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(Fiction writer, 1892 – 1953)
by Hélio Pólvora
Translated by IVAN COSTA-PINTO
SELF-PORTRAIT OF THE ARTIST AS AN ADULT (aged 56)
- Relief, Anguish & Absolutions–
"We can only put on paper our feelings,
our life. Art is blood, art is flesh.
|A SNAPSHOT TAKEN FROM A DISTANCE|
He creates for himself a reputation for being rude.
This Graciliano Ramos, or Velho Graça, or Major
Graça, or Mestre Graça, as he was affectionately called, is a pretender.
Out of sentimentalism or shyness, he pretends to be rougher than he is,
thornier than a mandacaru cactus. A thin inlander, bent shoulders, a
cigarrette always lit between his fingers or in his mouth, with simple but
clean clothes, clean hands (in every sense). He creates for himself a
reputation of being rude due to dialogues such as these:
— Good morning, master Graça.
— Do you think so, my son?
— Master Graça, if the situation continues as
it is we're going to be eating shit — says the novelist
José Lins do Rego to him, during Getúlio Vargas's dictatorship.
— If there is enough left for us, Zé Lins. If
there is enough...
His first novel, Caetés, he considers "a disaster" or "an obstacle."
Angústia (Anguish), his third book, is "this disaster I'm
writing and that will have, if some crazy editor shows up, 50 readers from
the Amazon to the River Plate, maybe not even that." Vidas Secas is a
"trivial story —a vagrant couple, a female dog and two boys."
His correspondence contains Italian and French sentences. He translates
from French and recites Le Cid,
of Corneille, in the original. He admires Eça de Queiroz, reads a lot of Machado de Assis. He is deeply knowledgeable in Portuguese grammar. But he describes
himself as having "a culture of
almanacs." Sometimes he gets very excited: "It'll be a
masterpiece, written in the lingo of the inlanders, full of whopping terms"
(about S. Bernardo, his second
novel). And reiterates: "It was this difficult vocabulary of foxy
characters that did away with old Brazilian literature. Brazilian
literature, my eye! Brazil has never had a literature. But it will from
now on" (ditto).
He sees the activity of a writer as: "We
are animals different from other people, probably inferior to others, with
excessive sensibility, an immense vanity that separates us from those not
sick as we are. Even those
who are sick, those degenerates who write gibberish, don't
always inspire our sympathy: it is necessary that the sickness we
have affect others with the
same intensity so that we can see them as brothers, so as to show them our
sores, i.e., our writings, our miseries, which we published after
cauterization, altered within the proper technique" (letter to his
wife Heloísa, April 1935).
He learned how to read and write in his parents'
farm, "after many spankings."
— May I interrupt, please?.
— What for? Who do you think you are?
— I think I'm curious, just curious. In your
book Infância you dwell on
relevant memories. You seem to think that, as does Sherwood Anderson,
there aren't serial or sequential stories.
If they do exist, it means that the author intervened, which
presupposes an artifice. Life is made of very rare happy instants and many
bitter or unfortunate events.
acidity predominates, and in some passages there is an acrimonious trait.
The memorialist isn't there to act dapper. His analysis, not only of
families but also their ambients, his own as well as that of others, is
totally rude. The gentleman had his pride, of course, but he didn't
nurture foolish vanities. He
would curse mainly against himself. He was, as said by Oswald de Andrade,
a writing mandacaru cactus.
In a compendium of biobibliographical sources,
Moacir Medeiros de Sant’Ana refers to the "various and crushing
judgements of his parents, made by Graciliano Ramos in his childhood
memoirs." His father "did not economize in beatings and
reprehensions" and the "lack of smiling" was what intrigued
him so much in his mother . That's why Olívio Montenegro considers the
book a "diabolic work." In his Jornal
de Crítica, Álvaro Lins states, constrained: "When he decided
to write a book of memoirs, his sensibility reacted in all its
exaggeration: and expressed itself by showing what was most deeply
recorded in it (...) An unbearable world of punishments, privations and
shames." Yes, memory
does not record happinesses and unhappinesses with the same accuracy; the
rotten parts prevail.
That precise dryness, the sentences that say a
lot with minimum resources. He is the anti-ornamental prose writer in a
territory where prose writers continue to be scholastic, refusing to
retire their ornaments.
In the same way that, in previous romances, the
gentleman steps down to the ooze of his characters, in Infância he goes directly into the lees of the heart. A
predominancy of the monologue (even more so because it is a deposition),
heavy and mortal words, echoing like tolls, torn from the live flesh of
meanings, translating literal truths.
In the upbringing of the boy Graciliano, there
are lots of torture instruments : the rough inlander environment during
the end of last century and the beginning of the 20th century;
his father, a trader and a farmer, a rude type of the urban and rural
middle classes, with the profile of a patriarch who demands prompt
obedience; his almost illiterate mother, with very little love. Political
repression from the 'colonels', through the use of methods known as
"halter, hoe and vote." Sexual repression. Repression, above all,
against intelligence. The boy's sensibility, hurt at all the moments, in
his painful relationship with his parents, in the school, in the streets,
suffering the impact of environmental poverty. The boy grows up alone and
distrustful, grasping "crumbs of sound and rags of images"—
painful, all of them. But, notwithstanding the violence of the environment,
inside him his sensibility is shaped, looks for space, for a form of
expression, while weaving a protective shield on the outside.
"LESS BAD THAN I THOUGHT"
From the farm in Buíque, Graciliano takes characters for "Angústia."
Quebrangulo, Alagoas, Brasil. Graciliano Ramos de
Oliveira is born on the 27th of October, 1892. "My father, Sebastião
Ramos, small businessman, married to the daughter of a cattle breeder,
heard the advice of my grandmother and bought a farm in Buíque,
Pernambuco, taking his children, wife and household goods with him.
Drought killed the cattle — and Mr. Sebastião opened a shop in the
village, perhaps in 1895 or 1896. From those
days at the farm I still remember Amaro Vaqueiro and of José Baía.
In the village, I met André Laerte, corporal José da Luz, the
washerwoman Rosenda, the priest José Ignácio, Filipe Benício,
Teotoninho Sabiá and his family, Mr. Batista, Mrs. Marocas, my teacher,
Mr. Antônio Justino's wife, all of them characters I used years later."
It is the truth: he uses them, mainly, in
Angústia, in the memories and delusions of Luís da Silva — but
some characters come afloat in Infância. Due to his recurrent themes and characters, and its
autobiographical content, he thinks he has no imagination, although he is
known to have said, in letters, that the story was unimportant, and that
the descents into the underground of
his personality were fundamental.
— Will you allow me an aside?
— Again? Here comes bullshit...
— I want only to agree with you, when you say
that we are what we write. This is a perfect opinion in your case. Now,
tell me: what happened to the sonnets you wrote as a young man?
— Eaten by moths
— You seem a lot like Luís da Silva, of Angústia.
And Luís kept an album from which he tore some pages, without worrying
about making copies of them, to sell sonnets to ham writers, after
swearing that they had never been published...
"THE FIRST FIVE MIL-RÉIS"
1911 — In June and July he recovers in Maniçoba,
a farm near Buíque, in the Pernambucan inland. "This", he says
in a letter, "is good as hell: one wakes up at five in the morning
and spends the day reading, smoking, eating and praying; one goes to bed
at nine in the evening. An angel's life."
Under a pseudonym, he collaborates with O
Malho, a Rio magazine. At 13, he publishes sonnets there and in the Correio
de Maceió. The shopkeeper's life displeases him: "I don't want
to be a shopkeeper — better to be bitten by a snake (letter to his
father, 1913). He thinks about "seeking some job in the press."
TRAGEDY IN THE FAMILY
1915 — He renounces the financial aid his
family sends him. "A parasite's life is the worse of shames", he
says to his sister Leonor. In the beginning of August, he receives a
telegram informing about the tragedy: in an epidemic of
bubonic plague, his siblings Octacília, Leonor and Clodoaldo plus
his nephew Heleno die in Palmeiras. Graciliano returns in September. On
the 21st of October he marries Maria Augusta de Barros, with whom he would
have 4 children: Márcio, Júnio, Múcio e Maria Augusta.
He succeeds his father as a shopowner, in the A Sincera, selling textiles and haberdashery,
at 5 Rua da Intendência.
1920 — Maria Augusta dies while giving birth
on the 23rd of November.
1925 — He starts writing Caetés, concluded in 1926, but reviewed several times: he cuts and
substitutes words until 1930. "I'll fix a chapter quickly to see if I
can send that mess to
Rio", he writes in a letter.
|THREE PROBABLE SOURCES|
"Flaubert might have inspired Graciliano"
"São Bernardo is published in 1934"
Will the noble novelist allow me another aside? Maybe it will not be short
but it will be enlightening. Your intelectual formation has been, for sure,
basically Lusitanian-French, as have been the Machadian and post-Machadian
generations. The influence of the Anglo-American literature among us comes
from World War II.
ask myself if you haven't tasted Flaubert, with whom you keep, it should
be said, an identity of style
based on the concision of prose. Madame
Bovary, of 1857, though not having in the Brazilian intelectual life
the same strength of Eça de Queirós' novels, mainly
Os Maias, it coined, nevertheless, the entry bovarismo
in the dictionaries, which designates, speaking of Emma Bovary and her
sad destiny, a temperament inclined towards daydreaming.
your newspaper articles, compiled in the posthumous volumes Linhas Tortas and Viventes das
Alagoas, there aren't any references to the "loneman of Croisset."
You cover with praise Eça de Queirós, whose presence is more than
identified in Caetés.
"What an enourmous quantity of Raposos, of Zé Fernandes, of Dâmasos,
of Conselheiros Acácios and of Ramires there are in this world !",
you exclaim in an article of 1915. Some of Eça's characters, as you
yourself observed, "talk to us and transmit ideas more or less equal
to ours." Balzac is considered "a serious analyst", you
quote François Coppée and
Paul de Kock, show that you have read Daudet, and that Taine was not a
stranger to you, and you also mention Romain Rolland and Victor Hugo. You
have translated La Peste, of
Albert Camus, and modestly signed "G. R." on the title page.
stop there, without remembering Flaubert and other classics that you must
have read. In the Portuguese language, after Eça de Queirós, your
laudations go to Machado de Assis, of whom there are some echoes in Caetés,
among which this one:
cried: 'Luísa loves me! Stars in the sky, Luísa loves me!' I imagined
that the stars in the sky recognized that fact and this gave me plenty
still this one:
of me, Mrs. Josefa? I am only one, unfortunately. If I were at least four,
I would be quite comfortable
among you ladies."
concrete proof, I believe you have read Gustave Flaubert, and certainly
from one of those French brochures edited at the time. From its reading
there remained an impregnation that would later help you to compose that
brutal opening of Caetés. Do
you remember the second paragraph?
wanted to show me a passage of the book she was reading. She leaned over.
I couldn't restrain myself and planted two kisses on the scruff. She stood
Are you crazy? How dare you? I, er...
couldn't go on. From her sparking eyes, tears emerged."
us now see Madame Bovary, third
part, chapter 1:
comme ils se trouvaient debout tous les deux, lui placé derrière et Emma
baissant la tête, il se pencha vers son cou et la baisa longuement à la
Mais vous êtes fou ! Ah ! vous êtes fou ! disait-elle avec de petits
rires sonores, tandis que les baisers se multipliaient."
Master Graça, readings deeply felt leave scars in the memory — and
their consequences are these apparent imitations, which in reality
approach temperaments, sensibilities, common experiences. In the good
literature, Diogenes lantern passes from hand to hand, as an olympic torch.
there are flagrant differences between Emma and Luísa. The character in Caetés,
parochial and shy, framed by the timid environment of the petit
bourgeoisie, is impelled to adultery by tedium and by her ageing sick
husband. The Flaubertian Emma, on the contrary, is absorbing, unsatisfied,
unsatiable. From her emanates a mystical voluptuousness mixed with an
ostensive carnality. And in her, Flaubert, a libertine with moralistic
brakes, romantic but cynical, exposes himself: "Madame Bovary c’est
reference to Caetés, you said
in that rough tone that concealed tenderness: "In these awful pages,
where nothing is useful..." And concluding, you called it "an
idiotic narrative, parrot talk."
Master Graça. More than 60 years later one may verify that, far from
being the clumsy exercise of a fictionist who had not yet defined his own
language, that novel is a coherent part of the work, of which it is not an
untimely fruit. The work is an intense monologue, within which there
exists that first inseparable book, Apart from the echoes from Eça, long
recognized by the critics, and also from Machado, Caetés
is the spring that, already in its last chapters, grows and departs
towards an estuary of denser, more nuclear novels. Caetés
demonstrates that your fictional universe, limited by the aspects of
your life and experiences, is fed by
appealing themes and characters, which, since your first book,
composed the confessional tone of the novelist. Without João Valério,
narrator of Caetés, Paulo Honório, narrator of S. Bernardo, for sure wouldn't exist. And, even more surely, Luís
da Silva, narrator of Angústia,
wouldn't exist either. And without the feminine character which, in Caetés,
commits adultery, we wouldn't have the matrix for Madalena, who commits
suicide in the following novel. The cold-blooded Evaristo Barroca of the
first novel is the model for the tawdry Julião Tavares, of
Angústia. Some anonymous
and gloomy mestizos of Caetés are a sketch for the future portrait of the cowboy Fabiano
of Vidas Secas.
a moment, don't interrupt me. Your characteristic prose — the vision of
the world from a monologue, the conflicting character always in
self-analysis, cursing the surroundings and the circumstances, wanting to
impose his point-of-view, but not knowing how,— develops, already in
Caetés, from the costumes chronicle of a village in the Alagoan
inland, Palmeira dos Índios, to the psychological novel — with which,
it should be said, you stregthen the second stage of the novels of the
us examine other influences, let us tune our ears to other probable
resonances. Your read Eça de Queirós. The Portuguese prose writer, more than Flaubert, more than any other, had
deep repercussions in the first two decades of the 20th century
in Brazil, being widely read, deified. Caetés,
thus, wouldn't escape from the contagion of Eça de Queirós. It is a
repository of scenes of life in the country, with curious types, ironies,
sarcasms, nimble dialogues, comic connotations and, for seasoning,
adultery. That was Eça's recipe.
emerge especially in the technique of parallel conversations, during witty
dinners, pool games and chess disputes, with humoristic touches, when the
imbecility of some characters becomes visible. Nobody better than Eça,
who characterized pompous and mediocre individuals, no one
surpassed him in the creation of types at least curious. Very well:
in Caetés there is a priest,
Atanásio, who is not able to concatenate two ideas: he mixes everything,
forgetting what he's just said and leaving conclusions suspended. The
incoherent discourse provokes ludicrous situations. An example:
Of course, there are no doubts. We need light, a lot of light.
With bread? — asked Clementina."
echo, but less strong:
Castro stretched himself out in Father Atanásio's armchair, with his arms
crossed, fat-cheeked, rubicund, happy and without a forehead."
Dr. Castro, apart from being a total idiot, reminds one a lot of Dâmaso
Salcede, a worthless, but highly presumptous, nobody out of Os Maias.
presence of Machado de Assis,
though more discrete, is also undoubtedly there. I gave two examples. Now,
I'll deliver two more:
vacillated for a few minutes and, finally,
decided to put the short feather skirt over his
head and the feather headdress between
seized control of the notary and discoursed
these impregnations, you react with bruising language, saving words and
actions induced by the scanty and dry inlander
environment. Your language is already the Brazilian language, in almost
its totality, Caetés's style is
already that of the sober prose writer, conscious of the specific weight
of each word, dense and intervening as little as possible: the characters
have freedom, they obey intuitive commands and react in conformity with
the other echoes, those from the Week of 1922 and the Modernist revolution,
which preached the adoption of nationalist first reader, that tupy or not tupy of Oswald de Andrade, would have to reach Alagoas
and provoke, who knows?, in your writings, a critical realignment. When
you seeked refuge in 1932 in the vestry of a church, in Palmeira, you used
the inlander vocabulary and
expressions taken from the oral language to lend temperament to S. Bernardo.
answered, consciously or intuitively, to the teachings of the Week of 22:
Brazilian themes, the language disengaged as much as possible from the
Portuguese syntax, and although Mário de Andrade had pondered that the
Portuguese syntax could not be destroyed, it still continues structurally
Portuguese. The oral quality can be noted in the opening of Caetés:
scruff (of a woman, and of a beloved one!) instead of nape of the neck.
And in the final words, when the narrator refers to his "exaggerated
admiration for the brilliant things, to the sonorous period, to the
literary beads, which induces me to attach ornamental adjectives to what I
write, and later scratch out..." It's appears somewhat strange that
the narrator of S. Bernardo should call a friend to write the novel.
But they immediately disagreed, because his collaborator presented
an ugly prose. "It is affected, it is immoral, it is idiotic. Nobody
speaks like this!", reacts the narrator. And he decides to write by
himself, with his own verbal resources, using inlander lingo.
This is all bulshit, a total bore.
It isn't. S. Bernardo was
published in 1934. Chapters 19, 30 and 36 surprise the main character,
Paulo Honório, in an acute existencial crisis. Alone in the manor house,
without a wife or friends, with a burning conscience, he observes himself:
huge hands, enormous fingers, a monster, a moral cripple. Sleepless,
cornered, he sees, he touches, he feels the surfacing of his aches. We
live in these pages a luminous moment of the Brazilian fictionism. We,
that were accompanying the novels of the ‘30s, suddenly meet in your
prose the inner core of writing, that plunges into and reveals the secret
heart, its ambiance, its sociological trait.
united psychologism and a social document romantic-naturalist. But do not
forget that João Valério of Caetés
brings within himself the seed of the nonconformism, insecurity and
disbelief and that anguish that ends up generating modernity. "I
am a caeté", confesses Valério. Caeté
also is Paulo Honório, and so is Luís da Silva.
Lies, hoaxes, frauds. How should I be aware of the Modernism of 22, being
there in the Alagoan inland, gnawing at jessamines, eating hairy cured pig
One of your contemporaries, Valdemar de Sousa Lima, remembers that you
were attracted to children and roses. Easy, don't blush. In
the opuscule Graciliano Ramos em
Palmeira dos Índios, Valdemar describes you as a
"fine sales clerk." Having inherited from your father the shop called
A Sincera, you started
there a long commercial activity, which lasted 19 years.
1927 — Elected mayor of Palmeira dos Índios,
on the 7th of October.
1928 — Marries in Maceió, on second nuptials,
with Heloísa Leite de Medeiros, whom he had met months before and wooed
in ardent love letters. They will bear four children:Ricardo,Roberto(died
in 1930),Luísa and Clara.
1929 — First report from the mayor Graciliano
to the state Governor.
|POLITICAL PERSECUTIONS AND IMPRISONMENT|
1931 — He is denounced by enemies to
the State Penal Junta, which followed the 1930 Revolution: embezzlement totalling
1.020$000 from the City Hall. The process was soon dismissed for lack of
1932 — In September, he starts S.
Bernardo. He relinquishes the post of director of the Official Press
and goes back to Palmeira with his family. There he works at S.
1933 — Launching of Caetés, by editor Schmidt, from Rio. He is indicated director of
Public Schooling of Alagoas. In November, concludes S. Bernardo.
1934 — Publication of S. Bernardo, by Ariel Editora, in Rio. The "Intentona
Comunista" (Communist Attempt) erupts in March.
1935 — He starts Angústia.
|AN ENDLESS NIGHTMARE|
crime, or a good deed, all is the same. After all we don't even know what
is good or bad anymore, so numbly we live", thinks Luís da Silva,
narrator of Angústia, a modest
civil servant. If still alive, more than 60 years later, his situation
would be the same or worse. Since then, some social indicators improved,
but other vices, like corruption and the bankruptcy of costumes, became
middle class described in the novel, uncertain and insecure, surviving
through renunciations, would be part of the proletariat by now. Luís
struggles to ascend socially. A Northeasterner of rural origins, he comes
from a formerly powerful family. Within the memorialistic flow of the
narrator, his remembrances of grandfather Trajano are frequent. He met him
already old, decrepit, sleepy on a hammock. Before that, he had been a
master of the lasso 'n dagger
, he would assault the village jail to free
cangaceiros (outlaws); at
the end of his life, with a few skinny cattle on his pasture, he used to
get drunk and vomit on the coat of an elderly slave, master Domingos, who,
out of respect, put up with his bad temper.
Graciliano Ramos, the novel of the decadence of the northeastern rural
aristocracy does not matter. This is a task for his fellow writer José
Lins do Rego, who focused mainly upon the owners of the sugarcane
plantations. He is statisfied to transmit,
in quick images repeated by the despair of the narrator, only the
necessary facts from the past,
so he can show the uprooting of Luís da Silva, whose father spent his
days on a hammock, reading romantic novels. The cruel past conditions
Luis’ life today. One can feel that the narrator
is another Prometheus
bound. Luis, himself, recognizes that, had he been born in a different
cradle and received a different education, his destiny would be better, he
would belong to the ruling class — that of bankers, rich traders,
newspapers owners or the high ranked civil servants that dominate him from
a distance. But that rural past of impoverished farmers, living from the
old pomp, is a scarlet scar, the mark of damnation. Luís' sensibility is
exposed, and it bleeds. Nothing can stop the bleeding. Pathetical or
tragical images assault him in his nightly dreams and while daydreaming.
His life is an economic nightmare, a social exile. He constantly remembers
his grandfather with a rattlesnake spiralled around his neck, begging for
someone to remove it; his grandmother, who, without ever experiencing an
orgasm, gave birth on a stick bed; his lazy and violent father who threw
him several times into the river, to teach him how to swim; a man who
hanged himself out of shame, because of a loaf of bread he had to beg for
and it had been denied; his dead father's unshapely feet over the big
settee, with flies hovering above. Scenes and images of a nightmare; of an
unjust, poor, violent life, resulting from the weak economy of the inland,
inhabited by what the narrator calls of "my vagabond race burnt by
narrator searches for better conditions of life far from the inlander
life. They would be farther south —where all the "shirtless",
the "barefooted", the "homeless" migrate. But
in Rio, the migrant Luís da Silva knows loneliness, anonymity,
notwithstanding his literary flair, his knowledge of writing (here, in the
sense of the journalistic or literary composition), having read a lot. The
social establishment rejects him. He is tied to the mechanism of a then
pre-capitalist society (Vargas Government industrial phase had barely
begun), which is nowadays fully globalized, and where money is the supreme
value. To those born rich, the road unfolds straight and level; to the
needy, the hard task of survival. This is the Brazilian society of the
’30s, subliminally described in Angústia,
and that subsists, though worsened in several aspects — hence the
persistent relevance of the novel's theme.
novel, as Máximo Gorki practiced it, and a novel of Dostoievskian
introspectiveness. As in the case of the humiliated and
the offended in Dostoievsky , Luís da Silva's destiny is tragical
— not only for his humble origin, but also because there exists, around
him, binding him, a net of restrictive circumstances. During the
dictatorship, with income and welfare concentrated in the privileged
minority, all that is left for the dispossessed is the dream of a popular
dream watched over by the police and a dream that, at that time, emptied a
good part of its ideological substance... Luís wants to participate. He
wants to contribute towards an egalitarian order through a fight in the
shadows. At the same time, he has to survive: he has to pay the rent, pay
for food and medicine, while he is beset by an impulse to climb socially.
Thus, he is submissive. In the newspaper, as a proofreader or columnist,
he writes what he is told to: "Write this, Mr. Luís. Mr. Luís would
obey. — Write that, Mr. Luís. On a sheet of paper, Mr. Luís would
arrange the ideas and interests belonging to others." His true
opinions remained for his conversations with Pimentel e Moisés, his
colleagues, at home, because in the café
it is dangerous, there are always suspicious characters around the cafés.
Luís, the intellectual, Luís, the rebel, writes for the government,
praising the government. In Vidas
Secas, the cowboy Fabiano, after being stabbed in the back by order of
a 'yellow soldier', meets his enemy in the caatinga
(scrub savanna) and, with a dagger in his hand, steps back and lets him
pass: "Government is government."
same attitude of subservience towards power. The difference is that
Fabiano, a rough character, suffers less, while the intellectualized Luís
receives through his tense nerves all the aggressions from hopelessness
and social denial.
the first pages of Angústia the
narrator declares himself "a rag that the city frayed too much and
soiled." His sad routine is divided between the office, the
proofreading desk, an occasional visit to the café
and the old house, full of rats, with a half deaf maid, Vitória, who
buries her savings in the garden and chats with a parrot. Luís is fully
conscious of his condition; in it, tragedy, more than inspired by the
familiar inlander past, is a
natural consequence. His vision of the world is tragical because it is
part of his upbringing, and his actions, even limited by the ambient,
diffident and oppressive, reflect tragicalness. A naturalist novel, it
will be said. But a naturalism that, as that of Thomas Hardy, is not
restricted to the blind game among the forces of destiny that Hardy, in Tess
of the d’Urbervilles, attributes to the "President of the
Immortals", citing Aeschylus. For Brazilians, the characters are
tragical by inheritance and by an unconcious
and intense need to seek tragicalness even as a form of
self-explanation, self-excuse, or meaning of life.
is the case of the narrator of Angústia.
Cruel to himself, weaving comments that touch masochism, Luís da Silva
tortures himself. Apparently, he says: "I am not a rat, I don't want
to be a rat." But he will soon consider himself "a social
nothing." "Life has
kicked him around a lot." He is "an insignificant creature, a
social bedbug..." A rat gnaws at his entrails. Love for him is
"a painful thing, complicated and incomplete." He admits having
roved the world "hungry, ragged and full of dreams."
H. Heilman observes, about Hardy's Tess:
"Our egos are linked to our ideas; they want the facts to adjust
themselves to the ideas, otherwise we are offended and, if we have enough
power to do so, we tend to be punitive." Very well: punishment, in a
first stage, goes toward Luís da Silva, and he demeans himself still more
in order to suffer a little more, to purge his sins. Then, with the
appearance of Marina, the odds offer him a transitory truce. His backyard
romance with Marina — backyards full of rubbish and small gardens and
orchards, where a surly man and a sad woman work with casks and vats —,
Luís is under the impression of having discovered love, when he is only
attracted by erotism and Marina dreams only about emerging from absolute
poverty. Anyhow, this is happiness: he is relatively calm, has about three
thousand réis in savings, and
wishes to get married. The idea of marriage precipitates the personal
tragedy, bathed in social tragedy. A lightheaded, empty-headed girl,
always thinking of displaying her riches, Marina quickly spends Luís's
hard-earned savings on her trousseau and, during the "engagement"
accepts to be courted by a stranger, Julião Tavares, a parasite with a
pompous talk and peacock arrogance. Tavares is the summary of everything
that opresses Luís: easy money, golden cradle,
social prestige, intellectual mediocrity, the power to corrupt and
escape unharmed. Fat, cynical and smart, Julião Tavares invades Luís's
home, seduces Marina and moves away when she shows the first signs of
pregnancy. The family is submissive: no claims, just grumbles. The humble
learn to bend their spine under the weight of their opressors. The seducer
throws himself into the easy conquest of other poor girls.
|WRITING FOR SURVIVAL|
1937 — He leaves prison in January. Goes to
live with his family "in a modest little pension" in Rua Correia
Dutra. He starts publishing his short stories in La Prensa, of Buenos Aires (chapters of Infância and Vidas Secas),
by way of the translator Benjamin Garay. He writes to survive. "I
wrote a short story about the death of a female dog, difficult stuff as
you can see: I try to guess what is going on within the soul of a dog.
Will there really have a soul inside a dog? I don't care. My animal dies
wishing to reincarnate in a world full of cavies. Exactly the same as we
would wish. The difference is that I want them to appear before I sleep..."
|"BALEIA" AND OTHER STORIES|
Graciliano Ramos writes short stories because he
needs to improve his income. The Argentinian Garay is his first translator.
Some short stories, among which is "Baleia", of Vidas Secas, are published in
La Prensa. But is reality he has never intended to be a storyteller
and refers to his short stories in an ironic mood. Insônia will be, formally, his only book bringing the label of
short stories — although Infância
contains, at least, 4 short stories and Vidas
Secas could be considered as a novel in disguise, like The Unvanquished and Go
Down, Moses, by William Faulkner: they may be dismantled into short
stories bound by a tenuous conducting link and, nevertheless, remain
If we broaden the concept of a literary short
story, we will see that the writer, besides Insônia,
left another collection in which the genre imposes its own poetics, a
particular and peculiar space: Alexandre
e Outros Heróis, folkloric narratives. In the same year of Histórias
Incompletas, the matrix for Insônia,
João Guimarães Rosa comes out with
Sagarana. An year after, Murilo Rubião publishes O
Ex-Mágico. The short stories of Vila
Feliz, by Aníbal Machado, are from 1944, as well as the debut of
Alagoan Breno Accioly, with João
Urso. The collection of short stories Eis
a Noite!, by João Alphonsus, comes out a little before: 1942.
Therefore, one may identify, in the ‘40s, an emotional convergence
towards short stories, a format which acquires autonomy or
self-determination (excluding the previous phenomenon of Machado de
Brazilian short fiction lets itself to be
impregnated by a poem-like content
which facilitates instrospection. Tchekhov, Katherine Mansfield, Proust,
Kafka, Saroyan exerted a definite influence at that time. It is also from
’40s the alegoric prose of Clarice Lispector, and may we remember the 'penumbrism'
of Cornélio Penna, a little before (Fronteira,
1935). Well, Graciliano is at ease in this writing that dilutes the
meridian realism of the "regional" novel . He is an
impressionist writer, facing inner
lansdcapes. Even so, the social fact, the economic fact and the political
fact, are within his short stories without being their preponderant aspect.
One can see, in Insônia, a
story about a political atmosphere,
"A Prisão de J. Carmo Gomes", besides stories about
bureaucratic life, married life, literary life. Without forgetting what is
really strong in him: the text with an autobiographic content, as "O
Relógio do Hospital", inspired, it seems, on his hospitalization
period in Maceió, when he went through surgery.
|"THE GREATEST AMONG US"|
1939 — Appointed Federal Inspector of
Secondary Education, through the influence of Carlos Drummond de
Andrade, then Chief of the Cabinet of the Minister of Education, Gustavo
Capanema. He remains in office until the end of his life.
1941 — Publication of A Terra dos Meninos Pelados, a story with an infant-juvenile theme.
1942 — His 50th birthday is
celebrated with a dinner for writers in the
Lido restaurant, in Copacabana.
1944 —Leitura Publishing House launches Histórias
de Alexandre, original title of Alexandre
e Outros Heróis.
,memoirs, comes out, through Livraria José Olympio Publishing House.
Graciliano enrolls in the Brazilian Communist Party.
1946 — He participates of the III Writers
Congress, in Salvador, Bahia.
(José Olympio) appears, a volume of short stories derived from Histórias
Incompletas, little before edited by the Coleção Tucano of Livraria
1951 — He is elected presidente of the
Brazilian Writers Association (ABDE).
|GRACILIANO, DALCÍDIO AND THE LADY|
In the Livraria José Olympio Editora, on the
Rua do Ouvidor 110, almost in the corner of Avenida Rio Branco, there is a
settee on which very few dare to sit. It is Graciliano Ramos' haven; he
has the habit of making himself comfortable at a corner of it, crossing
his slim legs.
During a certain afternoon, when chatting, from
his corner, with the debuting poet Jorge Medauar, sitting at the other
corner, the writer Dalcídio Jurandir approaches. He is from Pará, a
militant of the Pecebão (the
orthodox Brazilian Communist Party) and has the air of a camel, with a
slight hump. Unceremoniously, he occupies the vacant space between the two
— Master Graça, there is a Mineiro circulating a lot. His name is Guimarães Rosa. Have you
— Not yet.
—Joyce's imitator. Instead of
Saga, he put Sagarana in the title. He wants to be the language
— Oh, really?
— I read a couple of pages. Not completely bad
— condescends Dalcídio.
Pause. The novelist from Pará continues:
— Master Graça, have you read Cyro dos Anjos?
— Nope. Who is he?
— Another Mineiro.
He writes like Machado de Assis.
— In this case — ponders Graciliano,
uncrossing his legs — I prefer the
— There is also a certain Breno Accioly. He is
a storyteller from your part of the country, from the Alagoas — informs
Dalcídio. —Have you read him?
— What is the name of the book?
Urso. It has a foreword by Zé Lins.
— I don't like forewords, I don't like to hem
and haw — confesses Graciliano. — I grab the guy and read without any
— But have you read João Urso?
— Just about two or three short stories.
— I couldn't go beyond the first — says Dalcídio.
— A mad prose, rethoric. Crazy stuff.
Silence. Graciliano clears his throat and
prepares to light another cigarrette. As nobody takes the initiative of
sayng anything, Dalcídio Jurandir gets up, bending his knees as camels
do, and takes his leave. He has some business to atttend to at the ABI
(T.N. Brazilian Press Association.)
— Medauar — asks old Graça when the figure
disappears through the door —, follow the scoundrel and find out if he
is knocking me behind my back.
About the same time, the old master returns from
a trip to the USSR. In Moscow's subway, he is forced to pick up the
cigarrette butt he had thrown on the floor. The Muscovite subway sparkled
like a mirror. "We didn't build it and clean it so that you gentlemen
from the capitalist world come and throw butts around", said the
The trip to the USSR results in a book of
impressions entitled Viagem,
which begins with a demonstration of annoyance of old Graça: he doesn't
feel well in the "flying trouble." That's what he calls the
airplane. Smoking his cigarrette in the settee at José Olympio Publishers,
he sees a lady approaching, with her trembling excesses of fat and jewels,
all smiles, with a copy of the book for his indefectible autograph.
— Master Graciliano, sign here. Did you came
back from the Soviet Union ready to reveal your stand?
—"Reveal my stand," dear lady?
— Well, reveal yourself.
Just like André Gide.
This is too much. The novelist explodes:
|SIX MONTHS TO LIVE|
1952, September — He goes to Buenos Aires to
be treated by Dr. Tayana, expenses paid by the Communist Party. The doctor
diagnoses: lung cancer. His thorax is opened up: surgery is of no avail.
He has six months to live.
1953 — He dies on the 20th of March, in the
morning, and is buried the following day, in the Saint John the Baptist
Cemetery, at 10:00 a.m., after lying in state at City Hall. Memórias
do is published posthumously by José Olympio. Other posthumous
publications, Viventes das Alagoas and Linhas
Tortas, circulate in the ’60s.
1992 — On the 20th of March, on the
same day of the month and of the week, and almost at the same age as his
father Graciliano, dies the writer Ricardo Ramos in São Paulo.