Monday, 1 June 2015

Eça de Queiroz Month: Introduction

When I inaugurated St. Orberose, more than three years ago, I hastily cobbled together a post about Eça de Queiroz. At Wuthering Expectations I had recently come across Tom’s Portuguese Literature Challenge, and his attention over this neglected literature commoved me to contribute with what I regarded as nothing but a token of appreciation. But although I had read this novelist’s essential oeuvre, and held him in high esteem, I had never taken the time and the effort to study him in depth.

However, the years passed and I kept returning to Eça de Queiroz many times. If St. Orberose has had a beneficial impact on me, it has given me a reason to learn more about Portuguese Literature. Actually I knew it quite poorly; but obliged to fake an authority for my readers and to keep it fresh with novelties, I started reading more from and about its authors. A friend from the bygone University years once told me that the best way of learning something is when you have to teach it to others; I’ve come to see wisdom in those words. So over the years, I think I’ve convinced a few people that I know a thing or two about Fernando Pessoa, José Saramago, perhaps Brazilian and African literatures.

Now the time has come to pretend I know stuff about Eça de Queiroz. After reading his Wikipedia page from top to bottom – and I mean bottom; down to that little lower right corner icon that says “Powered By MediaWiki” – I feel fully prepared to spend a whole month lecturing about him. But first a few notes:

1) You may have noticed that some books name him Eça de Queiroz, other books name him Eça de Queirós. This useless mix-up stems from a 1911 spelling reform that, inter alia, changed the spelling of dead people’s names. His birth certificate, still extant, has him as José Maria de Eça de Queiroz. Recalcitrant, obstinate, atavistic, misoneistic people like me who believe that the State should not legislate on matters of language, continue to use the original spelling. By the way, Portugal is currently going through the imposition of another spelling reform (the 4th in just 79 years) on extraordinary reasons: Brazil deludedly believes that a simplified spelling will magically erase its 75% official functional illiterates (cutting down soundless consonants is cheaper than investing in an efficient national education system), whereas tiny Portugal, which won’t get over not being a 16th century global power anymore, thinks that by harmonizing its spelling with Brazil’s they can make a powerful lobby with this emerging economy to elevate the Portuguese Language to one of the UN’s official languages, which would be an epic feat since it’d be the first language since Arab in 1973 to do so, and without Arab’s geopolitical-economical importance. That 85% of the Portuguese population, in the most recent poll, can oppose the reform without the government immediately killing the spelling reform is quite relevant for the Eça de Queiroz Month: after all Eça once stated that Portugal was a nation cut out for tyranny [citation needed on Wiki].

2) But fortunately you won’t have to worry about the right way of spelling his name. I sometimes read non-natives addressing him by his last name, and that’s jarring. No one should do that. He should always be addressed as Eça; he belongs to that small, distinguished group of writers known by their first names, like Dante and… Eça. Actually, it’s quite common for Portuguese writers to be known by their first names, I don’t know why, perhaps it has to do with our long composite surnames and those sneaky prepositions.

3) As a structure for this month’s posts, I’ll write chronologically from his birth to death, and a bit beyond, interpolating biography with specific posts on topics that require closer attention; plus some book reviews. Although I’ll use his own words many times, I also intend to show him from other people's perspectives; we’ll see him in his letters and in letters about him; we’ll see his journalism and what the press had to say about him; above all I’m giving voice to his many enemies – they’re petty, envious, hysterical and hilarious. I do hope this method will prevent this event from turning into a boring dissertation.

So come back tomorrow for Eça’s early years.


  1. Holy moly. I see this post, think "How great!" then go away for a few days and come back to find a book in progress. All the better - I'm really looking forward to taking some time to read through these, especially as I've been itching to read another Eça novel. Terrific project - maybe you will actually turn it into a book?

    1. Thank you, Scott. You're the the second person to suggest this could be a book; what low standards for lit crit you all have! It's better to translate the great scholars I've been plagiarizing for a week now.

      I hope you enjoy this month's worth of posts.

  2. I'm still confused about the name. The full name is José Maria de Eça de Queiroz and it's shortened to Eça de Queiroz. So Jose Maria would be his frist name? Like the French name Jean Marie? And Eça would be his middle name? Why is there a "de" after Maria and before Eça?

    1. Damn it, pesahson, why do you ask complicated questions?!

      Eça de Queiroz is his surname; to the best of my knowledge, he always signed his texts this way; and it become convention to use the first name. I suppose it has to do with length: Portuguese names are long; and José Maria is quite ordinary; Eça de Queiroz is catchier, it stays in the ear.

      Why the the prepostions de? It's also a convention - it's a genitive: he's José Maria, son of Carolina Augusta Pereira d’EÇA, and of Teixeira de QUEIROZ. It's like in English: Richardson, for instance, in bygone days meant son of Richard. It's like ancient Greek names: Corax of Syracuse, and Diogenes of Sinope - or the homeric heroes identified as the sons of so and so.

    2. Thanks for clearing that up. I knew about the "de" but for a while I was confused and I thought Eça was also a given name, so I couldn't understand why it would be there. And it's a crazy custom to combine family names of your mother and father, but maybe it's the world that should adapt it. From a feminist point of view, it looks surprisingly modern.