’d had his moment of fame in Brazil, although that’s probably long gone. At the time, a combination of personal misfortune and alcohol had turned him into a ruin of a man, despite his ten highly-successful volumes of poetry, which had made money for everyone except him. Nowadays he was a half-mad amnesiac, who couldn’t follow the thread of a conversation, and just made random pronouncements. Not knowing what to make of him, the locals just called him “The Poet”.

Another regular of Nascimento’s was old Valentim, a Portuguese a little over sixty years old. His body was bent forward as a result of his job of farm overseer, which he must have been doing for forty years or more. He loved telling tales of the old country, interspersed with piquant Portuguese sayings.

But, even though – as you can see – the place was by no means disreputable, Clara didn’t go there. Instead, her father allowed her to go on Sunday, once in a while, to the cinema in Méier or in Engenho de Dentro with some other girls. Meanwhile he himself would stay at home with some of his friends, playing the guitar, singing modinhas and drinking cachaça.

His friends would turn up first thing in the morning and, after having a coffee, they’d go through to the back yard and sit themselves down under the tamarind tree to play cards, with a litre of cachaça beside them. And off they’d go, with hardly a glance at the surrounding stark and rugged mountains, and they’d carry on until supper was served by Engrácia and Clara.

It was not until after supper that the singing began. On one occasion, one of Joaquim’s Sunday companions asked if he could bring a friend of his the next time, to help celebrate Joaquim’s birthday. The friend’s name was Júlio Costa, and he was an excellent modinha singer. Joaquim agreed and, on the day of the birthday party, the famous balladeer duly appeared. He was white and freckled, unremarkable in both face and body. But his hair wasn’t dishevelled, and there was nothing at all to suggest loose-living. In fact he was dressed with perfectly suburban sobriety; the work of a fourth-grade tailor. The only hint of the bohemian modinha singer about him was that his hair was meticulously parted down the middle. Joaquim accompanied him on the guitar and his début was a great success.

In particular, all the local girls of all those different skin colours that poverty somehow melds and harmonises thought the world of him. Not even Cesare Borgia, dressed up for a masked-ball given by his father in the Vatican would have caused such a to-do.

The girls were busy saying to each other:

“It’s him! It’s really him!”

But the lads weren’t too happy with the situation, and so they started telling unsavoury stories about the modinha singer’s love-life.

When he was introduced to Joaquim, Engrácia and their daughter, no-one noticed the lecherous glance he bestowed on Clara’s ample, pert breasts.

The music began with a gentle introductory piece for flute, cavaquinho and guitar. Polkas were the favourite dance music, with one and all disporting themselves as gymnastically as if it were a samba.

During a break, Joaquim said:

“How about singing, Júlio?”

“I’m not up to it,” was the reply.

Up until that point, Júlio had been one of the band and, while strumming away, had been ogling Clara’s gyrating hips while she was dancing. And Clara made so bold as to repeat her father’s invitation:

“Why don’t you sing, Júlio? Everyone says you’re a wonderful singer…”

(The “wonderful” was drawn out in the sweetest voice imaginable.)

“Oh, dear me, senhorita!” he immediately replied. “That’s just my friends being kind…”

But he was already arranging his song sheets, even before Clara could repeat:

“Please sing! Please do!”

“Your wish is my command, senhorita,” he replied. “I shall sing.”

Picking up his guitar, he adopted a poetic pose, strummed a few chords and announced “The Lover’s Dream!”

And off he went, in a terribly loud voice, almost bawling, only to rein it in after a while, so as to express melancholic pain, making the s’s really sibilate, and really rolling the r’s, as he rode the horrific metaphors that were the mainstay of the song. But at least the thing was sincere; and, in the simple minds of the listeners, even the most far-fetched similes merely had the effect of conjuring up dreams, desires, longings and glittering visions. When he came to the end there was enthusiastic applause from everyone except little Clara, and the only reason she didn’t join in was that she was still wrapped up in her dream world…

One afternoon that week she happened to come to the window and – without showing undue surprise, but rather as if she were expecting it – received a compliment from the love-sick balladeer. She didn’t see anything untoward in this, so much so that she went straight to her mother and said;

“Guess who’s just walked past, Mummy!”

“Who?”

“Júlio.”

“Which Júlio?”

“The one who sang at Daddy’s birthday party.”

After that party, life continued just the same in Joaquim’s. The same card games on Sundays, with Eleutério, who worked at the library, and Augusto, of the municipal guard, accompanied by those little glasses of cachaça, and followed by the evening modinhas. But it was not long before they gained a companion in the form of no less than Júlio Costa himself. The famous suburban balladeer being a good friend of Augusto (and his teacher in the art of balladeering).

Júlio hardly ever sat down to supper with them, because he always had a prior invitation from any number of places in the neighbourhood. Instead, he joined in the card games – now they could play two against two – and he drank little. But, even though he didn’t stay late, he had ample opportunity to be near the girl, near Clara. And he couldn’t keep his eyes off those round, firm and ample breasts, which so excited his voracious carnal appetite. At first it was just glances, which she, with her unusually large, dark eyes, reciprocated surreptitiously and timidly. But soon there was the odd word or two, little compliments, exchanged out of hearing of the others. And then, finally, there was the fateful letter.

She took it, slipped it into her bosom and later, when she went to bed, read it by candlelight – with trepidation, her heart beating wildly. The letter was the most fantastical thing you could imagine when it comes to orthography and syntax, but it had one virtue: it hadn’t been transcribed from the Lovers’ Lexicon; it was original. And it was enough to send shock-waves through Clara’s virginal nature; as she read it, she felt something new stir within her, something strange, something she’d never ever felt before. So much so that she slept badly. She didn’t know what to do. Should she reply? Should she hand it back? It was only too easy to imagine the severe looks from her father and the recriminations from her mother. But the thing was… she needed to get married. She didn’t want to spend all her life like a dog without an owner… One day her parents would die, and surely she couldn’t be expected to remain all alone in the world… The only thing was: he was white, she was mulatto… But why should that matter? There were lots of instances… She could remember some of them… Why not? His words had such passion… She could hardly breathe, she sighed, she wept; and her firm breasts seemed about to burst with her virginal longing to be loved… She’d reply! And that’s what she did, the very next day. After which, Costa’s visits lasted longer and there were further letters. A regular supply. Engrácia smelt a rat and asked her daughter:

“You’re not making eyes at Júlio, are you, Clarinha?”

“Me?! How could you think of such a thing, Mummy?!”

“Yes, you are! Do you think I haven’t got eyes?!”

The girl burst into tears; her mother said nothing more; and, as soon as she could, Clara gave a letter about what had happened to Aristides, one of the local black kids, to take to the balladeer.

Júlio lived in the neighbouring district, and his family were much better off than Clara’s. His father, Captain Bandeira, had a permanent job at the town hall and was completely different from his son. He was grave and dignified, full of grotesque, municipal self-importance; and he certainly wouldn’t allow Clara into his house. Dona Inês, his wife, didn’t have her husband’s air of solemnity. In fact, she was rather relaxed when it came to niceties: she ate with her hands, she went around bare-foot, and she was an avid collector of local gossip. But even she was inwardly convinced that she and her family were a cut above. Apart from Júlio she had three daughters: Mercedes, the eldest, was an assistant at the town hall; Adelaide was training to be a teacher; and Maria Eugênia, the youngest, was a student at the Institute of Music.

All three had much of their father’s airs and graces; and they had high hopes of marrying university graduates. There was no chance at all that they’d accept Clara as their sister-in-law. And, of course, they looked with disdain upon their brother’s louche habits, his guitar, his plebeian fighting-cocks and, not least, his crushing ignorance.

They were a petit-bourgeois family, without any fortune to speak of, but, because of their father’s job at the town hall, and their rather well-respected schools, they could foresee only one destiny for Clara: that of serving-maid.

For her part, Clara was a sweet, tender girl. With her innocence and essential goodness, you’d say she was far superior to their brother with respect to feelings; and perhaps in education as well, for all that hers had been rudimentary, as could hardly have been otherwise, given the poverty of her family. Júlio was almost illiterate and scarcely had sufficient powers of attention even to read the description of a film on a cinema poster. Semi-imbecile as he was, his mental life centred around the composition of insipid modinhas, full of weird imagery that sublimated his erotic urges in that strait-laced society. But always at the front of his mind was the sexual act.

More than once he’d got into trouble with the police for seducing and deflowering young girls.

After the second case, Captain Bandeira had initially refused to get involved; but Dona Inês, with much begging, weeping and references to the purity of the family’s blood, at last managed to get him to use his influence to avoid Júlio having to marry the sixteen-year-old black girl he’d “mistreated.”

Although she wasn’t thoroughly bad, Dona Inês’s prejudices, together with her blinkered intelligence, wouldn’t permit her to take their poor grandson – the result of the “mistreatment” – to her heart, or even to protect him. So she had no remorse in leaving him to make his own way in the world…

Meanwhile, Captain Bandeira had become so ashamed of his son that he cut him loose, and thereafter they hardly saw each other. So Júlio started living in the cellar, or on the edge of the farm, where he kept his cages of fighting-cocks – just about the most repugnant, ferocious creatures you could ever see. So that was his business, the cocks and the cock-pits. He used to bargain with them, sell them, breed them and bet on them. And that, together with the odd coins his mother gave him, was how he made enough money to keep the shirt on his back. He was the epitome of those domestic vagabonds who can be found in their thousands in the suburbs and districts of Rio de Janeiro.

His mother was continually afraid he’d get into trouble with the police again and she did her best to keep up to date with his love life. Thus it was that she found out about Clara and gave him a stern dressing-down on that account. Her son listened respectfully in silence; but he thought it sensible to write to his girlfriend and explain, as best he could, what had happened. This is what he wrote:

My deer lital girl, I hav to tel you that wen I risseeved yor leter my muther saw it an I maid the big misteak ov confessin evrithin to muther that I luv you an wud do enythin for you but they ar all agenst me witch is the reeson I am telin you not to tek eny notis ov enythin they sey an to fink ov how mutch I am sufrin. Fink abaut it and tel me wever you ar priperd to do what I woz askin you in my last leter. Lots an lots ov luv from this por boy hu adors you so mutch wiv uncorispondid luv. Yor Júlio

Clara was already accustomed to her boyfriend’s grammar and spelling but, although she could write much better herself, her education was insufficient to allow her to look down on such an illiterate suitor. And not only that: her obsession with the balladeer and with getting married completely removed any critical facilities she might otherwise have had. And thus the effect of the letter was exactly as Júlio had hoped. Tears, palpitations, vague anxieties, even vaguer hopes, fantasies of beautiful, unknown horizons – the letter brought her all of that, not to mention the halo of love and dedication which her imagination draped around the balladeer and his ballads.

A few days later she fulfilled her promise, i.e., she left her bedroom window open so that he could climb in. And she did the same thing on several of the following nights, but he never stayed for long.

On Sundays he turned up in the house as usual, sang his ballads and acted as if nothing had happened. One day, Clara felt something strange in her belly. She told Júlio, but he just laughed it off. It was nothing, he said. But it was something: it was their child. She wept. He calmed her, He promised to marry her. And her belly grew and grew…

The balladeer started coming less often, until he stopped coming altogether. And Clara wept. No-one had yet noticed her pregnancy but, through the intimate bond between mother and daughter, Engrácia suspected something and set about interrogating Clara. The girl could no longer deny it: she confessed everything, and those two humble women wept in each other’s arms in the face of the inevitable…

But Clara had an idea. “Before you tell Father, Mummy, let me go to Júlio’s house and speak to his mother.”

The old lady thought it over before saying:

“Good idea! Off you go!”

So Clara put her coat on hurriedly, and off she went. She got a cold reception from one of the daughters when she said she’d like to speak to Júlio’s mother. When Dona Inês eventually came to the door, she was no less brusque. But Clara summoned up all her courage and, with admirable sangfroid, confessed everything – her error and her shame.

“And what do you expect me to do about it?”

“Make him marry me!” blurted out Clara.

“Whatever next! Who do you think you are? Can’t you see that my son couldn’t possibly marry someone like you? He hasn’t put a lead or a muzzle on you, has he?… Off you go, young lady! I don’t want to hear any more about it. Be off with you!”

Clara left without saying a word and, as she walked back along the road, she fought back her tears so that no-one should see her shame. What was she to think? She couldn’t even marry a layabout, someone without any redeeming features. Was that it? And why couldn’t she?

She could see clearly now what her position was in society: permanent inferiority, without the right to aspire to the simplest thing that all girls aspire to. What was the point of all her parents’ efforts to shield her from the world? They were useless and counter-productive, because they prevented her from seeing clearly how low was her position and how little she should expect…

She returned home quickly. When she got there, her father hadn’t yet returned.

She went to see her mother. She didn’t say anything, she just embraced her, weeping. Her mother wept too.

When Clara stopped crying, with the last tears still rolling down her cheeks, she said, “Mummy, I’m nothing in this world.”

 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.

CLARA DOS ANJOS: CONTENTS & INTRODUCTION

TRANSLATIONS FROM PORTUGUESE

From Portuguese: New California, by Lima Barreto

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

CHAPTER II

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

“…Oh! Completely.”

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

“Oh! Certainly. Without a doubt.”

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

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

“Yes! Gold!” Flamel replied decisively.

“How?”

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

“As I said before…”

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

“But what?”

“He’s a freemason.”

“Even better.”

“And when will it take place?”

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

“Say no more.”

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

CHAPTER III

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 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: Late Bet, by Lima Barreto

(My translation of O número da sepultura, which was published in the Revista Sousa Cruz in 1921)

Translator’s note: The ‘animal game’ mentioned in this story originated in 1892 when, in order to attract more visitors, the Vila Isabel Zoo in Rio de Janeiro gave its entry tickets an extra function as raffle tickets. Each ticket had the picture of one of 25 animals on it – the example below is from 1895 – the winning animal being revealed at the end of each day. The game soon ‘escaped’ from the zoo, combinations of numbers were added to the tickets, and the jogo do bicho took hold of Brazil.

The number in the story – 1724 – comprises ‘the ten’ (24), ‘the hundred’ (724) and ‘the thousand’ (the whole number.

A

fter three months of marriage, what did she have to say about it? Was it good? Was it bad? She couldn’t really say one way or the other. Basically it seemed to come down to a simple change of house.

The house she’d left had neither more nor less rooms than the house she’d moved to. The latter wasn’t bigger, as such, but it had a tiny little garden and a sink in the dining room. When all was said and done, the difference between the two was no more than that.

Passing from filial to uxorial obedience, what she felt was what one feels when one moves house. In the beginning there’s hustle and bustle; there’s thinking of ways to adapt the furniture to the new house and, consequently, of ways to adapt the new occupants themselves. But that doesn’t last long. After a month, each item of furniture is firmly anchored to its spot and the inhabitants forget they’ve only recently arrived.

A further factor that stopped her feeling marriage had profoundly altered her way of life was the great similarity between the characteristics and habits of father and husband. Each of them was not only courteous towards her, mild-mannered, calm and well-spoken, but also meticulous, precise and methodical. Thus her transplantation from one home to the other had been uneventful.

Nevertheless, she’d expected marriage to bring something completely new: a radiant and continual joy in being alive, in being a woman. Quite the contrary, however: she felt nothing of the sort.

Whatever was special in her change of status was insufficient to cause her to look at life and the world in an entirely new way. She didn’t notice anything particularly novel…

That lustrous, roseate-and-gold aurora with which marriage beckons all young men and women…. she never saw it at all. That feeling of complete liberty, embracing walks, parties, theatres, visits – everything the idea of marriage suggests to a woman – lasted just one week in her case.

During that week she’d promenaded and gone to parties and theatres, but none of it had greatly engaged her; she’d not been surprised by any great or profound emotion; nor had she dreamt about anything other than the trivialities of day-to-day life. She’d even found it all rather boring! At first she’d felt a certain happiness and contentment; by the end, however, it all seemed tedious and she was looking forward to returning to her quiet suburban home, where she was at ease and could daydream without worrying that people would discover the vague yearnings of her misty, bourgeois, nostalgic little soul.

It was also not uncommon for her, under the influence of all that theatre and cinema stuff, to think nostalgically of her paternal home. She wouldn’t have been able to describe her feelings on remembering the old furniture and other familiar things that had surrounded her in her childhood home. There’d been an old rocking-chair made of jacaranda wood, an antique china milk-jug, painted blue, the octagonal clock without a pendulum – also old – and other domestic knick-knacks, which had engraved themselves on her memory much more strongly than the furniture and utensils she’d recently acquired.

Her husband was a young man of excellent matrimonial qualities and, even in the nebulous state of Zilda’s soul, there was no question of her disliking him or of his having disappointed her. Well-bred, and scrupulous in carrying out his duties in the section presided over by her father, he had all those middling qualities necessary for being a good head of family, a dutiful continuator of the species, and a good chief in a secretariat or some other department, or in a bank or a commercial office.

On the other hand, he had nothing to distinguish him whatsoever with respect to intelligence or activity. He was, and would always be, a serviceable piece of machinery, well-fitted, well-polished and which – properly oiled – would maintain output but always need an external force to set it in motion.

Zilda’s parents had brought the two of them together; her grandmother, whom she thought the world of, had made the usual encouraging noises; and, seeing that everyone was for it, she’d decided – more from curiosity than from love or anything like that – to marry her father’s clerk. They married. They lived very well. Not the faintest shadow had fallen between them, nor was there the least misunderstanding that might mar their married life; but neither did there exist the expected deep and constant mutual empathy with respect to desires, feelings, pain and happiness.

They lived in the placid tranquillity of a lake surrounded by high mountains that prevent gales from ruffling the still surface of the water.

The beauty of the life of that novice couple wasn’t that they managed to make one mind out of two, but rather that each of them continued to be a separate personality, without, however, ever finding the least cause for conflict. Once, however… But we’ll leave that for later – it had a lot to do with their respective character and education.

He, a fastidious bureaucrat, was sober, calm, prudent and dry as dust. She was almost passive and, having been educated under the ultra-conformist, spit-and-polish regime of her father, an old administrator – obedient to the chiefs, the ministers, the ministers’ secretaries and other sycophants, and to the laws and regulations – had neither fits of anger nor whims, nor any strong desires. She found refuge in dreams and was in favour of anything that was generally acceptable.

Her husband’s habits were as regular as clockwork, without the least variation. He’d get out of bed very early, almost at sunrise, even before Genoveva, the maid. Once up, he’d percolate some coffee and, as soon as it was ready, pour himself a large cup. Whilst awaiting the paper (just one), he’d go into the little garden, sweep it, make sure the rose bushes and carnations were tied back, and then feed some maize to the hens and chicks and look after the birds. When the paper arrived, he’d read it meticulously, imbibing his daily quota of opinions about literature, science, art and society, not to mention international politics and the various wars around the world. As for Brazilian politics, he had some opinions but didn’t reveal them to anyone, because they were mainly anti-government and he was looking for promotion.

At half past nine, breakfasted and dressed, he’d take leave of his wife with a perfunctory kiss and off he’d go to catch the train. He’d clock in as per the regulations, i.e. never later than half past ten.

In the office he’d fulfil his most sacred clerical duties with religious fervour.

It had always been thus, except that, after the marriage, his zeal had increased still further, with a view to making his father-in-law’s section a byword for celerity and promptitude in the expedition of paperwork. When he was short of work himself, he’d patrol the desks of his clerical colleagues and if he found a job that was late he wouldn’t hesitate to get stuck into it himself.

After returning from such a day at the office, he’d get changed, sit down to his dinner, and his first words would be: ‘My God, Zilda, I’ve been working like the Devil today!’

‘Why?’

‘Well might you ask! Those colleagues of mine are a bunch of…’

‘Why?! What happened?’

‘Would you believe that Pantaleão’s a week late with that file of his, the one for the Admiralty?! I had to sort it out for him…’

‘Was it Daddy who asked you to do that?’

‘No, but it was my duty, as his son-in-law, to prevent the section he’s responsible for being labelled as sloppy. And anyway… I can’t stand seeing work that’s late…’

‘Does that Pantaleão take much time off?’

‘I should say so! His excuse is that he’s studying for a law degree. But I also studied, and I hardly had any time off.’

With information of this sort, together with titbits he told her about the private lives, moral defects and vices of his colleagues, Zilda became acquainted with life in the directorate where her husband worked: not just the bureaucratic life, but the personal and family life of the individual employees. She knew that Calçoene drank cachaça, that Zé Fagundes lived in sin with a Creole woman who’d borne him children, one of whom had successfully applied to the section and would soon be a colleague of her husband; that Feliciano Brites das Novas had gambled away all his savings; that Nepomuceno’s wife was the lover of General T, with whose help he’d got promoted ahead of all the others etc., etc.

This office stuff was all Zilda’s husband talked to her about; he had no other topic of conversation for her. With visitors and the odd colleague from work he discussed patriotic subjects: the army and navy, our natural resources etc.

He had a special predilection for such discussions and would always find a way to bring them round to the bee in his bonnet, i.e., everything Brazilian was No.1 in the world or, at least, in South America. And woe betide anyone who disagreed! Before they knew it, he’d hit them with his shibboleth: ‘And that’s why Brazil’s not progressing: the worst enemies of Brazil are Brazilians!’

Zilda was a petit-bourgeois woman of limited education and, like any woman, she didn’t have much intellectual curiosity when she heard him talk like this with his friends; it made her bored and sleepy; she much preferred the tittle-tattle about his colleagues’ home life…

Thus her married days slipped by. Already three months had passed and there’d only been one event that had broken the rigid monotony, an event that caused her anguish, that tortured her but which had, at least, dispelled the tedium of her bland, anodyne life for a few hours. Let me tell you about it.

Augusto – Augusto Serpa de Castro, that was her husband’s name – had a dour and grumpy air about him; there was something of the native Indian in his shiny, silky, intensely black hair and coppery complexion. His eyes were large, black, inert and dull, lacking in expression, especially with respect to happiness.

He was five or six years older than his wife, who was coming up to twenty. She, for her part, had a vivacious physiognomy, very supple and varied, although her light-brown eyes generally had a notably melancholic and dreamy expression. Of fine and delicate features, quite tall and with an attractive, slender figure, she had the gracefulness of a reed: not fearing the wind, simply bending even more elegantly under its force, while rustling complaints about being fated to be fragile, quite forgetting that her very fragility is what makes her strong.

After their marriage, they came to live in Saudade Street. It’s a picturesque road, only a little distance from the railway lines of the Central Station, an up-and-down road, blessed with a capricious wobbliness, both along and across. It’s populated with trees and bamboo on both sides, and runs almost directly north-south. The numerous dwellings on its east side crouch in a dip formed by the unevenness of the road, and are even more obscured by the liana-strung trees. The dwellings on its west side, however, rise up and gaze directly out – over those on the other side – at the dawn, with its indescribable sheen of colours and hues.

Just as Augusto had done at the end of the previous month, at the end of the next month – the second since his marriage –, as soon as he’d been paid and had checked the bills, he gave his wife the wherewithal to pay them, together with the money for the rent.

Zilda promptly paid the butcher, the baker and the vintner, but their landlord’s agent was rather tardy in calling. She mentioned this to her husband one morning when he was giving her a small amount to pay the greengrocer and for other little domestic expenses. But he left the rent money with her.

The rent was already four days overdue, and the rent-collector had still not appeared.

On the morning of that fourth day, she woke up happy and apprehensive at the same time. She’d had a dream, and what a dream! She’d dreamt about her grandma, whom she loved deeply and who’d been so much in favour of her marrying Augusto. Grandma had died a few months before they married, but they were already engaged.

The number of her grandma’s grave plot – 1724 – had appeared in her dream and she’d heard her grandma’s voice saying: ‘Bet on this number, my sweet!’

The dream made a deep impression on her, but she said nothing to her husband. After he’d left for the office, she gave instructions to the maid and tried to put the strange dream out of her mind; but there was no way of doing that. Despite all her efforts to the contrary, she couldn’t stop thinking about it; and thinking about it exerted a pressure on her brain that demanded a way out, a safety valve, because she couldn’t contain it any more. She had to speak, to talk, to tell someone about it…

She confided in Genoveva. The cook thought for a moment and said: ‘If I was you, Ma’am, I’d take a bet on the animal game.’

‘What animal is it?’

‘Twenty-four’s the goat, but you shouldn’t just bet on one side. You need to cover each part and give weight to the ten, the hundred, even the thousand. You don’t have a dream like that for no reason.’

‘Do you know how to make out the card?’

‘No, Ma’am. When I place a bet it’s Mr Manuel from the bar who does my card, but Mrs Iracema next door can tell you all about it, Ma’am.’

‘Call her and say I want to speak to her.’

The neighbour arrived in due course and Zilda told her about the dream. Mrs Iracema thought about it for a moment before giving her advice:

‘You can’t ignore a dream like that, young lady. If I was you, I’d make a big bet.’

‘But, Mrs Iracema, I’ve only got eighty thousand for the rent. What can I do?’

The neighbour was cautious with her reply:

‘I can’t give you any advice about that. Do what your heart tells you, but a dream like that…’

Zilda was much younger than Iracema and deferred to her experience and wisdom. She immediately sensed that Iracema was in favour of a bet. That’s what her neighbour’s forty-something-year-old eyes were saying.

It didn’t take long before Zilda blurted out ‘I’ll bet the lot!’

And she added:

‘Let’s do a card. What do you say, Mrs Iracema?’

‘How do you want to do it?’

‘I don’t really know, but Genoveva will.’ And she shouted into the interior of the house:

‘Genoveva! Genoveva! Come here quickly!’

The cook arrived in no time. As soon as her mistress had put the problem to her, the humble negress hastened to explain:

‘I told you, Ma’am, you should cover the group on all sides; you should bet on the ten, the hundred and the thousand.’

Zilda asked Mrs Iracema: ‘Do you understand all that?’

‘Do I understand it?! Of course I do! How much do you want to bet?’

‘Everything! Eighty thousand!’

‘That’s too much, my dear. No one round here would accept it. It would have to be over in Engenho de Dentro, in Halavanca’s house. The bank’s strong there. But who’s going to place the bet? Have you got someone?’

‘Genoveva.’

The cook, who’d remained standing in the corner, listening to the preparations for this domestic derring-do, spoke up at once:

‘I can’t go, Ma’am! They’d only bamboozle me and if you win they won’t pay out to me. You need someone they’ll respect.’

At that point, Mrs Iracema interjected:

‘Carlito may be back from visiting his granny in Cascadura… Maybe he could… Go and find out, Genoveva!’

The girl went, and returned accompanied by Carlito, Mrs Iracema’s son. He was an eighteen-year-old lad, big, strapping, broad-shouldered. The card was duly made out and the lad carried it off to the ‘banker.’

It was just after one o’clock in the afternoon. The draw wasn’t till two. And it was at this moment that Zilda remembered the rent-collector. But there was no danger: if he hadn’t come by now, he wouldn’t come at all.

Mrs Iracema went home, Genoveva went to the kitchen and Zilda went to lie down to try and still the crisis of conscience and the mortifying uncertainty brought on by the risk she was taking. But as soon as she lay down she regretted what she’d done.

What would happen if she lost the money? Her husband… angry… stern… She didn’t know what had possessed her, she was mad… She tried to doze off but, as soon as she shut her eyes, there was the number – 1724. That gave her back some courage and stilled her jangled nerves a little.

And so – with Zilda alternating between hope and despair, anticipating both the satisfaction of winning and the distress of losing, on a roller-coaster of the most fretful imaginings – two o’clock arrived. It was time to find out what luck had in store. She went to the window.

Once in a while a person appeared in that dead and forgotten road. She was tempted to ask these passers-by what numbers had been drawn, but she felt too ashamed.

Suddenly Carlito appeared, shouting: ‘Mrs Zilda! Mrs Zilda! You’ve won!.. On the ten!’

Without even uttering an ‘Ah!’ Zilda fell on to the sofa of her modest lounge in a faint. But she came to quickly, thanks to the vinegar Mrs Iracema and Genoveva rubbed on her face.

Carlito went off to collect the winnings, which came to over two million. When he handed it over, she gave generous tips to him, his mother and Genoveva, the cook.

She’d calmed down completely by the time Augusto got home. She waited for him to get changed and come into the dining room, before announcing: ‘Augusto, if I’d bet the rent money on the animal game… would you have been mad with me?’

‘Of course I would! I’d be really mad with you and I’d tell you off in no uncertain terms, because a housewife does not…’

‘Well, I bet the rent money.’

‘You bet the rent money, Zilda?!’

‘I bet the rent money.’

‘Who on earth made you do such a stupid thing?! Don’t you realise we’re still paying for the wedding?!’

‘Well, we’ve certainly paid for it now!’

‘What do you mean? Don’t tell me you won?!’

‘I won! Here’s the money.’

She took the bundle of notes from her décolletage and gave it to her husband, who’d turned speechless from shock. He counted the notes very carefully, stood up and, hugging and kissing her, said to his wife with great feeling: ‘Aren’t you the lucky one, my sweet angel?!’

And all the rest of that afternoon there was nothing but joy in that house.

Mrs Iracema came, with her husband, their daughters, Carlito and some other neighbours. There was beer and cakes. Everyone was smiling and chatty, and it was only because the newlyweds had no piano that the general contentment didn’t erupt into dance. Augusto even had a patriotic discussion with Iracema’s husband.

The next month – just to be on the safe side – Augusto paid the bills himself.