Rosebud” and Holy Grail: a hypothesis for Re-Reading Machado de Assis’ Short Stories



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Coda
While the plot resolution of “Frei Simão” is not particularly creative, on the formal level, the story is much more interesting. Actually, this circumstance seems to appear quite frequently in the pre-1880 stories, especially with Iaiá Garcia, the novel preceding The Posthumous Memoirs of Brás Cubas. In other words, we find daring formal moves stymied by conventional plot development. The reader’s role is still relatively undeveloped, essentially limited to an observation that is quite unnecessary: “The reader surely understands that Helena’s marriage was forced on her aunt and uncle.”56 But, of course, that goes without saying.

In fact, six years after the publication of “Frei Simão,” Machado offered a more systematic exploration of the he role of the reader in “Miss Dollar,” which engages in an ironic dialogue with traditional readerly expectations. Similarly, the 1875 short story “A Chinela Turca,” which was republished in Papéis Avulsos, employs a witty double-parody of “a play in the genre of ultra-romance.”57 In this work, Duarte, a young bachelor about to enjoy an evening dance, is stopped by Major Lopo Alves, who has decided to honor the young man with the opportunity to hear him read in its entirety a work he has just finished. “The drama was composed of seven parts.”58 Moreover, he is not allowed to take any breaks, as the Major is determined that he finish the reading this very night. The bachelor has no choice: he accepts his bad luck and takes his space in a comfortable armchair. He quickly finds himself involved in the rumored case of an improbable stolen “Turkish slipper.” Soon he is taken to a mysterious place, where he almost loses his life in a combination of adventures and unexpected situations. Of course, as the reader anticipates, the bachelor has slept through much of the reading. However, the thrust of the story is the ultra-romantic nature of the dream itself, as a parody of the (involuntary) parody of Major Lopo Alves. Thus, when the unwanted guest bids farewell and thereby ends his suffering, the bachelor gives thanks to his own “fertile and disquieting daydream” (…); after all, “it has proven to me once again that the best drama takes place in the viewer, and not on the stage.”59 At its center, this statement shows us one of the principal elements of Machadian writing.

Machado had tested this theme in the 1872 short story “A Parasita Azul,” which was originally published in the Jornal das Familias and reissued a year later in the collection Histórias da Meia-Noite, the theme had previously been tried. As Gledson notes, Machado parodies “even the nascent national literary tradition itself, of which he was a part.”60 In this parody, Machado alludes to texts by Joaquim Manuel de Macedo, José de Alencar and Manuel Antônio de Almeida. The story’s heroine, Isabel, refuses to take part in an advantageous marriage, despite loving her prospective husband. Indeed, there are no obstacles to the proposed union: both are of the same social group, their parents approve of the match, and they are in love—a rare combination of circumstances in Brazil in the 1800’s. Why, then, would the heroine reject her suitor? Here is what the narrator says:
A less demanding reader would find Isabel’s choice strange, especially knowing of their love for one another. I share your way of thinking; but I do not wish to alter the heroine’s personality, because it was just as I present it in these pages. (…) It may be absurd, but that is how it was. 61
It is likely that the narrator predicts the ironic smirk of the reader, who would have recognized the artificial nature of the ultra-romantic character in this good-humored description. Thus Machado seems to be suggesting that “the best fiction prose is to be found in the reader and not in the book itself.” However, once again the text ends in a conventional manner: the lovers are married and live happily ever after; Camilo Seabra manages to forget Paris, finding himself in the peace and quiet of Santa Luzia, in rural Goiás. In fact, the boy who formerly disdained Brazilian high society, who even thought of the Rua do Ouvidor as “merely a long and well-lit alleyway,”62 discovers the enchantment of the pátria in the embrace of “a morena—but not any morena—a silk-skinned one.”63 Despite this neat conclusion, this short story presents complex elements at the level of form, especially through the critique of certain conventions of the romantic novel and theater.

As to “Frei Simão” I hope I have shown that Machado had already developed a similar pattern. In other words, Machado began to experiment with the author-reader function through his use of the narrator-reader of the memoir—an element, which would be a fundamental figure in his poetics. The short story’s narrator, moreover, makes comments on passages that were not transcribed in the “incomplete fragments.” In his words, “It would have been better to provide here some of the pages written by Simão regarding his suffering after receiving the letter; but there is so much missing, and I do not wish to correct the friar’s naïve and sincere expression.”64 The narrator admits that his transcription of the “source” material is partial, leading the reader to himself to question the narrative’s “sincerity,” since it is explicitly mediated by an obviously interested narrator-reader.

The reader is also aware that the letters exchanged between the future monk and Helena, “would end up in the hands of the old man, who, after appreciating his son’s way with women, would make him set fire to the steamy letters.”65 Burning the correspondence means his son is unable to “take solace in their absence with the presence of paper and letters.”66 The story begins with the narrator relating the abbot’s fright at hearing the monk’s final words: “—I die filled with hatred for humanity!” For the abbot, however, the most disturbing element is not the words themselves, but “the tone in which the words were spoken.”67 Unlike most, in fact, Capitu learned how to subtly read between the lines based on hearing the “tone” of spoken words.68 In these passages, what stands out is the Machadian sensitivity to the material conditions of printed texts, which reveals another structural recurrence in the pre-1880 works.

Therefore, “Frei Simão” can be read as a short story that goes beyond a predictable tale of social hierarchy as represented by the impossibility of Simão’s marriage to a dependent. The short story develops a more complex narrative structure than criticism has previously recognized, above all because it presents elements that would assure Machado de Assis a special place in Brazilian literature. Could it be that the same can be said of Machado’s other pre-Posthumous Memoirs short stories, chronicles and criticism?


NOTES
1 I thank Alexandra Viera de Almeida, Hélio de Seixas Guimarães, Leonardo Vieira de Almeida, Pedro Armando de Almeida Magalhães and Thomaz Pereira de Amorim Neto for their critiques and suggestions of the first version of this text. I especially thank Andrew Joseph Jager, Ross Forman and Jobst Welge for the present version in English. This text was written thanks to a Research Fellowship from the Alexander von Humboldt Foundation. I thank also Professor Joachim Küpper for his support and encouragement at the Freie Universität, Berlin.
2 Assis, “Uma visita de Alcibíades” 240.
3 Idem 232.
4 Idem 239. For future development, I wish to point out the response, which differentiates between “the domain of ideal, uninterested art” and the “art of dressing. This, which seems absurd or graceless, is perfectly relative and beautiful—beautiful in our way”. Idem, 239. This reflection is very near to the famous definition proposed by Baudelaire for the concept of “modernity.”
5 I am alluding to the famous note “To the Reader” of The Posthumous Memoirs of Brás Cubas. The narrator compares his style to “the free-form of a Sterne or a Xavier de Maistre.” Assis, The Posthumous Memoirs 5.
6 Gledson, “Apresentação” 20.

7 Although a full exploration of the topic is not possible here, I would like to briefly allude to the conjuncture of metaphors of the gaze, which is responsible for the analogy that eyes are the “windows of the soul.” This is undoubtedly a banal formulation, as like Machado’s use of it in the 1878 edition of Iaiá Garcia suggests In the novels after Posthumous Memoirs of Brás Cubas the metaphor is used differently and progressively modified, suggesting the impossibility of grasping the final meaning of actions. For now, it is sufficient to recall the figure of Bentinho, who condemns himself in the face of the enigma of Capitu’s gaze. I first presented this idea at the 2005 meeting of ABRALIC, “Machado de Assis: um seminário”, which was published in the proceedings of the meeting. Alfredo Bosi also presented an important essay on the richness of the Machadian narrator’s gaze, Bosi, 9-72.

8 Assis, “Miss Dollar” 126.
9 Idem 131. For an insightful analysis of this short story, see also Lajolo 77-85.
10 In this well-known passage, Machado creates an opposition between the serious [gente grave] and the frivolous [gente frívola] , identifying two types of readers. “To the Reader”. Assis, “To The Reader” 5.
11 Assis, “Confissões de uma viúva moça” 107.
12 Idem 95.
13 The young widow justifies her misfortune in the following way: “(...) the lesson should be of use to me, just as it should be to you and to our girlfriends. Show them these letters; they are the pages of a script that, had I had it earlier, may have saved me from losing a dream and two years of my life.” Idem 95.
14 See Assis, “The Psychiatrist” 1-45.
15 See Assis, “Education of a Stuffed Shirt” 113-122.
16 See Assis, “The Looking Glass” 56-65.
17 Guimarães 27.
18 Santiago 64.
19 I thank Bluma Waddington Vilar for pointing this book out to me.
20 “There is little difference between Machado de Assis’ criticism and his chronicles. Both are dominated by the same preoccupation with understanding and interpreting human reactions.” Castello 49.

21 “Regarding Machado de Assis’ intentions and creative processes, it is interesting to recall his well-known letter to Quintino Bocaiúva (...)”. Idem 39. To be more systematic: “In Machado de Assis’ correspondence there are curious confessions that illustrate the independent length of his temporal synchronism, i.e., the existence of the objective configuration of the myth.” Idem 61.

22 Idem 109. Antonio Candido pointed out the importance of this passage in the book’s “presentation”: “Actually, articulation could be considered the fundamental work in the critical attitude taken by José Aderaldo Castello, showing the straight lines between works, genres, phases, and above all between the elements that are arranged to provide structure in all his writings.” Later, Candido wrote a deservedly celebrated essay on Machado’s work, in which he called attention to the same approach that I am trying to unfold in this text; see Candido.
23 Assis, “Três tesouros perdidos” 63, emphasis added.
24 In the 1878 short story “Folha rota,” for example, which came out in the Jornal das Famílias and was never reprinted, explanatory facts already appear more as suggestion than as pure information: “Both hands met one another and became stuck together. A few minutes passed, maybe three or four.” Assis, “Folha rota” 265, emphasis added. The reader will easily notice that it is not a question of chronological precision. Rather, the emphasis is placed on the psychological duration of the episode, besides alluding to the erotic potential of the scene.
25 This expression comes in the novel’s ending: “The doctor’s love was doubted posthumously.” Assis, Ressurreição 104.
26 Assis, Dom Casmurro 196.

27 Helen Caldwell provides an insightful remark concerning this issue: “Jealousy never ceased to fascinate Machado de Assis. (...) Jealousy has a fat part in seven of his nine novels; the plots of ten short stories turn upon the ugly passion – though in seven of the latter, to be sure, it receives an ironic if not rudely comic treatment.” Caldwell 1. Silviano Santiago has also stressed this factor in Machado’s fiction, explaining “(...) how the problem of jealousy arose in the Machadian universe. It comes (...) from the character’s conception of the nature of love and marriage, as well as, on the other hand, the delicate games of marivaudage that man and woman have to represent to be able to arrive at union.” Santiago 66. See also Param 198-206.

28 See Maia Neto.
29 Once more I am alluding to the note “To the Reader” of The Posthumous Memoirs of Brás Cubas: “The work itself is everything: if it pleases you, dear reader, I shall be well paid for the task; if it doesn’t please you, I’ll pay you with a snap of the finger and goodbye.” Assis, The Posthumous Memoirs 7.
30 Castello 75.
31 The passage reads: “Here, after examining some of the primary critical statements about characterization, I wish to demonstrate that the short stories offer an excellent exhibit on Machado’s theory of the literary character. His brief fiction, in spite of its enormous variety, also presents a consistency in many areas. Perhaps the short stories are the best complement to the suggestive critical essays of the author”. On this subject, see Dixon.
32 Castello 29. At a later point, Castello further develops this line of thought: “For our purposes, Machado de Assis’ first reflections on the novel, in which he expressed appreciation for romantic or realist works, already demonstrate the seed of a new understanding of the genre that would later be applied to and evolve with his works of fiction.” Idem 35.

33 Gledson, “Os contos de Machado de Assis: o machete e o violoncelo” 15. In a note on the same page, Gledson continues: “There are few works dedicated to the short stories. Of the most useful ones, we could notably cite Alfredo Bosi (... ‘A máscara e a fenda’ ...) and Paul Dixon” (Os contos de Machado de Assis: mais do que sonha a filosofia). Raymundo Faoro’s seminal text (Machado de Assis: a pirâmide e o trapézio) reserves much space to the short stories and chronicles. Perhaps the best essay on Machado is Antonio Candido’s ‘Esquema de Machado de Assis,’ which gives the short stories their rightful importance (...).”

34 Schwarz, A Master on the Periphery of Capitalism 149.
35 In the first detailed description of Capitu, the narrator cruelly points out the marks of social inferiority: “I couldn’t keep my eyes off this fourteen-year-old girl, strong and well built, in a tight fitting, somewhat faded cotton frock. (...) Her hands, although used to hard household work, were well cared for; they were not scented with fine soaps or toilet water, but she kept them spotless with water from the well and ordinary soap. She wore strong cloth shoes, flat and old, which she herself kept mended.” Assis, Dom Casmurro 26-27, my emphasis. In “A poesia envenada de Dom Casmurro”, Roberto Schwarz developed an important analysis for this question. Schwarz, Duas Meninas 7-41.
36 Here is Roberto Schwarz’s apt formulation: “We say that Machado tried to analyze the arbitrary paternalist from the perspective of the dependents in order to free them from this condition, which caused him to exclude it from a positive tone. Differently, at a later time he would assume it in its entirety, as he did here with the dependent Antunes to accompany the movement and bring him to the first plane instead of hiding him.” Schwarz, Ao vencedor as batatasforma literária e processo social nos inícios do romance brasileiro 161.
37 “Why in the world is your mother waiting here at home for this wandering flower? The girl needs some fresh air.” It is not difficult to imagine the “literal” translation of this sentence. Assis, “Mariana” 155.

38 One cannot fail to recall the emblematic passage: “Prudêncio, a black houseboy, was my horse every day (...) .” Assis, 25. We know what follows: in the future, now freed, Prudêncio willreproduce the violence he has suffered in childhood as a slave—see the chapter “The Whipping” 108-109.

39 Assis, Dom Casmurro 11, emphasis added.
40 Assis, “O espelho” 405.
41 Assis, “Mariana” 159.
42 “Coutinho then finished the narration, which we all listened to with such sadness. But shortly thereafter we went outside onto Ouvidor Street, looking at the feet of the ladies that got out of the cars and making more or less funny and well-timed reflections. Two hours of conversation had brought back our youth.” Idem 170.
43 Assis, “Frei Simão” 66.
44 Idem 68.
45 Idem 67.
46 Bluma Waddington Vilar has proposed an insightful reading of this problem in her Ph.D. Dissertation: Escrita e leitura: citação e autobiografia em Murilo Mendes e Machado de Assis, Programa de Pós-graduação em Letras da Universidade do Estado do Rio de Janeiro, 2001. See especially the chapter, “Citação e autobiografia: Memórias póstumas de Brás Cubas118-151. Vilar combines Machado’s undermining of traditional notions of authorship with a careful study of what she calls “Machado de Assis’ system of citation.”
47 Assis, “Frei Simão” 67.
48 See Gledson, “The creative use of fragmentation had to wait for Brás Cubas”. Gledson, “Os contos de Machado de Assis: o machete e o violoncelo” 23.
49 Assis, “Frei Simão” 74.
50 Idem 74, emphasis added.
51 Idem 74.

52 The original reads: “A razão é o perfeito equilíbrio de todas as faculdades; fora daí insânia, insânia, e só insânia,” Assis, “O alienista” 286, my emphasis. Compare with William L. Grossman’s translation: “But what is reason if not the equilibrium of the mental faculties? An individual, therefore, who lacks this equilibrium in any particular is, to that extent, insane.” Assis, “The Psychiatrist” 11.

53 I am reminded of the following well-known passage: “There is no way of emending a confused book, but everything can be put into books with omissions. (...) For everything can be found outside a book with gaps in it, dear reader. Thus I fill in others’ lacunae: in this way too you can fill in mine.” Assis, Dom Casmurro 111-112.
54 Assis, “Frei Simão” 74.
55 Idem 75.
56 Idem 74.
57 Assis, “A chinela turca” 221.
58 Idem 222.
59 Idem 231.
60 Gledson, “Os contos de Machado de Assis: o machete e o violoncelo” 25.
61 Assis, “A parasita azul” 211, emphasis added.
62 Idem 177.
63 Idem 190, emphasis added.
64 Assis, “Frei Simão” 74.
65 Idem 71.
66 Idem 71
67 Idem 67.
68 Among numerous others, I select one example: “[Capitu] Asked me for a few more things, among them the exact words and the spoken tone of certain people.”. Assis, Dom Casmurro 93, emphasis added.

WORK CITED

Assis, Machado. “A chinela turca.” John Gledson (ed.). Contos/Uma antologia. São Paulo: Companhia das Letras, 1998.

------. “A parasita azul.” John Gledson (ed.). Contos/Uma antologia. São Paulo: Companhia das Letras, 1998.
------. “Confissões de uma viúva moça”. John Gledson (ed.). Contos/Uma antologia. São Paulo: Companhia das Letras, 1998.
------. “Education of a Stuffed Shirt.” The Psychiatrist and Other Stories. Translated by Helen Caldwell. Berkeley: University of California Press, 1963.
------. “Folha rota.” John Gledson (ed.). Contos/Uma antologia. São Paulo: Companhia das Letras, 1998.
-----. “Frei Simão.” John Gledson (ed.). Contos/Uma antologia. São Paulo: Companhia das Letras, 1998.
------. “Mariana.” John Gledson (ed.). Contos/Uma antologia. São Paulo: Companhia das Letras, 1998.
------. “Miss Dollar”. John Gledson (ed.). Contos/Uma antologia. São Paulo: Companhia das Letras, 1998.
------. “O alienista.” John Gledson (ed.). Contos/Uma antologia. São Paulo: Companhia das Letras, 1998.
------. “O espelho.” John Gledson (ed.). Contos/Uma antologia. São Paulo: Companhia das Letras, 1998.
------. “The Looking Glass.” The Psychiatrist and Other Stories. Translated by Helen Caldwell. Berkeley: University of California Press, 1963.
------. “The Psychiatrist.” The Psychiatrist and Other Stories. Translated by William L. Grossman. Berkeley: University of California Press, 1963.

------. “Três tesouros perdidos.” John Gledson (ed.). Contos/Uma antologia. São Paulo: Companhia das Letras, 1998.

------. “Uma visita de Alcibíades”. John Gledson (ed.). Contos/Uma antologia. São Paulo: Companhia das Letras, 1998.
------. Dom Casmurro. Rio de Janeiro: Civilização Brasileira/MEC, 1977.
------. Dom Casmurro. Translated by John Gledson. New York / Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1997.
------. Ressurreição. São Paulo: Ática, 1998 [1872].
------. “To the Reader”. The Posthumous Memoirs of Brás Cubas. Translated by Gregory Rabassa. New York / Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1997.
------. The Posthumous Memoirs of Brás Cubas. Translated by Gregory Rabassa. New York / Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1997.
Bosi, Alfredo. “O enigma do olhar”. Machado de Assis. O enigma do olhar. São Paulo: Ática, 1999.
Caldwell, Helen. The Brazilian Othello of Machado de Assis. Berkeley: University of California Press, 1960.
Candido, Antonio. “Esquema de Machado de Assis.” Vários Escritos. São Paulo: Livraria Duas Cidades, 1995.
Castello, José Aderaldo. Realidade e ilusão em Machado de Assis. São Paulo: Companhia Editora Nacional / Editora da Universidade de São Paulo, 1969.
Dixon, Paul. “Paradigms at Play: The Short Stories of Machado de Assis”. João Cezar de Castro Rocha (ed.). Machado de Assis. Portuguese Literary & Cultural Studies, 13/14, University of Massachusetts-Dartmouth, 2006.

Gledson, John. “Apresentação”. Guimarães, Hélio de Seixas. Os leitores de Machado de Assis. O romance machadiano e o público de literatura no século 19. São Paulo: Nankin/EdUSP, 2004.

------. “Os contos de Machado de Assis: o machete e o violoncelo”. Machado de Assis. Contos/Uma antologia. John Gledson (ed.). São Paulo: Companhia das Letras, 1998.
Guimarães, Hélio de Seixas. Os leitores de Machado de Assis. O romance machadiano e o público de literatura no século 19. São Paulo: Nankin/EdUSP, 2004.
Lajolo, Marisa. Do mundo da leitura para a leitura do mundo. São Paulo: Ática, 1994.
Maia Neto, José Raimundo. Machado de Assis, the Brazilian Pyrrhonian. West Lafayette: Purdue University Press, 1994.
Param, Charles. “Jealousy in the Novels of Machado de Assis.” Hispania, Vol. 53/2, 1970, 198-206.
Santiago, Silviano. “The Rhetoric of Verisimilitude.” The Space In­-Between. Essays on Latin American Culture. Ana Lúcia Gazzola (ed.). Durham / London: Duke University Press, 2001.
Schwarz, Roberto. A Master on the Periphery of Capitalism. Translated and with an Introduction by John Gledson. Durham / London: Duke University Press, 2001.
------. Ao vencedor as batatasforma literária e processo social nos inícios do romance brasileiro. São Paulo: Livraria Duas Cidades, 1988.
------. Duas meninas. São Paulo: Companhia das Letras, 1997.

Vilar, Bluma Waddington. Escrita e leitura: citação e autobiografia em Murilo Mendes e Machado de Assis, Programa de Pós-graduação em Letras da Universidade do Estado do Rio de Janeiro, 2001.

João Cezar de Castro Rocha is Professor of Comparative Literature at the Universidade do Estado do Rio de Janeiro (UERJ), and a Researcher of Conselho Nacional de Pesquisa Científica (CNPq). He is the author of Literatura e cordialidade. O público e o privado na cultura brasileira (EdUERJ, 1998), and O exílio do homem cordial. Ensaios e revisões (Museu da República, 2004). Email: jccr1@uol.com.br.







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