Tag Archives: Short stories

From Portuguese: And the Sabiá Sings, by Aluísio Azevedo

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

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

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

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

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

From Portuguese: Military Efficiency (A little Chinese story), by Lima Barreto

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

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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: 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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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…

Clasics in Ñspel: Tobermory, by Saki

It wz a ćil, ren-wośt afṭnun v a lêt Ōġst de, ɖt indefiṇt sīzn ẃn partṛjz r stl in s’kṛti or cold storij, n ɖr z nʈñ t hunt—unls wn z bǎndd on ɖ norʈ bî ɖ Bristl Ćanl, in ẃć ces wn me lwf̣li gaḷp aftr fat red stagz. Ledi Blemli’z hǎsparti wz nt bǎndd on ɖ norʈ bî ɖ Bristl Ćanl, hns ɖr wz a fl gaɖ̇rñ v hr gests rnd ɖ tītebl on ɖs ptiklr afṭnun. N, in spît v ɖ blancnis v ɖ sīzn n ɖ trîtnis v ɖ oceźn, ɖr wz no tres in ɖ cumṗni v ɖt ftīgd restlisnis ẃć mīnz a dred v ɖ pịnola n a sbdyd hanc̣rñ fr ōx́nbrij. Ɖ undisgîzd opn-mǎɖd atnśn v ɖ intîr parti wz fixt on ɖ homli neġtiv prṣnaḷti v Mr Cornīłs Apin. V ol hr gests, h wz ɖ wn hu hd cm t Ledi Blemli wɖ ɖ vegist repyteśn. Smwn hd sd h wz “clevr,” n h hd got hiz invteśn in ɖ modṛt xpcteśn, on ɖ part v hiz hostes, ɖt sm porśn at līst v hiz clevrnis wd b cntribytd t ɖ jenṛl enttenmnt. Untl tītîm ɖt de ś hd bn unebl t dscuvr in ẃt d’rex́n, f eni, hiz clevrnis le. H wz nɖr a wit nr a crocećampịn, a hipnotic fors nr a bgetr v aṃćr ʈiatriclz. Nɖr dd hiz xtirịr sjst ɖ sort v man in hūm wimin r wilñ t pardn a jenṛs meźr v mntl dfiśnsi. H hd sbsîdd intu mir Mr Apin, n ɖ Cornīłs sīmd a pìs v trnspaṛnt baptizml bluf. N nǎ h wz clemñ t hv lōnćt on ɖ wrld a dscuṿri bsd ẃć ɖ invnśn v gunpǎdr, v ɖ printñpres, n v stīmloc̣mośn wr incnsidṛbl trîflz. Sayns hd md bwildrñ strîdz in mni d’rex́nz jrñ rīsnt decedz, bt ɖs ʈñ sīmd t b’loñ t ɖ dmen v miṛcl rɖr ɖn t sạntific aćivmnt.

Continued…

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: Estanislau’s Widow, by Artur Azevedo

(My translation of the short story A viúva do Estanislau, which was published in Contos ligeiros in 1974)

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after the death of her husband – poor Estanislau who’d been finally defeated by tuberculosis after a long and terrible struggle –,  it seemed that Adelaide would die as well. People said she loved her husband so much that she’d done everything possible to catch the same disease and lie near him in her grave. She got visibly thinner and everyone said that sooner or later God would grant her wish; but time, which smooths over and repairs everything, was stronger than the pain and, a year and a half later, Adelaide was rosier-cheeked and more beautiful than she’d ever been. Estanislau had left her destitute. The poor boy had not expected to have to put his things in order so soon or, to put it another way, had no way of preparing for the future. While he lived, nothing was lacking; after he died,  everything was lacking and Adelaide, who fortunately didn’t have children, accepted the hospitality offered by her parents. ‘Come and live with us again,’ the old couple said; ‘we’ll pretend you never married.’

Continue reading From Portuguese: Estanislau’s Widow, by Artur Azevedo