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Joaquim Maria Machado de Assis

Joaquim Maria Machado de Assis, pron. , often known as Machado de Assis, Machado, or Bruxo do Cosme Velho, (June 21, 1839, Rio de JaneiroSeptember 29, 1908, Rio de Janeiro) was a Brazilian novelist, poet and short story writer. He is widely regarded as the most important writer of Brazilian literature. However, he did not gain widespread popularity outside Brazil in his own lifetime.

Machado's works had a great influence on Brazilian literary schools of the late 19th century and 20th century. José Saramago, Carlos Fuentes, Susan Sontag and Harold Bloom are among his admirers and Bloom calls him "the supreme black literary artist to date.

Biography

Son of Francisco José de Assis (a mulatto housepainter, the son of freed slaves) and Maria Leopoldina Machado de Assis (a Portuguese washerwoman from the Azores Islands), Machado de Assis lost both his mother and his only sister at an early age. Machado is said to have learned to write by himself, and he used to take classes for free will. He learned to speak French first and English later, both fluently. He started to work for newspapers in Rio de Janeiro, where he published his first works and met established writers such as Joaquim Manuel de Macedo.

Machado de Assis married Carolina Xavier de Novais, a Portuguese descendant of a noble family. Soon the writer got a public job and this stability permitted him to write his best works. Machado de Assis began by writing popular novels which sold well, much in the late style of José de Alencar. His style changed in the 1880s, and it is for the sceptical, ironic, comedic but ultimately pessimistic works he wrote after this that he is remembered: the first novel in his "new style" was Epitaph of a Small Winner, known in the new Gregory Rabassa translation as The Posthumous Memoirs of Brás Cubas (a literal translation of the original title, Memórias Póstumas de Brás Cubas). In their brilliant comedy and ironic playfulness, these resemble in some ways the contemporary works of George Meredith in the United Kingdom, and Eça de Queirós in Portugal, but Machado de Assis' work has a far bleaker emotional undertone. Machado's work has also been compared with Laurence Sterne's Tristram Shandy.

Machado de Assis could speak English fluently and translated many works of William Shakespeare and other English writers into Portuguese. His work contains numerous allusions to Shakespearean plays, John Milton and influences from Sterne and Meredith. He is also known as a master of the short story, having written classics of the genre in the Portuguese language, such as O Alienista, Missa do Galo, "A Cartomante" and "A Igreja do Diabo".

Along with other writers and intellectuals, Machado de Assis founded the Brazilian Academy of Letters in 1896 and was its president from 1897 to 1908, when he died.

Narrative style

Machado's style is unique, and several literary critics have tried to explain it since 1897. He is considered by many the greatest Brazilian writer of all times, and one of the greatest in the world as a romance and short story writer. His chronicles do not share the same status and his poems show a curious difference with the rest of his work: while his Machado's prose is serene and elegant, his poems are often shocking for the use of crude terms, sometimes similar to those of Augusto dos Anjos, another Brazilian writer.

American literary critic Harold Bloom considers Machado de Assis one of the greatest 100 geniuses of literature, to the point of considering him the greatest black writer western literature. He places Machado alongside writers such as Dante, Shakespeare and Cervantes. His works have been recently studied by critics in various countries of the world, such as Giusepe Alpi (Italy), Lourdes Andreassi (Portugal), Albert Bagby Jr. (United States), Abel Barros Baptista (Portugal), Hennio Morgan Birchal (Brazil), Edoardo Bizzarri (Italy), Jean-Michel Massa (France), Helen Caldwell (United States), John Gledson (England), Adrien Delpech (France), Albert Dessau (Germany), Paul B. Dixon (United States), Keith Ellis (United States), Edith Fowke (Canada), Anatole France (France), Richard Graham (United States), Pierre Hourcade (France), David Jackson (United States), Linda Murphy Kelley (United States), John C. Kinnear, Alfred Mac Adam (United States), Victor Orban (France), Houwens Post (Italy), Samuel Putnam (United States), John Hyde Schmitt, Tony Tanner (England), Jack E. Tomlins (United States), Carmelo Virgillo (United States), Dieter Woll (Germany) and Susan Sontag (United States).

Critics are divided as to the very nature of Machado de Assis's writing. Some, such as Abel Barros Baptista, classify Machado as a staunch anti-realist, and argue that his writing attacks Realism, aiming to negate the possibility of representation or even the very existence of a meaningful objective reality. Realist critics, such as John Gledson, are more likely to regard Machado's work as a faithful transcription of Brazilian reality--but a transcription executed with daring innovative technique. Historicists, such as Sydney Chalhoub, argue that Machado's prose constitutes and expose of the social, political and economic dysfunction of Second Empire Brazil. One area in which critics are largely in agreement, however, is best represented by the analysis of Roberto Schwartz. Schwartz points out that Machado's extraordinary innovations in prose narrative are driven by his need to expose the hypocrisies, contradictions and dysfunction of nineteenth-century Brazil. Schwartz argues that Machado inverts many of the narrative and intellectual conventions of his day in order to reveal the pernicious ends to which they are used.

Machado's literary style has inspired many Brazilian writers and his works have been adapted to television, theater and cinema. In 1975 the Comissão Machado de Assis ("Machado de Assis Commission"), organized by the Brazilian Ministry of Education and Culture, organized and published critical editions of Machado's works, in 15 volumes. His main works were translated to many languages and great contemporary writers such as Salman Rushdie, Cabrera Infante and Carlos Fuentes and film director Woody Allen have confessed being fans of his fiction.

In his works, Machado involves the reader, breaking the so called fourth wall. This may be one of the earliest uses of this technique.

Dom Casmurro

Machado de Assis was fascinated with the theme of jealousy, and many of his novels are built on this intrigue. One of his most popular ones, Dom Casmurro, is still widely read in Brazilian schools. The volume reflects Machado de Assis' life as a translator of Shakespeare, and also his influence from French realism, especially Honoré de Balzac, Gustave Flaubert and Émile Zola. In the novel, he also refers to Much Ado About Nothing, The Merry Wives of Windsor, Hamlet, Romeo and Juliet, and most importantly, Othello. In fact, Helen Caldwell wrote a book comparing the Shakespearian play to Dom Casmurro "The Brazilian Othello of Machado de Assis - A study of Dom Casmurro". It gives new meaning to this story. Although Bento - the main character who got the nickname found in the title - had not killed his wife, as Othello had, both are stories of how jealousy can destroy a happy life in marriage. "Dom Casmurro" is a nickname given to Bento in an unimportant case described in the first chapter of the book. While he travels by train from the city to Engenho Novo, he encounters a young man who reads him some poems. Bento, who was tired that day, falls asleep without hearing what is being read to him. The next day, the ignored poet began calling him "Dom Casmurro". "Dom" because of his noble appearance, used in a derogative way. Casmurro is a now old-fashioned word in Portuguese that means "taciturn".

Bento has loved Capitu since childhood. His widow mother had promissed him to be a priest, therefore he can't marry his beloved girlfriend. But an arrangement, his mother sends another boy to fullfill her promise, and Bento and Capitu get married. Some time later, he suspects she is having an affair with his friend, Escobar, who later dies in an accident. Capitu gives birth to a son, Ezekiel, and Casmurro's internal conflict heightens as people point out that Ezekiel resembles Escobar.

The major point in this novel is not Capitu's supposed infidelity, but rather, her husband's version of it. The entire story plays out from Dom Casmurro's point of view, and the subjectivity turns everything into fiction. This focuses the reader's attention on the telling of the story, rather than the story itself.

Poetry

Machado de Assis' first published works were poetry, but his output in this genre is not as well considered as his prose.

  • Crisálidas (1864)
  • Falenas (1870)
  • Americanas (1875)

List of works

Notes

Further reading

  • Andrade; Mário. (1943) Aspectos da literatura brasileira. Rio de Janeiro: Americ. Ed.
  • Aranha; Graça. (1923) Machado de Assis e Joaquim Nabuco: Comentários e notas à correspondência. São Paulo: Monteiro Lobato.
  • Barreto Filho. (1947) Introdução a Machado de Assis. Rio de Janeiro: Agir.
  • Bosi; Alfredo. (Organizador) Machado de Assis.
  • Bosi; Alfredo. (2000) Machado de Assis: o enigma do olhar. São Paulo: Ática.
  • Bosi; Alfredo. Folha explica Machado de Assis.
  • Broca; Brito. Machado de Assis e a política.
  • Chalhoub; Sidney. (2003) Machado de Assis, historiador. São Paulo: Companhia das Letras.
  • Faoro; Raimundo (1974) Machado de Assis: pirâmide e o trapézio. São Paulo: Cia. Ed. Nacional.
  • Gledson; John. Machado de Assis: ficção e história.
  • Gomes; Eugênio. Influências inglesas em Machado de Assis.
  • Magalhães Jr.; Raimundo. Vida e obra de Machado de Assis.
  • Massa; Jean-Michel. A juventude de Machado de Assis.
  • Meyer; Augusto. (1935) Machado de Assis. Porto Alegre: Globo.
  • Meyer; Augusto. (1958) Machado de Assis 1935-1958. Rio de Janeiro: Livraria São José.
  • Paes; José Paulo. Gregos e baianos.
  • Pereira; Astrogildo. (1944) Interpretação. Rio de Janeiro: Casa do Estudante do Brasil.
  • Miguel-Pereira; Lúcia. (1936) Machado de Assis: Estudo critíco e biográfico. São Paulo: Cia. Ed. Nacional.
  • Schwarz; Roberto. Ao vencedor as batatas.
  • Schwarz; Roberto. Duas meninas.
  • Schwarz; Roberto. (1990) Um mestre na periferia do capitalismo. São Paulo: Duas Cidades. Trans. as A Master on the Periphery of Capitalism. Trans. and intro. John Gledson. Durham: Duke UP, 2001.
  • Veríssimo; José. História da Literatura Brasileira.

External links

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