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Machado de Assis

Machado de Assis is the greatest name of Brazilian literature.
He was born in Rio de Janeiro, in June of 1839. Mulato (his father was black, his mother was white), poor and orphan since as a young child (he was brought up by his stepmother, who made a living by washing clothes for other people), Machado had to face many prejudices to become successful.
As a teenager, he met Paula Brito, a sophisticated woman who ran a book store in Rio. Paula immediately recognized the talents of Machado and hires him as a book revisor; later on, the quality of his writings lead Machado to publish his first chronicles in the "Marmota", a famous magazine of the epoch.
The dominant style in Brazilian literature was the Romantism; novels were mostly narrative, focused on actions of people (not their intentions). Machado was the introducer of the Realism in Brazilian literature, focusing on the psychological reasons behind the actions.
His first published book, Contos Fluminenses (1870), contained only short novels (in Portuguese, contos). His first novel was Ressureição (1872), followed by A Mão e a Luva (1875), Helena (1876) and Iaiá Garcia (1878); these novels had still traces of the Romantism, but instead of men capable of heroic actions to conquer the passion of their beloved ones, Machado filled his histories with broken up romances, clash of tempers and other features never heard before in Brazilian literature.
In 1881, Machado publishes "Memorias Postumas de Bras Cubas" (Bras Cubas` Post-mortem Memories), in which he masterfully shows the two most remarking traces of his work: the psychological analysis of the characters and a fine sense of irony (this, inspired in British writer Jonathan Swift). The novel tells the story of Bras Cubas, a dead man who analyses the successes and failures of his own life.
In 1891, came out "Quincas Borba"; Machado creates a scenery in all opposed to the Romantism: a mentally alienated man, having to struggle with the biases of society, suddenly is heir of a small fortune.
The most famous novel of Machado´s is "Dom Casmurro", a landmark of Brazilian literature. To the psycological analysis and fine irony which marked the previous books, Machado adds a new feature: the suggestion, instead of the declaration. Bentinho and Capitu, husband and wife, are protagonists of the novel; in his narrative about the reactions of people in face of feelings like love, jealousy, suspicion, Machado never makes it clear wheter or not Capitu was unfaithful to Bentinho; not only the characters are ignorant of the whole scene, but the readers as well. Dom Casmurro has been theme of several works, which analyse both the literary features of the novel and the psychological behavior of the protagonists (was she unfaithful or not).
In his maturity, Machado published also Esau and Jaco (1904) and Memorial de Aires (1906); the latter, a set of reminiscences of an old man, is considered by some the best novel of Machado´s.

Machado published also many short novels, which, by themselves, would be relevant enough to place him amongst the greatest Brazilian writers. Short novels were a perfect means for Machado to exercize his extraordinary capabilities in capturing and describing the human nature: ordinary people in ordinary situations are led, by minute details, to unexpected reactions; Machado doesn´t explain the reasonings behind the actions of the characters (as, e.g., Marcel Proust did), leaving this task to the readers.
Among his most well known short novels, one may include: Noite de Almirante (Admiral´s Night): a sailor goes to meet an old time love, but things don´t go as expected; Missa do Galo (Rooster Mass): a youngster talks to a mature woman, a romance is in the air; Cantiga de Esponsais: a man dies without reaching his goal in life; A Cartomante (The Clairvoyant): a man and his loyal/unloyal wife.

Machado was founder and first President of Brazilian Academy of Literature; he died on 29th September 1908. His misfortune was to write in an obscure language; otherwise, he would certainly be known as one of the greatest writers of 20th century.

Visit also:
Yahoo! Brasil category about Machado de Assis

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