Sunday, 7 December 2014

On Eça de Queiroz: books and books and books...

Ernesto Guerra da Cal (1911-1994) was a Galician scholar famous, if he’s famous at all outside the circumspect niches of literary studies, for compiling what A. Campos Matos calls “a monumental bibliography” on Eça de Queiroz: in 1984, when the last volume came out, it totalled 13,948 entries. Wow! Using my meagre resources, for the past year I’ve been collecting a minuscule sample in order to devote a month to Eça in 2015, if my live stops being more hectic than it has been lately. The problem is not the difficulty of finding bibliography, it’s choosing from its vastness. Anyway, I’ve amassed a lovely lot and I figured I could share my finds with you. I’m not sure all of them will show up in my theme month, but that’s beside the point:

Correspondência, by Eça de Queiroz: I couldn’t do this without reading his letters. The chief Eça scholar in Portugal, A. Campos Matos, has collected them in two huge volumes. My guess is this is full of letters to people like Antero de Quental and my hero Oliveira Martins.

As Farpas, by Eça de Queiroz & Ramalho Ortigão: Before he was a renowned novelist he was… a notorious dangerous revolutionary… but more on that later. Before he was a renowned novelist he was a popular journalist and satirist. In 1871 he and his friend Ramalho Ortigão started a monthly magazine: inspired by Alphonse Karr’s Les Guêpes, and in the spirit of Punch and Le Charivari, it provided caricature and satire of Portuguese society in order to denounce its follies, poor taste, backwardness and social ills, using the old castigat ridendo mores to criticise politics, education, literature, economics, fashion. Awfully popular in its time, Eça stayed on until 1872 and then Ortigão carried on alone until 1882. In 1890 Eça published his contributions under the name of Uma Campanha Alegre, considerably edited, excised, and transformed, which is still the cheapest, most popular edition available. Mine happens to be Maria Filomena Mónica’s more expensive edition which restores the texts to their original form.

Letters from England, by Eça de Queiroz: I have read this book but it’ll be a pleasure reading it again. It’s a collection of texts Eça wrote while serving as consul in England and which were published in Portuguese newspapers. Basically it’s the UK seen from his eyes. It explores several themes from Christmas to politics, from the war in Afghan to the Irish troubles, not even children’s literature escaped his attention. There’s a similar book composed of texts he sent from Paris, which I’ve been unlucky to obtain so far.

Eça de Queiroz e o Egipto Faraónico, by Luís Manuel de Araújo: In 1869 Eça, foreign correspondent, journeyed to Egypt to cover the inauguration of the Suez Channel. He must have loved the East because he set one of his funniest novels, The Relic, in it. Oh, and he brought hashish balls for his friends, who consumed it with jelly. He also wrote a travelogue called O Egipto – Notas de Viagem, although I don’t have it yet. What I do have is a book about Eça and the Egypt, written by a fan of the former and an expert on the latter.

As Polémicas de Eça de Queiroz, by Carlos Reis: Collected in five volumes, here we have several texts born from polemics that involved him and other figures of the time. Eça was an opinionated person who didn’t suffer fools gladly and he couldn’t keep his mouth shut when something or somebody annoyed him. Politicians, journalists, book reviewers, Romantic poets and novelists. Includes the spat he had with Machado de Assis over his negative reviews of The Crime of Father Amaro and Cousin Basilio.

Eça de Queirós - Uma Biografia, by A Campos Matos: Published in 2010, 590 pages long, it’s the most comprehensive biography written to date, by his foremost scholar. I have a very fragmentary notion of Eça’s life, so this is a much necessary read.

7 Biografias de Eça de Queiroz, by A Campos Matos: Ah, this guy’s a shrewd one. Before he wrote his biography he published a little book where he reviews seven previous biographies, from Brazilian Miguel Melo’s 1911 critical-biographical study to Maria Filomena Mónica’s 2001 biography, whose hatchet job I’m suspicious was the main purpose of this anthology. He totally demolishes her book, clearing the way for his triumphant contribution.

Londres em Paris - Eça de Queirós e a Imprensa Inglesa, by Maria Teresa Pinto Coelho: Although he’s often associated with France, especially because of Flaubert, his master, and the Realist and Naturalist schools, Eça admired England a lot and saw it as an example for many things that could be done in Portugal to improve it. One of the things that fascinated him was the English way of doing journalism and the rigour and intelligence of British newspapers, standards he tried to implement in Portugal in magazines created by himself. This book studies that fascination.

Eça de Queirós Jornalista, by Elza Miné: Speaking of journalism, which he practiced for many years before and after becoming a famous novelist, here’s a concise study about his journalistic prose, often time ignored. The author’s Brazilian, by the way: they adore him over there.

Eça de Queiroz Jornalista, by Maria Filomena Mónica: And here’s a book with a similar title. The problem with Portugal’s obsession with changing spelling every 20 years is that no one ever knows how to write the names of dead people. Some, like me, write his name the old way, others prefer the modern, useless stress. Whatever. Although this book is also about his journalist, it’s not so much a study as it is an anthology of little known journalistic prose.

Madame Bovary de Gustave Flaubert/O Primo Basílio de Eça de Queiroz, by Dominique Sire: This French scholar provides us with a comparative study of Flaubert’s famous novel and Eça’s own stab at adultery, Cousin Bazilio. I’m quite anxious to read this book because I love comparative analyses and because I believe Eça’s novel is better than Flaubert’s. There, I’ve said it.

Eça Político, by João Medina: The author is another celebrated scholar with a long career on Eça Studies. Here he explores how he addressed politics in his time. I’m curious to read it, although the time of its publication worries  me. The ‘70s were not a good time for Portuguese literary critics to write about politics; there was a revolutionary fervour in the air and everyone had to choose a side, i.e. the Communist one, and that kind of dulls analyses.

O Último Eça, by Miguel Real: Here’s another book I’m anxious to read. The common interpretation of Eça’s later life and career is that, after a few feverish decades of revolutionary idealism, the author mellowed and grew tamer: he had a job in government, was married, had kids, and political events, especially a humiliating British Ultimatum regarding Portuguese colonies in Africa, had deflagrated a fire of nationalism against which he was not totally immune. So his last novels show a more domesticated, less combative, polemic and interventionist Eça. But literary critic and philosopher Miguel Real wants to prove that this image of the “last Eça” is all wrong. Being familiar with his final novels I think it’s a hard battle to win, but I’m always ready to be persuaded if the case is solid.

Eça de Queiroz/Ramalho Ortigão, by A Campos Matos: Legend has it that Eça and Ortigão were great friends. Campos Matos disagrees and sheds doubts on that friendship by describing Ortigão’s behaviour in the days following Eça’s death in Paris from illness. Here’s the gist: Ortigão was vacationing in Europe when he received the news, and instead of going to Paris to aid his friend’s hapless wife and children, carried on as if nothing had happened, journeyed to Italy and got an audience with Pope Leo XIII. Some could say that’s an extraordinary way of dealing with grief.

As Conferências do Casino no Parlamento, by José Augusto-França: So this is the part about the dangerous revolutionary. In 1871 Eça and friends organised a series of conferences. Antero de Quental, the mentor of the group, talked about the nation’s decadence, Augusto Soromenho criticised contemporary Portuguese Literature, accusing it of backwardness, excessive sentimentality and lack of originality, basically paving the way for Eça’s conference on Modern Literature which served as a manifesto for his future work as a novelist. Then there was a conference about the lack of quality in education, and by the time Salomão Saragga was going to deliver a lecture on “The Historical Criticism of Jesus Christ,” the government ordered them to shut down the conferences, afraid that these radicals would fan similar flames to the ones burning in the Paris Commune at the same time, a revolutionary event that sent shivers throughout all European regimes. The problem is that the conferences were legal and the government did not have the authority to suspend them, only to charge the culprits with excesses. The awkward law of the time said you were free to deliver public speeches, etc, but at the same time you could be tried for spreading ideas that could be dangerous to society, order and tradition. In other words, you could say anything, but afterwards you had to be ready to accept the possibility of legal prosecution if the law decided to interpret what you said as dangerous. The problem for the government is that they suspended the conferences but did not sue or try them, which means the government effectively allowed criminals to go scot-free. Furthermore, the individuals involved demanded to have the right to defend themselves in court: it was a beautiful tactic and made them famous overnight. As you can imagine this incident turned into a nightmare for the government, which was suddenly accused of disrespecting the independence of the judicial branch and of overstepping its power. Augusto-França collects the parliamentary debates that centered on this issue, the speeches in favour and against, and surprisingly they’re thrilling stuff that head towards a remarkable conclusion. To make a long story short: in 1872 Eça and friends brought down a government. Dangerous revolutionaries indeed.


  1. An Eça month sounds like a pretty great idea, Miguel, which reminds me that maybe I should get to the Borges- and Bioy Casares-approved Cousin Bazilio sometime soon. Too bad I've been saying that for the last two to three years without having made it happen yet--what a loser I am!

    1. Richard, you must, you must! I'm probably going to re-read Cousin Bazilio for it because it's one of my favourites.

    2. It's a great novel. It has not just one but two of the greatest monkey figurines in literature.

      What a wonderful bibliography. 13,948!

    3. Tom, your eye for detail is exquisite! I'll have to keep an eye out for them next time.

  2. Thanks for sharing your finds. I look forward to reading more about a favorite author...and revisiting and exploring myself!

    1. Great to know I already have a reader for my Eça Month!

      Have a great 2015, Dwight!