Antonio Candido's photobiography



Commentary on the newly published book

When a new book by Ana Luisa Escorel is announced, the reader already knows that it will be something neat. Apart from being the author of several of them herself, she has already prepared two volumes that derive a good part of their charms from the carefully selected iconography. She knows how to go to the sources, how to choose, how to treat and how to sediment the research based on seriousness – in the old sense, not the “google look”. And, in addition to being an award-winning novelist, the trained designer has a keen eye for the visual: word and image enter into symbiosis.

That's what we saw when he edited two books that are gems of iconography. The first, An employee of the monarchy – Essay on the second echelon (2002), written by his father, Antonio Candido. The second, Pio & Mário – Dialogue of a lifetime (2009), of which she is the organizer, in which her graphic design, iconographic research and image editing are hers. In both she shows her determination as a researcher and editor.

In Antonio Candido's book, the publisher went looking for, apart from the ancestors and bigwigs of the Empire, beautiful panoramas of Old Rio, which he discovered in the National Library and sister institutions. The other brings not only numerous photos belonging to the family's collections, but also true research findings, which were unearthed in other archives. Like the different photos of different versions of Pio Corrêa's farmhouse, which we found to be more than one. The photos not only document the life and origins of the two correspondents, but also illustrate points aired in the letters themselves.

Entering a related area, now it is the turn of this photobiography, drawn, but not only, from the treasures of his parents' collection, under the custody of the Instituto de Estudos Brasileiros (IEB-USP). Apart from the collection of five thousand photos, carefully identified by Antonio Candido on the back, there are his notebooks, estimated at 90 in all, or 126 if the count includes notebooks, with notes from his entire life – these, for the time being, in the possession of the daughters and heiresses. For two years, the collection of 50 items has been organized by a team assembled under the leadership of Laura Escorel, their granddaughter and a specialist in Collection Management. Lately, she has made available to us a podcast which can be consulted at: “The Organization Project for the Archives of Gilda and Antonio Candido de Mello e Souza” (

It was there that the author of the text and the graphic design sought the photos. The work was carried out with all the authority that belongs to him, conferred by his long contact with the subject. And – one might add – the longest, superlatively, for being the eldest (see her book The father, the mother and the daughter, 2010). Knowing these photos like few others, as well as the biographies of the two, on the rare occasions that she came across a gap, she tried to remedy it by looking elsewhere for the right photo – the one that was missing. This is precisely what happens with one of the passport photos that make up the triad of brothers as children, in sailor clothes. Missing one of them to complete the set that she idealized and diagrammed, the author pinched it out of the IEB – and assembled a beautiful coherent and unitary page.

Another of these three is precisely the one that illustrates the cover. There, a boy faces us, looking directly at the reader, or at the person holding the camera, with a look endowed with such limpidity that it is difficult to avoid him.

The photos document the successive stages of the biographed person's life until reaching adulthood, as the title promises. They also offer a kaleidoscopic perception of what people looked like, in different times and latitudes, how they dressed, their body language, how they interacted, what their homes were like, what the urban fabric in which they moved was like.

But even before that, they will illustrate their four sides with abundance and sure criteria.

Four sides that, to say the least, are synthesized on two sides. One, the paternal side, from Minas Gerais, countryside, sertanejo, rustic, from the small oligarchy, uncultured and wilder. On the other hand, the maternal side, from Rio de Janeiro, more enlightened, people who liked to read and were fond of opera. On both sides, extensive relatives, active in the life of the marital nucleus with their three children. The boy, noted for his curiosity and for paying attention to everything, traits he would retain in adulthood, became an invaluable source of observations. The childhood part, says the author, has more weight and more grace when compared to the other phases included in this book. Such disproportion is due to the existence of one of the famous notebooks dedicated exclusively to reminiscences of the most remote period, which not only record but comment and analyze the observations with relevance.

The reader soon agrees with the author. The reconstitution, made by her with high art, of the little closed and self-referred world of the phratry is very amusing. The pranks they play; the language they create so that no one else can understand; the characters with idiosyncratic characterization that are born of their imagination, based on people they know, treated with a critical spirit that borders on malevolence; the verses they compose, the poems they scan, the rhymes and melodies… humus of creation and invention.

What is curious, and which does not escape the author, is that, due to the fact that they partly come from outside, the children and parents tended to coalesce in a specific complicity, which magnetized them into the small nucleus and at the same time distinguished from outsiders. This in Minas, both in the first phase in Santa Rita de Cássia and in the Poços de Caldas phase. In the latter there would already be a surprisingly well-stocked bookstore, the source of countless readings by Antonio Candido. It was through her – an almost unbelievable event – ​​that he came into contact, as a teenager, with works by the modernists, including Oswald de Andrade.

In Rio de Janeiro, on the other hand, they were also slightly anomalous, precisely because they came from small towns in the interior. All of this, of course, leads to sharp minds and quick wits.

Between the two phases of Minas Gerais, that of Santa Rita de Cássia and that of Poços de Caldas, there is what was one of the great impregnations of Antonio Candido's life: the year he spent in Europe, especially in Paris where he made a top, accompanying the doctor father who went to perfect himself in hydromineral resorts. Children meanwhile learned French by attending museums and theatres.

The weight of childhood, if not the “childhood notebook”, is visible when comparing the number of pages devoted to each of the parts that make up the book, soberly titled “Childhood”, “Adolescence”, “Youth” and “Age”. Adult”. The first has almost the same length as the other three added together.

However, the other parts reveal fundamental data for training. In “Adolescence”, moving to Poços de Caldas, entering the gymnasium, contact with Maria Ovdia Junqueira, a Presbyterian Protestant who was his teacher for four years and who introduced him to English-language literature. He inculcated in him a taste for the Bible and Shakespeare, which he would not let go of for the rest of his life, appearing among the most constant readings. It is also the time to take flight outside the strict family nucleus, making new friends and friends at the gym, as the photos attest. It was also there that he became acquainted with another person who was deeply ingrained, Teresinha Carini Rocchi, as an example of socialist convictions and ethical intransigence.

But it is in “Youth” that his exit to other spaces appears most clearly, to clubs, to dances, to sports, in short, to a more developed coexistence with other companions, allies in the exploration of the world. It was there that he began to share with a colleague, whose photos are present, his first socialist concerns, which would later blossom into various reflections and actions.

This phase also coincides with the heyday of the fashionable resort that Poços de Caldas was becoming. Alongside what appears in the photos, in the varied crowd, in the way they present themselves, in the style of clothes, a more palpable worldliness can be seen.

At the end of this phase, Antonio Candido moves to São Paulo, towards the preparatory course for higher studies. Entering the Faculty of Law (as his father wanted, since he had not convinced him to become a doctor) and the Social Sciences at the Faculty of Philosophy (as he wanted), he was swept away by two events that would mark his life forever, both resulting from encounters. First, he would join the group that spontaneously formed among all those extraordinarily talented, sophisticated, metropolitan young men and women.

This gave rise to lifelong friendships that mutually influenced and defined their careers. The magazine group is formed Climate – created in 1941 by a handful of students – in which Antonio Candido would sharpen his first weapons in literature, Decio de Almeida Prado in theater, Paulo Emílio Salles Gomes in cinema, all of them with socialist inclinations – and others. And second, the irruption, within this brilliant pleiad, of Gilda de Moraes Rocha, future wife, who left all the girlfriends he had previously been attracted to. Her entry onto the scene results in a sudden enrichment of images coming from other places, especially from Araraquara, hitherto unpublished in this volume.

We arrive at “Adulthood” and the limit set by the author, by emphasizing two career milestones. One of them was the trip to Assis, when the professional conversion from sociology to literature took place, resolving a dilemma. Another was the preparation, which took many years, of Formation of Brazilian Literature quality The partners of Rio Bonito. equivalent to a postulate of intellectual maturity in both fields, the literary and the sociological.

This book, given its nature and its author, facilitates and indicates paths, thus becoming an indispensable instrument for future work in the Archives, and in the most varied themes. Perhaps here is the opportunity for an inference: there is a slight asymmetry in the weighting of the respective influence of father and mother in the formation of Antonio Candido. The reader misses a greater exposition of the presence of the author's grandfather. It may be that, from the granddaughter's point of view, the presence of the grandmother appears more marked than that of the grandfather, probably due to their longer coexistence, as they lived in the same house for many years after the premature death of the grandfather.

As for the materiality of the volume, on beautiful matte coated paper that is a pleasure to handle, it uses wise layout, never monotonous, but not at odds with the illustrations, in a range of gray and silver tones.

The volume completes a news item about the collection, authored by its responsible organizer Laura Escorel. Clear and very well explained, this analytical vision comes to the purpose, which elucidates our perception of the present book by trying to insert it into the larger historical framework. We owe to her the hypothesis that throughout his life Antonio Candido produced works based on the documents that constituted this collection, basing them on family photographs, but at the same time supporting them with letters and other items from the collection. They started important works such as, right at the beginning of his career, the essay “The Volunteer's Letters”. Later, more ambitious ones would come, such as an entire book, and this is the case of Teresina etc.Ou travel notes, erudite organization of other people's work. Or even the “biographical traits” that he raised for the edition of the correspondence between Pio Corrêa and Mário de Andrade. All this completed by the writing of the book An employee of the monarchy – Essay on the second echelon, the only one among the cited titles to deal with his ancestor. Early in his career, he had already shown this interest by writing an essay on the Brazilian family.

Such is the hypothesis raised by the organizer of the collection, which certainly hints at the possibility of many other fruits, taking into account the richness and abundance of materials. For this purpose, this photobiography lays the foundations, revealing itself to be a seminal item, giving a glimpse of future achievements.

An idle question remains: why is the smile so scarce in the photos before Poços de Caldas? It is noted that Antonio Candido himself is close to adulthood when he starts to smile: before that, only rarely. This could be a period protocol, that is, the etiquette of posing for a photo imposed a frown. A special occasion demanded decorum and composure. But when we think about today, we find such seriousness strange. Perhaps the trivialization of the uses and customs that surround the practice of photographing conditions our strangeness. Perhaps these are other times, when exhibitionism and voyeurism were not in good shape. And of course the answers can be multiple – but the question remains.

*Walnice Nogueira Galvão is professor emeritus at FFLCH at USP. Author, among other books, of deconversation (publisher UFRJ).


Ana Luisa Escorel, The formation of Antonio Candido – an illustrated biography. Rio de Janeiro: Ouro sobre Azul, 2020, 309 pages.


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