Rich people



Excerpts from the Afterword of the newly published book by José Agudo

To Michael M. Hall, who introduced me to this novel

Through the interstices of the canon

To better appreciate Rich people it is necessary to pay attention to the background constituted by the tradition to which it belongs: that of a very special satirical niche within the fiction of urban customs.

At the turn of the century, extending until 1922 or even later, Brazilian literature had stimulating manifestations that would be half hidden by the glow of the Week of Modern Art. Among them, a strong critical vein that creased fiction above all, although it also appeared in the chronicle, in the theater, in caricatures or cartoons.[I]

The umbrella term “premodernism”,[ii] as it is conventionally called, it has limits – not rigid but allowing for a certain overflow – that mark the end of an era and the dawn of another. They are roughly fixed by the death of Machado de Assis in 1908 and Lima Barreto in 1922. Or else by the publication of the sertões, by Euclides da Cunha, in 1902, and by the outbreak of the Modern Art Week in 1922. Or by 1889, the year of the proclamation of the Republic and the beginning of the Old Republic, until its end, marked by the arrival of Getúlio Vargas to power in 1930 .

The trigger for this novelistic vintage was the sudden advent of modernization brought about by the sudden transition from the Empire to the Republic, a trend that would become increasingly radical in the coming times, becoming wide open in the great urban reform of Rio de Janeiro. Material and institutional modernization would entail a metamorphosis of customs that would leave no stone unturned.

Riding for two centuries, part of this vintage oscillates between belle époque and pre-modernism. During this period, several novelists produced: some linked to the past like Coelho Neto; or the transition, like Graça Aranha, who would enthusiastically adhere to modernism, at least in action; or even to the future, like Monteiro Lobato, debuting in 1919 with tales of Urupes.

It is within this period that the niche to which it belongs Rich people, constituting a cut in the novel of customs, which is satirical and devastating. Despite having been very successful in its time, novels like this one were restricted to the criticism of the elites, in a vision not far from superficiality or the social chronicle.[iii]As for style, it had already gone through the sieve of naturalism, whose marks it bears. Despite their success, these novels slipped as if through the interstices of the literary and cultural system, falling into oblivion. To better appreciate the boldness of Rich people, the reader must prepare to follow a winding path, retracing its trajectory.

However, in this general picture that we are describing, there is an exception, worthy of note, drawing its antithesis: a writer going against the current, who adheres to the poor, the suburbs and those excluded from the great urban modernization that, underway in the period, benefits the rich. and his minions, while harming the already unfortunate – Lima Barreto.



Urban novel and critique of customs

The powerful tendency of the urban novel, more fertile in the focus of modernization constituted by Rio de Janeiro than in the rest of the country, would swell until it became a flow with peaks of high achievement, like Lima Barreto. This tendency usually has as its initial pattern an unpretentious work, published in book form in 1854 after having appeared in newspaper serials a year earlier: Memorias de um sargento de milicias, by Manuel Antonio de Almeida.

Precursor of the novels examined here, it has a comic or humorous vein, showing an extraordinary acuity for social criticism. Without prejudice to those of Joaquim Manuel de Macedo, it was one of the first and most relevant novels based on a chronicle of urban customs to emerge, standing out among contemporaries, maintaining a court of admirers to this day.[iv] Due to the charms of Rio de Janeiro, it is incomparable because it goes back to the early eras and vividly relives what was happening in the city in the time of d. John vi. Situated on the threshold between romanticism and realism, by adopting a perspective full of humour, between biting and benevolent, he unfolds a critical eye that tries to subject everything to comic debasement. Caricatured characters follow almost implausible events of cleverness. The protagonist, Leonardo, through expedients and a lot of flexibility, gets everything he wants. Despite this, the novel reveals a lucid understanding of the functioning of the incipient Brazilian society, where everything was resolved on the basis of personal favor, in the absence of objective criteria for a civil collective life. Intuitively, Leonardo understands the advantages he can take from this general picture, using it to do well without working and without making any effort. The novel is a grace: the narrator treats Leonardo's trickery and pranks with complete indulgence.

Structured as an alternation of frame/action, the novel wisely instigates the reader's interest in the plot's plots and Leonardo's antics, while inserting between these episodes folkloric scenes from Rio Antigo, with everything that was as picturesque as it was typical. Symptomatically, its young author was a columnist for a newspaper, indeed for a newspaper in the country's capital, and the novel was published in serial chapters. As we will see, this combination of writer and newspaper columnist would be privileged in the times to come.

But the ancestors of this satirical novel that criticizes the elites in a slave-owning country go back to the “time of the king”, that is, the period that followed the portentous disembarkation of the prince regent d. João, future king D. João VI, with his entire court of 15 people. The forerunners already announce the fate of these works: never on the upper level of good literature, or literature with the ambition of high art. But something more down to earth, more unaffected, more popular perhaps, and which certainly appealed to its numerous readers. That was how Joaquim Manuel de Macedo, far from being just the author of sugary novels like In Moreninha (1844) and the blond guy (1845), later shown to have more than one string on his lyre. She would write others with a mild social denouncement or at least a critique of customs, such as the very amusing The women in mantilla (1870) and Memoirs of My Uncle's Nephew (1867)[v] And this, in full romanticism, to which, when convenient, he genuflected, as was the case with In Moreninha e the blond guy.

Em Memoirs of My Uncle's Nephew, the critique of customs focuses on the political layer: corruption and robbery, alliances between dishonest leaders, exchange of favors. The nephew wants to make a political career, to also entertain himself, and he learns and teaches the reader the secrets of the trade, in an X-ray of political-electoral practice in the country. Anarchic and irreverent, it goes back one hundred years, to the time when the capital of Brazil was transferred from Bahia to Rio de Janeiro, during the administration of the first viceroy, Count da Cunha (1763-67), who is a character in some emphasis.

From that time it is possible to rescue novels that fell into ostracism and of which only a few scholars had heard of. Contemporary to these is the case of The Needle Family(1870)[vi] according to the title page a “humorous novel” by Luís Guimarães Jr., plucked from the dust of the archives not long ago by Flora Süssekind. In a “zigzag” narrative that goes back and forth, that rejects and subverts, this novel smoothly courtes the absurd, the grotesque and even the absurd.[vii]


republic and modernization

Only those who stood on the other side of the demarcation line established by the advent of the Republic would be able to assess what it meant for the Brazilian cultural panorama. The presence of monarchy and slavery had been a striking sign of Brazil's backwardness in the concert of nations, and even in the context of Latin America. For this reason, the proclamation of the Republic was hailed as a leap in modernity: a self-respecting modern nation could neither have a king nor slaves. Immediately bringing with it a multitude of modifications and innovations that changed the face of the country, the Republic became especially visible in the capital, Rio de Janeiro.[viii] The rest of Brazil would only very slowly absorb modernization, recalcitrant to its innovations, remaining as a bastion of patriarchy, oligarchy and coronelismo.

The general features of this evolution are highlighted in two literary works that appear soon, even before the end of the century, bearing the title of the federal capital. The first, from 1894, is a novel by the immensely successful writer Coelho Neto. The second, from 1897, is a play, the most famous by another prolific author, Artur Azevedo,[ix] He was also the most successful playwright at the time, creator of numerous comedies, operettas, burlettes, comic operas, revues, vaudeville, intermissions, parodies, etc., in the context of a lyre that is far from pretentious but theatrically effective. This play is characterized by him as an “operetta comedy of Brazilian customs”. Novel and play present a similar basic scheme, and it is evident that they tried to deal literarily with the novelty that was a republic of free men. Both rest on the contrast between the interior and Rio de Janeiro, showing in the novel the candor of a young countryman on a walk and, in the play, that of a family from Minas Gerais that comes to know the big city. Both in one case and in another, seduced by the wonders of the metropolis and at the mercy of smart guys, the characters decide for what they say are simplicity, purity and the most austere habits. What then would be the charms of the hinterland, after the delicious vertigo of the dangers that the capital offers.

The age-old literary theme of the flee urban (= fleeing the city), which dates back to Greco-Roman antiquity, is thus re-enacted in new guises, and Brazilian guises subsequent to its use by Arcadian conventions. The theme will also mark regionalism, which contrasts city and countryside, maintaining the contrast between one pole as the place of all vices and the other pole as the place of all virtues. Only Lima Barreto would remain immune, who would carry out the bucolic illusion process in Sad end of Policarpo Quaresma. It should be noted that whoever writes does not leave the city, despite all the reproaches. The theme in literary studies has already yielded a lot, as evidenced by classic works such as those by Curtius and Raymond Williams.[X]

Both the novel and the play are dedicated to scrutinizing the public and private life of the metropolis, in its uses and customs, and especially what was in transition. And that, change or novelty, brought an unprecedented physiognomy to Rio.

These transformations would soon be visible, with the force of an earthquake or other vast natural disaster, on the exposed face of Rio de Janeiro during the Pereira Passos Reform, named after its mayor and mentor, in 1904. Without a doubt, the capital of the world was Paris, and throughout the planet urban interventions copied the model of the Haussmann Reform,[xi] which aimed primarily at shaping the urban fabric to control insurrections, in the aftermath of the Commune of 1871.

In Brazil, or in Rio de Janeiro more than in Brazil, modernization finally came. This is what the writing of the time reflects, both in the novels and in the chronicles in the newspapers – even more so when it is known that they came from the same authors. These writers engaged, through the press, in a daily discussion about what modernization was, palpable in the rubble that hung from so much demolition, in the rubble in sight and in the rubble that accumulated.

It was not by chance that the plebeian verve coined the nickname Bota-Abaixo for the phenomenon, stamping this phase of Rio. Until then, the poor had lived in the downtown neighborhoods (Cidade Nova, Estácio, etc.) and, expelled, from then on, they occupied the periphery as well as, more prominently, the slums on the heights.

Everything changed, everything was transformed: technology, in this era of inventions and discoveries, commanded change. The glow of the electric light turned the night into day, and threw open all the recesses that used to be in the shadows, replacing the weak gas nozzles in the lighting of the streets. The tram abandoned animal traction and adopted electric traction. The automobile made its irruption, alarming passers-by. Meanwhile, skirts and hair shortened.

Advertising enters the scene, dominating newspapers and magazines, but is also present in tram ads, for some of which Olavo Bilac himself mobilized his muse. Advertising was then called in French and in the feminine “the advertisement”, which Artur Azevedo used as the title of a hilarious story, showing the finger of propaganda even in a gallant adventure.

The vogue for seaside resorts is contemporary, which are multiplying and are like extensions of Rio and São Paulo, where their parish comes from. The public power collaborates, enacting health policies.

Visiting cafés and pastry shops such as Pascoal or Colombo is a must in Rio de Janeiro, along with the development of bohemian intellectuals, artists and journalists. But not including Lima Barreto, who was also a bohemian, but a customer of disreputable freges and taverns. Until then, the theater, before going to the movie theaters, was the ideal place to see and be seen. As Rich people tries to show, such habits are also found in São Paulo: his characters frequent cafes and restaurants called Rotisserie Sportsman or Castelões, go to Teatro Santana to watch the play The Lady of the Camellias, crowd the Radium cinema matinees.

The record and the phonograph, prior to the radio and its long range, help to shorten distances, further corroborated by the telephone and the telegraph. Not only do they give rise to new listening habits, but they also facilitate the sociability of the entwined pair dance. And, with it, the fear of the deleterious effects of the execrated gherkin, with its grappling and lubricious movements, dubbed everywhere as “dance of blacks”. Soon, a great triple creation of the Brazilian people would appear: samba, the samba school and Carnival in Rio de Janeiro.

Among the writers, Olavo Bilac shone as a tireless herald of new customs. His thousands of periodical chronicles show how he assumed a leadership role, sponsoring progressive causes, evolving from a supporter of gymnastics, sports and athletics to patriotism and the campaign for compulsory military service.[xii]



The São Paulo harvest

Times are witnessing the emergence, in São Paulo, of some novels of customs with the purview of criticism or social denouncement, like the ones we have been examining. As if, seeing what was happening in Rio de Janeiro's literature, so opulent, the authors felt spurred on to also claim a presence in this niche of the panorama of letters, even outside of Rio de Janeiro.

The best accomplished among them is Madam Pommery (1920), by Hilário Tácito.[xiii] The protagonist is the owner of the brothel Paraíso Reencontrado, a center of attraction for the elite of São Paulo. The title emphasizes the embellishment of his real “Polish” name, as it was then called, that of Pomerikovsky. The nom de guerre derives from the French champagne that gushes in its salon. A notable and priceless satire on the hypocrisy and other bad habits of this class, it is washed away by insisting on the civilizing and modernizing function of the brothel institution. It has the rare distinction of having been praised by Lima Barreto in a chronicle.

Another example is Dirty laundry (1923), by Moacyr Piza. Author of a scandalous novel, one more about the São Paulo elite, Moacyr Piza would also be the protagonist of a scandal in real life, around a certain Nenê Romano, trigger of a duel that did not happen. But two years later he shoots her dead and kills himself too, inside a car on Avenida Angélica. The title of his novel proved prophetic.

Over all these authors and novels, from Rio de Janeiro, São Paulo or elsewhere, hovered the enormous and European shadow of Pitigrilli, the pseudonym of the Italian Dino Segre. Author of what in Europe was called a “popular novel”, he was a picturesque figure, a journalist with thunderous and provocative phrases, among other performances for fans. A list of titles alone gives an idea of ​​their kinship with the writers we have been examining: luxury mammals (1920) the chastity belt (1921) Cocaine (1921) outrage to shame (1922) The 18 carat virgin (1924).Prolific author, this is a small sample of his torrential work. Let the sample not mislead the reader: he was already writing before 1920 and would continue to write after 1924, with upheavals in his life and residence, between Italy, Paris and Argentina. He was a box-office hit, his book would almost certainly be a bestseller, at least in its most popular phase. He was, in milder times, nicknamed a “pornographic novelist”. Like the Brazilians, it also disappeared.


The “rich people” of São Paulo

A satire on the elite of the city of São Paulo is what the reader has in his hands, a city that was also modernizing without the splendor and pomp of the country's capital. The novel systematically proceeds to examine the different incarnations of the main social forces that hold power. Incarnations in characters — all men and white, obviously — constituting “types” that populate the pages of this book.

For this very reason, because of this emphasis on characterology so to speak, the book is based more on description than on narration, on the static rather than the dynamic, on the deepening of each type and on the types as a whole more than on the incidents of the plot. The subtitle, therefore, promises what the text accomplishes: Scenes from São Paulo life. It can already be seen that the description takes precedence over the narration, the passage being sparse, almost non-existent, frame following frame.

This is a satire that is not done systematically as in a cohesive and coherent novel in all its parts, but by fragments, lines, sudden intuitions, catchphrases, anecdotes. In short, by pieces composing a mosaic called a novel. And for that very reason, because it is uncompromised, it allows for a freer and more playful relationship with form.

The author left biographical traces as faint as the traces of his work. Here, the great source is Elias Thomé Saliba,[xiv] adding this other contribution to the aforementioned chapter on the comic in the period, a treasure trove of precious information and reflections. Among the traits he mentions are the meager professional data. So we are aware that José Agudo is the pseudonym of José da Costa Sampaio, originally from Portugal. Saliba, who has read them all, cites a series of novels, published between 1912 and 1919, foreshadowed by Rich people, the first of the series, the others beingdaring people, The Doctor. Paradol and his helper, Poor rich!, Poste restante, Western Letters e the talking stone. By profession, the writer was an accountant and a professor of accounting. Modest and obscure in profile, he was nevertheless read and appreciated, though this appreciation was fleeting. The origin of his pseudonym is deciphered as a pun by the novelist himself when dedicating the book to João Grave (1872-1934), a Portuguese writer. Moreover, João Grave was the author of a novel called poor people, another pun. From all indications, José da Costa Sampaio made a good impression in his trade, as he was a professor at the Álvares Penteado School of Commerce, having founded and directed a prestigious accounting journal.

The most notorious part of his career as a novelist, curiously enough, was a polemic with none other than Oswald de Andrade, thus inserting himself, albeit against his will, in the future modernist fantasies – then still hovering on the horizon. Saliba says that the feud unfolded in the pages of the brat, Oswald's first incursion into the press, a newspaper he created and directed at the age of twenty. As no one ignores, Oswald knew how to be virulent. When commenting, under the pseudonym Joachin da Terra, the recently released Rich people, sent by the author, decides to accuse him of ignorance due to a presumed grammatical error already in the collective dedication to the newspaper. There was a reply, José Agudo responded and the controversy caught fire, devolving into personal accusations and other insults. Finally, he would lose heart and interest and disappear before more pressing issues. Notably, it yielded a satirical and fierce poem by Oswald, transcribed by Saliba, ending the controversy.


The Paulista elite

Despite all the heterogeneity, Rich people has a protagonist, who is Juvenal de Faria Leme, better known as Juvenal Paulista. His presence commands almost all the chapters, although the novel is not in the first person, this being a “person of the author”. However, it is Juvenal Paulista's point of view that predominates, the ideas of the two being confused all the time. There is no distancing when it comes to Juvenal Paulista, rarely a hint of objection or disagreement. Admittedly, it's a alter ego: in the autonomous character one can see a spokesperson for the author.

Author and alter ego share a strongly critical view of the elite, to whom they direct all sorts of barbs. The double point of view is instigating, because, while Juvenal is nicknamed “Paulista” and is a member of the elite, the author is an immigrant that it would be excessive to call marginal or borderline, since he is a respectable citizen. But it is certainly an outsider. The opinions of both author and protagonist, even when they mock the elite and therefore assume a progressive critique, can be filled with conservative nuances with regard to women, blacks and the poor, who receive derogatory evaluations.

Who is this protagonist? “Juvenal de Faria Leme was a true paulista”: this is how Chapter IV begins. One of his ancestors was part of d. Pedro when the famous “intestinal disorder” occurred on the banks of the Ipiranga, the carnivalized side of the heroic saga of Independence. Usually signing Juvenal Paulista, he wrote assiduously for newspapers and magazines: “I had a passion for writing”, which once again brings him closer to the narrator. He is critical of established ideas: a descendant of bandeirantes, he claims that boasting about this is the same as boasting of “being the grandson or great-grandson of bandits and thieves”. In his adventurous life he was a cook and discovered the sustanza, or cauldron in which the remains were boiled, which will serve as a metaphor to designate the spurious elite of São Paulo. To stir up squeamishness, he tells his friends that he ate toasted içás as a child.

However, as we will see, the opinions that Juvenal freely distributes left and right about everything or almost everything, and which he believes to be advanced insofar as they treat the rich four hundred with mockery, are sometimes tinged with nuances more consistent with a grouchy old man of the traditional, moralistic type.

Everything takes place in the center of the city of São Paulo, or, more precisely, in the Triângulo, as the perimeter delimited by three streets was popularly called: Quinze de Novembro, São Bento and Direita – the heart of the city, its oldest core, at the same time, place of memory and focus of power irradiation. The book offers a systematic inventory of the space-time signs that constitute it: toponymic (streets and public places in general, including names of restaurants, bars, stores, theaters, cinemas) and topographical (slopes, valleys, meadows, street corners, public sidewalks). The objective is to describe, in an accurate way, the scenario where the plot takes place and the main points — indeed full of semantic load — in which the lives of the characters take place, which is confused with the life, or at least the public face, of the elite in the city.

To begin with, the Quatro Cantos are mentioned several times, the name given to the corner of Rua Direita and São Bento, which formed four perfect right angles – a marvel in an urban fabric of haphazard streets. It is said that it was the only orthogonal intersection in São Paulo and would disappear with the opening of Praça do Patriarca.

The Casa Garraux stands out in the Triângulo, for purchasing books, on Rua Quinze, alongside Guarany, a café and restaurant, which for Juvenal is a den of “intellectual coprophilia”, where future bachelors, arbiters of male elegance, make a point. Mention is often made of Grumbach's watch, or rather, of Maurice Grumbach's jewelry and watch shop, located on the corner of Rua Quinze and Rua Boa Vista. Its large dial clock allowed viewing from multiple angles, thanks to strategic placement right on the corner. An urban icon, Grumbach's clock can be seen in period photos that document the city of São Paulo.

Other places frequented by the characters are the Rotisserie Sportsman, the Castelões bar and restaurant, a luxury store like Ville de Paris, the Radium cinema, the Casino, Antônio Prado square. The Santana and the Politeama illustrate the two types of theater that predominated at the time: the lyrical Santana, in the shape of a horseshoe, with several floors of friezes and superimposed boxes; the Politeama for varied shows, as its name indicates. You can see the Santa Ifigênia viaduct under construction and the pending inauguration of the Municipal Theater is discussed. The novel mentions more places, and even outside the walls, sought after by the elite: the Velodrome, the Hippodrome, the Tietê river of regattas, Jardim da Luz, Bosque da Saúde, Parque da Cantareira. For vacations, from seaside resorts and beaches in Guarujá or Santos like José Menino, to seasons in Europe.

It is good to remember that São Paulo in those years was not yet an important city. It lost, and by far, to the country's capital, Rio de Janeiro. The urban fabric was cramped, without any of the architectural sumptuousness that dot Rio Velho and that distinguish it as a metropolis with tradition. As the splendid beauty is and was unique, the majesty of its location by the sea, in the bay of Guanabara, with picturesque relief and cutouts of coves or coves, to which are added white sandy beaches as far as the eye can see. If we can open a debate about natural and architectural beauty, we cannot discuss numbers. At the dawn of the XNUMXth century, when the narrative takes place, Rio had five times as many inhabitants as São Paulo. The start of São Paulo to become the Brazilian and American “tentacular metropolis”, one of the largest in the world, was not yet revealed in the mists of the future.


The romance of customs and its mishaps

The narrative structure of Rich people it seeks to do justice to the cartography of the city, which was taking off towards a future of an industrial park, but ignores the formation of the São Paulo proletariat. Despite being absent from the novel, at this point the class already had such a presence that it had carried out a strike for better working conditions in 1907,[xvi] led by revolutionary syndicalists in alliance with anarchists and socialists. A year earlier, the Brazilian Workers' Confederation had been created. But, apart from the elite that occupies the center of the city, this book, consistent with its title, does not acknowledge the existence of other neighborhoods and other social strata in São Paulo, not even in the phantasmagorias of the characters. And only the beginning of the 1930s would witness the emergence of the “proletarian novel”, whose flower would come to be Industrial park (1933), by Pagu.[xvii] Se Rich people ignores the new phenomenon of workers in the São Paulo social scene, much fiction passed through modernism unscathed, even after the Modern Art Week.[xviii]

For your side, Rich people, looking for literary solutions, will be based on establishing great differences between the chapters: with some exaggeration, it can almost be said that each one is different from the other. Thus, we will see street episodes, in which characters meet and talk, reigning as a principle the notion of city walks. The characters are flâneurs who tread a future metropolis, which they seem to ideally or imaginarily circumscribe with their steps. All this in line with the modernization process in the West, when the streets of the metropolis and its points of confluence (bars, restaurants, cinemas) become spaces of sociability,[xx] capable of provoking encounters, serving the desire to see and be seen.

The plot revolves around an axis constituted by the central chapter, chapter V, which occupies about one fifth of the total, leaving only four fifths for the remaining ten chapters – certainly a disproportion, even visual, and which has consequences for the harmony of the plot. set. Here lies the fulcrum of the narrative and, as expected, the importance of what is narrated demands such an extension. So let's see what this huge chapter says.

Dealing with the installation of Mútua Universal, an investment association, is set in a room on the first floor on Rua São Bento. Specifically, the purpose of the meeting was “to institute a pension for borrowers for twenty years, and an annuity of thirty contos de réis payable, upon the death of the founder, to its beneficiaries”. This is where what the novel calls “mutuomania” between big shots, very fashionable in those years, prevails. People of means founded mutual aid associations, making investments that would yield profits and multiply, serving interests that would reach their climax in our time. Even so, they are nothing more than a pale anticipation, when compared to the speculation of financial capital that is expressed today, for example, in the hedge funds, and the economic imbalance on a planetary scale to which society as a whole has been led.

In the group that established Mutua, there are political and ideological discussions, with a predominance of nostalgic moralism. There is talk of high prices for the poor, given the rise of real estate speculation, which will make rents extortionate. The progress is applauded, which however brings minor inconveniences to borrowers such as the emergence of upstarts, or remiss fathers and mothers.

The broad spectrum covered by these members belonging to the elite is made explicit in a series of profiles, which, in a few strokes, sketch caricatures of influential people. We present a summary below, without prejudice to the vivid little anecdotes that accompany each name and that deserve to be savored in the novel itself.

Dr. Gustavo da Luz is one of the most caricatured in his exaggeration and debasement: a “mad scientist” specializing in armadillos, anteaters and fleas, who draws lessons from them for humans. The Doctor. Archanjo Barreto is very rich, only. Jeronymo de Magalhães achieved prosperity through marriage to a moneylender; Adelino Silveira is his son-in-law and heir. Commander Julio Marcondes comes from a poor background, but he married a rich man and is now one of the elite. He devoted himself to being a scientific matchmaker, drawing up an account book for heiresses. The Doctor. Orthépio Gama, representative of the politicians, is a deputy and, needless to say, rich. Colonel Rogerio Lopes has a solid agro-industrial fortune: he owns a fabric factory and a coffee farm. Your son Dr. Zezinho Lopes, who has a degree in law, is a slut, a spender and a womanizer, who frequents happy boarding houses. Caught with his mouth in the can, the deceived husband forces him to wash the floor of the house, in an adventure that is publicized so that everyone can have fun behind the scenes; the father then forcibly marries him, aged 23. Alexandre Rossi (the only one with an immigrant surname) created an industry in partnership with Dr. Claro da Silva, in exchange for offering him his wife; that's how he got rich. The Baron of Athayde is a slave owner and a racist, but he is also a philanthropist; he lives on rent from rented houses. The Doctor. Araujo Reis is a bad character: he becomes a journalist, and venal, selling himself for the best price. Within five years he was rich and sole owner of the newspaper he worked for.

This is the cast of the powerful that the novel presents in a satirical key: not a single one has integrity or decency. It is observed that they represent different sectors of the dominant strata, sharing power to a greater or lesser extent. Satire, which spares no one, presides over the characterization of each of them in minimal terms.

However, the force of immigration, which at that time was at full speed, is ignored as a social movement that would soon change the face of the country, and especially of São Paulo — as we have seen, the proletariat does. The only borrower not “four hundred” is Alexandre Rossi, and, even though he is the only one, he lacks development as a character. But, in São Paulo at the time, in a few years an immigrant would be the King of Industry (Matarazzo) and, penetrating the feud of the land oligarchy, another immigrant would be the King of Coffee (Lunardelli). The Italian contingent will leave its mark on Pauliceia, imprinting its seal on the economy and politics, on the clash of classes, on the arts, on literature, on classical and popular music.[xx]Soon its leading figures will be able to exchange money for pedigree, marrying the daughters of ruined coffee barons.

Interestingly, this presentation of the members of Mutua will be complemented, almost like an appendix or footnote, by the “transcription” of a parody of its statutes, in an interpolation two chapters ahead. The pamphlet was previously distributed by mail. This is what happens in Chapter VII, in the midst of a performance of The Lady of the Camellias with actress Mina Lanzi at Teatro Santana, which is attended by the city's elite.

It's almost eight pages[xxx] from an anonymous text, proposing the creation of the Showing Club, in the midst of an X-ray of São Paulo society and a typology of members.

Although anonymous, the text is reminiscent of Juvenal's usual outbursts – always prejudiced and with strong marks of class. It begins with a censure of the lack of rental houses, saying that this implies prosperity for their owners, as they are all rented. And he adds another admonition… to the cooks, who, instead of handling the stove, go to study at the Normal School, to stop being cooks, obviously. The Normal School was a recent and modernizing institution, which took girls out of the house and paved the way for a worthy profession. Therefore, these signs of female independence aroused the anger of many people, haunting men with vague mirages of more permissive conduct. Just remember the frequency with which they pass through the pages of modernism (Pagu was a normalist).[xxiii] Another rant follows, this one indiscriminate, stigmatizing those who don't want to provide less noble services, because, both nationals and foreigners, everyone is happy. Only “cheaters, thieves, blackmailers and pimps".

Then, the pamphlet focuses on its objective, which is to propose, as a joke of course, the creation of another mutual, one that will be called Showing Club and whose motto is a phrase in English: “Showing Forever!”. Title and motto wide open the ostentation objective. It is a parody of the mutual that was created in earnest in Chapter V. Let's look at its proposals.

No headquarters, no doorman, no collectors' visits, no internal regulations, no supervisory board, no general meeting, no apportionment: these are the advantages, all of them negative. In the positive balance, it is proposed that all belong to the club by birthright, which must be ratified by the applicant. If ratified, it will be perpetual. Then comes the classification of members by category, according to whether they are effective, honorary, meritorious and ultra-meritorious. And it is here that the satire takes flight, infringing all limits and going for the most shameless chanchada.

To be an effective member, it is enough that the date of your birthday appears in the social columns or that you have a car. Public servants who receive homage, with or without a sculpted bust, are included. Deputies and senators, all those who speak – the silent ones, no. Lecturers, bearded people who shave their beards, those who have a title of nobility even if conferred by the Pope, members of the National Guard, bachelors who do not practice their profession.

Fees include those who travel abroad, as well as people who make charitable donations that they give as much publicity as possible.

The benefactors guarantee the institution of the family: they keep ostentatious lovers and wasteful children, they are gambling customers, they subscribe to theater boxes for their couples or multiple families.

The ultrabenefactors are those who manage to find an echo in the foreign press for their practice of philanthropy.

All literati are forbidden entry. This is because they are subject to the criticism that every member of the club is required to be exempt.

And so the pamphlet ends, after having criticized with its satire the promiscuity of the São Paulo family, the hypocrisy of politicians and the general greed for celebrity.

Once the text was finished, in the midst of what they called hubbub at the door of Teatro Santana and the magnificence of the crowd in formal attire, meet Juvenal and dr. Zezinho. Always opinionated, Juvenal is soon saying what he thinks. He begins by criticizing the skyscrapers, copied from the Americans. However, he adds, it is better a pamphlet than a dynamite bomb dropped from high above into the packed audience. Evil is the exhibitionism of the rich. And the text is well written, he says, a rare thing among those who only show “an eagerness to get rich, a taste for squandering and contempt for fine literature”.

At this point, the novel resumes the line of the narrative, the sound of the bell announcing the raising of the curtain. A digression by the narrator fulminates the invention of “cinematographs, airplanes, automobiles and wireless telegraphs”, allied to the cult of speed that upsets the habits of life, thought and art appreciation. Ironically, of course, the cinematograph, which gradually replaces the evening dancing, sparing parents the introduction of marriageable daughters to available boys at expensive domestic parties. A quick and cheap movie session allows you to show off your daughters covered in jewels and luxurious toiletries to the candidates who swarm out of the halls.

The plot advances, with Juvenal Paulista among friends, some from Mútua, making yet another digression in the interval of the penultimate act. This time, in the form of a letter, addressed to city councilors and commenting on the forthcoming inauguration of Theatro Municipal. Amidst various lucubrations, generally intended to make the ingenuity of the speech shine, which, for example, compares that theater to a penknife, ends up threatening the future administration of the house, if it squanders the public money invested there. Soon after the on-stage drama ends and, as was the custom, someone stands up and gives a speech in praise of Mina Lanzi. The speech is parodic, a masterpiece of commonplaces interspersed with nationalist and Parnassian hyperbole. The speaker is Leivas Gomes.

At this point, we see how the São Paulo elite of the time is represented in Rich people in their power lines. The old oligarchy, made up of “four hundred”, is in charge. Its political power is based on economic power, which comes from the so-called Coffee and Milk Axis, combining the agrarian wealth of São Paulo with the livestock wealth of Minas Gerais. It was the Café com Leite Axis that made the first civilian presidents of the Republic. And only the advent of Getúlio Vargas in 1930 would interrupt this iron alliance, bringing to power the Gaucho forces, coming from the South, therefore from outside the territory hitherto demarcated. Getúlio would lean on the working class, bringing new blood and new problems to the social and political arena. It is the previous period, prior to the Getulist phase that was not even outlined on the horizon, that Rich people catch and describe.



Two parallel observations arouse the reader's interest. First, his aversion to the new fashion for detective or detective novels, against which he inveighs with arguments that range from offense to Art, with a capital letter, to the low social level of readers: this novel is “the delight of schoolchildren, of tavern clerks and professional bandits”. Second, a claim to originality, since, according to him, there was never a literary work that praised wealth.

Since the rich are his subject, a theme of which he claims to be knowledgeable, he decides to dedicate his work to them, as he aims to reach as readers those whom he declares his great love. A final irony, this one involuntary, is expressed in this presentation, when he speaks with admiration of the works that “manage, when well written, to resist universal oblivion”.

In short, fun and vivacious, Rich people has its attractions highlighted when we consider that, fleeing the irradiating source in the federal capital, it sought in the province the traumatisms of republican modernization. Making a satirical chronicle of the elite in a pre-modernist tone, it strives to create for the reader a work of fiction in the form of a mosaic: testimony of a stray piece of literature and history that, being transitional, is pregnant with the future .

*Walnice Nogueira Galvão is Professor Emeritus at FFLCH at USP. She is the author, among other books, of reading and rereading (Senac/Gold over blue).


Jose Agudo. Rich people: scenes from São Paulo life. São Paulo, Chão Editora, 2021, 200 pages.


[I] Elias Thomé Saliba, “The comic dimension of private life in the Republic”, in: Fernando A. Novais (dir.), History of private life in Brazil, v. 3 —Republic: from the belle époque to the age of radio(org. Nicholas Sevcenko). São Paulo: Companhia das Letras, 1998.

[ii] Various Authors, About pre-modernism. Rio de Janeiro: Casa de Rui Barbosa Foundation, 1988.

[iii] Came unexplored, this forgotten fiction can yield a lot. By transferring the analytical angle from literature to music, this is what José Ramos Tinhorão demonstrated: v. Popular music in the Brazilian novel. São Paulo: Editora 34, 2000, 3 v.

[iv] “Dialectic of malandragem”, in: Antonio Candido, The speech and the city 3.a ed. São Paulo: Two Cities; Gold over Blue, 2004.

[v] “The Honorable and Facundo Joaquim Manuel de Macedo”, in: Antonio Candido, Formation of Brazilian Literature 16.a ed. São Paulo: Fapesp; Ouro sobre Azul, 2017.

[vi] Flora Süssekind, “Zigzag Prose”, in: Luis Guimarães Jr., The Needle Family. Rio de Janeiro: Vieira & Lent; House of Rui Barbosa, 2003. Brito Broca, “Humor negro”, in: theater of letters. Campinas: Unicamp, 1993.

[vii] Nothing humorous, on the contrary naturalistic and “cursed”, but also a novel from Rio de Janeiro is the good nigger (1895), whose protagonist is a gay, mulatto sailor. V. Salete de Almeida Cara, “Presentation”, in: Adolfo Caminha, the good nigger. Sao Paulo: Ateliê Editorial, 2014.

[viii] Nicolau Sevcenko, “The radiant capital: technique, rhythms and rites of Rio”, in: History of private life in the Republic, op. cit.

[ix] Décio de Almeida Prado, “Evolution of dramatic literature”, in: Afrânio Coutinho, Literature in Brazil, 3.a ed. Rio de Janeiro: José Olympio; uff, 1986. The play by Artur Azevedo achieved great success in modern stagings, like the one directed by Flávio Rangel in 1972, at Teatro Sesc Anchieta in São Paulo.

[X] ER Curtius, European Literature and the Latin Middle Ages. Sao Paulo: Hucitec; Edusp, 1996. Raymond Williams, in The countryside and the city(São Paulo: Companhia das Letras, 1990), examines the evolution of the theme in English literature.

[xi] Walter Benjamin, “Paris, capital of the XNUMXth century”, in:Flights. Belo Horizonte; São Paulo: ufmg;Official Press, 2006.

[xii] Antonio Dimas, Your Insolence: chronicles — Olavo Bilac🇧🇷 São Paulo: Companhia das Letras, 1996.

[xiii] (Pseudonym of José Maria de Toledo Malta) Hilário Tácito, Madam Pommery. Edition prepared by Júlio Castañon Guimarães. 5.a ed. Campinas; Rio de Janeiro: Unicamp; House of Rui Barbosa, 1997.Beth Brait, Irony in polyphonic perspective. Campinas: Unicamp, 1996.

[xiv] Elias Thomé Saliba, “Adventures and misadventures of José Agudo, a chronicler of Pauliceia in the belle époque”.USP Magazine, Sao Paulo, no.o 63, Sep.-Nov. 2004.

[xv] Sung in prose and verse by popular music, starting with the 1935 Carnival march, “Cidade Maravilhosa”, later made official as an anthem of Rio de Janeiro. It was and is a constant theme of the Carioca Carnival. It would be taken to heights by Bossa Nova, which systematically praised its splendor.

[xvi] Edilene Toledo, Anarchism and revolutionary syndicalism: workers and militants in São Paulo during the First Republic. São Paulo: Perseu Abramo Foundation, 2004.

[xvii] Pagu, or Patrícia Galvão, signs the book with the pseudonym Mara Lobo. Communist and feminist, this novel of urban mores subverts class and gender. Staging, in almost “telegraphic” modernist prose, the lives of working girls inside and outside the factory, it proves to be transgressive both in form and in the plot, revealing, by contrast, the aesthetically more conservative standard of the contemporary novel.

[xviii] See if Mirko(1927), a novel by Francisco Bianco Filho, which suffers from a schizophrenic split: it is divided into two halves that alternate and intertwine. One is regionalist (in the interior everything is pure, authentic, traditional, the heroine is chaste) and the other is of urban customs (in Rio de Janeiro resides modernization, nocturnal orgy, debauchery, the maxixe for dancing, carnal attraction of the other heroine).

[xx] See Walter Benjamin, op. cit.

[xx] In the visual arts: Portinari, Anita Malfatti, Victor Brecheret. In Literature: Menotti del Picchia and the Fiction of Laranja from Chinaquality Brás, Bexiga and Barra Funda, by Alcântara Machado, which reconstructs the typical coloring of the neighborhoods of natives. In classical music: conductors and composers Radamés Gnattali and Francisco Mignone; in popular music: Adoniran Barbosa (pseudonym of João Rubinato). In humour, Juó Bananère (pseudonym of Alexandre Ribeiro Marcondes Machado) and Voltolino (João Paulo Lemmo Lemmi). Italian immigrants would also constitute the driving force of the Teatro Brasileiro de Comédia and the Companhia Cinematográfica Vera Cruz. The characterization of a hillbilly hero in cinema would be up to Amácio Mazzaropi.

[xxx] In the first edition.

[xxiii] It had already yielded a naturalistic novel that bordered on sensationalism: the normalist(1893), by Adolfo Caminha. As in literature, the label of independent and transgressive applied to these young women appears in Carnival, popular music, revues, cartoons and caricatures.

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