Tuesday, 23 June 2015

Eça de Queiroz: 1893-1900




Eça de Queiroz’ final years are rather unmemorable: he didn’t publish new novels, but restricted himself to continuing the Fradique Mendes letters, serializing a new novel, The Illustrious House of Ramires, and publishing short-stories here and there. He remained a faithful collaborator of the Rio de Janeiro newspaper Gazeta de Notícias until 1897, but he never took part in some public controversy – perhaps because his arch-enemy, Pinheiro Chagas, had died in 1895. In fact the Generation of ’70 itself was losing members quickly. In 1891 Antero de Quental, the mentor of the group, shot himself dead; his friends, in 1896, dedicated him a special book called Antero de Quental, In Memoriam, for which Eça wrote a memoir called “A Genius who was a Saint.” Then in 1894 the historian Oliveira Martins, whose vision of Portugal seeped into Eça’s novels, after a brief and disastrous stay in government during the 1892 crisis of bankruptcy, passed away – he wasn’t even fifty. It’s worth noting that the three longest-lived names of this generation died early. Eça, after losing his two friends, would himself pass away in 1900.

During the 1890s he continued to live in Paris, often moving due to his growing family (and his children, although it troubled him, only spoke French. They didn’t begin to learn Portuguese until their return in 1900): he lived at Rue Charles Laffitte, Avenue du Roule, and finally Rue Crevaux, where he entertained a restricted circle of Portuguese and Brazilian friends like Eduardo Prado (to whom Fradique Mendes addresses a letter), Joaquim Nabuco, Olavo Bilac and Martinho Arruda Botelho, the creator and financer of Revista Moderna, a magazine Eça would later edit. Eça hadn’t given up his old idea of creating his own review: with his friend Alberto Oliveira, between 1894 and 1896, he laid out plans for a new periodical called O Serão. Taking lesions from his previous experience running Revista de Portugal, Eça intended to have 4 or 6 numbers already created in order to avoid the delays that plagued his previous attempt. He tried a different publisher, going to António Maria Pereira, who had previously published The Mystery of the Sintra Road. And he took as his model Jerome K. Jerome’s magazine The Idler. “No program,” wrote Eça. “No periodicity or order in the sections. No school, and no party. Each number is a collection of interesting, modern and living articles written in decent prose.” Eça had in mind a lighter, more generalist magazine since he accepted the erudite style he had used before did not appeal to his countrymen. Nothing came out of these plans, save several letters where he sketched his dream.

In Paris Eça lived a circumspect live. Xavier de Carvalho, a Brazilian journalist who knew him, left an account of that period: according to Eça “was, deep down, a shy person. He didn’t know, so to say, half a dozen men of letters in Paris, he didn’t patronize the literary cafés, he never even stepped into Tortoni, where every afternoon Aurélien Scholl pontificated, or into the Napolitano, where Catulle Mendés olympically ruled. Eça de Queiroz lived only with his books – and for his family, inside an intimate circle of friends, like Eduardo Prado and Batalha Reis. Later, Arrudo Botelho, who created Revista Moderna, for which the novelist wrote many pieces.” His letters and articles from this period don’t show him particularly interested new trends in literature. But always a devourer of newspapers, he continued to write for them, not only for the money he needed with a growing household (and the letters from this period also show him renegotiating new contracts with his editors in order to have more profits from his books), but also because he relished in discussing ideas and opining about everything.

Meanwhile his reputation continued to increase, even if in Portugal his last books had received mixed reviews. In 1893, a Rio de Janeiro magazine called A Semana held a poll to ascertain the best novels of the Portuguese language. The results were remarkable: 1) The Maias; 2) Cousin Bazilio; 3) The Posthumous Memoirs of Bras Cuba; 4) The Relic. Three in four for Eça, not bad. One of the things I have tried to stress throughout my posts is how much Eça owes to Brazilians – their enthusiasm over his novels exceeded Eça’s countrymen’s, and even after his name dimmed in Portugal in the early decades after his death, in Brazil it continue to grow into what a scholar has termed Ecitis, a mania for Eça de Queiroz. In 1896 he also received the Legion of Honour from the French government. And in November Eça, who in his youth had been confused with a revolutionary, had lunch with the Queen D. Amélia of Portugal.

Between May 1897 and April 1899 Eça edited and wrote for Revista Moderna, where he continued to publish Fradique Mendes letters. The 10th issue was a homage number totally devoted to him. On that same number he published the first chapter of The Illustrious House of Ramires.

Many of the articles he wrote at the time concerned French politics and anarchist terrorism. Eça, who had always reproached violent means to change society, saw with horror the power propaganda by deed exerted on the French intelligentsia; the list of terrorist sympathizers was considerable: Bernard Lazare, Maximilien Luce, Max Nordau, Paul Signac, Vlaminck, Paul Pailette, Steinlein, Gabriel Randon, Pissaro, Paul Valéry, Paul Adam, H. de Regnier, Mallarmé, Remy de Gourmont, Elisée Reclus, Emile Verhaeren, Saint-Pol Roux, Octave Mirbeau, Tristan Bernard, Jean Richepin. Ironically sometimes these supporters became victims themselves. “Qu’importe les victimes si le gest est beau? Qu’importe la mort de vagues humanités, si par elles s’affirme l’individu?” wrote Laurent Tailhade, celebrating the bomb attacks of Auguste Vaillant, an anarchist who became a celebrity at the time. The same Tailhade, on April 4, 1894, lost an eye when a bomb blew up in the restaurant Foyt. Eça, usually looking at things from a different perspective, didn’t so much comment the politics behind the bombs and the repression, as the media spectacle that has become a recognizable modern phenomenon. Writing about Vaillant in in 1894 he noticed: “All the Paris newspapers, whether they be ferociously hostile to the anarchists, whether they feel for them a badly-disguised benevolence, are unanimous on one point: in surrounding them with the most generous and resounding notoriety. A victorious general, a great statesman, a poet like Hugo, a genius like Pasteur never had in the Paris press the meticulous coverage that any anarchist apprentice has, who throws against an old wall a shy little bomb.”

Eça also reflected on the counterproductive consequences of propaganda by deed: “Its crimes aren’t even just useless – they’re also counterproductive because they are going to tremendously strengthen everything they want to destroy, and indefinitely set back every progress they anxiously desire to hasten. This sect, whose principle is the suppression of all authority, has thus become a stupid and unconscious promoter of abuses of authority. And it has reached a point where anarchism seems to be on the secret payroll of despotism.” Now there’s a paranoid scenario worthy of Thomas Pynchon.

The Dreyfus affair also continued its long process while Eça lived in Paris, and he managed to follow it closely. This matter embittered Eça tremendously against France. After former retrials and convictions, in September the French authorities once again convicted Dreyfus of his crimes. Although Eça never wrote a J’Accuse like Zola, he did write to his friend Domício de Gama: “Four fifths of France wanted, applauded the sentence. France, in fact, has never been crazy over Justice, not even a friend of the oppressed. Those feelings of high humanism belonged always and exclusively to an elite, which had them, in part out of a judicial spirit, in part out of an unconscious notion of evangelic idealism. I don’t deny that, circa 1848, that elite managed to propagate its feeling through the bourgeoisie, since 1830 sensitized and weakened by the Romantic education. But soon, with the Empire, France found itself, returned to its natural nature, and began once again to be the way it had always been, an arriviste, mercantilist, selfish, dry, greedy nation. I should perhaps add cruel – because, in fact, all the great cruelties of Modern History, since the Albigensian war to the [1792] September Massacres, have been committed by France. Its pretense Humanitarianism and Messianism for Social Love is mere advertisement, set up by Romantic Literature – which had already made the old and prophetic Carlyle roar in rage.” These words were rather hot-heated, and written in private; I think Eça would have taken a more moderate view of the matter in a public article. However such letters and articles he never published point to a growing dissatisfaction with France that had begun years later and that showed him that the France of his youth, the one he worshiped, was an idealistic construct whose reality contained the nationalism, intolerance, materialism, imperialism and capitalism he had criticized England for in the past. Eça, truth be said, was not happy anywhere.

In 1900 Eça went to Switzerland for health matters: his health had been deteriorating for some a few years now. His friends, and photos of that time, said that Eça looked like a prematurely aged man. On Lake Geneva he met two friends, Eduardo Prado and Ramalho Ortigão, who were vacationing. After they left him he started feeling worse and returned to Paris to seek a specialist. However after arriving home he was so weak he took to bed. On August 16, at the age of 54, he passed away, in the company of his wife and children.

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