1911 Encyclopædia Britannica/Eça de Queiroz, José Maria
|←Eburācum||1911 Encyclopædia Britannica, Volume 8
Eça de Queiroz, José Maria
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EÇA DE QUEIROZ, JOSÉ MARIA (1843-1900), Portuguese writer, was born at the northern fishing town of Povoa de Varzim, his father being a retired judge. He went through the university of Coimbra, and on taking his degree in law was appointed Administrador de Concelho at Leiria, but soon tired of the narrow mental atmosphere of the old cathedral town and left it. He accompanied the Conde de Rezende to Egypt, where he assisted at the opening of the Suez Canal, and to Palestine, and on his return settled down to journalism in Lisbon and began to evolve a style, at once magical and unique, which was to renovate his country’s prose. Though he spent much of his days with the philosopher sonneteer Anthero de Quental, and the critic Jayme Batalha Reis, afterwards consul-general in London, he did not restrict his intimacy to men of letters, but frequented all kinds of society, acquiring a complete acquaintance with contemporary Portuguese life and manners. Entering the consular service in 1872, he went to Havana, and, after a tour in the United States, was transferred two years later to Newcastle-on-Tyne and in 1876 to Bristol. In 1888 he became Portuguese consul-general in Paris, and there died in 1900.
Queiroz made his literary début in 1870 by a sensational story, The Mystery of the Cintra Road, written in collaboration with the art critic Ramalho Ortigão, but the first publication which brought him fame was The Farpas, a series of satirical and humorous sketches of various phases of social life, which, to quote the poet Guerra Junqueiro, contain “the epilepsy of talent.” These essays, the joint production of the same partners, criticized and ridiculed the faults and foibles of every class in turn, mainly by a comparison with the French, for the education of Queiroz had made him a Frenchman in ideas and sympathies. His Brazilian friend, Eduardo Prado, bears witness that at this period French literature, especially Hugo’s verse, and even French politics, interested Queiroz profoundly, while he altogether ignored the belles-lettres of his own country and its public affairs. This phase lasted for some years, and even when he travelled in the East he was inclined to see it with the eyes of Flaubert, though the publication of The Relic and that delightful prose poem Sweet Miracle afterwards showed that he had been directly impressed and deeply penetrated by its scenery, poetry and mysticism. The Franco-German War of 1870, however, by lowering the prestige of France, proved the herald of a national Portuguese revival, and had a great influence on Queiroz, as also had his friend Oliveira Martins (q.v.), the biographer of the patriot kings of the Aviz dynasty. He founded the Portuguese Realist-Naturalist school, of which he remained for the rest of his life the chief exponent, by a powerful romance, The Crime of Father Amaro, written in 1871 at Leiria but only issued in 1875. Its appearance then led to a baseless charge that he had plagiarized La Faute de l’Abbé Mouret, and ill-informed critics began to name Queiroz the Portuguese Zola, though he clearly occupied an altogether different plane in the domain of art. During his stay in England he produced two masterpieces, Cousin Basil and The Maias, but they show no traces of English influence, nor again are they French in tone, for, living near to France, his disillusionment progressed and was completed when he went to Paris and had to live under the régime of the Third Republic. Settling at Neuilly, the novelist became chronicler, critic, and letter-writer as well, and in all these capacities Queiroz displayed a spontaneity, power and artistic finish unequalled in the literature of his country since the death of Garrett. A bold draughtsman, he excelled in freshness of imagination and careful choice and collocation of words, while his warmth of colouring and brilliance of language speak of the south. Many of his pages descriptive of natural scenery, such for instance as the episode of the return to Tormes in The City and the Mountains, have taken rank as classic examples of Portuguese prose, while as a creator of characters he stood unsurpassed by any writer of his generation in the same field. He particularly loved to draw and judge the middle class, and he mocks at and chastises its hypocrisy and narrowness, its veneer of religion and culture, its triumphant lying, its self-satisfied propriety, its cruel egotism. But though he manifested a predilection for middle-class types, his portrait gallery comprises men and women of all social conditions. The Maias, his longest book, treats of fidalgos, while perhaps his most remarkable character study is of a servant, Juliana, in Cousin Basil. At least two of his books, this latter and The Crime of Father Amaro, are chroniques scandaleuses in their plots and episodes; these volumes, however, mark not only the high-water line of the Realist-Naturalist school in Portugal, but are in themselves, leaving aside all accidentals, creative achievements of a high order.
Though Queiroz was a keen satirist of the ills of society, his pages show hardly a trace of pessimism. The City and the Mountains, and in part The Relic also, reveal the apostle of Realism as an idealist and dreamer, a true representative of that Celtic tradition which survives in the race and has permeated the whole literature of Portugal. The Mandarin, a fantastic variation on the old theme of a man self-sold to Satan, and The Illustrious House of Ramires, are the only other writings of his that require mention, except The Correspondence of Fradique Mendes. In conjunction with Anthero de Quental and Jayme Batalha Reis, Queiroz invented under that name a smart man of the world who had something of himself and something of Eduardo Prado, and made him correspond on all sorts of subjects with imaginary friends and relatives to the delight of the public, many of whom saw in him a mysterious new writer whose identity they were eager to discover. These sparkling and humorous letters are an especial favourite with admirers of Queiroz, because they reveal so much of his very attractive personality, and perhaps the cleverest of the number, that on Pacheco, has received an English dress. In addition to his longer and more important works, Queiroz wrote a number of short stories, some of which have been printed in a volume under the title of Contos. The gems of this remarkable collection are perhaps The Peculiarities of a Fair-haired Girl, A Lyric Poet, José Matthias, The Corpse, and Sweet Miracle.
Most of his books have gone through many editions, and they are even more appreciated in the Brazils than in Portugal. It should be mentioned that the fourth edition of Father Amaro is entirely different in form and action from the first, the whole story having been rewritten. One of Queiroz’s romances and two of his short stories have been published in English. An unsatisfactory version of Cousin Basil, under the title Dragon’s Teeth, appeared at Boston, U.S.A., in 1889, while Sweet Miracle has had three editions in England and one in America, and there is also a translation of O Defunto (The Corpse) under the name of Our Lady of the Pillar.
An admirable critical study of the work of Queiroz will be found in A Geração Nova—Os Novellistas, by J. Pereira de Sampaio (Bruno), (Oporto, 1886). The Revista moderna of the 20th of November 1897 was entirely devoted to him. Senhor Batalha Reis gives interesting reminiscences of the novelist’s early days in his preface to some prose fragments edited by him and named Prosas Barbaras (Oporto, 1903).
- (E. Pr.)