Monday, 29 June 2015

Eça de Queiroz: Beyond 1900




Eça de Queiroz’s problems ended with his death, but new ones started for his family and oeuvre. A crisper image of old relationships also began to emerge. As soon as he passed away Emília wrote to his friends Eduardo Prado, travelling with his wife in Sicily, and Ramalho Ortigão, his oldest friend: Prado immediately came to Paris to aid the widow, letting her stay at his house, whereas Ramalho continued his holidays in Venice. This and other behaviors have led the always-reliable A. Campos Matos to believe that, although Eça revered Ramalho, the friendship was not absolutely reciprocal. Informed, the Portuguese sent a war ship, called Africa, to bring Eça’s remains to Portugal, although such behavior may have more to do with his long and admirable career as consul than with his status as a writer.

Eça’s remains arrived safely, but his belongings didn’t have the same fate. In 1901, the ship transporting his correspondence sank and the cargo was lost; however, thanks to the diligences of many scholars, including the tireless Campos Matos, nowadays there are two thick volumes of letters, plus two addenda. (In 1915, Eça’s library was stolen: only 315 books remain, depriving scholars of a valuable means of understanding) His family was also afflicted: Emília, rich in lands but short on liquidity, and with four children to raise, needed money quickly. Prado, with his usual gentlemanliness, travelled to London to activate an insurance Eça had made: as a testament of the novelist’s usual monetary difficulties, of the 1500 pounds Prado collected he had to pay back 500 to a British consul from whom Eça had borrowed in 1879: he was kind enough not to add interest to the sum.

But Emília’s friends believed that the real way of making a steady income would be to manage her late husband’s oeuvre, and to bring to light unpublished novels. The task fell to Ramalho Ortigão: at the time it must have seemed like the best option, due to his long-time friendship with Eça, but in hindsight it was an almost tragic disaster that could have endangered many of his books. Emília wrote to Ramalho, asking him to perform the task of editing the manuscripts; he received them and replied that he’d also collect Eça’s newspaper writings and publish them. But in fact he didn’t do anything. In October 1900, The Correspondence of Fradique Mendes and The Illustrious House of Ramires came out: but these novels had been left nearly ready by Eça (he passed away before revising Ramires’ last three chapters). In 1901, The City and the Mountains came out, with some editorial input from Ramalho, but this was the whole of his involvement in organizing Eça’s oeuvre (in fact Ramalho made lexical and stylistic changes that future scholars expurgated). In his letters he kept putting off the task and making up excuses for the delays. He also promised to carry out a critical study of his friend, which also never came to fruition. Campos Matos believes that Ramalho, whose own literary career was going through a decline, wanted to obliterate his friend’s memory. Eça’s fame soared while his dimmed; apropos of this, the essayist António Sérgio once quipped that Ramalho died in 1894 and that after that he “outlived himself,” a useless relic. The theory of envy is not remarkable since the praise of people like Fialho de Almeida and Pinheiro Chagas also had a phony note to them. In 1915 Ramalho even claimed to have written The Mystery of Sintra Road all by himself, having offered partnership to Eça out of “friendly comradeship.” In a 1901 letter Ramalho finally asked Luís de Magalhães to take his place.

Books continued to come out, but mostly due to the efforts of Luís de Magalhães (for whose novel, O Brasileiro Soares, Eça had written a preface): he collected the short-stories in Contos (1902); edited Eça’s early writings under the name of Prosas Bárbaras (1903); English Letters and Ecos de Paris followed (1905); then another collection of newspaper pieces, Cartas Familiares e Bilhetes de Paris (1907); also Notas Contemporâneas (1909); and finally Últimas Páginas (1912). These books comprised the bulk of Eça’s non-fiction; his posthumous novels had to wait another decade – this was chiefly because Luís de Magalhães did not have access to them, unlike the non-fiction that he could cull from extant periodicals. But before we jump to 1925, there are more years and events to cover.

In 1901 the State granted Eça’s widow an annual pension, secured by his friend the Count of Arnoso. This same Count promoted the construction of a marble statue of Eça which was inaugurated in Lisbon in 1903 (a tip for tourists: the real statue stands in the Museu Municipal de Lisboa; tired of fixing damage to the statue, in 2001 it was replaced with a sturdier bronze copy). Although it illustrated Eça’s growing importance (it was the second Lisbon statue raised in honour of a writer; the first one was Camões’, in 1867, a few steps up the road from Eça’s), it also provoked polemic in the press: one newspaper found the female figure’s nudity offensive; another one, contesting the value of Eça’s writing, didn’t consider it right for him to have a statue when so many writers didn’t have theirs. “And they raise him a statue! Why? Camilo and Herculano and Oliveira Martins have statues somewhere? And Garrett?”

But not one reached Fialho de Almeida’s heights of vitriol. His article on Eça’s death, written three years before, was a masterful hatchet job. He propounded the then popular notion that Eça was an accidental Portuguese writer. “Eça de Queiroz is a European writer, not a national writer. In the history of written Portuguese Ramalho’s prose yet last; Eça’s, never.” Alas, Ramalho, nowadays a mere appendage of Eça, surviving only through their colaborations in As Farpas and The Mystery of the Sintra Road, is far from meaning much. Obviously I don’t agree Eça was a European writer; I think he expanded what a Portuguese writer could be. But Fialho needed to believe Eça was mediocre to continue to believe his own prose would last. “In conclusion I will say that Eça de Queiroz is a failed genius due to the bad use he made of himself as a writer, a genius who diminished himself with philosophical indiscipline, the predominance of vulgar instincts, the lack of faith in a intense and absorbing ideal.” Fialho would not have been content with anything but late period Tolstoy. It’s never enough to reiterate that Fialho, in his career as a journalist, was mostly a purveyor of hatred and bile. His prose is collected in volumes called The Cats, for reasons those who know the feline temperament will understand. He also deplored that his funeral had attracted such a procession (over sixty carriages), appalled at the laurels conferred to the “greatest denationalizer Portugual had in recent times, the cynical genius who so poorly understood his moral mission as a man of letters, and who instead of rising the soul of his nation towards centralizing ideals that defended it from death, who instead of instilling in souls the root of activity, fatherland and family, spent his life denying, depressing, empowering modern French nonsense, doubting honor and virtue, seeing in men nothing but cretins and cads, and in women nothing but the vulgar rudiments of prostitutes!” Where was the balanced man who had once praised Cousin Bazilio? Foreshadowing the polemics over the 1903, Fialho finished this diatribe complaining that Camilo Castelo Branco had been forgotten in detriment of Eça.

Eça’s friends rallied against Fialho’s accusations. Maria Amália Vaz de Carvalho, an author of popular romances, wrote an obituary that was also an indirect refutation. “Now he’s finally Eça de Queiroz, the artist extraordinaire, the great peninsular novelist, whose glory would be European if the Portuguese language were known all over Europe, and who even so, beating the obstacles that our milieu places in front of everything that is beautiful and grand, managed to be loved by the intellectual elite of two brotherly nations – Portugal and Brazil!” Like Mariano Pina before her, she realized that writing in Portuguese had kept Eça away from worldwide fame. That is, unfortunately, the plight of every Portuguese writer. She also addressed the view that Eça had a bad knowledge of the language. “This is not Portuguese! – they exclaimed with rage. Portuguese for them was something ornate, precise, contorted, when it wasn’t stiff, rigid, when it wasn’t inflexible and slithery, something untouchable, but from which every reader eventually fled, from which they would fled by now, if it hadn’t been for Camilo’s chisel and Latino Coelho’s attic quill.” Portuguese prose was an acquired taste; easy to acquire, and quite enjoyable, if you have a thing for the Baroque. For her Eça “transformed the language into a most delicious music, breaking up its pompous periods, separating its heavy members, alleviating its ostentatious march, making it light, foamy, transparent, luminous, lively, musical, rich with melancholy moods and silvery laughs, creating in it the marvelous and unique tool in his humorist’s hand, moving it with convulsive grins, making it smile with Parisian elegance, making her cry, from that modern sadness which seems to be mocking itself while it cries!”

In Spain Eça also enjoyed recognition. We don’t know what Galdós thought of Eça, although it’s a fact his 4000-volume library did not contain a single Eça; but Miguel de Unamuno thought highly of him; and Emília Pardo Bazán considered him the best writer of the Iberian Peninsula, although not without some censure. “This great Portuguese artist could have been much bigger, almost perfect, he had sprung from his nation’s own entrails; if he had been more vernacular, pure, and Lusitan or peninsular down to the marrow, a son continuing his country’s literary tradition.” It’s no wonder that she preferred The Relic, a modern pícaro.

In Brazil Eça’s popularity continued to increase. In 1900 Machado Assis was still a bit sour from some words Eça had indirectly addressed him during the 1878 polemic about Cousin Bazilio. “What is worth saying about this calamity? For us novelists it’s as if we had lost the family’s best relative, the most beautiful and the most beloved. And such a family isn’t only composed of those who entered it through the life of the spirit, but also of relics from another generation, and, finally, of the new crop. The same he hurt when he exercised direct and mundane criticism, have forgiven him the pain because of his honeyed language, the new values he gave it, the old traditions he conserved and also the strength which united the former to the latter the way only great art can unite.” But Brazil was crazy over him – everyone read him, spoke of his characters as living entities, pilgrimaged to Portugal to kiss Eça’s statue, or to France to visit his houses. It’s even said that a man went mad trying to memorize The Maias. A Brazilian writer called Monteiro Lobato coined the word Ecitis to describe this obsession with Eça de Queiroz. Indeed we owe them the first book-length study, a 1911 biography by Miguel Mello.

Meanwhile, in Portugal his importance dimmed in part because of his wife, Ramalho, and foolish critics. In 1916 Alexandre Cabral wrote a study that, although praising the author, reproached Eça for “the crudities of his realism, his use of foreign words, and above all his ‘plagiarisms,’ which he ferociously enumerated, aided by the finest authors who pointed them out,” writes the great Campos Matos. Plagiarism was a charge Eça continued suffered during and after his death, for some decades: Camilo Castelo Branco, António Enes, Cláudio Basto, Machado de Assis, Pinheiro Chagas, João Meira, Adolfo Coelho all accused him a tone point of committing them. Apropos of that, there’s an excellent book by Dominique Sire comparing Cousin Bazilio to Madame Bovary: although finding similarities (like any ordinary reader would), she also shows the many deviations in style, theme and tone from Flaubert’s book. Most of these charges were petty, ungenerous, and in many cases motivated by the need to bring down a rival who was slowly but irremediably becoming Portugal’s greatest novelist.

Eça’s family, however, posed an ever worse threat. Emília was a pious, conservative, royalist lady who considered her husband’s work immoral and ungodly; she did everything to hide from her children that their father was a great novelist, and indeed didn’t become aware of that until their return to Portugal. She tried to remove The Crime of Father Amaro, Cousin Bazilio and The Relic from the market, because of their indecency and attacks on moral; fortunately, Eça had sold the rights to his old editor, Lello, who paid no heed to her demands. Emília also damaged the publication of Eça’s work abroad. Between 1921 and 1922 The Relic was serialized in a French newspaper; but Emília opposed the idea of publishing it in book form and the idea was abandoned. Valéry Larbaud, a  writer himself and admirer of Eça, wrote to one of the translators, Manuel Gahisto: “The author’s heirs’ extraordinary inflexibility can’t be explained, to me, except by their ignorance of literary history: they don’t know how slowly and through how many periods of neglect and obscurity a lasting literary fame is built, even in the case of an illustrious and classic writer in his mother tongue.” But keeping him obscure was precisely what Emília, her genuine feelings for Eça notwithstanding, wanted.

Considering the conservative mood in Emília’s household, it’s not surprising that Eça’s children grew up to be royalists and fascist sympathizers. When a republican revolution overthrew the monarchy in 1910, two of his sons declared themselves anti-republican and joined the guerrilla against the young Republic. This caused Emília to lose her annual pension. In 1919 these two sons took part in military uprisings to restore the monarchy; when the counter-revolution failed, they fled abroad. One of them, José Maria, fled to Brazil. There he met Ramalho’s son, who had inherited his father’s papers. Amongst them he had discovered several unpublished manuscripts. He had moved to Brazil and taken them with him, not knowing that he had them. When he met José Maria he gave them to him to publish them. Up until then no one known that these books existed, since everyone presumed that Ramalho, back in 1900 had examined them for anything of importance or worth. Out of this discovery José Maria edited Alves & Co, O Conde de Abranhos, and letters (1925), To the Capital (1926), and O Egipto and Cartas Inéditas de Fradique Mendes e mais Páginas Esquecidas (1929). It’s chilling to think what could have been lost if the ship that carried the manuscripts to Brazil had sunk. Particularly in Brazil there was a hunger for more Eça, and through the 1940s there new editions of his letters: the hunt was on for any bit of text that had come from his quill. Alberto, another son who moved to Brazil and died there in 1938, wrote that “only here did I begin to measure the greatness of Eça de Queiroz’s oeuvre.”

But in Portugal things were about to change. In 1945, in order to celebrate Eça’s centennial, there was an explosion of interest:  lectures, radio programs, exhibitions, new studies and biographies. The National Information Bureau, one of pillars of the dictatorship in power since 1926, organized an exhibition about Eça – António, his other fascist son, worked at it. The regime had tried to claim Eça’s oeuvre for itself, the way it would with many other classics. One of its henchman, during a radio lecture, even claimed that “Eça de Queiroz was – in truth we say it – a master of healthy nationalism.” Nothing new: in 1935 another fascist henchman had proven that Eça was a precursor of fascism; Fradique Mendes, in his view, was a “highly constructive” critique of “the errors of democracy.”

The most enduring book published was João Gaspar Simões’s monumental biography, Eça de Queiroz o Homem e o Artista, which the modest Campos Matos considers the best ever written. An anti-fascist, Gaspar Simões, who would also write Fernando Pessoa’s biography, locked horns with Eça’s heirs on ideological matters: he saw him as a defender of freedom and individuality; they wanted him to conform to the regime’s distorted image. António was obsessed with “protecting” his father’s image – thanks to his resources at the NIB he was always up to date on newspapers and new books and kept watch over anyone who, to his mind, slandered his father’s reputation. For that reason Gaspar Simões and many scholars remained in bad terms with the Eça estate, denied access to his private papers and unable to carry on research.

But life went on, studies continued to come out, new letters were discovered and published, new biographies written in Portugal and Brazil, and even new books published at last. The last major novel to see the light of day was The Tragedy of the Street of Flowers (written in 1877-78, published in 1983), a sort of understudy for The Maias, and especially offensive to the heirs’ religious feelings given its overt theme of incest.

And Eça de Queiroz’ star continued to rise: critical editions of his books, more biographies, countless studies, movie adaptations, translations. For what it’s worth, Harold Bloom includes him in Genius. Eça has never been more popular and read than nowadays. The world, however, on the whole has not yet placed him on that pedestal where Flaubert, Tolstoy and other 19th century masters enjoy their reputations. I’m not sure if a novelist, great as he may be, hailing from a small, obscure country and so far away from his time can find wide acclaim in another time – like Larbaud wrote in 1922, the creation of literary fame has its procedures, and Eça has had too many obstacles keeping him away from world renown. But I think that so long as people like to read intelligent, funny, humane and well-written novels Eça will continue to find new fans in every part of the world.

Tomorrow, the wrap-up post.

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