Brazilian tales/Some informal preliminary remarks

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THE noted Brazilian critic, José Verissimo, in a short but important essay on the deficiencies of his country's letters, has expressed serious doubt as to whether there exists a genuinely Brazilian literature. "I do not know," he writes, "whether the existence of an entirely independent literature is possible without an entirely independent language." In this sense Verissimo would deny the existence of a Swiss, or a Belgian, literature. In this sense, too, it was no doubt once possible, with no small measure of justification, to deny the existence of an American, as distinguished from an English, literature. Yet, despite the subtle psychic bonds that link identity of speech to similarity of thought, the environment (which helps to shape pronounciation as well as vocabulary and the language itself) is, from the standpoint of literature, little removed from language as a determining factor. Looking at the question, however, from the purely linguistic standpoint, it is important to remember that the Spanish of Spanish America is more different from the parent tongue than is the English of this country from that of the mother nation. Similar changes have taken place in the Portuguese spoken in Brazil. Yet who would now pretend, on the basis of linguistic similarity, to say that there is no United States literature as distinguished from English literature? After all, is it not national life, as much as national language, that makes literature? And by an inversion of Verissimo's standard may we not come face to face with a state of affairs in which different literatures exist within the same tongue? Indeed, is not such a conception as the "great American novel" rendered quite futile in the United States by the fact that from the literary standpoint we are several countries rather than one?

The question is largely academic. At the same time it is interesting to notice the more assertive standpoint lately adopted by the charming Mexican poet, Luis G. Urbina, in his recent "La Vida Literaria de México," where, without undue national pride he claims the right to use the adjective Mexican in qualifying the letters of his remarkable country. Urbina shows that different physiological and psychological types have been produced in his part of the New World; why, then, should the changes stop there? Nor have they ceased at that point, as Señor Urbina's delightful and informative book reveals. So, too, whatever the merits of the academic question involved, a book like Alencar's "Guarany," for instance, could not have been written outside of Brazil; neither could Verissimo's own "Scenes from Amazon Life."


Brazilian literature has been divided into four main periods. The first extends from the age of discovery and exploration to the middle of the eighteenth century; the second includes the second half of the eighteenth century; the third comprises the years of the nineteenth century up to 1840, while that date inaugurates the triumph of Romanticism over pseudo-Classicism. Romanticism, as in other countries, gave way in turn to realism and various other movements current in those turbulent decades. Sometimes the changes came not as a natural phase of literary evolution, but rather as the consequence of pure imitation. Thus, Verissimo tells us, Symbolism, in Brazil, was a matter of intentional parroting, in many cases unintelligent. It did not correspond to a movement of reaction,—mystical, sensualist, individualist, socialistic or anarchistic,—as in Europe.

Two chief impulses were early present in Brazilian letters: that of Portuguese literature and that of the Jesuit colleges. At the time of the discovery of Brazil only Italy, Spain, France and Portugal possessed a literary life. Portugal, indeed, as the Brazilian critic points out, was then in its golden period. It boasted chroniclers like Fernao Lopes, novelists like Bernardim Ribeiro, historians like Joao de Barros, and dramatists of the stamp of Gil Vicente. The Jesuit colleges, too, were followed by other orders, spreading Latin culture and maintaining communication between the interior and the important centers. It is natural, then, that early letters in Brazil should have been Portuguese not only in language, but in inspiration, feeling and spirit. Similarly, we find the early intellectual dependence of the Spanish American countries upon Spain, even as later both the Spanish and the Portuguese writers of America were to be influenced greatly by French literature. "Brazilian poetry," says Verissimo in the little essay already referred to, "was already in the seventeenth century superior to Portuguese verse." He foresaw a time when it would outdistance the mother country. But Brazilian literature as a whole, he found, lacked the perfect continuity, the cohesion, the unity of great literatures, chiefly because it began as Portuguese, later turned to east (particularly France) and only then to Brazil itself. In the early days it naturally lacked the solidarity that comes from easy communication between literary centers. This same lack of communication was in a sense still true at the time he wrote his essay. The element of communicability did exist during the Romantic period (1835-1860), whereupon came influences from France, England, Italy, and even Germany, and letters were rapidly denationalized. What was thus needed and beneficial from the standpoint of national culture prejudiced the interests of national literature, says Verissimo. He finds, too, that there is too little originality and culture among Brazilian writers, and that their work lacks sincerity and form (1899). Poetry was too often reduced to the love of form while fiction was too closely copied from the French, thus operating to stifle the development of a national dramatic literature. Excessive preoccupation with politics and finance (where have we heard that complaint elsewhere?) still further impeded the rise of a truly native literature.

Perhaps Verissimo's outlook was too pessimistic; he was an earnest spirit, unafraid to speak his mind and too much a lover of truth to be misled by a love of his country into making exaggerated claims for works by his countrymen. We must not forget that he was here looking upon Brazilian letters as a whole; in other essays by him we discover that same sober spirit, but he is alive to the virtues of his fellow writers as well as to their failings.

It is with the prose of the latest period in Brazilian literature that we are here concerned. From the point of view of the novel and tale Brazil shares with Argentina, Columbia, Chile and Mexico the leadership of the Latin-American [1] republics. If Columbia, in Jorge Isaacs' Maria, can show the novel best known to the rest of the world, and Chile, in such a figure as Alberto Blest-Gana (author of Martin Rivas and other novels) boasts a "South American Balzac," Brazil may point to more than one work of fiction that Is worthy of standing beside María, Martin Rivas or José Marmol's exciting tale of love and adventure, Amalia. The growing importance of Brazil as a commercial nation, together with a corresponding increase of interest in the study of Portuguese (a language easily acquired by all who know Spanish) will have the desirable effect of making known to the English reading public a selection of works deserving of greater recognition.

Just to mention at random a few of the books that should in the near future be known to American readers, either in the original or through the medium of translations, I shall recall some of the names best known to Brazilians in connection with the modern tale and novel. If there be anything lacking in the array of modern writers it is a certain broad variety of subject and treatment to which other literatures have accustomed us.

It is not to be wondered at that in surroundings such as the Amazon affords an "Indian" school of literature should have arisen. We have an analogous type of fiction in United States literature, old and new, produced by similar causes. Brazilian "Indianism" reached its highest point perhaps in José Alencar's famous Guarany, which won for its author national reputation and achieved unprecedented success. From the book was made a libretto that was set to music by the Brazilian composer, Carlos Gomez. The story is replete with an intensity of life and charming descriptions that recall the pages of Chateaubriand, and its prose often verges upon poetry in its idealization of the Indian race. Of the author's other numerous works Iracema alone approaches Guarany in popularity. The dominant note of the author, afterward much repeated in the literary history of his nation, is the essential goodness and self-abnegation of the national character.

Alfred d'Escragnolle Taunay (1843-1899) is among the most important of Brazil's novelists. Born at Rio de Janeiro of noble family he went through a course in letters and science, later engaging in the campaign of Paraguay. He took part in the retreat of La Laguna, an event which he has enshrined in one of his best works, first published in French under the title La Retraite de la Laguna. He served also as secretary to Count d'Eu, who commanded the Brazilian army, and later occupied various political offices, rising to the office of senator in 1886. His list of works is too numerous to mention in a fragmentary introduction of this nature; chief among them stands Innocencia, a sister tale, so to speak, to Isaacs's María. According to Verissimo, Innocencia is one of the country's few genuinely original novels. It has been called, by Mérou (1900), "the best novel written in South America by a South American," a compliment later paid by Guglielmo Ferrero to Graça Aranha's Canaan. Viscount Taunay's famous work has been translated into French twice, once into English, Italian, German, Danish, and even Japanese.

The scene is laid in the deserted Matto Grosso, a favorite background of the author's. Innocencia is all that her name implies, and dwells secluded with her father, who is a miner, her negress slave Conga, and her Caliban-like dwarf Tico, who loves Innocencia, the Miranda of this district. Into Innocencia's life comes the itinerant physician, Cirino de Campos, who is called by her father to cure her of the fever. Cirino is her Ferdinand; they make love in secret, for she is meant by paternal arrangement for a mere brute of a mule driver, Manaçao by name. Innocencia vows herself to Cirino, when the mule-driver comes to enforce his prior claim; the father, bound by his word of honor, sides with the primitive lover. The tragedy seems foreordained, for Innocencia makes spirited resistance, while Manaçao avenges himself by killing the doctor. A comic figure of a German scientist adds humor and a certain poignant irony to the tale. Such a bare outline conveys nothing of the mysterious charm of the original, nor of its poetic atmosphere. Comparing Innocencia with what has been termed its sister work, María, I believe that María is the better tale of the two, although there is much to be said for both. The point need not be pressed. The heroine of María is more a woman, less a child than Innocencia, hence the fate of the Spanish girl is tragic where that of the other maiden is merely pitiful. Innocencia, on the other hand, is stouter in texture. In María there is no love struggle; the struggle is with life and circumstance; in Innocencia there is not only the element of rivalry in love, but in addition there is the rigid parent who sternly, and at last murderously, opposes the natural desires of a child whom he has promised to another. Where María is idyllic, poetic, flowing smoothing along the current of a realism tempered by sentimentalism, Innocencia (by no means devoid of poetry) is romantic, melodramatic, rushing along turbulently to the outcome in a death as violent as María's is peaceful. There is in each book a similar importance of the background. In Innocencia the "point of honor" is quite as strong and vindictive as in any play of the Spanish Golden Age. María shares with Innocencia relieving touches of humor and excellent pages of character description.

Taunay's O Encilhamento is a violent antithesis to the work just considered. Here the politician speaks. In passages of satire that becomes so acrimonious at times as to indicate real personages, the wave of speculation that swept Argentina and Brazil is analyzed and held up to scorn. The novel is really a piece of historical muck-raking and was long an object of resentment in the republic.

Everything from Taunay's pen reveals a close communion with nature, an intimate understanding of the psychology of the vast region's inhabitants. His shorter tales, which I hope later to present to the English-reading public, reveal these powers at their best. Now it is a soldier who goes to war, only, like a military Enoch Arden, to return and find his sweetheart in another's arms; now it is a clergyman, "the vicar of sorrows," who, in the luxuriant environment of his charge suffers the tortures of carnal temptations, with the spirit at last triumphant over the flesh. Whatever of artifice there is in these tales is overcome, one of his most sympathetic critics tells us, by the poetic sincerity of the whole. Taunay, too, has been likened to Pierre Loti for his exotic flavor. In Yerecé a Guaná we have a miniature Innocencia. Yerecé and Alberto Monteiro fall in love and marry. The latter has been cured, at the home of Yerecé, of swamp fever. The inevitable, however, occurs, and Montero hears the call of civilization. The marriage, according to the custom of the tribe into which Montero has wed, is dissolved by the man alone. He returns to his old life and she dies of grief.

A work that may stand beside Innocencia and Verissimo's Scenes from Amazon Life as a successful national product is Inglez de Sousa's O Missionario. Antonio de Moraes, in this story, is not so strong in will as Taunay's vicar of sorrows. Antonio is a missionary "with the vocation of a martyr and the soul of an apostle," on duty in the tropics. The voluptuous magnetism of the Amazon seizes his body. Slowly, agonizingly, but surely he succumbs to the enchantment, overpowered by the life around him.

Since Machado de Assis (who should precede Azevedo) and Coelho Netto (who should follow him, if strict chronological order were being observed) are both referred to in section three, which deals particularly with the authors represented in this sample assortment of short tales, they are here omitted.

With the appearance of O Mulato by Aluizio Azevedo (1857-1912), the literature of Brazil, prepared for such a reorientation by the direct influence of the great Portuguese, Eça de Queiroz, and Emile Zola, was definitely steered toward naturalism. "In Aluizio Azevedo," says Benedicto Costa, "one finds neither the poetry of José de Alencar, nor the delicacy,—I should even say, archness—of Macedo, nor the sentimental preciosity of Taunay, nor the subtle irony of Machado de Assis. His phrase is brittle, lacking lyricism, tenderness, dreaminess, but it is dynamic, energetic, expressive, and, at times, sensual to the point of sweet delirium."

O Mulato, though it was the work of a youth in his early twenties, has been acknowledged as a solid, well-constructed example of Brazilian realism. There is a note of humor, as well as a lesson in criticism, in the author's anecdote (told in his foreword to the fourth edition) about the provincial editor who advised the youthful author to give up writing and hire himself out on a farm. This was all the notice he received from his native province, Maranhao. Yet Azevedo grew to be one of the few Brazilian authors who supported himself by his pen.

When Brazilian letters are better known in this nation, among Azevedo's work we should be quick to appreciate such a pithy book as the Livro de uma Sogra,—the Book of a Mother-in-Law. And when the literature of these United States is at last (if ever, indeed!) released from the childish, hypocritical, Puritanic inhibitions forced upon it by quasi official societies, we may even relish, from among Azevedo's long shelf of novels, such a sensuous product as Cortiço.

I have singled out, rather arbitrarily it must be admitted, a few of the characteristic works that preceded the appearance of Graça Aranha's Canaan, the novel that was lifted into prominence by Guglielmo Ferrero's fulsome praise of it as the "great American novel." [2] For South America, no less than North, is hunting that literary will o' the wisp. Both Maria and Innocencia have been mentioned for that honor.

There is a distinct basis for comparison between Innocencia and the more famous Spanish American tale from Colombia; between these and Canaan, however, there is little similarity, if one overlook the poetic atmosphere that glamours all three. Aranha's masterpiece is of far broader conception than the other two; it adds to their lyricism an epic sweep inherent in the subject and very soon felt in the treatment. It is, in fact, a difficult novel to classify, impregnated as it is with a noble idealism, yet just as undoubtedly streaked with a powerful realism. This should, however, connote no inept mingling of genres; the style seems to be called for by the very nature of the vast theme—that moment at which the native and the immigrant strain begin to merge in the land of the future—the promised land that the protagonists are destined never to enter, even as Moses himself, upon Mount Nebo in the land of Moab, beheld Canaan and died in the throes of the great vision.

Canaan is of those novels that centre about an enthralling idea. The type which devotes much attention to depictions of life and customs, to discussions upon present realities and ultimate purposes, is perhaps more frequent among Spanish and Portuguese Americans than among our own readers who are apt to be overinsistent in their demands for swift, visible action. Yet, in the hands of a master, it possesses no less interest than the more obvious type of fiction, for ideas possess more life than the persons who are moved by them.

The idea that carries Milkau from the Old World to the New is an ideal of human brotherhood, high purpose and dissatisfaction with the old, degenerate world. In the State of Espirito Santo, where the German colonists are dominant, he plans a simple life that shall drink inspiration in the youth of a new, virgin continent. He falls in with another German, Lentz, whose outlook upon life is at first the very opposite to Milkau's blend of Christianity and a certain liberal socialism. The strange milieu breeds in both an intellectual langour that vents itself in long discussions, in breeding contemplation, mirages of the spirit. Milkau is gradually struck with something wrong in the settlement. Little by little it begins to dawn upon him that something of the Old-World hypocrisy, fraud and insincerity, is contaminating this supposedly virgin territory. Here he discovers no paradise à la Rousseau—no natural man untainted by the ills of civilization. Graft is as rampant as in any district of the world across the sea; cruelty is as rife. His pity is aroused by the plight of Mary, a destitute servant who is betrayed by the son of her employers. Not only does the scamp desert her when she most needs his protection and acknowledgment, but he is silent when his equally vicious parents drive her forth to a life of intense hardship. She is spurned at every door and reduced to beggary. Her child is born under the most distressing circumstances, and under conditions that strike the note of horror the infant is slain before her very eyes while she gazes helplessly on.

Mary is accused of infanticide, and since she lacks witnesses, she is placed in a very difficult position. Moreover, the father of her child bends every effort to loosen the harshest measures of the community against her, whereupon Milkau, whose heart is open to the sufferings of the universe, has another opportunity to behold man's inhumanity to woman. His pity turns to what pity is akin to; he effects her release from jail, and together they go forth upon a journey that ends in the delirium of death. The promised land had proved a mirage—at least for the present. And it is upon this indecisive note that the book ends.

Ferrero's introduction, though short, is substantial, and to the point. It is natural that he should have taken such a liking to the book, for Aranha's work is of intense interest to the reader who looks for psychological power, and Ferrero himself is the exponent of history as psychology rather than as economic materialism. "The critics," he says, "will judge the literary merits of this novel. As a literary amateur I will point out among its qualities the beauty of its style and its descriptions, the purity of the psychological analysis, the depth of the thoughts and the reflections of which the novel is full, and among its faults a certain disproportion between the different parts of the book and an ending which is too vague, indefinite and unexpected. But its literary qualities seem to me to be of secondary importance to the profound and incontrovertible idea that forms the kernel of the book. Here in Europe we are accustomed to say that modern civilization develops itself in America more freely than in Europe, for in the former country it has not to surmount the obstacle of an older society, firmly established, as in the case of the latter. Because of this, we call America 'the country of the young,' and we consider the New World as the great force which decomposes the old European social organization." That idea is, as Ferrero points out, an illusion due to distance. He points out, too, that here is everywhere "an old America struggling against a new one and, this is very curious, the new America, which upsets traditions, is formed above all by the European immigrants who seek a place for themselves in the country of their adoption, whereas the real Americans represent the conservative tendencies. Europe exerts on American society—through its emigrants—the same dissolving action which America exerts—through its novelties and its example—on the old civilization of Europe." The point is very well taken, and contains the germ of a great novel of the United States. And just as Canaan stands by itself in Brazilian literature, so might such a novel achieve preeminence in our own.

Ferrero is quite right in indicating the great non-literary importance of the novel, though not all readers will agree with him as to the excessive vagueness of the end. Hardly any other type of ending would have befitted a novel that treats of transition, of a landscape that dazzles and enthralls, of possibilities that founder, not through the malignance of fate, but through the stupidity of man. There is an epic swirl to the finale that reminds one of the disappearance of an ancient deity in a pillar of dust. For an uncommon man like Milkau an uncommon end was called for. Numerous questions are touched upon in the course of the leisurely narrative, everywhere opening up new vistas of thought; for Aranha is philosophically, critically inclined; his training is cosmopolitan, as his life has been; he knows the great Germans, Scandinavians, Belgians and Russians; his native exuberance has been tempered by a serenity that is the product of European influence. He is some fifty-two years of age, has served his nation at Christiania as minister, at the Hague, and as leader in the Allied cause. He is, therefore, an acknowledged and proven spokesman. The author of Canaan has done other things, among which this book, which has long been known in French and Spanish, stands out as a document that marks an epoch in Brazilian history as well as a stage in Brazilian literature. Whether it is "the" great American novel is of interest only to literary politicians and pigeon-holers; it is "a" great novel, whether of America or Europe, and that suffices for the lover of belles lettres.


In considering the work of such writers as these and the authors represented in this little pioneer volume one should bear continually in mind the many handicaps under which authorship labors in Portuguese and Spanish America: a small reading public, lack of publishers, widespread prevalence of illiteracy, instability of politics. Under the circumstances it is not so much to be wondered at that the best work is of such a high average as that it was done at all. For in nations where education is so limited and illiteracy so prevalent the manifold functions which in more highly developed nations are performed by many are perforce done by a few. Hence the spectacle in the new Spanish and Portuguese world, as in the old, of men and women who are at once journalists, novelists, dramatists, politicians, soldiers, poets and what not else. Such a versatility, often joined to a literary prolixity, no doubt serves to lower the artistic worth of works produced under such conditions.

In connection with the special character of the tales included in the present sample of modern Brazilian short stories,—particularly those by Machado de Assis and Medeiros e Albuquerque—it is interesting to keep in mind the popularity of Poe and Hawthorne in South America. The introspection of these men, as of de Maupassant and kindred spirits, appeals to a like characteristic of the Brazilians. Such inner seeking, however, such preoccupation with psychological problems, does not often, in these writers, reach the point or morbidity which we have become accustomed to expect in the novels and tales of the Russians. Stories like The Attendant's Confession are written with a refinement of thought as well as of language. They are not, as so much of Brazilian literature must perforce seem to the stranger's mind, exotic. They belong to the letters of the world by virtue of the human appeal of the subject and the mastery of their treatment.

Chief among the writers here represented stands Joaquim Maria Machado de Assis. (1839-1908). Born in Rio de Janeiro of poor parents he was early beset with difficulties. He soon found his way into surroundings where his literary tastes were awakened and where he came into contact with some of the leading spirits of the day. The noted literary historians of his country, Sylvio Roméro and Joao Ribeiro (in their Compendio de Historia da Litteratura Brazileira) find the writing of his first period of little value. The next decade, from his thirtieth to his fortieth year, is called transitional. With the year 1879, however, Machado de Assis began a long phase of maturity that was to last for thirty years. It was during this fruitful period that Memorias Postumas de Braz Cubas, Quincas Borbas, Historias Sem Data, Dom Casmurro, Varias Historias and other notable works were produced. The three tales by Machado de Assis in this volume are translated from his Varias Historias. That same bitter-sweet philosophy and gracious, if penetrating, irony which inform these tales are characteristic of his larger romances. Four volumes of poetry sustain his reputation as poet. He is found, by Roméro and Ribeiro, to be very correct and somewhat cold in his verse. He took little delight in nature and lacked the passionate, robust temperament that projects itself upon pages of ardent beauty. In the best of his prose works, however, he penetrates as deep as any of his countrymen into the abyss of the human soul.

The judgment of Verissimo upon Machado de Assis differs somewhat from that of his distinguished compatriots. Both because of the importance of Machado de Assis to Brazilian literature, and as an insight into Verissimo's delightful critical style, I translate somewhat at length from that writer.

"With Varias Historias," he says in his studies of Brazilian letters, "Sr. Machado de Assis published his fifteenth volume and his fifth collection of tales . . . To say that in our literature Machado de Assis is a figure apart, that he stands with good reason first among our writers of fiction, that he possesses a rare faculty of assimilation and evolution which makes him a writer of the second Romantic generation, always a contemporary, a modern, without on this account having sacrificed anything to the latest literary fashion or copied some brand-new aesthetic, above all conserving his own distinct, singular personality . . . is but to repeat what has been said many times already. All these judgments are confirmed by his latest book, wherein may be noted the same impeccable correctness of language, the same firm grasp upon form, the same abundancy, force and originality of thought that make of him the only thinker among our writers of fiction, the same sad, bitter irony . . .

"After this there was published another book by Sr. Machado de Assis, Yayá Garcia. Although this is really a new edition, we may well speak of it here since the first, published long before, is no longer remembered by the public. Moreover, this book has the delightful and honest charm of being in the writer's first manner.

"But let us understand at once, this reference to Machado de Assis's first manner. In this author more than once is justified the critical concept of the unity of works displayed by the great writers. All of Machado de Assis is practically present in his early works; in fact, he did not change, he scarcely developed. He is the most individual, the most personal, the most 'himself' of our writers; all the germs of this individuality that was to attain in Braz Cubas, in Quincas Borbas, in the Papeis Avulsos and in Varias Historias its maximum of virtuosity, may be discovered in his first poems and in his earliest tales. His second manner, then, of which these books are the best example, is only the logical, natural, spontaneous development of his first, or rather, it is the first manner with less of the romantic and more of the critical tendencies . . . The distinguishing trait of Machado de Assis is that he is, in our literature, an artist and a philosopher. Up to a short time ago he was the only one answering to such a description. Those who come after him proceed consciously and unconsciously from him, some of them being mere worthless imitators. In this genre, if I am not misemploying that term, he remained without a peer. Add that this philosopher is a pessimist by temperament and by conviction, and you will have as complete a characterization as it is possible to design of so strong and complex a figure as his in two strokes of the pen.

"Yayá Garcia, like Resurreiçao and Helena, is a romantic account, perhaps the most romantic written by the author. Not only the most romantic, but perhaps the most emotional. In the books that followed it is easy to see how the emotion is, one might say, systematically repressed by the sad irony of a disillusioned man's realism." Verissimo goes on to imply that such a work as this merits comparison with the humane books of Tolstoi. But this only on the surfact. "For at bottom, it contains the author's misanthropy. A social, amiable misanthropy, curious about everything, interested in everything,—what is, in the final analysis, a way of loving mankind without esteeming it . . .

"The excellency with which the author of Yayá Garcia writes our language is proverbial . . . The highest distinction of the genius of Machado de Assis in Brazilian literature is that he is the only truly universal writer we possess, without ceasing on that account to be really Brazilian."

When the Brazilian Academy of letters was founded in 1897, Machado de Assis was unanimously elected president and held the position until his death. Oliveira Lima, who lectured at Harvard during the college season of 1915-1916, and who is himself one of the great intellectual forces of contemporary Brazil, has written of Machado de Assis: "By his extraordinary talent as writer, by his profound literary dignity, by the unity of a life that was entirely devoted to the cult of intellectual beauty, and by the prestige exerted about him by his work and by his personality, Machado de Assis succeeded, despite a nature that was averse to acclaim and little inclined to public appearance, in being considered and respected as the first among his country's men-of-letters: the head, if that word can denote the idea, of a youthful literature which already possesses its traditions and cherishes above all its glories . . . His life was one of the most regulated and peaceful after he had given up active journalism, for like so many others, he began his career as a political reporter, paragrapher and dramatic critic."

Coelho Netto (Anselmo Ribas, 1864———) is known to his countrymen as a professor of literature at Rio de Janeiro. His career has covered the fields of journalism, politics, education and fiction. Although his work is of uneven worth, no doubt because of his unceasing productivity, he is reckoned by so exacting a critic as Verissimo as one of Brazil's most important writers,—one of the few, in fact, that will be remembered by posterity. Among his best liked stories are "Death," "The Federal Capital," "Paradise," "The Conquest," and "Mirage." Netto's short stories are very popular; at one time every other youth in Brazil was imitating his every mannerism. He is particularly felicitous in his descriptions of tropical nature, which teem with glowing life and vivid picturesqueness.

Coelho Netto is considered one of the chief writers of the modern epoch. "He is really an idealist," writes Verissimo, "but an idealist who has drunk deeply of the strong, dangerous milk of French naturalism." He sees nature through his soul rather than his eyes, and has been much influenced by the mystics of Russia, Germany and Scandinavia. His style is derived chiefly from the Portuguese group of which Eça de Queiroz is the outstanding figure, and his language has been much affected by this attachment to the mother country. His chief stylistic quality is an epic note, tempered by a sentimental lyricism.

In his book Le Roman au Brésil (The Novel in Brazil, which I believe the author himself translated from the original Portuguese into French) Benedicto Costa, after considering Aluizio Azevedo as the exponent of Brazilian naturalism and the epicist of the race's sexual instincts, turns to Coelho Netto's neo-romanticism, as the "eternal praise of nature, the incessant, exaggerated exaltation of the landscape . . ." In Netto he perceives the most Brazilian, the least European of the republic's authors. "One may say of him what Taine said of Balzac: 'A sort of literary elephant, capable of bearing prodigious burdens, but heavy-footed.' And in fact . . . he reveals a great resemblance to Balzac,—a relative Balzac, for the exclusive use of a people,—but a Balzac none the less."

Despite his lack of ideas, his mixture of archaisms, nelogisms, his exuberance, his slow development of plots, his lack of proportion (noticeable, naturally, in his longer works rather than in his short fiction) he stands pre-eminent as a patron of the nation's intellectual youth and as the romancer of its opulent imagination.

Medeiros e Albuquerque (1867–) is considered by some critics to be the leading exponent in the country of "the manner of de Maupassant, enveloped by an indefinable atmosphere that seems to bring back Edgar Allan Poe." He has been director-general of public instruction in Rio de Janeiro, professor at the Normal School and the National School of Fine Arts, and also a deputy from Pernambuco. With the surprising versatility of so many South Americans he has achieved a reputation as poet, novelist, dramatist, publicist, journalist and philosopher.


The part that women have played in the progress of the South American republics is as interesting as it is little known. The name of the world's largest river—the Amazon, or more exactly speaking, the Amazons—stands as a lasting tribute to the bravery of the early women whom the explorer Orellana encountered during his conquest of the mighty flood. [3] For he named the river in honor of the tribes' fighting heroines. Centuries later, when one by one the provinces of South America rose to liberate themselves from the Spanish yoke, the women again played a noble part in the various revolutions. The statue in Colombia to Policarpa Salavarieta is but a symbol of South American gratitude to a host of women who fought side by side with their husbands during the trying days of the early nineteenth century. One of them, Manuela la Tucumana, was even made an officer in the Argentine army.

If women, however, have enshrined themselves in the patriotic annals of the Southern republics, they have shown that they are no less the companions of man in the more or less agreeable arts of peace. When one considers the great percentage of illiteracy that still prevails in Southern America, and the inferior intellectual position which for years has been the lot of woman particularly in the Spanish and Portuguese nations, it is surprising that woman's prominence in the literary world should be what it is.

The name of the original seventeenth century spirit known as Sor Inés de la Cruz (Mexico) is part of Spanish literature. Only recently has she been indicated as her nation's first folklorist and feminist! Her poems have found their way into the anthologies of universal poesy. The most distinguished Spanish poetess of the nineteenth century, Gertrudis Gómez de Avellaneda, was a Cuban by birth, going later to Spain, where she was readily received as one of the nation's leading literary lights. Her poetry is remarkable for its virile passion; her novel "Sab" has been called the Spanish "Uncle Tom's Cabin" for its stirring protest against slavery and its idealization of the oppressed race. She was a woman of striking beauty, yet so vigorous in her work and the prosecution of it that one facetious critic was led to exclaim, "This woman is a good deal of a man!"

But South America has its native candidate for the title of Spanish "Uncle Tom's Cabin," and this, too, is the work of a woman. Clorinda Matto's "Aves Sin Nido" (Birds Without a Nest) is by one of Peru's most talented women, and exposes the disgraceful exploitation of the Indians by conscienceless citizens and priests who had sunk beneath their holy calling. It seems, indeed, that fiction as a whole in Peru has been left to the pens of the women. Such names as Joana Manuele Girriti de Belzu, Clorinda Matto and Mercedes Cabello de Carbonero stand for what is best in the South American novel. The epoch in which these women wrote (late nineteenth century) and the natural feminine tendency to put the house in order (whether it be the domestic or the national variety) led to such stories as Carbonero's "Las Consequencias," "El Conspirador" and "Blanca Sol." The first of these is an indictment of the Peruvian vice of gambling; the second throws an interesting light upon the origin of much of the internal strife of South America, and portrays a revolution brought on by the personal disappointment of a politician. "Blanca Sol" has been called a Peruvian "Madame Bovary."

Although Brazil has not yet produced any Amazons of poetry or fiction to stand beside such names as Sor Inés de la Cruz or Gertrudis Gómez de Avallaneda, it has contributed some significant names to the women writers of Latin America. Not least among these is Carmen Dolores (Emilia Moncorvo Bandeira de Mello) who was born in 1852 at Rio de Janeiro and died in 1910, after achieving a wide reputation in the field of the short story, novel and feuilleton. In addition to these activities she made herself favorably known in the press of Rio, Sao Paulo and Pernambuco. Her career started with the novel Confession. Other works are The Struggle, A Country Drama, and Brazilian Legends. The story in this volume is taken from a collection entitled The Complex Soul.

The present selection of tales makes no pretense at completeness, finality or infallibility of choice. This little book is, so to speak, merely a modest sample-case. Some of the tales first appeared, in English, in the Boston Evening Transcript and the Stratford Journal (Boston), to which organs I am indebted for permission to reprint them.


Roxbury, Mass.

  1. I am aware of the recent objection to this term (See my Studies in Spanish American Literature, pp. 233-237), but no entirely satisfactory substitute has been advanced.
  2. Issued, in English (1920) by the publishers of this book.
  3. This derivation of the river's name is by many considered fanciful. A more likely source of the designation is the Indian word "Amassona," i.e., boat-destroyer, referring to the tidal phenomenon known as "bore" or "proroca," which sometimes uproots tress and sweeps away whole tracts of land.