Two tools that Eça de Queiros loved.
Party scenes. Not big ones, balls or weddings, but more intimate gatherings, friends gathering over dinner, drinking themselves senseless, arguing about profound nonsense. Sometimes the party is a regular event, not really a party at all but just a routine social activity. A little piano playing, some snacks, some cards. The Crime of Father Amaro and Cousin Basilio both structure the entire book around this kind of scene. Sometimes the party is a rarer bird, a chance to indulge. The Maias has some superb scenes of this type. Chapter 2 of The Illustrious House of Ramires has a good one, too.
The great advantage to the author is that the party almost forces the reader to plunge in to the world of the novel, just like in a real party where I only know the person I came with. I am introduced to a bewildering array of names and descriptions, lucky if I tack a characteristic or two onto each name. In Chapter 2 of Ramires, Gonçalo meets his friends for dinner. Here comes Titó (“powerful limbs… slow rumble of his powerful voice… idleness”) , maybe a bit of a weary libertine, and Gouveia (“very dark and very dry… a bowler-hat tilted over one ear”) who has an aversion to cucumbers.
Wait, do I need to remember that? Right now, there is no way to know. The dinner scenes are humorously exhausting. Luckily, the food is good:
Gonçalo , who claimed he had been miraculously cured [of a kidney pain] after the walk to Bravais and the excitement of the card-game, at which he had won nineteen tostões from Manuel Duarte – began with a dish of eggs and smoked sausage, devoured half the mullet, consumed his ‘invalid’s chicken’, cleared the dish of cucumber salad and finished off with a pile of quince jelly cubes; and as he accomplished this noble work, he emptied (without any flushing of that pure white skin) a glazed mug of Alvaralhão wine, because after the first sip of the Abbot’s new wine, he had cursed it, to Titó’s annoyance. (29)
What juicy, thick writing. It’s just a way to show the characters in action, any kind of action.
Then there is the coda. Every remotely longish Eça novel ends with a coda chapter, letting us look back (“Four years passed lightly and swiftly like a flight of birds over the ancient Tower” – that was swift!), often with a lot of irony, although I do not remember there ever being anything like a plot twist. The plot is finished.
The last chapter of Ramires does have a formal twist. We have spent the entire novel with Gonçalo, sometimes watching him, sometimes deep in his thoughts, but the limit of the limited third has been strict. The coda is entirely about Gonçalo, but he never appears in it, although he is described in a letter. Many of the characters are reunited – they are preparing for a party that we do not get to attend.
The gentle last line of the novel, in the voice of whom?:
Father Soeiro, his sunshade under his arm, made his way slowly back to the Tower, in the silence and softness of the evening, reciting his Hail Maries and praying for the peace of God for Gonçalo, for all men, for the fields and the sleeping farms, and for the beautiful land of Portugal, so full of endearing charm, that it might be for ever blessed among lands. (310)
Thanks, Scott, for the readalonging.