(The following biographical details have been translated from the Academia Brasileira de Letras website.)
Coelho Neto (Henrique Maximiano C. N.), novelist, critic and playwright, was born in Caxias in the State of Maranhão on 21 February 1864 and died in Rio de Janeiro on 28 November 1934.
His parents were Antônio da Fonseca Coelho, who was Portuguese, and Ana Silvestre Coelho, a native Indian. When he was six years old, the family moved to Rio, where he went to the Pedro II College. Afterwards he started to study medicine, but soon gave up.
In 1883 he enrolled at the São Paulo Law School. His rebellious spirit found fertile ground there and he got involved in a student protest against one of the professors. In order to avoid punishment, he transferred to Recife, where he finished the first year of the law course, with Tobias Barreto as his principal teacher.
He returned to São Paulo, where he identified himself with the campaigns for abolition of slavery and establishment of a republic. This brought him into conflict with some of the conservative teachers.
He moved to Rio in 1885 without completing the law course and became part of the group comprising Olavo Bilac, Luís Murat, Guimarães Passos and Paula Ney (which he portrayed in his novel A Conquista [The Conquest] of 1899) and he joined in enthusiastically with José de Patrocínio in the abolitionist campaign.
He got a job as secretary of the Gazeta da Tarde newspaper and it was about this time that he began publishing his literary works.
In 1890 he married Maria Gabriela Brandão, daughter of the educationalist Alberto Olympo Brandão. The couple had 14 children.
He was appointed secretary of the Rio de Janeiro State government and, the following year, commercial director of the State. In 1892 he was appointed history of art professor at the National Fine Arts School and, subsequently, professor of literature at the Pedro II School.
In 1920 he was appointed professor of the history of theatre and dramatic literature at the Drama School, where he became director shortly afterwards.
In 1909 he was elected federal deputy for Maranhão, a post he was re-elected to in 1917. He was also secretary general of the National Defence League and a member of the consultative council of the City Theatre.
Apart from having various posts, Coelho Neto wrote assiduously for magazines and newspapers in Rio and other cities. In addition to his real name, he wrote under innumerable pseudonyms, including: Anselmo Ribas, Caliban, Ariel, Amador Santelmo, Blanco Canabarro, Charles Rouget, Democ, N. Puck, Tartarin, Fur-Fur, Manés.
Having practised almost all the literary genres, he left a prolific body of work and was, for many years, the author with the largest circulation in Brazil. Despite the attacks he has suffered from more recent generations, his presence in Brazilian literature has remained quite significant.
In 1928 he was elected ‘Prince of Brazilian Prose Writers’ in a competition organised by the newspaper O Malho. When João Neves da Fontoura succeeded to Coelho Neto’s chair in the Brazilian Academy of Letters in 1936, he made a speech which gave a good profile of the author:
‘The two great strands in Coelho Neto’s work are imagination and verbal power… His brain was like one of those modern movable stages that facilitate magic. He was a unique prose improviser… Endowed with extraordinary energy, he worshipped form.’
Publications: Rapsódias, stories (1891); A Capital Federal, novel (1893); Baladilhas, stories (1894); Praga, stories (1894); Fruto proibido, stories (1895); Miragem, novel (1895); O rei fantasma, novel (1895); Sertão, stories (1896); Inverno em flor, novel (1897), Álbum de Caliban, stories (1897); O morto, novel (1898); Romanceiro (1898); Seara de Rute (1898); A descoberta da Índia, historical narrative (1898); O rajá do Pendjab, novel (1898); A conquista, novel (1899); Saldunis (1900); Tormenta, novel (1901); Apólogos (1904); A bico de pena, stories (1904); Água juventa, stories (1905); Treva (1906); Turbilhão, novel (1906); As sete dores de Nossa Senhora (1907); Fabulário (1907); Jardim das oliveiras (1908); Esfinge (1908); Vida mundana, stories (1909); Cenas e perfis (1910); Mistério do Natal (1911); Banzo, stories (1913); Meluzina (1913); Contos escolhidos (1914); Rei negro, novel (1914); O mistério (1920); Conversas (1922); Vesperal (1922); Amos (1924); Mano, livro da saudade (1924); O povo, novel (1924): Imortalidade, novel (1926); O sapato de Natal (1927); Contos da vida e da morte, stories (1927); Velhos e novos (1928); A cidade maravilhosa, stories (1928); Vencidos (1928); A árvore da vida (1929); Fogo fátuo, novel (1929).
Plays: Teatro, Vol. I: O relicário, Os raios X, O diabo no corpo (1911); Vol. II: As estações, Ao luar, Ironia, A mulher, Fim de raça (1907); Vol. III: Neve ao sol, A muralha (1907); Vol. IV: Quebranto e nuvem (1908); vol. V: O dinheiro, Bonança, O intruso (1918); vol. VI: O patinho torto, A cigarra e a formiga, O pedido, A guerra, O tango, Os sapatos do defunto (1924).
Feuilletons: O meio (1899); Bilhetes postais (1894); Lanterna mágica (1898); Por montes e vales (1899); Versa (1917); A política (1919); Atlética (1920); Frutos do tempo (1920); O meu dia (1922); Frechas (1923); As quintas (1924); Feira livre (1926); Bazar (1928).
Translator’s note: Lima Barreto didn’t mix his words when it came to Coelho:
Mr Neto is the most noxious individual to have appeared in our intellectual midst. […He] has transformed the whole art of writing into a pure chinoiserie of style and phrase. No one should think of asking him for anything like a perfect understanding of any of the characteristics of our population: he wouldn’t be able to provide it. Coelho Neto has become fossilised amidst the mould of what he calls style, period music, exotic images and other things which […] are not the proper end of literature.
Revista Contemporânea, 15 February 1919
The two of them were also vehemently opposed on the subject of football – that recent British import. Coelho, a big fan of the game (and of sport in general), was an ardent Fluminense supporter, living opposite the ground for some years. (An article in Época Sportiva on 19 April 1919 relates how this eminent writer once invaded the pitch to remonstrate with the referee.) Two of his sons were famous footballers for Fluminense: Mano died after a collision during a match in 1922; Preguinho, the younger of the two, also played for Brazil, scoring his country’s first ever World Cup goal, in 1930.
Lima, on the contrary, loathed football, which he considered both brutish and elitist. (Even if he’d been a sporty type and had wanted to, he wouldn’t have been able to play for Coelho’s team: black players weren’t allowed in football teams in the early years; Fluminense’s nickname of Pó-de-Arroz—roughly ‘Powder Puffs’—comes from a black player’s having managed to sidestep the ban with the aid of white make-up.)
Mauro Rosso has written a fascinating study of the polarity between these two authors in his 2010 book Lima Barreto versus Coelho Neto: um Fla-Flu literário (Lima Barreto versus Coelho Neto: a derby match). If literary reputation were football, perhaps one could say that, after several decades of extra time, Lima has won the derby match with a few goals to spare.