Category Archives: Lima Barreto

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)

 

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 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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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!

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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 name’s for Brazil; “Sultan Abbas the First” = Epitácio Pessoa, President of Brazil between 1919 and 1922 – any similarity to the current president of the United States of America is purely coincidental.)

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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.

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From Portuguese: Clara dos Anjos, 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.

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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.

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From Portuguese: Late Bet, by Lima Barreto

(A translation by Francis K Johnson 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.

From Portuguese: Burials at Inhaúma, by Lima Barreto

(A translation by Francis K Johnson of Os enterros de Inhaúma, which was published in Feiras e mafuás in 1922)

P

erhaps it’s just me, but the Inhaúma municipal cemetery doesn’t give me any of the feeling of peace, resignation and melancholy, the ineffable poetry of the Beyond, that I find in other cemeteries. I think it’s ugly, impersonal, with a touch of inland revenue about it. But even though the cemetery itself doesn’t interest me, I always pay attention whenever I see a funeral procession on its way there, no matter whether rich or poor, on foot or in motor vehicles.

The poverty of most inhabitants of the suburbs helps preserve that rural custom of carrying the loved one on their shoulders. It’s a sacrifice that confirms a true friendship and is one of the most sincere and devout ways in which the living can pay homage to the dead.

When I see them passing, I always wonder how long they’ve already been carrying that voyager to such distant lands, and it always strikes me they’ve still got a fair way to carry their friend. I usually watch the funeral processions when I’m sitting at the corner of José Bonifácio Street and Royal Road. In the mornings I like to read the papers in a bar down there. When the mornings are clear I can see, apart from the newspapers – printed in that special dark-blue ink – , an old farmhouse nearby, its top half orangey-coloured; I can see oxcarts, pack mules carrying panniers of coal, carts loaded with bananas, small herds of cattle, with their herdsman riding behind, his right foot always wrapped in rags.

At times I take a longer break from reading the newspaper and cast my eyes lazily over the soft, green carpet of the meadow opposite, losing itself in the distance.

I start daydreaming about life in the country; I wonder what it used to be like here. Indians, cane plantations, slaves, tree trunks, kings, queens, emperors – all this blends with the sight of those mute objects that say nothing of the past.

Suddenly there’s the bell of a tram, a car horn, a lorry carrying beer bottles; the bucolic scene fades and, with it, nostalgia for those long-gone times when the carriages of Don João the Sixth used to pass by here. It all disappears and I’m listening to the hammering of iron at a factory being built nearby.

But the funeral of a child is approaching, and off I go again.

The coffin is being carried by girls. It’s tiny, but still heavy. I can see clearly that it’s a struggle.

They’re dressed in white, with high-heeled shoes. Taking the weight of the little coffin as they walk along the potholed road, it’s not easy for them to fulfil their pious task. And, again, I remember how far they’ve still to go! But at least they’re about to be free of one torment: the paving in Senator José Bonifácio Street. They’re entering Royal Road, in the stretch where the Municipality’s done no more than pile up stones, leaving the ancient public way in the state of virginal nudity in which it was born. It’s been like that for years.

As soon as the little pallbearers step on to the packed clay of the old path, I imagine the relief they must feel from their feet to their heads. And then I see it in their faces. Behind them come other girls, who’ll promptly take turns in the touching mission of carrying a dead child to its last dwelling in this world; and, straight after them, closing the cortege, sombre gentlemen in black, hat in hand, together with simple artificial wreaths and cheap, woodland flowers wrapped in palm leaves.

The paving of Senator José Bonifácio Street, which must have been laid down at least fifty years ago, consists of misaligned cobbles and is full of unexpected bumps and holes. It’s bad for the dead. It even brought one back to life…

Let me tell you. The hearse was pulled by mules. It had come from over in Engenho Novo, and all was going well. The mules were keeping up a regular pace at the front and the hearse was followed by friends of the deceased, in six or seven two and four-wheeled calashes. When the cortege got to Todos os Santos station, it turned right from Arquias Cordeiro Street, down into José Bonifácio Street. The hearse and the calashes immediately started bouncing like storm-tossed boats. Everything inside them was shaking. The coachman on the hearse could hardly keep his seat, swinging from left to right and right to left like a mast in a fierce gale. Suddenly, before they got as far as the ‘Two Brothers,’ the hearse tipped into a pothole, swung violently to one side, the coachman was spat out, the straps securing the coffin snapped, the coffin came sliding down and smashed into the cobbles and – oh, the horror! – from inside there emerged a foot, the foot of the deceased, on his way to burial: quick, alive, very much alive. Once he’d put two and two together, he couldn’t contain his fury and let out a curse:

‘A pox on the poxy municipulty what leaves this poxy road in such a poxy state! Me on me way to me final rest! Thanks to ye an yer neglectance I’m come back to this world to hear me wife’s complanations about the cost of livin’ what’s nohow the fault of mine and put up with the impertinations of me boss Mr Selrão on account of ’is ’emorrhoids what’s also nohow the fault of mine. Ah! Poxy municipulty, did ye ’av an ’ed I’d show ye ’ow strong me fist is!  I’d kill ye for bringin’ me back to this poxy life!’

I wasn’t a witness to the incident; I didn’t even live in the area at the time; but I have it on the highest authority that it’s true. Anyway, there was another very interesting funeral when I was living there, and I heard about it immediately afterwards, from people who’d been present.

It was a Felisberto Catarino who’d died: a polisher and upholsterer in a furniture workshop in Cascadura. He used to live in Engenho de Dentro in his own house with a bit of land where there were some orange trees and a big, shady mango, beneath which he and his friends and colleagues used to meet up on Sundays for a drink and a game of bisca.

He was very popular, both at the workshop and in the neighbourhood, so it was no surprise his funeral was a big event. From where he used to live, it was a long haul to Inhaúma cemetery, but his friends wouldn’t be dissuaded: they were going to carry him there themselves. They had a tipple at the house in his honour and another at every public house they passed along the way. Once they’d got out of town, even the pall-bearers were leaving the coffin by the side of the road and going into the pubs ‘to gather strength.’ At one of the last stop-offs, the current team of pall-bearers agreed among themselves to leave their heavy load for the others and slip ahead to the cemetery gates. (It has to be admitted that, by now, both they and the others were worse the wear for drink.) The other teams came, separately, to the same agreement about slipping ahead; and so the whole cortege, divided into groups, set off for the gates of the consecrated ground, leaving the coffin with the mortal remains of Catarino abandoned at the roadside.

At the cemetery gates they all waited to see the coffin being borne in by one of the other groups; but there was no bearing in. After a while, one of the bolder members of the cortege turned to the others and put this question:

‘Would you not be thinking as we’ve lost the deceased?’

‘How so?’ asked the others in unison.

‘Well now, he’s not here and we are.’

‘That’s very true,’ said one of them.

Another suggested:

‘Will we not go and find him? Wouldn’t that be the best thing?’

And they all set to and went off to look for the overlooked…

Oh, you sad funeral processions to Inhaúma! Were it not for those occasional picturesque – nay, rocambolesque – touches giving us so much cause to think, no one would notice you; and you wouldn’t have the opportunity to convince us that there are worse things than dying.

 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 m��goas 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.

Translator’s note (2): The Todos os Santos station mentioned in this story was opened in 1868. All that remains of it are some ruins by the side of the track. The photo below is from 2009.

From Portuguese: The Library, by Lima Barreto

(My translation of the short story A biblioteca)

T

he older he got, the clearer was his memory of his childhood home. It was over there near Conde Street, where the noisy old ‘Puffing Pedros’ used to clatter down the Tijuca line, scattering sparks as they went. It was a three-storey mansion surrounded by meadows full of fruit trees; there was no shortage of rooms and alcoves, which were inhabited by family – both immediate and extended –, servants and slaves; just behind the façade and snaking across the whole length of the building was the staircase, which was lit by a large stained-glass skylight. Hardwood had been used throughout; the floors were made of ipê-peroba planks almost as wide as the tree trunks from which they came. Even the shower block and the carriage shed were made of good-quality wood, all covered by fine, heavy tiles. What was memorable about the furniture and fittings? Those chairs of jacarandá-cabiúna wood, including the massive settle with its three arched backrests, which looked more like a bed than something for a living room; those huge, heavy console tables and especially, on top of them, those enormous vases of Chinese porcelain, which you don’t see any more; those immense ancestral portraits all over the walls – where had it all gone?! He didn’t know… Had he sold it off, all that stuff? Some of it; and a lot of it he’d given away.

But some of it had gone to his late brother, who was Brazilian consul in England, where the family had remained; and some to his sister who was up in Pará with her husband… Put simply, it had all disappeared. What really surprised him was the disappearance of the silverware, the spoons, the knives, the tea strainer… And what about the candle snuffer? What fond memories of that useless old thing! Made of silver! He could see it in his mother’s hands when, during those long evenings, in the dining room, waiting for tea – what wonderful tea-times! – she used to trim the wicks of the candelabra without missing a beat of the story she was telling us about Prince Tatu…

Over to one side, in a hieratic pose like a sculpture on a Theban tomb, old Aunt Benedita would be sitting, bolt-upright against the high, narrow backrest of the jacarandá-wood chair, with her forearms on the armrests, and her feet on the footstool, attentively observing the domestic scene with her sharp, old-woman’s eyes. Then servants and slaves on chairs round the wall, and their children squatting on the floor, listening… He’d been a child…

The usual, every-day tea set was so beautiful! Black porcelain, with ornaments in relief and subtle touches of glinting enamel – where had that come from?! From China? from India?

And the tub made of bacurubu wood, in which Inácia, his nanny, used to bath him – where was that now? Ah! All those changes! He wished he’d never sold the family home…

Home is where all the family memories are. Once it’s gone, it’s as if it takes its revenge, dispersing the family relics, which somehow conserved the soul and the essence of departed loved ones… But he wasn’t able to keep that great big place going… Not the way things were, what with legislation, progress…

All that lumber, all those things, which were of no great value when he was a boy, would’ve been worth a lot today… He still had the teapot, a scummer, a gueridon with inlaid work… He was convinced that if he’d kept the house, he’d still have it all today; he’d be able to look at his father’s severe, aquiline profile in the portrait by Agostinho da Mota, a teacher at the academy; and also the figurine in Sèvres porcelain portraying his mother when she was a girl – the local artists never managed to catch her likeness on canvass. But he hadn’t been able to keep the house… The size of families in Rio de Janeiro was gradually diminishing, and the house was too big for his own family. And then the share-out of what was left, declining income, all of that had taken the house from him. It wasn’t his fault; it was inexorable social progress…

After his forty-fifth birthday he often remembered the old house and, whatever his mood, the memories were more and more vivid. His father, Counsellor Fernandes Carregal, a lieutenant colonel in the engineer corps and a teacher at the Central School, was likewise the son of a sergeant-major in the Engineer Corps and a teacher at the Royal Military Academy, which Count Linhares, one of Dom João the Sixth’s ministers, had founded in Rio de Janeiro in 1810 ‘in order to promote the study of pure science in Brazil’ as it says in the Academy’s charter. As is well-known, that Academy was the forerunner of the Polytechnic and the now-extinct Praia Vermelha Military School. Carregal’s son, however, hadn’t been to any of those institutions; and, although he was a pharmacist, he’d never felt attracted by his father’s specialism – chemistry. His father had dedicated himself to it in a very Brazilian way: his passion for it was almost entirely… bibliographical. His specialist library was both comprehensive and valuable. He owned genuine incunabula – if that’s the word – of modern chemistry. Whether originals or translations, the library contained real gems. There were almost all of De Lavoisier’s memoirs, in addition to his extraordinarily erudite Traité élémentaire de chimie, présenté dans un ordre et d’après les découvertes modernes.

In the words of his son, the old professor could never hold that venerable book in his hands without succumbing to emotion.

‘You see the evil of men, my son! Lavoisier published this marvellous work at the beginning of the Revolution, which he sincerely welcomed… But the Revolution sent him to the guillotine. You know why?’

‘No, Papa.’

‘Because, before the revolution, he’d been a tax collector, or something like that. And the reason for that, my boy, was just to finance his experiments. So, that tells you what the world is like and that, in order to serve humanity, you have to be superhuman.’

Apart from the Lavoisier – the crown jewel of his collection – Counsellor Carregal had: Dalton’s New System of Chemical Philosophy; Priestley’s Expériences sur les différentes espèces d’air; the works of Guyton de Morveau; Berzelius’s Traité in the translation by Hoefer and Esslinger; the Statique chimique by the great Berthollet; Liebig’s Organic Chemistry, in the translation by Gerhardt; all of them old and venerable books. The most modern work was Wurtz’s Lessons on Chemical Philosophy of 1864, but it was clear it had never been opened. There were even some enormous books on alchemy, dating back to the beginnings of typography, which would have been read by monks or necromancers standing at tall desks; among these was a copy of Le livre des figures hiéroglyphiques, attributed to the French alchemist Nicolas Flamel.

Plus many more books on different – but equally valuable and weighty – subjects: a copy of Euclid’s Elements, in Latin, printed in Uppsala in Sweden at the end of the sixteenth century; Newton’s Principia – not a first edition, but nevertheless a precious edition from Cambridge; and copies of Mécanique analytique by Lagrange and Géométrie descriptive by Monge.

And this rich library of works on the physical and mathematical sciences was the library which, for almost fifty years, Counsellor Carregal’s son had been moving with him arduously from house to house ever since he lost his father and sold the mansion in which those books had lived, quietly and comfortably, for years and years.

Perhaps you’re thinking it was all dry stuff, but that’s not the case. It also contained other expressions of the human spirit, for example: the Latin classics; Bougainville’s Le voyage autour du monde; Rousseau’s La nouvelle Héloïse with dry-point engravings; a beautiful edition of Os Lusíadas in Elzevir typeface; and a copy of O Brasil e a Oceania by Gonçalves Dias, dedicated, in the author’s own hand, to Counsellor Carregal.

Fausto Carregal – that was the son’s name – had never been separated from this library he’d inherited. For better or worse he’d dissipated everything else he’d inherited; but he’d kept the Counsellor’s books intact and had preserved them religiously, even though he didn’t understand them. He’d studied a bit, enough to become a pharmacist, but he’d always been distant from the heart of books, namely from thinking about and becoming deeply absorbed in them.

As soon as he could, he got himself a civil service job that had nothing to do with his degree; he immersed himself in his bureaucratic functions, forgot the little he had learned and got as far as section head; but he never abandoned either his father’s books or the old mahogany bookcases inlaid with mother-of-pearl.

What he hoped was that one of his children would come to understand those books, and he devoted all his paternal efforts to that end. He managed to get his son Álvaro, the eldest, into the Pedro the Second College but, by the second year, Álvaro had turned his attention to the young ladies, had got engaged and – scarcely nineteen years old – had got himself a poorly paid job in the postal service; he married soon afterwards. Their life now was that of a poor married couple with lots of children; sadder still because, although their home was joyless, neither was it exactly disharmonious. Husband and wife each did their bit to carry the load…

The second son hadn’t wanted to continue his education. He’d got an office job at some firm and joined a rowing club; now he was on a good wage and going off to sports events every Sunday in plus fours and a spotless panama hat with an idiotic little pennant stuck in the hat band.

Fausto’s daughter was living in Niterói, where her husband was an employee at the town hall.

Only Jaime, his youngest child, was still living at home; so good, meek and affectionate to his father, that he’d always seemed destined to be the intelligent one, the intellectual of the family, the worthy heir of his grandfather and great-grandfather. But that’s not how it turned out; nowadays Fausto remembered sadly how, when Jaime was little, he used to say to his wife, before he set out for the office:

‘Take good care of Jaime, Irene! He’s the one who’s going to read my father’s books.’

As a child, Jaime had been so weak and sickly, despite his bright, lively eyes, that his father had feared he was about to lose his last hope of an heir who’d really appreciate the Counsellor’s library.

When Jaime was born, the oldest was nearly twelve years old; Fausto had been overjoyed by that unexpected birth, but it had filled his wife with worry.

When Jaime was four, Fausto could already see which way the wind was blowing with his two elder sons and he’d lost hope that either of them would ever be able to understand the books of their grandfather and great-grandfather, those books like embalmed corpses in the shelf graves of those mahogany bookcases, awaiting an intelligence among the descendants of their first owners capable of returning them to the full and complete life of thought and fecund mental activity.

One day, when he was thinking about his father and his youngest child – his last hope for the library – it occurred to Fausto that, despite his father’s love for chemistry, he’d never actually seen him with test tubes, graduated cylinders or retorts. All he’d been interested in was books. As had been the way with erudite Brazilians, his father had a horror of laboratories and conducting experiments; and he himself…

His son Jaime, however, would be different. He wanted to see him soldering, using a Bunsen burner, a pipette, a laboratory flask…

‘He’s going to outdo his grandfather, Irene! He’s going to make discoveries. Just you wait and see!’

But his wife, the daughter of a doctor who’d become famous while still young, had no enthusiasm for that sort of thing. Life, for her, was a question of living as simply as possible: no big efforts – or even little efforts – to stand out from the common run of things; no onwards and upwards; everything down to earth, very down to earth… Live your life, full stop! What was the point of learning or reputation? They were much more likely to bring problems than money. That was why she’d never gone out of her way for her sons to learn anything other than reading, writing and arithmetic; and, even then, only so they could get jobs that weren’t manual, dirty or beneath their status.

As Jaime grew up, he remained meek, restrained, very well-behaved; but with some strange quirks. He had problems with lighted candles placed on top of furniture, because they reminded him of the candles he’d seen round a corpse at a nearby house; thunder sent him off crouching in a corner, quiet and frightened; lightning scared him so much that he trembled, and then he’d burst into weird laughter… But he wasn’t unwell; he actually grew into quite a strong lad. There were nights, however, when he had a sort of fit, followed by uncontrollable weeping, and this came and went for no reason at all. As soon as he was seven years of age, his father couldn’t wait to give him his first primer, because he’d noticed, with great satisfaction, that his son was curious about books and about pictures and illustrations in the papers and magazines. He used to look at engravings for hours, absorbed, staring at them with those brown eyes, those honest, innocent…

He placed the primer in his hand: ‘A – E – I – O – U. Say A.’

The little one would say ‘A’; his father: ‘E’; Jaime: ‘E’; but whenever he got as far as ‘O,’ it seemed as if he were mentally exhausted; he’d clam up suddenly, stop paying attention, stop listening to his father; and if his father insisted or told him off he’d burst into tears:

‘I don’t want to, Papa! I don’t want to!’

He spoke to friends of his who were doctors. They advised him to wait until the child was older; so he waited another year, during which he tried to encourage his son by constantly reminding him:

‘You need to learn to read, Jaime. People who can’t read don’t get anywhere in life.’

In vain: it all turned out just like before. When Jaime turned twelve, Fausto took on a teacher with the gift of patience, a retired civil servant, to see if he could inculcate at least a modicum of reading and writing in his son. The teacher did indeed set out with great patience and perseverance, but caused the child – who’d been incapable of rancour up until then – to lose his meek-and-mildness.

Except when his father was present, Jaime had only to hear his teacher’s name and he’d erupt into insults and sarcastic remarks about the old man’s appearance and mannerisms. At the end of two years the exhausted former bureaucrat gave his notice, having managed to teach Jaime no more than a smattering of reading and arithmetic.

Fausto looked around for a solution, but found nothing. He spoke to doctors, friends, acquaintances. His son’s case was exceptional; it was pathological. If there was a solution, it wasn’t to be found here, only in Europe… The child didn’t know how to learn properly, couldn’t even read, write or do sums properly! Oh my God!

What to do occurred to him without any great upheaval, without any sudden violence; it came slowly, stealthily, gently, on tiptoe, like the fatal conclusion it was.

In the morning, old Carregal had the habit of reading the daily papers in the room where his father’s books and bookcases were. As the years passed and his disappointment increased he did this more and more religiously, as an act of devotion to his father’s memory. Sometimes he wept at the sight of all those thoughts buried alive there; alive, but unable to fertilise other thoughts… Why hadn’t he studied?!

Through this daily devotion he persuaded himself that, although he didn’t understand those profound and ancient books, he did respect and love them just like his father – forgetting that, to love them truly, it would first be necessary to understand them. Books are gods who need to be contemplated analytically before they can be adored, and they don’t accept adoration in any other way…

That morning he’d gone to read the papers in the room where the books were, as usual, but he couldn’t read the papers.

He started looking at the volumes in their mahogany setting. He saw his father, the mansion, the house slaves, the children, his grandfather’s official uniform, the portraits… He remembered his father even more clearly; he saw him reading, surrounded by those portraits, at a great table, taking a pinch of snuff now and then from a little tortoiseshell box, then sneezing and dabbing his nose with a big Alcobaça handkerchief, reading all the time – with a stern expression – those bulky, revered books.

Tears came to the eyes of that old grandfather, but he had to staunch them immediately: his youngest son was just entering the room. At that moment, however, Jaime didn’t have a second thought for those venerable ancestral volumes. A cocky and burly sixteen-year-old, he had neither worries nor doubts. He was completely uncorrupted by ideas and well-nourished by the narrow boundaries of his mind. Without more ado he asked his father: ‘Papa, can I have five crowns to go to the football match this afternoon?’

The old man looked at his son. He looked at his stupid and strong adolescence, at his unattractively shaped head; he had a good look at that last fruit of his flesh and blood; and he was not reminded of his father. He replied:

‘Yes, son. I’ll give it you in a minute.’

And then, as if those words had brought to mind something he’d forgotten, he added after a pause:

‘Tell your mother to send for a can of kerosene from the shop before it shuts. Don’t forget, do you hear?!’

It was Sunday. They had lunch. Jaime went off to the football match; his mother went to visit their daughter and grandchildren in Niterói; and old Fausto Carregal remained alone in the house, because it was the cook’s day off.

For a seventy-year old, Fausto Fernandes Carregal, son of Engineering Corps Lieutenant-Colonel and Central School Professor Counsellor Fernandes Carregal, was still a strong man. Having given a final adjustment to the point of his white goatee beard, he started – all on his own, slowly but surely, in twos, in fours, in sixes, like a priest performing a sacred rite – carrying the books which had belonged to his father and grandfather out into the back yard. He made several piles of them, here and there, carefully doused each pile in kerosene, and set fire to each one in turn.

At first it wasn’t possible to see the flames, because of the thick, black smoke, but as soon as the fire had taken hold they burst out victoriously in vivid, coruscating yellow, the colour which – popular wisdom has it – is the colour of despair.

 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: LIMA BARRETO: THE DECLINE AND FALL OF POLICARPO QUARESMA, Contents and Introduction

 

CONTENTS

INTRODUCTION

Pictures of places (and a battleship) mentioned in the novel

PART 1

I – The Guitar Lesson
II – Radical Reforms
III – News from Genelício
IV – The Disastrous Consequences of an Official Proposal
V – The Figurine

PART 2

I – ‘The Haven’
II – Thorns and Flowers
III – Goliath
IV – “Stand firm. I’m on my way.”
V – The Troubadour

PART 3

I – Patriots
II – “You’re a dreamer, Quaresma”
III – … gliding silently back…
IV – The Boqueirão Jail
V – Olga


___

INTRODUCTION

I’m writing this introduction the day after watching – from a distance of some 5,600 miles – Brazil beat Chile on penalties [28 June 2014] in an extraordinarily exciting match in the world cup. Having got swept up in the excitement myself, I feel slightly disloyal to the author whose undisputed masterpiece Triste fim de Policarpo Quaresma I’m presenting in translation here.

Continue reading FROM PORTUGUESE: LIMA BARRETO: THE DECLINE AND FALL OF POLICARPO QUARESMA, Contents and Introduction