Tuesday, October 18, 2011

Some Brazilian Tales, useful and otherwise

A neat little discovery by mel u of The Reading Life: the 1921 Brazilian Tales, a pocket collection of six curious-to-good short stories.  The link goes to Google Books, where the PDF scan is available; mel has links to the Gutenberg version.  The book has three stories by the great Machado de Assis and three stories by writers new to me (these links go to mel's posts):

The Vengeance of Felix” by José de Medeiros e Albuquerque, a rough tale of rough folk and rough revenge.
The Pigeons” by Coelho Netto, terribly sad, a father’s angry response to the death of his child.
Aunt Zeze’s Tears” by Carmen Dolores, also sad, in which an old maid gets her hopes up.

Hey, look at that, a woman writer!  You won’t find any of them on the lists I made for the Portuguese Challenge, because I did not know of any.

Netto’s story is about indigenous laborers; the Medeiros e Albuquerque story is about urban working class characters.  The description of the title character has a lot of energy:

Old Felix had followed his trade of digger in all the quarries that Rio de Janeiro possessed.  He was a sort of Hercules with huge limbs, but otherwise stupid as a post.  His companions had nicknamed him Hardhead because of his obstinate character. (opening lines)

I rarely emphasize the point, but these good post-Maupassant short stories have another use for me:  they fill in some more of the background of turn of the century Brazil.  What was life like there, what were people like?  This is fiction, so watch your step, but maybe something like what these writers show me.  For this purpose they are more useful than the stories of the more original writer, Machado de Assis.

“The Attendant’s Confession” is by the Machado de Assis I recognize, a cynical, dodging and weaving first-person story.  A murderous act of anger is rewarded.  The narrator is confessing to the murder, but why – and when?  Similarly, “The Fortune-Teller” is as much concerned with its own structure as the world outside the story.  And then there is “Life,” a hallucinatory dialogue between the Wandering Jew and Prometheus about the value of life and mankind which I did not really get, at least not until the punchline.

None of these Machado de Assis stories are in The Psychiatrist and Other Stories, the one collection I have read, but they may well be in The Devil’s Church and Other Stories or A Chapter of Hats: Selected Stories.  I am amazed that there are three collections of Machado de Assis stories in English.

A good find by mel – thanks for that.


  1. For what it's worth, only "The Attendant's Confession" appears in The Devil's Church, under the title "The Companion". There is no overlap between The Devil's Church and The Psychiatrist.

  2. The Devil's Church picked the best of these, then.

    I was wondering. Either the internet failed me, or I failed the internet.

  3. I think of the three stories I have read so far I liked "The Vengeance of Felix" best-I would read more stories by these writers-The stories are how upper class elite people see those from the lower spectrum of society-I am looking forward to reading works of Machado de Assis soon. So far I have had no luck finding pre-1920 short stories from other parts of the old Portuguese empire like Angola or Macao.

  4. A neat little discovery indeed, especially since I haven't read Machado de Assis in micro format up to this point. Will have to go check out Mel's posts on these soon. By the way, are you still trying to learn Portuguese or was that an Aira/Bolaño-like gag on your part? I'm partic. curious because I might be joining you soon--want to read that Mysteries of Lisbon book that gave rise to the movie of the same name that Emily reviewed recently, but the only copy I could find was Portuguese only. Don't know how foolishly optimistic I am about this, but I thought the movie was plenty great enough to risk trying to learn Portuguese on the fly.

  5. 19th / early 20th century short stories from or about Macao or Mozambique would be interesting even if they were a lot worse than these Brazilian stories. I fear they do not exist, or exist only in whatever library might possess an archive of antique Macauvian newspapers.

    Richard, I am still at least looking at Portuguese. Brazilian Portuguese, actually, because I hears that it is easier, although given the likely result, a moot point. With your Spanish, though, a reading knowledge of Portuguese should come in leaps and bounds.

  6. All 3 stories in Brazilian Tales are also in the Oxford anthology, though "The Attendant's Confession" is in a different version, "The Nurse."

  7. That's right. And several stories overlap the Oxford Anthology and The Psychiatrist & Other Stories. And I just ordered yet another collection, resulting, I assume, in more pointless duplication.