From Portuguese: THE WIDOW by Artur Azevedo

(My translation of the short story A viúva)


hey were inseparable. Previously unacquainted, they’d met by chance one day. They’d exchanged a few words and felt attracted to each other by a strange, violent sympathy. After that, they never parted.

They had different occupations. The older one, Leopoldo Borges, was a book-keeper; the younger one, Epifânio Braga, a civil servant. Both of them bachelors and without family.

One day, one of them suggested living together, and the other accepted. They found a convenient first-floor apartment in Resende Street and both of them moved in, establishing a real communism in furniture, clothes and other everyday objects.

As if it had wanted to bring them together and blend one with the other, nature had given them the same physiques, the same heads, the same feet. Leopoldo would put on Epifânio’s shoes; Epifânio would wear Leopoldo’s hats. They both wore each other’s clothes, willy-nilly. There was not a single object that belonged to the one and not to the other. Everything belonged to both.

After they’d read the papers each morning, the two friends would have a cosy chat before lunch, which was cooked at home by a black man, who was butler and valet as well as cook. After lunch they’d go their separate ways, meeting up in the evening and dining together. After dinner each of them took a cigar from the same box, lit it and sat down by the window, where they remained chatting away until nightfall.

There was only one thing in which they differed: Leopoldo was a night bird, Epifânio a home bird. Leopoldo would leave the apartment and be out till midnight, often much later, and Epifânio would stay at home, reading or getting on with some office work. But he was discreet: he didn’t ask Leopoldo where he spent the night.

That’s how these two friends lived, in the most perfect harmony, renewing the heroic times of Pylades and Orestes, when one evening, looking out of the window, they saw, in the window of the house opposite, a beautiful woman who’d moved there the previous day.

‘We’ve got a new neighbour,’ said Leopoldo.

‘We have, and a very pretty one,’ Epifânio replied.

‘Who might she be?’

‘I don’t know.’

‘She’s not all that young.’

‘No, she must be over thirty.’

‘But she’s pretty.’

‘She certainly is.’

‘Do you think she’s with her family?’

‘Must be. Looks like it. A respectable lady.’

The next morning, the black man passed on, without having been asked, the information he’d gleaned from the stall down the way. The neighbour was called Mrs Henrique: she was the widow of a trader who used to run a china shop in Sete Street; she was living with a sister-in-law; she had a brother who worked at the Treasury and two sons at college in Friburgo.

Leopoldo seemed indifferent to the neighbour’s charms, but Epifânio began to take an interest in her, to the extent that he tried to catch sight of her whenever he could and that he felt something lacking if he left the apartment without seeing her.

One day, in the morning, he said ‘Hello’ to her, and she gave him a half-smile in return.

That half-smile, in which masculine conceit, to which Epifânio was not immune, caused him to discover a complete smile, stirred his emotions and, from that moment forward, the widow was all he thought of. He thought about her when he went to bed, he dreamt about her and, when he opened his eyes and got out of bed, he saw her even before he saw the daylight.

The poor boy envied Leopoldo his tranquillity – Leopoldo didn’t even remove his hat on meeting the widow. Embarrassed on account of his love – if that was what it was –, he didn’t dare say anything to his companion and did everything he could, in Leopoldo’s presence, to hide his feelings as far as was possible.

Because Leopoldo used to go out every night, it was mainly at night that Epifânio indulged himself in contemplating the widow. She’d go to the living room, on her own, sit down in front of the piano and play some works by Mendelsohn and Chopin. During that time, Epifânio, at the window, wouldn’t take his eyes off the pianist and, of course, that divine music helped to inflame still further the passion that had taken hold of him.

This lasted a month, with the civil servant feeling himself more and more attracted by the widow until, one night, he saw a man in the open window that looked out on the street. The man carefully closed the window.

Can you imagine how Epifânio felt when, by the light of the streetlamp, he realised that the man was Leopoldo.


This story was ‘rediscovered’ by Mauro Rosso, an expert on writers of the Belle Époque in Rio de Janeiro. Before he included it in his 2009 book Contos de Arthur  Azevedo: os ‘efêmeros’ e inéditos (‘Ephemeral’ and Unpublished Short Stories by Arthur [the spelling varies] Azevedo), it had appeared only in the Correio da Manhã newspaper, in 1906. As Ricardo Oiticica points out in the introduction to the book, the circumstances of its publication in the newspaper were bizarre:

Azevedo sent a short story under a pseudonym to the Correio da Manhã – where he used to write a Sunday article – as part of a competition for his own job, given that the newspaper had decided to replace him. After being declared the winner, he revealed his identity and resigned…


The following biographical details have been translated from the Academia Brasileira de Letras website.

Artur Azevedo (A. Nabantino Gonçalves de A.), journalist and playwright, was born in São Luís in the State of Maranhão on 7 July 1855 and died in Rio de Janeiro on 22 October 1908. Alongside his brother Aluísio de Azevedo, he was one of the founders of the Brazilian Academy of Letters.

His parents were David Gonçalves de Azevedo, the Portuguese Vice-Consul in  São Luís, and Emília Amália Pinto de Magalhães, a courageous woman who, having separated from the trader to whom she had been married against her will, was already living out of wedlock with David Gonçalves when her children were born: three boys and two girls. They got married later on, after the death of her first husband, from yellow fever, in Rio de Janeiro. Artur was already showing a taste for the stage at eight years old, experimenting with adaptations of texts by authors like Joaquim Manuel de Macedo, and soon afterwards he began writing dramas that included roles for himself. Very early on, he began working in business and then he was employed in provincial administration, but was dismissed for publishing satires aimed at the authorities. At the same time, he was putting on his first comedies in the theatres of São Luís. When he was fifteen, he wrote Amor por anexins (Love through Proverbs), which was a great success, being staged more than a thousand times in the 19th Century. Having fallen out with the provincial government, he successfully sat a public examination for clerical posts in the Ministry of Finance, moving to Rio de Janeiro in 1873, where he got a job in the Ministry of Agriculture.

Initially he also taught Portuguese in the Pinheiro College. But it was in journalism that he was able to develop the activities that made him one of the greatest Brazilian playwrights and short-story writers. He founded literary publications, such as A Gazetinha, Vida Moderna and O Álbum. He collaborated, alongside Machado de Assis, on A Estação, and on the newspaper Novidades, where his colleagues were Alcindo Guanabara, Moreira Sampaio, Olavo Bilac and Coelho Neto. He was one of the great campaigners for the abolition of slavery, via his fiery newspaper articles, pieces in theatre magazines and works for the stage, such as O Liberato (The Freedman) and A família Salazar (The Salazar Family), which he wrote together with Urbano Duarte, and which was banned by the imperial censorship, being published later under the title O escravocrata (The Slave-owner). He wrote more than four thousand articles about artistic – mainly theatrical – events in the columns that appeared successively in O País (A Palestra [The Lecture]), in the Diário de Notícias (De Palanque [From the Rostrum]) and in A Notícia (O Teatro [The Theatre]). He had numerous pseudonyms: Elói o herói, Gavroche, Petrônio, Cosimo, Juvenal, Dorante, Frivolino, Batista o trocista, amongst others. From 1879 he edited the Revista do Teatro, alongside Lopes Cardoso. For more than thirty years, he kept up a campaign – eventually successful – for construction of the Municipal Theatre, but he was unable to attend its inauguration.

Although he had been writing short stories since 1871, it was only in 1889 that he resolved to collect some of them in a volume, called Contos possíveis (Possible Tales), which he dedicated to Machado de Assis, his colleague in the transport department, and one of his severest critics. In 1894 he published his second book of short stories, Contos fora de moda (Unfashionable Tales) and another two volumes, Contos cariocas (Rio Tales) and Vida alheia (Other People’s Lives), comprising stories he had written for various newspapers.

Both in his short stories and in his plays, he showed himself to be a great observer of the day-to-day life and habits of Rio de Janeiro. Courtships, marital infidelity, relationships within families, friendships, celebrations – whether festive or funereal –, everything that went on in the streets and in the houses provided subjects for his stories. In the theatre, he carried on from Martins Pena and França Júnior. His plays provide us with a documentary on the evolution of the quondam Brazilian capital. During his life, about a hundred of his plays, of various genres, and thirty of his translations and free adaptations from French plays were staged in Brazil and Portugal. He remains, today, the most permanent and expressive Brazilian playwright ever, in works such as A jóia (The Jewel), A capital federal (The Federal Capital), A almanjarra (The Wardrobe) and O mambembe (The Street Actor).

He also dedicated himself to poetry, where he was considered a representative of parnassianism, but simply on the chronological grounds of belonging to the generation of Alberto de Oliveira, Raimundo Correia and Olavo Bilac, who were all influenced by French poets such as Leconte de Lisle, Banville, Coppée and Heredia. But Artur Azevedo’s expansive and cheerful temperament actually had nothing in common with that school. A lyric and sentimental poet, his sonnets fall perfectly into the tradition of the Brazilian love sonnet.

Works: Carapuças, poetry (1871); Sonetos (1876); Um dia de finados, satire (1877); Contos possíveis (1889); Contos fora da moda (1894); Contos efêmeros (1897); Contos em verso (1898); Rimas, poetry (1909); Contos cariocas (1928); Vida alheia (1929); Histórias brejeiras, selected and prefaced by R. Magalhães Júnior (1962); Contos (1973).

Theatre: Amor por anexins (1872); A filha de Maria Angu (1876); Uma véspera de reis (1876); A jóia (1879); O escravocrata, in collaboration with Urbano Duarte (1884); A almanjarra (1888); A capital federal (1897); O retrato a óleo (1902); O dote (1907); O oráculo (1956); Teatro (1983).

Translator’s note:

Humberto de Campos wrote as follows in his preface to Azevedo’s Contos cariocas (1928):

He was the most popular short-story writer of his age and he is the one – of his generation – who is still remembered most fondly and with the most spontaneous admiration… His straightforwardness and good-humour has won him, and will continue to win him, the reputation of being the preeminent – and most affable – portraitist of Rio de Janeiro in its period of transition, i.e. in the period that saw the rise and fall of Ouvidor Street.


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