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EÇA DE QUEIROZ

Novelist: 1845-1900

by Carlos Loures 

Translated by John D. Godinho

 

Eça de Queirós (photograph)

A FRENCH CITY CALLED LISBON...

WHEN IT ALL BEGAN... 

1845:  José Maria Eça de Queirós is born on November 25, in Póvoa do Varzim. – 1855:  He is enrolled in the Colégio da Lapa, a boarding school, in the city of  Oporto. – 1861:  He enters the School of Law at the University of Coimbra. – 1864:  Meets literary historian Teófilo Braga. – 1865:  Begins acting activities in the Teatro Académico and meets poet and writer Antero de Quental. – 1866:  Graduates from Law School; goes to live with his father, in Lisbon.  Moves to Évora, founds and manages the newspaper O Distrito de Évora. –1867:  The newspaper is published for the first time.  Queirós makes his debut as a lawyer in a court appearance; returns to Lisbon. – 1869:  Is present at the inauguration of the Suez Canal. – 1870:  He is appointed Administrator of the District of Leiria.  Eça joins Ramalho Ortigão to write The Mystery of Sintra Road.  Takes examination for the consular service and obtains first place. – 1871:   Holds conferences at the Casino Lisbonense. – 1872:  Is appointed Consul in Havana, Cuba. – 1873:  Visits de U.S.A. on official business for the Ministry of Foreign Affairs. – 1874: Eça is transferred to Newcastle, in England. – 1876:  Publishes The Sin of Father Amaro. – 1878:  Publishes Cousin Bazílio and writes The Capital. – 1878:  Becomes Consul in Bristol, England. – 1879:  While in France, writes The Count of Abranhos. – 1880:  Publishes The Mandarin. – 1883:  Becomes corresponding member of the Royal Academy of Sciences. – 1885:  Visits Émile Zola, in Paris. – 1886: Marries Emilia de Castro Pamplona. – 1887: Publishes The Relic. – 1888: Becomes Consul in Paris.  Publishes Os Maias. – 1889:  Attends the first dinner of the “Life’s Losers Club.”  1900:  Publishes The Correspondence of Fradique Mendes and The Illustrious House of Ramires.  On August 16, Eça dies in Paris.

 

LISBON IN AUGUST

The reporter decides to go to Paris to interview Eça de Queirós.  

 

It’s August 1.  Lisbon has become a bowl of warm broth.  I stop at the Rossio for a cold drink.  In the shade of the buildings, in the cafés and esplanades everyone discusses politics, the Boxer Uprising, but, above all, they discuss the assassination of Humbert I, King of Italy.  Slowly, I walk up to the Chiado, stopping now and then to fan myself with my straw hat.  When I walk into the newsroom at Rua Larga de São Roque, I notice an ominous look on Neves’s face. I can feel trouble in the air.  Neves is an army reserve officer who was put in charge of the newsroom by the management.   He limps on one leg, the result of a wound he suffered in Coolela, during an uprising in Mozambique.  He has a thunderous voice; his manners are crude.  Everybody wonders why the management appointed him to the top spot.  Some say it’s because there’s such a grave look about him, others say that it’s because he is a freemason like the owner of the newspaper.  I don’t know. I like him, even if he sometimes behaves worse than the barbarians he used to deal with not so long ago in the army.  He asks me if my article on Count von Zeppelin’s flight is ready.  I tell him that it’s hanging in midair pending the receipt of some information that I expect to get today.  I’ll finish it tonight and bring it in tomorrow.  With his eyes bulging, he says: 

“Make sure you’re not late again.  As long as I’m in charge here, the only thing hanging in midair will be your nuts!”

He coughs, makes a pause and asks me if I know Paris.  Of course I do.  When I finished school, my father paid for a trip to the City of Lights where I had a ball for two weeks.  Well, all he told me when he gave me the check drawn on the Credit Lyonnais Bank was that the trip was meant to round out my cultural education.  Oh, you can’t imagine how those two weeks helped my cultural education!

My answer to his question is “yes.” He then asks me if I speak French.

Bien sûr, monsieur,” I answer, being extra careful about my pronunciation.  “I’m like a Maltese cat,” I add.  “I also get by at the piano.” His face remains solemn.  He has no sense of humor, but, let’s face it, my reply wasn’t really all that funny.  In his military lingo, he explains that the paper’s owner, Dr. Seabra Pinto, wants someone to go to Paris to interview Eça de Queirós.  Sousa, our Paris correspondent, telegraphed saying that Eça had returned from Switzerland after having been told by the doctors that his case is hopeless, that his time is running out.  Neves says that, in spite of everything, he had thought of me for the job.  Then, just to make sure that this doesn’t go to my head, he adds:  “Our best reporters are away on vacation, so I suppose a living dog is better than a dead lion.” I pretend I didn’t hear his last remarks.

 

For those who don’t know it, Eça holds the position of Zeus in my Olympus.  That’s why I’m so upset by the news that his condition has become worse and that the end may be near.  Three of his brothers were also victims of TB.  There’s a lump in my throat and I can’t go on making fun of Neves.  I thank him for having thought of me, in spite of it all, and tell him I hope I’m up to the mission.  He looks me straight in the eye.  He is used to my irreverent humor, which doesn’t seem to displease him even though he never answers back.  He wants to make sure that now I’m being serious.  He sees that I am and begins giving me the details about the trip.

 

THE DAWN OF THE NEW CENTURY, OR MAYBE NOT

Caricature of Eça de Queirós by Rafael Bordallo Pinheiro (from Album das Glórias).

 

 

 

I take a slow train from Rossio Train Terminal to Entroncamento, making a connection with the Sud-Express.  I keep falling asleep and waking up.  The heat is unbearable.  It’s late afternoon and we’re already in Spain.  There’s an argument going on between a fat Spanish priest and a skinny businessman from Lisbon.  The latter says that we’re in the 20th century, while the priest argues that we will remain in the 19th century until December 31.  The new century, he says, begins on January 1, 1901.  They notice that I’m awake and draw me into the conversation, each telling me his point of view.  Both want me as an ally.  The man from Lisbon winks at me, appealing to my patriotism.  I tell them that I had not thought about the matter and that I considered myself already in the 20th century.  “However, if you really look at it... (I’m thinking out loud, while my traveling companions eagerly await my verdict).  Let’s suppose we are at the beginning of a new era. That new era begins only on the first day of the first year.  Day one of year one, then, is the first day of January, 1901.”

“Of course!”, says an exulting fat man.

“Fiddlesticks!”  retorts the skinny fellow, obviously irritated.

I go back to sleep.

 

AS IN A NOVEL

 

We’re now beyond Hendaye, in France; there’s been a renewal of the passengers in the compartment.  As the landscape races by the window, so a multitude of thoughts race through my mind.  What do I know about Eça de Queirós other than what I learned from the careful and repeated reading of his writings?  As in a novel by Camilo Castelo Branco, his birth was shrouded in mystery.  His birth records say:  “José Maria – son of José Maria d’Almeida Teixeira de Queirós; mother unknown.” Mother unknown? The truth will only come out later.  Dr. José Maria de Almeida Teixeira de Queirós, young deputy to the Attorney General for the Crown in Ponte Lima, had had a secret romance with Carolina Pereira de Eça, daughter of the deceased Colonel José António Pereira de Eça.  She is 19.  Upon finding out about the affair, her mother is strongly opposed to the relationship. For that reason, the marriage takes place only after the mother’s death in 1849, when little José Maria is already four years old.  Ever since birth, he had been under the care of a wet nurse.  When the nurse dies, he goes to live with his paternal grandmother.  Then, in 1855, when his grandmother passes away, he is enrolled in Colégio da Lapa. And so he continues to live a lonely childhood, far from his parents.  One of his teachers is Joaquim da Costa Ramalho, whose son, Ramalho Ortigão, will become one of Eça’s great friends.

Years later, at the University of Coimbra, he makes friends with the poet Antero de Quental and with literary historian Teófilo Braga.  It’s his awakening to a literary life...I keep jotting down in a notebook the questions I intend to ask Eça de Queirós.  I hope he is in a condition to answer them.  I hope the doctors are wrong and that the tuberculosis won’t take him away.

 

EVEN IN AUGUST, PARIS IS ALWAYS PARIS

 

 

 

 

Here I am, back in Paris. It’s been two years.  New century, old century, it doesn’t matter.  Paris is always Paris, even in August.  Sousa, the paper’s correspondent, is waiting for me at the station and, on the way to the hotel, keeps describing the wonders of Parisian civilization.  There is the World’s Fair, which opened in April.  He pulls a leaflet out of his pocket and begins to read:  “A gigantic show celebrating the end of a century marked by prodigious scientific and economic progress, the threshold to another era whose greatness is predicted by wise men and philosophers, and whose accomplishments will, undoubtedly, go beyond the dreams of our imagination.” I tell him that I’ll try to visit the fair after I finish my assignment.  There is also the II Olympic Games of the Modern Era, which started in July, brought to his native city by Baron de Coubertin.  But not very successfully, Sousa tells me.  The competition is going on, but nobody seems to notice it.  Also in July, Paris inaugurated its first subway line running between Porte Maillot and Porte de Vincennes.  More than 10  kilometers in about 30 minutes.  They call it the “metropolitan.”   Just to say something, I tell him that I’ll see if I have some time to try it.

 

 

 

 

A SUNNY MORNING

 Eça in Neully wearing the "cabaia" given to him by the Count of  Arnoso.

 

 

The following morning is bathed in magnificent sunlight when our carriage pulls up at Eça’s mansion, in Neully.  As I get off the carriage and Sousa pays the driver, I can hear the laughter of children.  I find out later that the house next door functions as an orphanage.  It’s recess time.

A maid answers the door.  Eça’s wife, D. Emilia, comes to greet us.  The smile on her face can’t hide the shadows of her profound worries.  After the usual exchange of amenities, she tells us that Dr. Melo Viana who, together with Dr. Bouchard, has been following Eça’s illness, no longer believes in a recovery.  There was some hope that the climate of  Glion, near Geneva, might be helpful.  Eça took the trip, accompanied by Ramalho Ortigão, who was on a short visit to Paris and had offered to go with him.  But after a couple of weeks, he came back worse than before.  This morning, the French doctor gave him a special serum that he obtained at the Pasteur Institute.  Eça is feeling better but we’re afraid that it might be a false improvement.  Yesterday, D. Emilia and the doctors were discussing the advisability of the interview, but Eça overheard the conversation and insisted on receiving us:

“Come now,  tell the young men to come.  They can’t do me any harm and I’ll probaby enjoy it.”

That’s why I received the telephone call at the hotel this morning confirming the interview.

D. Emilia and one of her cousins, the patient’s gentle nurse, accompany us into a room brightly lit by the morning sun.  Eça, quite thin, very pale and with sunken eyes, is waiting for us, smiling, sitting on a sofa, dressed in a light “cobaia,” a tunic with wide sleeves.  Later he tells us that he received it as a present from Count of Arnoso, who had brought it from China.  “I look like a mandarin,” he says.

“Did you come to get information for my obituary?” he asks, jokingly, after we’re introduced.  “Not at all;  God forbid!” I explain to him that, on Sundays, we publish interviews with outstanding figures of Portuguese culture.  He, of course, is among those people.  He pretends to believe me;  then he asks me to start the inverview.  The ladies excuse themselves and leave the room.  Now there are only the three of us.  I take out my notebook and begin.

 

COIMBRA – IN ILLO TEMPORE (In those days...)

Eça with friends in his garden in Neully.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Eça becomes an actor.  

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Eça discovers Antero de Quental.

 

“Let’s talk about your days at Coimbra.  You arrived there in 1861.  There was a lot of intellectual agitation in those days.  How was your first contact with college life?”

“In those days, romanticism was in our souls, as prescribed by the Gospel.  We would devoutly pray before a bust of Shakespeare.  I can remember the small room in Forno Street, I believe, on the top floor, almost within reach of the humorous whispers exhanged by the stars.  The bust, which to us represented the toil and torment imposed by art, was placed there, next to a medallion with an effigy of Dante and to Jean-Baptiste Greuze’s Innocence.   I also remember a print of Michelangelo’s Last Judgment and two Dutch sketches.  On the bookcase, above Voltaire, Diderot, Rousseau, Mirabeau and some volumes of an encyclopedia, there was a picture showing Napoleon, standing on a prominent rock along the shore, listening to the wailing of the sea and watching the flight of the seagulls.  There were also a collection of mineral rocks and two skulls, properly washed and polished, that smiled peacefully.  On the wall there was a large cross drawn in charcoal.  Written around it, there were verses from the Bible and couplets from à Kempis’s Imitation of Christ.  But, just because I had come down with a bad cold, an unbeliever had all that ascetic decorations removed, saying that this type of mysticism, which forbids exposure to the sun, the heat, warm baths, flannel clothing, and to all bodily care, was harmful to me and that atheism was, in my case, a matter of hygienic necessity.  Another unbeliever advised that the walls should be lined with human skin. Yet another found human skin too ostentatious and stated, in a most saintly tone, that he would prefer ‘university skin,’ since it is more modest and long-lasting. Another insisted that the walls be covered with pages taken from textbooks.  I was vehemently opposed to the last suggestion and presented the same painful reasons that would be given by a prisoner if the walls of his cell were to be decorated with a fabric made of his own feelings of guilt and regret!  We drew lots.  And  that’s how destiny decided that the walls should be lined with human skin.  We dispersed, slowly and sadly, to go out and kill people!”

“While he was studying at Coimbra, your father became one of the founders of the Academic Theater.  You were active there as an actor.  It is common knowledge that you are a sensitive, but shy, person, so how did you manage to overcome your shyness and become an actor?  What difficulties did you have to face?

“The hardest part had to do with diction.  There was one word that I couldn’t pronounce properly:  it was – solidarity.  On opening night, I decided to ‘sing’ it, dividing the syllables like musical notes.  We used to gather in the prop room to discuss the superiority of Greek art.  While putting up curtains or moving scenery, we would acclaim the qualities of Michelangelo’s Moses and Rodin’s The Thinker,  in serious detriment to the Venus de Milo – the great Aphrodite. After the show, there were late dinners which resembled Gamacho’s wedding feast! One night, we all went out dressed in cloaks and wearing laurel wreaths, like members of Petrarch’s generation, singing a very plaintive song.  As we walked down the street, we came upon a gathering of several families.  They started screeching like frightened birds and scattered in all directions, when they saw the group of crowned ghosts reciting a love poem dedicated to God in the name of Petrarch’s disciples!”

“That, certainly, must have been a very interesting period.”

“No doubt about it.  That was a period of renewal, full of life, of spiritual vigor, and so full of the hazy, melodious convulsions of the soul.  We loved the theater. It represented passion, struggle, pain, hearts that were torn and moaned while bleeding and writhing in resplendent sceneries.  Our theater was Shakespeare, Victor Hugo, and the somber and magnificent Spanish comedy writers of the 16th century.” 

“What roles did you play?”

“I wasn’t very versatile.  For three years, I acted as a noble father, to the enthusiastic applause of the student body, while playing all types of characters in comedies and dramas – all translated from French. Sometimes, I acted as a serious, opulent father wearing gray sideburns; other times, I was a trembling villager, leaning on my staff.  Now and then we would try to do something more original, something not as familiar as Dumas’s The Lady of the Camelias, or Labiche’s An Italian Straw Hat.  We would get together, paper and pen on hand, but, among all those very imaginative young men born in small villages in the province, only one idea would come up:  translate something from French.  However, one day Teófilo Braga, who was tired of France, wrote a terse and violent play to which he gave the title of  Garção.  It told the story and misfortunes of Garção, a poet.  I played the main character, wearing breeches and a wig.  It was a sublime performance, but Garção was received with indifference.  There was a unanimous shout echoing off-stage: “There you are...a flop!  No wonder!  Portuguese plays, huh!...”

“But you certainly had other intellectual interests, aside from the theater.”

“Of course.  And not only intellectual interests.  Little by little, the theater had introduced me to literature.  I became involved with a sizeable literary community, complete and well organized led, to a certain degree, by a most excellent and great man, one of the glories of this century.

“Do you mean Antero de Quental?”

“Who else?”

“You probably met him at the time of the famous ‘Coimbra Controversy.’ How did you see the debate?”

“You know, when the ‘Good Sense and Good Taste’ question came up, I was in my senior year at Law School.  I was a typical student, that is, I was more concerned with playing around in the streets of the Upper City on moonlit nights than with my studies or with literary matters.  I was only vaguely aware of the transcendence of that struggle which shook the foundations of the country’s intellectual life.  On the other hand, my young friend, it’s not easy to recall, after so many centuries, the dogmatic reasons why the two literary rivals, the groups from Coimbra and Lisbon, tore into each other that way.  At any rate, I don’t think that old António Castilho, who was the target of so much criticism, had really committed himself to such a hard form of literature as to be in the way of the slender movement with a new spirit. Therefore, Antero’s protest was moral, rather than literary.  His fiery letter dealing with ‘Good Sense and Good Taste’ was, in matters of the mind, a continuation of the war he had begun against all the petty tyrants, pedagogues, obsolete headmasters  and spiritual vigilantes that he would come across as he, a free man, entered a world he wished to be free.”

“But you still haven’t told us how you met Antero.”

 

“Yes, of course.  I fell into a trap door and I got lost.  Now, let me see... It was around 1862 or 1963 in a soft April or May evening.  I was leisurely crossing Feira Square, carrying my notebooks, when I saw a man standing on the steps of the New Cathedral.  He was reciting verses extemporaneously, as he stood on the steps romantically lit by the moonlight – in those days the moon was still romantic.  There was a glow on his face, on his thick blond hair with its tawny sparkles, and on his slightly darker red beard, styled and dressed in the Syrian manner.  I stopped, mesmerized, feeling that this was not a picaresque and gentle improviser, like the poets of the long gone 18th century.  Rather, he was a poet-troubadour, a bard of a new era, awakening souls and announcing truths.  Truly, the man sang of Heaven, of the Infinite, of worlds that keep spinning loaded with humanities, of a supreme light inhabited by pure thought...  In awe, I tapped the elbow of a fellow on-looker and he whispered, in a tone of ecstasy and amazement: ‘That’s Antero!’ Then, as I stood before this Heaven where slaves were more gloriously welcomed than learned men, I loosened my cloak and sat on the steps, almost at Antero’s feet, and listened, enraptured, like a disciple, as he continued to improvise.”

 

A FRENCH CITY CALLED LISBON
 

“We’ve seen how important Coimbra was in the awakening  of your intellectual life.  Lisbon might be considered as the second stage of your intellectual development.  What influence did the capital have on your work?”

Let me tell you.  With my bachelor’s degree in my pocket, I finally decided to take the stage-coach and bid goodbye to the plains along the Mondego River.  In the very same coach, there was a Frenchman, a traveling-salesman.  He was a huge, tough and uncouth character, wearing spectacles, with a massive lower jaw like that of a horse.  As the stage-coach moved along, he would stare through the dusty windowpanes and take in the farmlands, the vineyards, the orchards, as if weighing them one by one and attributing them a price.  I don’t know why, but he gave me the impression of a loan shark assessing the assets of a client who had gone bankrupt.  I had a conversation with this animal;  he seemed surprised at my command of the French language and at my knowledge of French politics and literature.  I can still remember his protective tone of voice when he said, as he tapped me on the shoulder:  “You’re right, France must be loved...Above all else! And then, you know, it’s necessary that we build things for you, like railroads, ports, things...However, you have to give us your money...”

“France and its culture used to strongly influence Portuguese politicians and intellectuals.  In fact, once you came out with the aphorism:  Portugal is a country translated from the French vernacular. Some time later you changed it to:  Portugal is a country translated from French slang.”

“That’s true.  And where the first aphorism, which was more subtle and precise and fit reality like a glove, had a cool and impatient reception, the second was received with commotion and circulated from hand to hand like a shining new gold coin.  I’ve seen it glowing in an almanac, in a comedy at the Principe Real Theater and in a sermon.”

“To what do you attribute the difference in the reception?”

“Who knows?  Perhaps the refence to the vernacular didn’t sit well with people because it reminded them of pedantry, narrow-mindedness, of the Academy of Sciences, of a pinch of snuff and other unpleasant things.  On the other hand, the reference to slang suggests, at least to the people of Lisbon, such things as happy bantering, codfish and onion stew, the Chiado district, fried fish in vegetable-gardens on sunny and dusty afternoons and other delicious experiences of which, unfortunately, I am deprived.”

“But let’s get back to Lisbon. Was the French influence already that noticeable when you arrived there?”

“And how! I remember the first thing that impressed me when I arrived in the capital – it was a large billboard announcing the show of Mlle. Blanche with her “French Chansons,” at the Cassino.  It was France all over again.  Always France.  I had left it behind in Coimbra where it predominated in the form of philosophy;  I found it taking over the city of Lisbon, doing high kicks, in the form of the can-can. It was then that my social career began in Lisbon.  But it was really as if I were living in Marseille.  The theaters showed only French comedies; men read only French books; the shops sold only French fashions; the hotels served only French food. If a patriotic citizen wished to see a comedy by Almeida Garrett or eat baked rice or buy a bolt of Portuguese woolen cloth, he wouldn’t be able to do it in Lisbon, capital of the kingdom and symbol of Portuguese life.”

“What about politics?”

“Much to my dislike, I was forced to engage in politics due to a special type of political intrigue which is as typical of Lisbon as the traditional fog is of London.”

“...?”

“In what type of politics?  Good question! French politics!  Lisbon was divided between the fanatical followers of Rochefort  and Gambetta, on one side, and the defenders of the emperor, on the other.  My, how I conspired! My wish was to become a member of the International Socialist Organization.  I remember one night, a few of us had gathered around a cup of coffee at Martinho’s Café, and, prompted by heaven knows what new government scandal, we started shouting, with raised fists and full of rage:  ‘This has got to stop! We’ve suffered enough.  We must put up barricades, we must take to the streets!’ Take to the streets – now, that was a terrible threat.  We descended the one step of Martinho’s Café!  When we were in the street, bathed by the warm moonlight of July, we heard fireworks coming from the Passeio Público and turned our frenzied steps in that direction – all because one of us, who was the most excited, had his rendez-vous there with a certain lady whenever they had firework displays.

 

UPON REACHING MATURITY
Eça marries Emilia

 

“Those of us who love your writings know that the experience gained during those years would be the beginning of a brilliant literary career.  We know of your activities in journalism with the founding of the newspaper O Distrito de Évora, your collaboration in the Gazeta de Portugal and the creation of the discussion group Cenáculo, together with Batalha Reis and Antero de Quental.  We followed your footsteps during your trip to the Middle East by reading your wonderful articles in the Diário de Notícias.  We read your books, your articles and your pieces of serial fiction.  We know all about your diplomatic career as consul in Havana, Newcastle and Briston.  Then, upon reaching your forties, you decided to marry.  Not much is known about your marriage. Do you mind telling us about it?”

 “Really, there’s no story to my marriage. When Emilia and I were together, during a long period of close relationship that lasted three months, we talked about books, about cooking, about the latest articles in the Ilustrado, a little about religion, a lot about the society ladies of the Granja.  We talked about art, about dogs, about growing beets and, now and then, we talked about António Fontes, the politician.  It was only when we parted that, all of a sudden, we realized something and we cried it out over the distance that separated us:  ‘My goodness, we forgot to tell each other that we should join our destinies!’  This is the only picturesque aspect of our marriage.  The rest is rather common;  it’s not worth the lyric splendor of a Romeu and Juliet and, certainly, it could not be set to music by a listless Gounod.  It’s only the story of two good people who mutually place their hearts in the very safe shelter of profound esteem.”

 

THE “LIFE’S LOSERS CLUB”

The Life's Losers Club.

 

“And what about the “Life’s Losers Club?”

“Once, there was a group of friends gathered around a table at the Tavares Restaurant.  Those present were:  the Count of Ficalho, Ramalho Ortigão, Oliveira Martins, António Cândido, Carlos Lobo D’Ávila and myself.  We thought of founding a society, much like the ones that existed throughout Europe.  We wanted a place where we could talk and debate intellectual problems...while we ate.  Ramalho came up with the idea and Oliveira Martins suggested the title, based on comments made by Jules Claretie in La Vie à Paris  about the Parisian dinner groups.  In Claretie’s opinion the dinners were gatherings frequented by intellectuals who were ‘attristés souvent, bien changés, les uns glorieux, les autres battus de la vie (...frequently saddened, changed, some famous, others defeated by life.).’  Oliveira Martins said:  Battus de la vie!  That’s what we are, also – life’s losers.  We intended to give the country a ‘New Life’ and we are, after all is said and done, only ‘Life’s Losers.’ The name stuck.  The initial group kept growing.  On a beautiful, peaceful, almost moonlit evening on March 26, 1889, we all met at the Bragança Hotel.  All except Guerra Junqueiro who was in Viana do Castelo and couldn’t make it on time.  Half-way through the dinner, we received a telegram from Junqueiro in which he greeted us in verses which showed his great talent and spirit.  The group has held a weekly dinner ever since that day.  I never miss one whenever I’m in Lisbon.”

“How important is the ‘Life’s Losers Club’ to Portuguese society?  Some people have asserted that you have political ambitions, that there is going to be a govenment made up of members of the club...”

“That’s hogwash, my friend.  The ‘Losers’ has offered the highest  moral and social examples of which this country can be most proud.  Eleven individuals who, for the past six years, have belonged to the same group without ever having smashed one another’s face; who have never divided themselves into right or left wing factions;  who have not elected a president and a permanent secretary;  who have no by-laws duly approved  by the government;  who haven’t issued any kind of stock; who have no anthem or flag embroidered by a group of ladies who are as ‘anonymous as they are dedicated!’  These men have never been praised in the Diário de Notícias even though they make up such a social wonder that certainly, in the future, when one speaks of moral values he will speak of the ‘Brangança eleven’ much the same way as one speaks of ‘England’s eleven’ when referring to heroic feats.”

 

THE BALANCE
Eça, Consul in Paris.  

Eça is now visibly tired.  His answers continue as lucid as ever, but he needs to stop frequently to breathe and cough.  D. Emilia appears at the door and signals that it is time to end the interview.

“One final question.  After all these years of struggle in behalf of the Portuguese language and literature, do you feel that you’ve been properly rewarded by the results?”

“You know, if I had been born in France and had my novels published by the Petit Journal, I probably would have an income of 60,000 francs.”

“Are you sorry, then?”

“In a way. The struggles in the field of literature are fruitless when you write in the Portuguese language.  My biggest mistake, when I was young and strong like you, was not to have opened up a grocery store for which, by the way, I have an aptitude and a liking.  I would now be fat and contented, with large strips of bacon on display on the counter and, if you should show up, I would say to you with an air of delicate superiority:  ‘Hi there, Mr. Journalist! We have a wonderful cheese that will make your mouth water.’  And that would be heaven!  Anyway, it’s too late now to cry over wrong career choices...”

“Sorry?”

“No, my friend.  I was only kidding.  Two years ago, when I came to the window of my Rossio apartment to see the commemoration of Camões’s centenary, I was applauded by the crowd.  At that  moment I felt that, after all, not everything has been in vain.”

D. Emilia is standing at the door; her gestures are more incisive, demanding that we bring the interview to a close.  There’s still so much to ask Eça.  But his tired looks, his cough and the weakened voice do not recommend that we continue.  I thank him for the graciousness with which he received us and placed himself at our disposal to answer questions.  He confides to us that he has always had a passion for newspapers and that, to be truthful, he considers me a fellow colleague, since he had also been a journalist in his youth.  We thank him, say our goodbyes and express our wishes for his recovery.  I think I managed to hide my profound sadness caused by the sight of the physical wreck of such a brilliant spirit.

 

THE 19TH OR THE 23RD CENTURY
 

Back in downtown Paris, Sousa convinces me to go to the World’s Fair and shake off the anguished feelings caused by Eça’s condition.  The Fair covers a vast area between Place de la Concorde and the Champs de Mars with fantastic pavilions and palaces.  They are showing a trip on the Trans-Siberian Railroad, beween Moscow and Peking, and a cruise in the Mediterranean;  they project films of Louis Lumiére on a screen almost 30 meters wide, etc.  At night, Lady Electricity reigns over the fairgrounds like a fairy godmother, in the form of myriads of light bulbs putting on a wondrous and unforgettable show.  I recall Eça’s words during our conversation:

 

“Paris is no longer the bubbling and luminous city it used to be.  Now it’s vulgar in its appearance, its manners and its ideas – and it’s extremely grimy!  Those who know say that it’s because of the large number of factories - and because Paris is becoming, day by day, less intellectual and more industrial.  It’s as though the 23rd century is already here!  May God grant us the patience to put up with civilization!”

 

 

 

 

BACK IN LISBON
 

Now that I am back, I have a slight tendency to look at Lisbon through Eça’s implacable eyes – the city looks more provincial than ever. Every day since I got back, Major Neves asks me for the written material on the interview.  I don’t dare tell him that the drafts are up in the air depending on anything.  I promise to turn in the final copy this afternoon, without fail.  That phrase, “without fail,” is one of Neves’s favorite expressions.  The fact is, I brought back a truckload of notes and I’ve been in the process of organizing them so as to come up with a coherent text.  From my bedroom window on Fanqueiros Street I see the city covered by a veil of heat. I can hear the muffled noises made by the street cars and street vendors below.  I continue to write.  Today, Neves will have the text of the interview and he might even be able to include it in tomorrow’s edition.

 

SUDDENLY, A TELEGRAM
 

I look at the telegram the messenger has just delivered to me.  Sousa is short and to the point: “Eça de Queirós  died yesterday late afternoon.  Children in orphanage next door were singing Miserere.”

I leave my apartment and head for the newspaper to give Neves the finished text on the interview.  Tomorrow, for the first time, my material will have front page honors.  It’s a beautiful day – bright and warm.  The street cars make their tinkling sounds as they ride through the streets.  I see the horse-carts on Douradores Street and notice the strong smell of urine and horse manure.  Two men from Galicia are gabbing at the corner of Assunção Street.  As I walk down Santa Justa Street, I hear someone yelling something silly to me – it’s Lopes, a fellow who went to school with me in Coimbra.  He’s standing at the door of the Patinhas Café, smoking a cigar.  The traffic on Augusta and Ouro Streets is busy with several types of carriages.  I start climbing the stairs by the public elevator and head toward Carmo Street.  Everything is the same.  Lisbon, the country and the world remain totally indifferent to the death of Eça de Queirós.  Ships set out to sea as usual, banks continue their dealings with notes and bonds, factories keep churning out their products, shops are still selling their wares...everything is following its natural course.  As if today we were not much poorer than we were yesterday!

______________________________

In this imaginary interview, all the answers given by Eça were based on a number of his writings.  We have attempted, always, to respect the content and substance of Eça’s statements, even though, in some cases, we introduced very slight alterations in form and detail.

______________________________

  CHRONOLOGICAL TABLE  

(Publication of Eça’s Writings)  

1866/67 – Eça de Queirós begins his career as a writer in the Gazeta de Portugal.  Part of this material was posthumously compiled into one volume entitled Barbarian Prose (1903).  Subsequente editions included writings that had not been selected for the first edition.  From January to October, 1867, Eça dedicated himself almost exclusively to publishing and managing the newspaper Distrito de Évora, for which he wrote some short stories, such as Tadeu, the Accused and Farces.   

1869 – In Revolução de Setembro (September Revolution) and O Primeiro de Janeiro (The First of January), he publishes several poems attributed to a certain imaginary poet – Carlos Fradique Mendes.

1869/70 – He  travels to the Middle East to attend the inauguration of the Suez Canal.  His coverage, entitled From Port Said to Suez, is published in the Diário de Notícias, is posthumously published in book form with the title Egypt, to which were added Travel Notes and Loose Leaves, in 1966.  In 1870, September Revolution publishes a series of nine chapters on the Life of Jesus.  The series remains incomplete and is later added to Barbarian Prose.  Here we can trace the beginnings of Smooth Miracle and The Relic. In that same year, in collaboration with Ramalho Ortigão, he publishes a novel in installments in the Diário de Notícias called The Mystery of Sintra Road.

1871 – The highlight of Eça’s activities this year is his conference at the Casino Lisbonense on Realism as an Expression of Art.  Together with Ramalho Ortigão, he begins to write for Farpas (Barbs). In fact, he was the author of Portugal’s Social State, the very first in this series of critical and satirical articles.  The Mystery of Sintra Road is published in book form.

1875 – Eça’s first novel, The Sin of Father Amaro, is published in installments in Revista Ocidental.  It will be published in book form the following year, considerably revised.  In the edition of 1880, considered to be the final version, the changes are even greater.

1878 -  Cousin Bazilio, Eça’s second novel, is published and becomes his first big literary success.

1879 – Eça writes The Count of Abranhos, which will only be published posthumously. 

1880 -  He publishes The Mandarin.  

1883 -  He writes Alves & Cia., which will only be published in 1925.

1884 -  The revised dition of The Mystery of Sintra is published.

1887 -  Publication of The Relic.

1888 -  Publishes Os Maias, a masterful novel which resulted from two other incomplete texts:  The Capital and The Tragedy of Flower Street. He begins to publish the first articles in O Repórter (The Reporter).  These will later be revised by Júlio Brandão and published as The Correspondence of Fradique Mendes (1925).   

1900 – After Eça’s death, the first volume of The Illustrious House of Ramires is published. An incomplete version of this work had been previously published in Revista Moderna (1877-99).

1901 – Publication of The City and the  Mountains, as revised by Ramalho Ortigão and Luís Magalhães.

1902   -  Publication of  Os Contos (Short Stories).  

1903   -  Barbarian Prose  

1905     -  Letters from England and Echoes from Paris.  

1907   -  Letters to the Family and Messages from Paris.  

1909  -  Contemporary Notes.

1912  -  Final Pages.

1925 - The Capital, The Count of Abranhos, The Correspondence of Fradique Mendes Alves & Cia.  

1926  -  Egypt.  

1929  -  Previously Unpublished Letters of Fradique Mendes and Other Forgotten Pages.

1940  -  Letters from London.  

1944  -  Letters from Lisbon and London Chronicles  

1949  -  Eça de Queirós Among His People (Personal Correspondence)  

1961   -  Letters from Eça de Queirós to His Editors.

1980  -  The Tragedy of Flower Street.

 

 

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