fire steed



book review fire steed, by Mário Carelli, about the writer Lúcio Cardoso

“There is no living, there is exhausted. I didn't live, I exhausted myself. Born sick, I am a convalescent of myself”. These fragments of poetic prose by Lúcio Cardoso (1912-1968) could synthesize with rare happiness the life, anxieties, loves and works that the miner of Curvelo produced. Novelist, novelist, short story writer, poet, journalist, playwright, translator, painter, filmmaker, civil servant, Cardoso found in professor Mário Carelli (deceased in 1994) a scholar at his height, who scrutinized all the arts and genres in which Lúcio expressed himself. The result is in the beautiful, dense and passionate Corcel de Fogo – Life and Work of Lúcio Cardoso (1912-1968).

The edition is a shortened version, with an essayistic look, of State's doctoral thesis presented at the Sorbonne. There are 250 pages composed in small font, with small margins and tiny footnotes, filled with photos of Lucio that were not very popular until then. Director of the Brazil-France Database, of the Center National de la Recherche Scientifique and translator into French of Chronicle of the Murdered House, by Lúcio (obtaining the prize of the National Association of French Translators), by Anarchists, thank God, by Zélia Gattai and Apprentice Tales, by Drummond, Carelli organized the existing Cardosian archive at Fundação Casa de Ruy Barbosa. This allowed him to publish unpublished documents and explore certain unknown aspects concerning the life and work of the subject.

Like a true detective, Carelli located about a hundred of the author's articles written for various newspapers and periodicals – Letters and Arts: A Manhã's Literary Supplement; Magazine of the Week; At night; Carioca diary; The newspaper; Academic Magazine; Green Lantern – examined approximately 270 articles and books on Lucius, as well as several of his unpublished texts. To complete, he listed the 10 translations he carried out for José Olympio and transcribed some excerpts from the 105 letters exchanged, among others, with Clarice Lispector, Adonias Filho, Otto Lara Resende Murilo Mendes, Cornélio Penna, Vinicius de Moraes and Érico Veríssimo.

The first part of fire steed is devoted to biographical aspects of Lúcio. Worth mentioning are his childhood spent in Minas – he was the youngest of six children –, the family’s permanent settlement in Rio de Janeiro, his school failures (he stopped in the third year of secondary school) and his first job, at 18, in Companhia Equitativa de Seguros, directed by his uncle Oscar Neto. Still young, he met Augusto Frederico Schmidt and Otávio de Faria. By Schmidt Editora launches Maleita (1934), his first novel, praised by the most influential critics of the moment and, in particular, by the feared Agripino Grieco. Publish Salgueiro (1935) and The light in the basement (1936) – novel much discussed by critics (Mário de Andrade is disturbed by the book) but where his talent starts to be recognized. Alfredo Bosi (1970, p. 465) wrote that, with The light in the basement, “the writer would be defined by the novel of inner probing which he managed to give a rare poetic density”.

At that time, Lucius “let himself be swallowed up by successive passions, in an anguished thirst for life and in a spiritual search that disturbed his existence, at the same time that they fed his work. It goes against taboos, sometimes following 'satanic' paths. But this irresistible seducer proves to be an incomparable friend and, above all, the bohemian sacrifices everything to an imperious need to create. No one else can stop him” (p. 36). He regularly frequents Bar Recreio (Cinelândia), in the company of Otávio de Faria, Adonias Filho, Vinicius de Moraes, Cornélio Penna, Rachel de Queiroz and Clarice Lispector. He quits his job at the insurance company at the age of 25 and, to survive, writes on Sundays in the Diário de Notícias. “Despite his psychological instability and despite his successive passions, Lúcio has an impressive capacity for work. In his anguished thirst for life, he is attracted by lawlessness, but the strength of his mining background and the imperious need for money return him to 'duty'. His writings reflect these conflicts that will be accentuated between the demonic temptations of the soap opera The unknown (1940) and the return to the 'Christian problem', in a strongly autobiographical novel, lost days (1943)” (p. 41). The chronic lack of money led him to publish, through Editora Globo, narratives for children: History of Lagoa Grande (1939). He also writes two collections of poems, Poems (1941) and New Poetry (1944) and untimely completes a cycle of novels – Ignatius (1944) Hilda the teacher e The Amphitheater, both from 1946.

The particularly curious chapter “The Passion of Clarice” explores the correspondence between Clarice Lispector and Lúcio. According to Carelli, “when Clarice, a wildly beautiful teenager, meets Lúcio, who also works at the DIP (Press and Advertising Department), she falls in love with him. But at some point it remains inaccessible ('its mysterious and secret life')” (p. 43). In an article published in Newspapers in Brazil (11.January.1969), still under the shock of Lucio's death, Clarice writes: “In so many things we were so fantastic that, if it hadn't been for the impossibility, who knows we would have gotten married (…) He was the most important person of my life during my adolescence. At that time he taught me how to recognize people through masks, he taught me the best way to look at the moon…” (p. 43).

No less curious is the chapter of Lúcio's failures in theater and cinema. For the theater wrote The Slave (1943) and The prodigal son (1944), which failed. He founded the Teatro de Câmara group, setting up The Silver Rope (1947). “The critics remain reserved, the public does not appreciate it and the debts force Lúcio to interrupt the presentations” (p. 55). He then adapts a short story by Edgar A. Poe, The Tell-Tale Heart, using the pseudonym Graça Melo. “He guides the director, Leo Marten, supervises the sets of his friend Atos Bulcão and even designs the costumes! The play, performed at Teatro Jardel, does not have a good career” (p. 55). But Lucio is tireless: angelica is staged in October 1950 and the author knows his most acute failure there. Parallel to the theater, he ventured into cinema, writing in 1948 the script for adverse souls for Leo Marten, in addition to participating in the production. The film opens in May 1950, constituting a “great failed hope”. In 1949 he became involved in another film, The Woman from afar, in which he was, at the same time, author, screenwriter and director. “He experiences moments of inner exaltation, but due to lack of knowledge of the subject and lack of money, he does not manage to complete his undertaking. Once again he failed and finds himself in debt and in trouble with the law. Even worse, the apprentice filmmaker also feels destroyed, leaving Rio de Janeiro for Penedo” (p. 55-58).

Between 1950 and 1954, Carelli finds a void in Lúcio's biography. He “feels lonely, covered in 'scars', drinks more and more. His world becomes increasingly darker (…) He wanders around the central (and suspect) neighborhood of Lapa, frequents Café Vermelhinho (…) Complete Diary Lúcio is extremely discreet about his 'sexual miseries'” (p. 59). However, in some passages he explains this parallel world of his: “At the end of the fifties, Lucio takes on his impulses more clearly” (p. 60). A page of his Diary is significant in this respect. “Montherlant says – and there can be no more unsuspecting testimony – that homosexuality is 'nature itself'. Which is right, because in the act of two people of the same sex coming together, there is an effort to realize it even without the proper means”. However, in these aspects, I believe that he did not reach serenity, because for him, “the sexual act remains inseparable from death” (p. 60).

At that time, he tries to finish, without success, a new novel, The traveler. Having become completely bohemian, he spends his days and nights in bars. His brother and his friends get him jobs in public bodies, but Lucio always ends up resigning. In March 1951 he was once again editor of the IAPC, a sinecure that he would maintain for years, as some friends would take the time book for him to sign in bars. In order to survive, during 1952, he wrote daily police stories for the newspaper At night (pp. 61-62). Projects pile up and many sketches and versions are soon abandoned: everything ends up being sacrificed for your masterpiece, Chronicle of the Murdered House (1959). Orgies, drinking and amphetamines do not prevent him from continuing to create. Lúcio gives Paulo Cesar Saraceni the script for the film Port of Boxes (1961), one of the first feature films of Cinema Novo (p. 66).

On December 7, 1962, he was overcome by a stroke, resulting in partial paralysis. This prevents him from writing, but some time later, at the expense of muscle re-education exercises, he slowly learns to paint. “He paints every day and his eyes shine with joy when he proudly shows his drawings and paintings” (p. 68). In 1965, he exhibited his works at Galeria Goeldi, in Rio de Janeiro, and, in the following year, received the Machado de Assis prize, granted by the Brazilian Academy of Letters, for his collection of paintings. About this newly conquered means of expression by Lúcio, Drummond wrote: “The painter was inside him, watching and waiting for his time, which might not come, and came, as I dare say that the musician is inside him, suggesting in certain solutions plastic arts, in the wealth of gifts that made him fatally born, an artist” (“A Mão Esquerda”). Lucio cannot resist a new crisis: he dies on September 24, 1968.

Carelli thoroughly analyzes, in the second part of the book, Lúcio's pictorial language, his cinematographic writing, his dramatic literature, his poems, short stories, novels and his diary. Part three is devoted to five novels by the author: Maleita, Salgueiro, The Light in the Underground, lost days e The traveler. Finally, in part four, Carelli deftly dives into the Chronicle of the Murdered House, which represents Lucio's definitive consecration as a novelist. The narrative is multiple (in terms of points of view) and fragmented and the style is close to poetry. Death is the central theme of the story. “The extinction of a language, the degradation of a house, the decomposition of bodies are manifestations of death, dependent on and illuminating one another” (p. 212). At Chronicle, Lúcio takes his conception of what a novel is to its ultimate consequences, that is, the product of a total surrender by the creator, his affective involvement in the sense of “transforming anguish and dread in the face of things and the web of their passions” (Complete Diary, P. 79). Through Faulkner – in his eyes “the greatest living novelist” at the time – he questions himself about the restlessness of artists: “Faulkner’s lack of peace came from his permanent awareness of his condition as a writer and human being crucified to an agonizing fever. of his time” (p. 147).

Perhaps I could criticize Mário Carelli's work here and there for the long and constant quotations; the lack of clarity in some passages, especially for those unfamiliar with Lucio's books; by not deepening the material conditions that surround the existence of the author who is being studied; for the unfortunate editorial solution of inserting notes at the end of each chapter, making reading very difficult. Regardless of these observations, fire steed it is a mandatory consultation for those interested in Brazilian literature and, in particular, in the life and work of Joaquim Lúcio Cardoso Filho.

In the same article cited above Newspapers in Brazil (January 11. 1969), Clarice Lispector refers to her dear friend who disappeared: “Lúcio, I miss you, steed of fire that you were, with no limit to your gallop”.

*Afranio Catani is a retired professor at USP and visiting professor at UFF.

This article is a version, with changes, of the review published in the extinct “Caderno de Sabado” of the Jornal da TardeIn 13.08.1988.




BOSI, Alfredo. A concise history of Brazilian literature. Sao Paulo, Cultrix, 1970.

CARELLI, Mario. Fire steed: life and work of Lúcio Cardoso: 1912-1968. Rio de Janeiro: Guanabara, 1988. 


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