Image: Adir Sodré


Commentary on the debut book by Graciliano Ramos

Antonio Candido, in fiction and confession, considers Caetes an “early” novel, “an old-fashioned branch of post-naturalism”, with evidence of a “deliberate preamble” (1992, p. 14), as if it were an exercise in literary technique in preparation for the great work to come. In addition to the reservations that the critic presents, demonstrating how much the presence of the narrator in a “situation” announces embryos as the interior monologues of the future work, it is seen that in this novel, both modernism, by aversion, and Marxism, despite the sympathy , do not fully articulate the profuse cafarnaum of almanac culture that Graciliano Ramos has fun with – which is yet another symptom of his ambivalent work in the author’s promising debut, placed between the revolution of the arid form and the shyness of a content cornered by misery in the cul-de-sac of the provincial context.

The novel's confusion is the anti-spasm remedy provided by its agile dynamism, symbolized by the busy conversations of Father Atanásio, which is superimposed even so, with geometric clarity, on the main plot, marked by comical cross-talks, while the afflicted author – permanent condition of his ironic pity – he has nothing to do with this “crowd” in the countryside.

Before finding the aesthetic equation in the neighborhood and in the urban world of Anguish, plays in the chaos of the plot, between disparate references that seek to justify the impossibility of another way out: to the Italian language in which everything ends with They, the Indianist model of the already forgotten carapetões of Gonçalves Dias and José de Alencar, the hierarchical spiritism from the leader to the renowned locals, amidst wrapped up with Plato, Olavo Bilac and the phrases of the pink leaves of the little Larousse, to ecclesiastes in the function of João Valério's safe, to Laplace's hoaxes, to the rabble, according to Father Athanásio, such as Nietzsche, Le Dantec and another demon he forgot the name, to Anatole France and the idiot of Augusto Comte, to the title Thus spake Zarathustra, used to confirm any conversation or guiltily insinuate something malicious to the narrator João Valério, to Poincaré and Clemenceau, one of the two perhaps presidents of France or England – subjects that run amid the warning about the danger of the matuto’s literacy and access resulting from idle readings of the resistance dishes of the sertaneja culture, the almanac Perpetual Lunar and the stories of Charlemagne, plus all sorts of discussions about the Bible, medicine, politics, philosophy, science, chess, jurisdiction, literature, poker, and the spelling of eucalyptus, which no one in the editorial office Week knows.

In an interview with Francisco de Assis Barbosa, Graciliano Ramos records the development in the 20s of the “horrible Caetes”, which the modernist movement had encouraged him to manufacture, writing “as the truth is spoken”. He remembers that in 1926 the novel was ready, as a result of the unfolding of one of the three short stories he had written at the time. The other two, “A carta” and “Entre grates”, gave rise to S. Bernardo and Anguish (BARBOSA, 1943, p. 42-49).

The October 1930 letters, sent from Maceió to his wife, Ló, reveal that after Augusto Frederico Schmidt's invitation to publish Caetes, Graciliano reworked the “masterpiece” and announced that the novel would indeed be “a revolution of a thousand devils” (RAMOS, 1994, p. 115). Therefore, during the agitated days of the Revolution of 30, Graciliano exhaustively reformed Caetes, while he was director of the Official Press in Maceió.

In his letters to Ló, he comments excitedly on seeing “one of those little pieces of paper” that Schmidt sent him, nailed to one of the windows in Ramalho's house. Are the flyers advertising Caetes, and the bookstore is the one through which João Valério dreams of editing his novel “in a brochure of one hundred to two hundred pages, full of fibs in good style” (RAMOS, 1984, p. 23). And, like João Valério, its author limits himself to the projection of a local success: “So the people of his land are, rightly, amazed and suspicious. There will be fun at the end, when they understand that the book is good for nothing” (RAMOS, 1994, p. 111).

Or, in the terms of the narrator of Caetes: “My ambitions are modest. I was content with a domestic and transitory triumph that would impress Luísa, Marta Varejão, the Mendonças, Evaristo Barroca. I wanted barbershops, cinemas, Neves's pharmacy, Bacurau cafés to say: 'So, have you read Valério's novel?' Or that in the editorial Week, in discussions between Isidoro and Padre Atanásio, my authority was invoked: 'That of savages and old stories is with Valério'” (RAMOS, 1984, p. 23).

The paradoxical way in which the aloofness of the writer, immersed in the finally appearing opportunity for projection, and the ironic critical sense in the face of the historical moment, with which he is committed as a member of the government to be overthrown, thus unfolds throughout correspondence of those days. On the 4th, Graciliano confesses the affliction after receiving, with an attached clipping of the Vanguard “saying snakes and lizards from Caetés”, a letter from Rômulo (secretary of Schmidt's publishing house) “demanding the originals”. Heloísa tells that he telegraphed the boy “asking for a week of moratorium” (RAMOS, 1994, p. 114).

Thus, the agitated city environment, in a remarkable historical step for the country, of which the paralysis of Caetes is so distant, indicates the anachronism of the work in the course of its coming to the public, as if the same overcoming, which its ironized plot asked for, had run over the publication of the novel, unfeasibly compromised by the narrative structure to Eça de Queirós under which it was armed since 1924. It seems that the author's affliction confirms the gap, and that the preliminary contempt for the debut work foreshadows its expired validity.

After many ups and downs, when S. Bernardo was already ready, Caetes finally, in December 1933, it appeared in bookstores. The inaugural time of his writing is assimilated by the representation of an immediate reality in Caetes, whose plot indicates two years of duration: from January 1926 to the end of 1927. The first month is mentioned at the end of chapter 1 (RAMOS, 1984, p. 14). In the first year of the plot, the year 1926 is suggested in chapter 3, when the mythomaniac Nicolau Varejão tells spiritist tales about his previous life: after the war in Paraguay [1870] he went to Italy, where he stayed for thirty years. And as Nicolau Varejão claims to be sixty years old, Dr. Liberato is startled, mocking: “It's not possible. Seventy with thirty … If you died and were born as soon as you returned from Italy [1900], you cannot be more than twenty-six [1926]” (RAMOS, 1984, p. 20). Christmas passes in chapter 15 – yet another proof of Graciliano's spirit of symmetry, which evenly distributes the two years in the thirty-one-chapter book. Then comes the suicide of Adrião in June of the following year and the final months of 1927 pass in the last chapters.

In chapter 27, Pinheiro, “Now for São João” (from 1927), thinks it is a bomb when he hears Adrião Teixeira's suicide shot. From chapters 27 to 28, in the eight days of Adrião’s agony, we have “Entre fourwalls”, almost avant-garde theater, cinema almost from “The exterminating angel” of the guests of the house in evenings that gradually leave them in a relaxed state of promiscuity – a pre-existentialist microcosm of Palmeira dos Índios itself, which the post-naturalist novel wants to portray with comic caricatures in the hustle and bustle of the house.

One might think that Graciliano could have done something similar to the monotonous world of the vicious circle of The castle by Kafka or by the desert of the tartars by Dino Buzzati, or even Waiting for Godot of Beckett, as long as he removes the old frame of adultery, the novel's mainspring, which blames him for a copy of the copy, if we remember the debt of cousin basilio com Madame Bovary.

But Graciliano's strength is fundamental in the realism of cause-and-effect with which he would probe the deepest phantasmagoria, even in the stories of "a world covered in feathers" that he wrote from May 1937 onwards, in the pension of the Catete, as can be seen from the news she gives Ló about her characters in Dried lives: “None of them has movement, there are still individuals. I try to know what they have inside” (RAMOS, 1994, p. 201). Caetes, however, with all the strength that pulsates in its construction, it remains irremediably old theater, with three walls. No avant-garde tendency outside of critical realism would germinate in the writer who was averse to absurdity and surrealism, even if his keen critical perception showed sympathy for Carlos Lacerda's play “without plot” (RAMOS, 1980, p. 168), “O rio”.

In chapter 29, two months after the dragged death of the betrayed husband, the meeting between João Valério and Luísa serves to confirm the nothingness of their amorous pretensions. In chapter 30, three months later, João Valério appears as a partner in the commercial house of Luísa, heiress to command, and of Vitorino, now alone, without his betrayed and suicidal old brother. Chapter 31 is left with a cheap philosophy that intends to justify the skating narrative, when this condition is what would make the work resume from its post-naturalism to an existentialism. before la lettre, in the manner of The foreigner by Albert Camus. Jorge Amado (1933) and others considered this chapter wonderful, but the critic Dias da Costa (1934), in his June 1934 review, lamented at the end of the book “two useless chapters” and warned that “explanations are always dangerous” .

the routine of Caetes, whose theme is actually the lack of subject matter for literature, makes the work a confirmation of the emptiness of the plot. The bad novel is both its material and its result – as in the work of Alencar, who, however, to defend himself from criticism of the low moral relevance of his characters, replied that he cut them “to the size of Rio de Janeiro society” and rightly boasted to them “ this national stamp”, as recalls Roberto Schwarz (1988, p. 47).

Guilt, as the mainspring of the plot, appears immediately in the present tense of chapter 1, contrary to the literarily sophisticated reappearance of João Valério in Luís da Silva de Anguish, when the murder at the end of the plot is the guilt that moves the beginning of the novel. In Caetes, the fault will be the “romanesque”, the only means of tensioning the beginning of the drawn procession of provincial society, presented under the interiority of the omnipresence of the protagonist, not exactly the narrator in writing, but a voice in the present indicative. It was what Eloy Pontes considered a syntax error: “Mr. Graciliano Ramos sometimes writes with verbs in the present tense and in the past tense in the same period, which seems to us to be an obvious syntax error. The narrator prefers to use the past tense. Simultaneity is not justified” (PONTES, 1934).

Certainly, the dislike for the debut novel does not come from Eloy Pontes's quinau, which Graciliano found ridiculous, as the disgust was already manifested before publication (RAMOS, 1994, p. 130). On the contrary, one perceives, through the constancy, that the use of the present indicative is conscious, whose great effect of meaning will be to verify alive and insurmountable the obsessive world that he wants to discard – which reveals the author’s intention to position the writing on the side from outside the text, in the present reality, glued to which the “author-actor” is cornered (PINTO, 1962).

In the form of this framework, which throws the first layer of the novel out of itself, the “author-actor”, under the self-critical mask of the “valiant” João Valério, intends, in Caetes, with the “Caetés” of the cannibals, to become a writer: an activity that Graciliano so many times ironically described as an “indecent way of life” and which makes Valério ponder in the end: “a dealer should not meddle in things of art” (RAMOS, 1984, p. 218). With verb tenses that do not configure the form of a diary nor are moments in which the narrator emerges from the text at the time of the narration, we are, therefore, reading Caetes outside the novel, as an immediate representation of reality, permeated by escapes, throughout the plot, of present tense referring to the past tense in the narrated tense, as, for example, we underlined: “– Just for that? murmured Luísa, who protect Cassiano” (RAMOS, 1984, p. 49).

Thus, the narrative presents an open time, where the petty world it portrays remains alive, so that the narrator confesses the impossibility of writing both about the caetés and their reality.

Significant in this regard are the observations of José Paulo Paes – which we also highlight – when he comments on the narrator’s situation: “[...] he asks himself at a certain point if he wouldn’t do better writing about what he knew, that is, the people around him , “Father Athanasius, Dr. Liberato, Nicolau Varejão, the Pine, d. Engracia”. But, in that case, he concludes, “I would only be able to scribble a dull and amorphous narrative”, a narrative that, although he never refers to her, as he repeatedly does in relation to his frustrated novel, ends up being the main one of Caetes".

And the critic adds in a note: “The 'blurry and amorphous narrative' of the novel itself – this in contrast to the romantic-Indianist writing of the novel embedded in it and fragmentarily thematized – is that of realistic writing. The fact that it does not point to itself, in the same metalinguistic reflection in which it takes pleasure in relation to the embedded novel, shows it the pretension of being a counterpart of narrated reality, so perfect that it cannot be distinguished” (PAES, 1995, p. 20, 25).

Furthermore, the novel Caetes turns out not to be presented even in a line that could quench the reader's curiosity, contrary to its model, To the illustrious house of Ramires, whose book that Gonçalo Ramires wrote inside, Antonio Candido remembers having seen it published even in reprint (2004, p. 103). In such a way that in Caetes we would have nothing to read if it weren't for the reader's concession.

The pretext of the plot seems to embarrass the author, but it is the only one he finds to break with the provincial paralysis: bovarism is superimposed on Madame Bovary, romance that is added, in Caetes, to those who turned Emma's head. Instead of Luísa, Madame Bovary is João Valério. But unlike León, Flaubert's character who kisses the nape of his beloved's neck only after two-thirds of the novel has passed (FLAUBERT, 1972, p. 283), the two kisses on Luísa's neck, tired of all this nonsense, sum up the matter in the first lines of chapter 1. However, the dispatched tone is betrayed, not to mention the disastrous final chapter, by slips in the fussiness: João Valério talks to the stars, whose, ignorant, he does not know the name, to tell them that Luísa he loves, and when he walks around the mansion of his beloved, indignant at the elusive figures of people who frequent the brothel in Pernambuco-Novo, who pass by him as if they considered him an equal, he goes out shouting to himself that it is the soul he wants (RAMOS, 1984, p. 159-160).

Freudian formulations are presented as mandatory, at least in the context of Western culture, where they intend to unveil a network of universal processes, although the history of each case is orchestrated within biographical particularities. Platonic eros is, with Freud, revealed as a wound to the narcissism of humanity, under a scientific guise, even though it represented between the end of the XNUMXth century and the beginning of the XNUMXth century the culminating factor of the “conversion of naturalism”, to use the well-known qualification by Otto Maria Carpeaux.

The Oedipal tendency to step ahead and take the place of the father-other would be present in the culture as a whole, in the wide routine of civility in the world, in the murderous courtesy and in the voracious narcissism that prevails in the war of prestige. Thus, the eros-motor of Oedipus would also occur in the renowned dreamy literary vocation, whether in the sensitivity of perception that makes the author indicate the process, by allusion to it in the plot, in the manner of Dostoevsky in The Karamazov Brothers, whether unconfessed, always, since it is unconscious and inescapable. However, it is reasonable to focus on those works, such as Hamlet ou Caetes, in which the clarity of the manifestation is verified.

In this line, João Luiz Lafetá develops the essay that deepens Lamberto Puccinelli's perceptions regarding the oblique Oedipus (1975) in Caetes. Lafetá resumes the Freudian theorization of “family romance” that Marthe Robert (2007) extended to the literary form of the novel: the eros-motor elaborates in the pre-Oedipal child the narcissistic rage of inventing himself as the “Foundling”, to deny his filiation to legitimate parents impertinent with their desires, exchanging them for powerful parents like kings and queens, who would have rejected him, leaving him with his visible and despicable parents, from whom he wants attention and whom he loves, but who, after the fanciful invention, not being legitimately his own, he can overcome. To this fantasy of flight and sulking is linked the romantic novel. The boy, on the other hand, in the awakening of sexuality, in the Oedipal phase, fantasizes about his affiliation in half, with just not being the father's son, which means that his mother will be open to other relationships and thus become available for interdicting incest with the son . This condition, more adhered to its context, is related to the realist novel, in the figure of the “Bastard”.

Lafetá seeks to prove, through the two figurations of Marthe Robert, the game that takes place, in its constant delay towards symbolic incest, between: a) the face of the “Foundling”, that of the historical novel, a typical genre of romanticism and the fanciful search for origins, which in the novel João Valério seeks to achieve with the “Caetés” of the lawless cannibals devouring civilization-Bishop Sardinha, preparing the ground for incest, and: b) the face of the “Bastard”, so realistic that – now under responsibility and as a result of the interpretations developed here – it would be said to extend the novel Caetes directly to the real, as non-romance in the present tense. Thus, the Oedipal seesaw swings, in the saga of overcoming the bankrupt father, between the man of letters and the digger, between João Valério and authorship.

The author's high metonymic adherence, however, obliges him not only to submit literature to the real, but also the real to literature: the literary man needs models to know how to write novels, for the pure necessity of anchoring and not to insinuate exhibitionist citations of erudition. The oedipal latency, given as an underlying stimulus to the writing initiative, can be sought biased, therefore, through the influence of other works.

Agrippino Grieco observes when evaluating Caetes, in February 1934, that the scene of the two kisses on Luísa's neck resembles that of the lily of the valley, by Balzac, when the crazy Félix de Vandenesse “lays a long kiss on the shoulders of Madame de Mortsauf” (GRIECCO, 1934). The novel tells the story of the rejected boy, whose mother, needing a companion at a Restoration celebration, orders him to make ridiculous clothes. There the despised son, timidly thrown into a corner, falls in love with Madame de Mortsauf when she casually stays close to him as if to cradle him in her desolation, and the young man, enraptured, among the guests, practices the mad gesture that her lady repels with fright, indignation and an understanding look. Then, for several years, the passion that brings them together will be from mother to son, with no bodily contact other than kisses on the back of the girl's hands (not on the palms), a little older than him and much younger than her husband. Mrs. Mortsaut thinks about the possibility of Félix marrying his daughter, but that's not what they want. The two lovers take care, in modest shifts, of the stricken husband, and they stay there until, as a result of a carnal adventure that the boy, finally on an escape, has with an English noblewoman, the virtuous Mme. Mortsaut dies in long agony, deranged by jealousy and forbidden love, undefeated in her faithful bodily fidelity (BALZAC, 1992).

Add to this the possible influence of this plot on another, in which we see the last meeting, in March 1867, between Mme. Arnoux, with his gray hair, and Frédéric Moreau, who loved her from the first pages of sentimental education, in 1840. After a blank leap, many years after the coup and the repression of the people with the seizure of power by Louis Napoleon, the penultimate chapter opens, in loving ecstasy, in the Paris of the II Empire, in that the couple see each other again after twenty-seven years of rain not wet. They talk with delicacy, joy, memories of frustrated love, silence, they go to the street for a walk arm in arm, they return to the house of the forty-year-old. Mrs. Arnoux says that she discovered his love when he kissed the skin between her glove and sleeve. Frédéric Moreau thinks a little terrified of the possibility that she had come to give herself to him. The sensation is of incest – and of fear, anticipating the ensuing boredom. Then she says goodbye, gives him a lock of her hair and kisses him on the forehead, like a mother. “And that was all”, Flaubert closes the chapter (FLAUBERT, 2002).

Certainly Caetes it comes from there, but in the summary of this formation that the work performs, dispatched, it is no longer that, although it is neither one thing nor the other. The authenticity of his diction appears a bit old and surprising, confusing critics, who feel his vigor but do not know exactly how to qualify it, such as De Cavalcanti Freitas, in March 1934, who sees in the novel the “rigid discipline” of the “old reactionary process of technique” (FREITAS, 1934).

Even the novel's most immediate reference, To the illustrious house of Ramires, greatly alters the model precisely because of the parodic dialogism that it establishes with that novel by Eça de Queirós. Some reviews resemble such a source, although they do not note its essential differences. Antonio Candido comments that To the illustrious house of Ramires is the antiBasilio. First, there was the socialist looking mercilessly from the outside at the characters caricatured in the interior of the urban. Afterwards, the ideological withdrawal of the understanding look of the old Eça, adhered to the interior of Gonçalo Ramires in the exteriority of the countryside (CANDIDO, 1971, p. 44), seeks to reinvigorate Portugal with the deplorable colonialism. Gonçalo's mediocrity regenerates itself in this way: although he rehashes his uncle's verses about his ancestry, he nevertheless ends the book that we read within the book. But not content with that and with the humiliation to which he submits himself, full of pride, Gonçalo leaves for Africa in search of the regeneration of the race.

Graciliano's ideological path is the opposite. In Caetes he says goodbye to Eça, whose meager remnant will no longer be structural. By reaching the literary form of Marxist conceptualization, which will lead the rest of the work, the “exterior” of the conversation of parrots, which caricaturally reached João Valério himself in his “interior”, will gain a reflexive update of Marxism, which will arrange the “exterior ” as history structured in social systems, stratified by class struggle and power games: human constructs, not immutable in the immobility of the apathy that oppresses the “interior” of its subjects, starting with Paulo Honório in S. Bernardo.

Graciliano could not prevent the fictional non-existence of the novel from Caetes, sparse in the immediacy of the present tense, would become true, as it did with João Valério’s “Caetés”. The delay in publication allowed him to ask Schmidt to return the originals and cancel the “business”, as he tells Ló in a letter from Palmeira dos Índios, October 8, 1932 (RAMOS, 1994, p. 130). But thanks to the aesthetic innocence and fraternal generosity of Jorge Amado, the publication was resumed with the editor Schmidt. Graciliano would mention the episode in 1936, when he found, “with a shudder of repugnance”, his prison companion, the intelligent Russian Sérgio, reading Caetes: after the originals were returned, Jorge Amado visited him in 1933 to, hidden, in collusion with Dona Ló, take them back to Schmidt, who wanted to edit the novel (RAMOS, 1985, p. 225).

Before that, Graciliano had returned from Maceió to Palmeira dos Índios and, in 1932, made the seed of S. Bernardo in Viçosa, protecting-overcoming his father, who had taken the family there years before, after the disaster in the Pernambuco hinterland of Buíque, when the drought had eaten away his claim to become a farmer. João Valério would then return from Palmeira dos Índios to Maceió, and then Luís da Silva would say what he had come for, before going to Rio de Janeiro, waiting for Fabiano, Sinhá Vitória and the two boys.

* Marcos Falchero Falleiros is a retired professor at the Federal University of Rio Grande do Norte (UFRN)

Originally published in the Annals of Brazilian Association of Comparative Literature (Abralic)



AMADO, George. Literature, December 5, 1933. USP-IEB- Graciliano Ramos Archive – Recortes Series.

BALZAC, Honore de. the lily of the valley. Introduction by Paulo Ronai. In: –––. the human comedy. vol. XIV. São Paulo: Globo, 1992.

BARBOSA, Francisco de Assis. 50 years of Graciliano Ramos. In: SCHMIDT, Augusto Frederico et al. Homage to Graciliano Ramos. Rio de Janeiro: Alba, 1943.

CANDID, Antonio. Between the countryside and the city. In: –––. thesis and antithesis. Sao Paulo: Companhia Editora Nacional, 1971.

––––. fiction and confession. São Paulo: Editora 34, 1992.

––––. Irony and latency. In: –––. The albatross and the Chinese. Rio de Janeiro: Gold over Blue, 2004.

COSTA, Dias da. Graciliano Ramos – Cahetés. Literature, June 20, 1934. USP-IEB – Graciliano Ramos Archive – Recortes Series.

FLAUBERT, Gustave. Madame Bovary. Paris: Librairie Generale Française, 1972.

––––. Sentimental education. Paris: Librairie Generale Française, 2002.

FREITAS, De Cavalcanti. Cahetes. Ariel's Bulletin, March 1934. USP-IEB – Graciliano Ramos Archive – Recortes Series.

GRIECO, Agrippino. Literary life. Corja, Sinhá Dona and Cahetés. The newspaper, February 4, 1934. USP-IEB – Graciliano Ramos Archive – Recortes Series.

LAFETA, Joao Luiz. Oedipus bookkeeper: reading of Caetés. In: Teresa – Revista de Literatura Brasileira, nº 2, São Paulo: Department of Classic and Vernacular Literature-FFLCH-USP, Publisher 34, 2001.

PAES, Jose Paulo. From the nobleman to the bookkeeper. In: transreadings: essays on literary interpretation. Sao Paulo: Attica, 1995.

PINTO, Roland Morel. Graciliano Ramos – author and actor. Assis: Faculty of Philosophy, Sciences and Letters of Assis, 1962.

BRIDGES, Eloy. The world of letters. Cahetés. The Globe, May 7, 1934. USP-IEB – Graciliano Ramos Archive – Recortes Series.

PUCCINELLI, Lamberto. Graciliano Ramos – relations between fiction and reality. São Paulo: Quiron/INL, 1975.

RAMOS, Graciliano. Caetes. Rio de Janeiro: Record, 1984.

––––. Letters. Edited by James Amado. Rio de Janeiro: Record, 1994.

––––. Crooked lines. Rio de Janeiro: Record, 1980.

––––. prison memories. v. 1. Rio de Janeiro: Record, 1985.

ROBERT, Martha. Romance of origins, origins of the novel. São Paulo: Cosacnaify, 2007.

SCHWARZ, Robert. To the winner the potatoes. São Paulo: Two Cities, 1988.

See this link for all articles