Lygia Fagundes Telles (1923-2022)



Commentary on the multiple dimensions of the short story in the work of the short story writer and novelist

Reading Lygia Fagundes Telles without visualizing a woman is difficult, an impression probably induced by a surreptitious narrator, whose voice is barely distinguishable in the text heavily interwoven with cuts, ellipses, interrogations, doubts, anacolutes, litotes, with sudden changes of interlocutor even in the middle of the conversation. phrase. And so on, in a speech that skilfully bewilders the reader, who is at the same time captivated and manipulated by the deceptive ease of reading.

This woman's look is inclement, merciless, lucid in short. Not exempt from compassion, but without allowing lucidity to cloud. With her, nothing mushy, sentimental, tearful – she is tough and shrewd in her diagnoses.

This keen observer of relationships between people chooses the microcosm, examining behaviors and standards of conduct, not forgetting the lubrication conferred by hypocrisy, which greases them so that they do not scratch, turn falsely or produce the creak of rusty gears.

Once the microcosm is established, the narrator traverses the entire gamut from distance to approximation, going back and forth, identifying with what she narrates or washing her hands, intruding or disappearing, commenting on the action from the outside or guessing what is going on in the most intimate with his creatures. What happens even in stories that are considered entirely “objective”, that narrate themselves without the need for intermediaries. The narrator is a perfected instrument, tuned and honed, perhaps the writer's greatest skill. The elegance of an almost minimalist writing marries the elegance of plot solutions.

But this is still nothing, because we will have Lygia taking on the male protagonist who speaks in the first person, and sometimes, at the opposite extreme to the finesse of the salon, a truck driver (“O moço do saxofone”), an illiterate woman (“ Dove Enamorada"), a murderess ("Leontina's Confession"), a dog ("The Badge in the Teeth") or a garden dwarf who witnesses a poisoning (in the homonymous story). Or else, in third person, but with a focus closely adhered to the protagonist, a boy (“Biruta”).

As a working hypothesis, using the plot as an operator, we will observe in the stories the gradation, formal and non-chronological, between the most structured and the most frayed, considering that they form a continuum, until it escapes out of fiction. The analysis will select three categories of short stories or group of short stories: one of the most structured, one of the least structured that slips into the stream of consciousness, and another that is almost no longer a short story.


Narrator x protagonist – the plot in the well-structured tale

The well-structured short story does not exactly follow a pattern, but, having flexible limits, it can be in the third person (“Antes do baile verde”, “The boy”), in the first person-female (“The corset”) or even in the first person. person-man (“The sauna”).

At the outset, we will examine the famous “Antes do baile verde”, which won a European prize in 1969. In third person, therefore with a neutral narrator and objective discourse, this microcosm has only two women as characters. They are the girl and the black maid, both in preparation for Carnival that same night, but at different parties, while the father is dying right there in the next room, behind a closed door. There are several simultaneous clashes: filial piety x dying father, maid x mistress, white x black, green ball x street carnival, party x wake – but everything is encompassed by the metaphysical clash between life and death.

As always in Lygia's short stories, suspense predominates. The reader takes time to understand where the urgency that excites both comes from: just the imminence of the carnival party, or something else, disastrous, behind a closed door, where the dying father lies?

Nothing is made explicit, everything is gradually insinuated in the dialogue between the two, while they nail green sequins (the frivolity of tinsel?) on the girl's costume. In monosyllables, data about the father's situation pierce the banal level of the dialogue. So we know that he has been ill for months, hemiplegic and speechless; he came home because there was no money to keep him in the hospital etc. The power relationship between employer and employee emerges soon. The girl first coerces the maid to keep her boyfriend waiting in the street because she needs her to finish the fantasy. Afterwards, she tries in vain to get her to go into the other room to check her father's condition. And later on, she insists on bribing her to replace her at the vigil at the sick man's side, which the maid refuses: it's Carnival, for nothing in the world would I miss the party.

In the dialogue, the maid tries to warn the girl that her father is dying. But the latter refuses to listen as it would jeopardize the party, thus forcing the other to agree that her father is not on his last legs. The sounds that come from the street invade the room and make carnival music present. The sounds that come from inside the house are perhaps a groan from the father, perhaps the clock ticking away, drowning out the sounds of the street.

After all, life wins over death: it is a life drive that makes the two women go to meet their boyfriends for the different parties. Other effects are already being prepared by the impregnation of the color green in everything, from the sequins to the clothes, the makeup and the hair, the color symbolizing life and the regeneration of nature, connoting hope. The two choose love, joy, dance, rejecting death in the next room. Would they be guilty not of abandoning the father but of choosing life? The tension of the clashes is not resolved and the conflict hovers, disturbing the reader.

“The boy” is also narrated in third person, the most objective focus. Surprising in the dark of the cinema the mother's hand intertwined with the hand of a man at her side, unknown to the boy, but not to the mother, the boy's world comes crashing down. The tale is elaborated around the sign of the holding hands, which the boy makes a point of showing off on the way, proud of the good fortune of going to the movies alone with his mother. But on the way back, after the scene he witnessed, he repels that hand with horror, saying that he is no longer a child: it was his rude initiation into maturity. Narrator and protagonist are so close in the elaboration of the tale that they are almost confused.

Next, we will see a well-structured short story in the first person-female (“The corset”).

This one is also one of the longest, but narrated in the first person by a woman, the granddaughter. The corset that gives the short story its title becomes a metaphor for life that is plastered by the discretionary power of the old lady, the rich grandmother she commands.

The granddaughter, the only heir, will discover that her late mother was Jewish, a secret kept under lock and key by her grandmother, who supported Nazism during World War II. And she discovers, thanks to the offspring of the house, several other rotten, as they say in the big house: the man-mad aunt who was locked up in the convent, the other aunt who took poison a month after the wedding to escape her husband, still another who ran away with the priest and had six children – and so on.

Nazism overlaps with the racism of a family anchored in the tradition of slave privilege. The trajectory of Margarida, the house's offspring, is exemplary: a mulatto woman, the old lady's son's bastard, is prohibited from dating a white judge's son, until she runs away with a black boyfriend. And then, okay, the grandmother concludes that it was divine justice: when everything is she who manipulates, conspires, pulls the strings, oppresses and represses – but she is always on the side of right and correctness.

The cat-and-mouse game between the granddaughter and the oppressive grandmother goes all the way to sadism. The latter, when she imposes her power, for example when she bribes her boyfriend to send him away, is only happy if her granddaughter suffers. If she doesn't suffer, it's because she's escaping her grip. And always saying it's for her own good.

The long tale goes from revelation to revelation, following the granddaughter's empowerment through trials and overcoming fear. A justified fear, see what happened to the mixed-race child who dated a white son of a judge. But that will lead her to despise her grandmother and shake off the yoke.

Another one from the very well structured category is “The Sauna”, but with a different nature. While “Antes do baile verde” puts two characters in dialogue on stage and “O espartilho” produces a panorama of the conflict narrated in the first person by the granddaughter, in “A sauna” everything is introspection, due to the extreme sophistication of the narrative focus. What makes all the difference is the male protagonist who narrates in the first person.

The narrative focus is far from simple, and chooses as a norm for the development of the plot what we could call the process of “disidentification”. As we know, it is usual for the outgoing reader to identify with the narrator in the first person – a current trick in all types of fiction, literature, cinema, TV soap operas.

But from the beginning, the story begins to undermine this identification, and the first-person narrator appears more and more as a bad character, until the plot unfolds in full and there is nothing left of the scoundrel – and in his own words! It is a literary feat, in a strategy that the author rarely used. Still, the protagonist shows no inclination to penance or acknowledgment of responsibility for atrocious behavior. The backbone of the tale is a man systematically exploiting and deceiving a girl who loves and is devoted to him.

If it's a man who speaks in the first person, where is the woman? It remains in his memories and in his remorse, gradually evoking a character, the most important one apart from himself – she, the object of the most detestable extortion calculations. Perhaps it could be said that this process, as I called it, “disidentification”, requires two women: the one the protagonist talks about and another, who writes the story.

One more in the same well-structured category reports in the first person the tea with old schoolmates and the teacher D. Elzira (“Poppies in black felt”). The narrator, who is also the protagonist, has an idiosyncratic and negative view of the former teacher, which she tries to dismantle by putting her own in front of her today. The reader, torn between two opposing perspectives, does not know what to decide: which one is true? And so the tale ends, like so many of Lygia's, leaving him without an answer.


Narrator x protagonist – the plot in the unstructured tale

As an example of the second possibility that we identified above, we have the story that, almost without a plot, descends to a certain nuance of interior monologue or even to the stream of consciousness. While “A sauna” is also an interior monologue, but in a well-structured plot, in this “Herbarium”, even though it is an atrocious story, nothing is actually said, only suggested, but in an ominous tone.

Here we have a girl narrator speaking in the first person, which is frequent in Lygia's work: among others, also in “Osecret”, “Rosa verde”, “O corset”, “As cherries”. These girls almost always suffer a traumatic experience, in a harrowing rite of passage to adulthood.

The narrator of “Herbarium”, as we discover, is a girl who lives in a place where an adult cousin arrives to convalesce. Recruited to pick leaves, which he collects, she becomes attached to her cousin, until a girl arrives who takes him away. This is the trigger for one last wild action – which the reader did not expect, and which makes the story, until then unstructured like a daydream, very cruel.

In “Story of a bird” there is a protagonist whose wife complains about him all the time, while his son takes him as a target of mockery. One day, when his dear little bird – the only being that does not harass him in that house – is eaten by the cat, the protagonist gets up, without explanation, and leaves forever.


Narrator x protagonist – the tale that almost came out of fiction

The third category or possibility is the tale that almost escapes fiction, tending towards chronicle, reminiscence or testimony, in which the narrator is covered by a semi-fictional author. One of them, very beautiful, tells of the death of her friend Clarice Lispector, announced by a bird that strayed inside the apartment and was unable to escape (“Where were you at night?”). They are testimonies and profiles, but since Lygia included them in the complete stories, they must be considered an integral part of her work.

Those who tend to free themselves from the limits of fiction may be testimonials about people he met (Hilda Hilst, Clarice, Mário de Andrade, Glauber Rocha, Carlos Drummond de Andrade) – few, taking into account the wide social circulation that Lygia always had. Or an account of the question-and-answer session after a lecture (“Soap bubbles”), registering readers' misconceptions and projections with relative bonhomie mixed with irony.

They can also be reminiscences of childhood, in the form of a memorial or chronicle, such as “The fair” or “The train”.

“Conspiracy of clouds”, the title story of one of the books, is an important testimony of the dictatorship period, when Lygia was part of a commission of writers that went to Brasilia to present a protest petition against censorship. The commission was not even received by the Minister of Justice.


the fantastic

Mistress of her craft in the short story that we can call realistic, in which there is nothing to object in terms of verist fidelity to empiricism, Lygia gives us very well realized examples of the fantastic short story. The predominant formula is that in which, in a perfectly “normal” plot, which unfolds naturally, suddenly the fantastic erupts and detonates everything.

This is what happens in “The hunt” (a masterpiece in the masterful interweaving of narrative focuses, which glide dazzlingly between various levels of perception of reality), “The dance with the Angel”, “The escape”, “The hand on shoulder”.

There are others in which the fantastic takes place at the outset and contaminates the entire plot: “Potyra”, “As Ants”, “Tigrela”. Some are very strong and have a political impact, such as “Seminar dos Rats”, which can offer an allegory of the dictatorship in force at the time.

The theme of changing identity, or the exchange of identity between two or more people (“The Consultation”) also appears. In general, the fantastic tales are numerous and mark an important aspect of the work. Some even go beyond the fantastic to penetrate the realm of terror or horror, as in “O dedo”.

Here perhaps the most fantastic of them all can appear, “Helga”, at least the most grotesque and most horrifying, with its plot of a false leg that the boyfriend steals and sells. Fantastic? Or realistic to the extreme? This is Lygia, an expert in leaving unresolved tensions in the air, to stir the reader.


Microcosm: protagonists and narrators

As if to contradict her womanly look, Lygia gives abundant evidence of the opposite hypothesis, which so many writers defend: that whoever writes has no sex. She is not afraid to take on the form of a man. There are several stories in which a man, in a subtle undermining of patriarchal power, speaks in the first person. And he turns out to be a very bad specimen of the human species.

Be it, as we saw in “The Sauna”, for making a career out of exploring until the last drop, to then trample her underfoot, a poor thing, vulnerable precisely because of the love she dedicates to her.

As in "Gaby", narrated in the third person, in which the protagonist, completely frazzled, deludes himself into thinking that he is not a gigolo, although, thanks to his beautiful print, he is the sustained lover of an elderly millionaire, pretending that one day will be a painter.

Lygia excels at detestable portraits, in microcosms whose characters are minimal, if not two at most three, but still embody the worst virtualities of human relationships, of which “Helga”, as we have seen, is a culmination.

They can be reactionary ladies, real shrews, as in “Mister Director” (in the third person, but without distancing): a pious spinster who takes pleasure in denouncing in letters to the police everything that she considers little shame. Or else the mother who brings roses to her daughter's grave, and little by little reveals how she pursued her until she cornered her in suicide (“A white shadow pale”). This one is in first person: it's the horrible mother who narrates. Or is it the grandmother who torments her granddaughter until she blackmails her boyfriend into disappearing (as we saw in “The Corset”); the granddaughter and victim is the first-person narrator. Or two women, both terrible, mother and daughter, who fight in the third person (“The medal”). It can also be a woman torturing the man, as in “Only a Saxophone”, or smothering him with her baseless and unhealthy jealousy (“The structure of the soap bubble”), or giving him too many reasons to make him feel bad. jealousy (“The Saxophone Guy”). Or the wife who, given her antecedents, is guaranteed that her husband will die by accident or by suicide (“The Wild Garden”).

Among the male characters there is also immense variety, as we saw in “A sauna” and “Gaby”. Two men fight each other until one kills the other, both seen in third person, in “The Witness”. There are husbands who cheat (“A very strong tea and three cups”, “Supper”), enemy brothers like Cain and Abel (“Green lizard yellow”), in which the first-person narrator wears the skin of Abel. Or it is the man who mocks the woman, as in “Yellow Nightcrawler”, or several men who torment a woman, as in “Leontina's Confession”. Lygia doesn't catch them at work or in professional performance, preferring personal bonds, affection, social masks at most. Microcosms of her have little action and a lot of introspection: that's why the narrator is so important.

A privileged space for its investigation is marriage. Cold and disenchanted analyzes of life as a couple emerge, in which only repressed hatred guarantees the permanence of the relationship – which, however, can lead to crime.

This is the case of many of the short stories, in a fictional exercise that took pains with arrangements and permutations. In “Eu era mute e só”, a man speaks in the first person, who feeds his silent revulsion towards his wife postcard, as he says, while daydreaming about escaping to a freedom he no longer believes in. In “The Pearls”, in the third person, a man is dying but his wife is going to a dinner where she will meet a possible future lover. In “A Chave” the husband left his wife for a younger one and misses his previous life, more compatible with her age and interests. “A very strong tea and three cups” focuses on the wife, who expects a young assistant to her husband, thinking that he will also come for tea, leaving the reader to infer why. In “A Ceia” love, symbolized by the flame of the lighter that lights up and goes out, is over: the focus is on a woman abandoned in favor of another. In "Don't You Think You've Cooled Down?" it is always the couple, now enlarged into a perverse triangle.

In vain the reader longs for catharsis or redemption. On the contrary, he must accept that there is no possible redemption, only damnation or perdition. Almost always these tales are suspenseful, rarely resolved, with irresolution hovering in the air, imposing itself at the end.


The pregnant image

One of Lygia's greatest discoveries is the pregnant image, which internally structures his tales. This image is a concentrate or condensation of meaning, an extreme synthesis of everything the tale implies. In such a way that, when it appears, it brings with it a sense of revelation, illuminating the whole narrative.

The pregnant image is decisive for the construction of the entire literary framework, even in its most minimal reverberations. The sampling that follows selects some cases to take them as an example. They are images taken from the various categories of short stories examined above, from the most structured to those that almost escape fiction. Among them are the lighter (“The supper”), red roses x white roses (“A white pale shade”), the holding hands (“The boy”), the color green (“Before the green ball”), the necklace of amber (“Tigrela”) or of pearls (“The pearls”), the corset (“The corset”), the leaf in the form of a little bloody sickle (“Herbarium”), the tapestry (“The hunt), the rose tree (“The window”), the embroidered dress (“Leontina's confession”). And so on.

Sometimes the image can be in the title, which guides the reading but lacks subtlety. In “The key”, this is the object that symbolizes the passage from the first to the second marriage, of those who now yearn for life with their first wife. In the case of “The corset”, it refers to the repression presided over by the grandmother who does not dispense with this garment.

From the point of view of rhetorical classification, the pregnant image can be a metaphor, or a metonymy, or a hyperbole, or even a symbol. Some are recurrent in culture, therefore social, although with personal treatment, while others are exclusively personal, being the text that establishes them.

Certain images are somewhat salient, calling for attention, as is the case of the lighter in “A Ceia”, a lighter that lights up and goes out without having a direct connection with the plot. Only at the end, with saturation, does the reader realize that the flame of the lighter is re-semantized by the dramatic armed situation, passing on the metaphor of love. The flame has already gone out in the male character, who transfers the lighter to the interlocutor. But it remains lit in the abandoned female character, in whose possession the lighter finally remains.

Some of these images are intertwined throughout the text, covering a wide range and implying a greater yield. This is what happens in “Antes do baile verde”, in which the color green, from the sequins that are slowly being attached to the dress by both characters while they talk, contaminates the clothes, the makeup, hair, etc., until reaching the reader as a well-known symbol of hope and renewal brought periodically by spring. Another is the treatment in “O Menino”, the metonymy of holding hands, which, with a positive sign on a trip to the cinema and signifying the bond of parental and filial love, is profaned by its use with the stranger who sits next to the mother in the room. dark, starting to have a negative sign, thus becoming its opposite.

As we have seen, the pregnant image is subjected to infinite variations, so that it will never bring monotony to the reading or even lack of surprise. Neither simplistic nor mechanical, such use obliges the reader to surrender to its spell.


Lygia's world

Lygia's horizon is contemporary, with incursions into the not-too-distant past, reaching at most the grandmothers. The reconstitution of the “grandmothers' time” brings with it a feminine world, in which grandmothers are predominant and grandfathers almost do not exist. It can have a positive or negative sign. If positive, it's a golden age. If negative, it's hell, and grandmothers can be as bad as any fairytale witch.

The duration of the narrative in microcosm is almost always compact, although it sometimes involves sudden shrinkages or shortcuts that leap across decades. It can cover vast expanses of time or space, sometimes both, as long as it serves the plot. This one can be complicated or simple, full of adventures or reduced to just one, central one.

From the social point of view, this world is São Paulo and even São Paulo, urban and metropolitan, with allusions to the countryside or rural past. The bourgeoisie, wealthy people, intellectuals and artists move in this space. But, to contradict this picture, some stories take sudden turns, escaping these limits and may, for example, follow the trajectory of a poor woman, who ends up becoming a murderer (“Leontina's Confession”).

Lygia projects the description, that is, it seems that she is always describing the same world, with rare exceptions. Of course she isn't: she is building this world, which does not exist outside of his writing. That is, most tales speak of this world, which is bifrontal.

On one side, this world is seen from the perspective of the tentacular modern metropolis, containing the nostalgic evocation of a more harmonious past, but which is endlessly demystified. There is an urban mansion with a garden, there is a small farm or farm; people are neither poor nor very rich (“remedied”?). But they are certainly remnants or leftovers of the former ruling class, fallen or diminished, and still dreaming of the golden age. There is a garden with jasmine trees, a yard and orchard with guava and mango trees, many dogs and cats, a chicken coop. And also wood stoves, servants, or at least cooks and nannies.

On the other side, clouding the waters, there is also a grandmother, almost always bad; a most faithful maid, or more than one; father and mother who are indistinguishable or have died; householders and dependents – an uncle who didn't work out, a spinster, a suicide, an alcoholic, a chronically ill or convalescing person. And children watching with lucid and merciless eyes the relationships between the people of this world. Relationships that, by the way, are terrible from any point of view: these people are false, ignoble, heartless, even homicidal.

This is in the past, because Lygia has been accompanying with a present body, writing down and fictionalizing, the transformation of the city of São Paulo from the cramped village it was to the trepidating metropolis, one of the largest in the world, with all its deformations and ailments, its social iniquity .

Lygia more than once says of herself that she belongs to the decadent middle class, as the proverb she quotes says: “Rich grandfather, doctor son, beggar grandson”. And here the current variant is added: “Rich grandfather, noble son, poor grandson”.

But when the reader is comfortably installed in his conception of what the world of Lygia's short stories is, there comes a jolt when reading “Leontina's confession”. This long story, one of the longest the author has ever written, is Lygia's incursion into the world of poor women, a true field research, and one of the most sensitive, so that no one thinks that she dedicates her pen exclusively to the bourgeoisie. But there are several others, which the reader can check out, among them “Pomba Enamorada”, an ode to the faithful love of a poor woman's entire life.

The feat of this confession is its orality, which changes the usual discourse of Lygia's narrators and characters, all bourgeois, by replacing it with popular and semi-literate speech. This is how the protagonist narrates her story, emphasizing right at the beginning that she addresses the female interlocutor, whom she calls “ma'am”. The data of the previous life appear in the sequence, from the extreme poverty in the rural environment. Without a father, the frail and hardworking mother, who consulted the healer and treated her headaches with slices of raw potato tied around her forehead, the retarded little sister, and the center of attention: the stepbrother Pedro, who had to study to become a doctor and take care of the family. Peter: Biblical name of the one who denies. Without greatness, this petty Rastignac from the tropics did not even aspire to be a banker, earl and minister of state, like his prototype.

From then on, after his little sister and mother die, Pedro leaves alone, but the plot does not forget the balzacian minutiae of selling the few junk from the tapera they lived on to finance his trip to the big city. Leontina, employed by the priest in the house of a woman who mistreated her, one day runs away and goes after Pedro. The latter, on previous occasions, had already disowned her, pretending he did not know her – which he did in great style in São Paulo, when they meet by chance at the Santa Casa where he practices.

Leontinha will support herself as an employee in a dancing hall, flirting with strangers who buy the ticket. It passes from man to man, each worse than the last. When being punched by a man who gives her an embroidered dress and expects favors in return, inside a car, she grabs any tool to defend herself and kills him. From then on, always saying, from the beginning, that she is very silly and passive, she will eventually be found out and arrested. She narrates her journey while awaiting trial, after being tortured in prison.

It is important to emphasize the extreme sensitivity of showing, without theorizing or abstracting, but putting it all in the mouth of the victim of the via crucis, how the patriarchal system systematically rejects and degrades women, who are in principle more vulnerable. From tumble to tumble, one day she discovers herself a criminal against her will. Reluctantly, but without forgiveness.


sex and gender

Given the subtlety of the writer's pen, everything in her work is thorny and difficult to specify. From this point of view, there are two aspects that can be analyzed. The first states that whoever writes, at the time he writes, does not have sex. The second asserts that a woman, when she writes, writes as a woman.

In this second case, Lygia subscribes to the words of Simone de Beauvoir, saying that History has shaped the point of view of women writers. It confined them to limited spaces (home, church), prohibited them from the great world of personal achievements with its charms and dangers, clipped their wings in short. As a result, women turned inward, both at home and within themselves. They developed the perception of space, seeing everything around them with greater acuity, especially human ties, as well as clairvoyance about their own psyche, becoming given to introspection.

In his case, the damage was not so serious, because the family accepted his desire not to go straight to marriage but to try to write and study law, supporting himself with his work. It was something rare: in his class at the Faculty, there were half a dozen girls among a hundred boys. And the father even financed the publication of his first book of short stories, basement and loft, when I was 15. But these words are hers: “The hidden woman. Saved. Mostly invisible, sneaking around in the shadows. Suppressed and yet under suspicion. I think today that it was due to this climate of seclusion that women developed and in an extraordinary way their sense of perception, of intuition, women are more perceptive than men” (“Woman, women”).


The writer and her time

Novelist and short story writer, Lygia Fagundes Telles is a rare phenomenon: not many people can boast of more than 70 years of continuous literary production. Just do the math, because since her debut in 1938, at the age of 15, she has never stopped. Gradually, she created a special place for herself at the highest level of Portuguese-language literature, forging her own, unmistakable style. She became an expert in indirect speech, close and glued to the “conscience” – fictitious conscience, of course – of the characters.

In their hands, language is a docile, malleable instrument, in the dull glow of modesty and discretion. He refused the predominant pimp in contemporary times, which she still doesn't dodge when strictly necessary – which rarely happens. She doesn't frequent the alcoves and sex scenes either. He stresses psychological screwing up, especially with regard to connections between people, connections that are either stuck or subject to friction, both possibilities treated with irony. His literature is a whisper and not a shout, it is shadows and not a blinding light, it is monosyllabic and not loquacious: it is a muted work.

As we have seen, the favorite protagonists and social milieu are the bourgeoisie and the petty bourgeoisie, with incursions into the intellectual and artistic milieus, which they know so well. It is an urban universe, one might even say São Paulo.

Lygia belongs to a lineage in our literature that comes from Machado de Assis – critical, veiled, expressed in the good Portuguese of someone who knows how to write and takes literature seriously. She never made it easy and never showed herself to be subject to fashions or trends. Her place in Brazilian literature is of the utmost dignity, and she is here to stay.

Let's say that Lygia the writer developed a discreet, reticent and reserved persona, similar to the one she writes. Page cut suited to her straight hair with no frills or frills, classic-line blazers, pale shirts, gray skirts. This is the narrator we envision when reading her fiction, without remembering that fright, cruelty, the tortuous and camouflaged exercise of power, if possible, the many turpitudes and villainies from girls to adults. Not even children are saved from being homicidal. If the sharp edge of human relationships is displayed, the scalpel with which the narrator revolves them is no less so.

The approximately 70 years of an uninterrupted career engendered an ever-increasing respect around him that only consolidated, growing with the perception of unfailing coherence that guided the definition of his own style, through seriousness, through commitment to literature.

Much more cultured than he sometimes lets slip in what he writes, in this field discretion also reigns. Of her cosmopolitan transit, she even speaks, but little (“Sometimes, Iran”, “It's autumn in Sweden”, “Crescent moon in Amsterdam”, “Tunisia”), considering how much she traveled the world. Nor is she given mention of the numerous people she met, an area in which one can see how much she avoids the name-dropping. These are types of snobbery that do not contaminate her. Admired and with good friendship relations also among the confreres, not to mention the fans, who are legion, just look at the frequency with which her books are republished. The respect she arouses on a large scale is expressed in the abundance of awards she has been awarded, the main ones in her country and the Camões of the Portuguese language. She was, without shame, officially nominated for the Nobel Prize by the Brazilian Union of Writers in 2016.

When we examine her in the context of her contemporaries, Lygia emerges as singularly original, unique and even idiosyncratic.

At a certain point, it was customary to place her in a trio of contemporaries who prevailed in literature, along with Clarice Lispector and Hilda Hilst. But these two are more heterodox than Lygia (don't forget that she descends from Machado de Assis). Clarice takes more risks in language research and introspection of the characters. Hilda, on the other hand, pushes all limits and ventures into experimentation with literary genres: she writes poetry, writes prose, does theater, does things that are difficult to classify – and there is nothing demure or discreet about it, quite the contrary. Anyway, the three would be the pride of any literature, and not just Brazilian literature.

Three beauties, an epoch-making trio: Lygia with classic Latin beauty, the brunette from São Paulo with black eyes and matching hair; Clarice the exotic beauty, a Slav with high cheekbones and slanted eyes; A fairer, blonder, more Nordic Hilda, for whom Vinicius de Moraes composed the “Poem of the Beloved's Eyes”, in which he defines them as “night docks full of goodbye…”. Not coincidentally, Lygia wrote reminiscences about both of them, with whom she maintained bonds of friendship.

In all these decades that his career spans, he has seen many vogues of literary prose parade in front of him and around him. Bypassing fashions and even trends, he saw the arrival, for example, of regionalism, later replaced by the still hegemonic urban thriller – but he was immune to its phallocratic delight. Then came the immigration saga; historical fiction; the demanding prose (of women, blacks, homosexuals); postmodern deconstruction. None of that shook her and she persisted steadfastly, elaborating and refining her style, remaining loyal to it and to literature, becoming unmistakable – and never identified with any of these fashions or trends. Which almost comes from the miracle, or at least from an extreme awareness of her craft. She was contemporary with it all, always true to herself, always divergent.

By not adhering to fashions, he never achieved the notoriety that distinguished some of his confreres for good or bad reasons. After the fads were gone, she continued to sharpen her weapons. Always passing by, she didn't go away with them, on the contrary she persisted and refined.

Thus, his solitary stature became ever clearer and conquered the consideration of others. Lygia's work, considered in its entirety, is what we could call self-moving. For it is not fixed like a stone monument (not even a “stone circle”, to quote his words), but on the contrary has been incessantly subjected by itself to screenings and revisions.[1]

*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).



[1] The guiding principle of this text derives from the investigations of Aby Warburg (mnemic images), Walter Benjamin (dialectics), Bachelard (elementals), ER Curtius (topoi), Bakhtin (carnavalized) and Northrop Frye (apocalyptic).


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