Silvio Romero's critical method

Rubens Gerchman, Untitled, 1960. Photographic reproduction by unknown author.


Commentary on the book by Antonio Candido

Antonio Candido (1918-2017), as is known, had his biography indissolubly linked to the first steps of the University of São Paulo, founded in 1934, and, in particular, to those of the former Faculty of Philosophy, Sciences and Letters, where he entered as a student of Social Sciences, becoming a sociology assistant from 1942 onwards.

In 1961, he transferred to teaching Literary Theory, retiring in 1978, although he continued, for a few years, to work in the supervision of doctoral theses. In 1945 he wrote Silvio Romero's Critical Method, thesis presented in the competition for the Chair of Brazilian Literature at FFCL/USP. In 1963, the work appeared in the form of the Bulletin of that Faculty and, 43 years after it was written, it was commercially published by Editora da USP, being later republished by Ouro sobre Azul.

Dedicated to the memory of Mário de Andrade (1893-1945), The Critical Method… constitutes a successful study of the work of the critic from Sergipe (born in Lagarto in 1851 and died in Rio de Janeiro in 1914), considered one of the forerunners of modern criticism in Brazil. Resulting from the work of some young intellectuals, who from 1868 onwards met in Recife, this “renovating movement of the Brazilian mentality” represented, according to Candido, “the literary aspect of a cultural process in which men like Tobias Barreto, Batista Caetano , Barbosa Rodrigues, Miguel de Lemos etc (…). It can be said without fear that (Sílvio) laid the most solid foundations for the understanding of our literature.

Before Sílvio, Brazilian critics only sketched out his works, still bound by obsolete criteria and incapable of interpreting the cultural reality of the moment. After him, he spread out in several directions and gained different contours. “In any case, it remains a great milestone, to which it is necessary to return, if we want to understand the formation of the critical spirit in Brazil” (p. 9).

With regard to literary criticism, the trajectory of Romero's thought is accompanied by Candido in three aspects: the study of the cultural environment in which his spirit was formed and the influences he suffered; the analysis of his work from the point of view of the critical method and its foundations and the significance of the history of his criticism. Thus, in Romero's vast work (about 60 books), Candido concentrated the analysis on his literary criticism, leaving aside other aspects.

Still in literary criticism, he focused only on the methodological aspect. In May 1945, the USP professor stated that, “when choosing an aspect of the work of a certain writer, we do not separate it, however, from the foundation and general conclusions without which the science of literature risks sterilizing itself in eruditeism without purpose” (p. 11).

Candido studies pre-Romanian criticism, showing that the collections and anthologies prepared by Varnhagen, Joaquim Norberto and Pereira da Silva, bringing together the production of colonial and pre-romantic poets, saved him enormous research effort, leaving him to investigate only the romantics and contemporaries; follows the course of Silvio's ideas in three periods of his production (1870-1880; 1880-1888; 1888-1914) and concludes with two excellent chapters: “The critical problem in Silvio Romero” and “The work of Silvio Romero and the your moment".

From Romero's first writings (1869) it becomes clear that a purely literary criticism was insufficient for him. According to the scientific model of his European masters, he wants to “go down to the analysis of conditioning factors – milieu, race, social evolution, traditions – and also “reach sectors of collective life – politics, teaching”. Along the way, he passes through philosophy, etymology, sociology, being a “man of his time”, completely “intoxicated by the revelation of so many new disciplines, which seemed to hold the key to knowledge. A man like Taine was – critic, historian, philosopher, aesthete, novelist; as was Oliveira Martins – novelist, critic, economist, historian, publicist, politician; as were Renan, Teófilo Braga, Tobias Barreto” (p. 96).

At the limit, points out Candido, Romero can be considered “a good historian and a bad critic”. In his critical works, Silvio himself attributed for a long time the generic name of “Notes for the history of Brazilian literature in the XNUMXth century”, encompassing in the classification both literary works and political and scientific ones. He even considered that his History of Brazilian Literature (1888) was a "Natural History" book. Thus, when speaking of Romanian criticism, “we must understand it as an activity of analysis and systematization of culture, presented, in its best examples, from a historical point of view” (p. 109).

Silvio insisted exclusively on establishing the factors of literature and the role of the writer, contributing “to create a difficult atmosphere for the life of criticism and literary history, literally conceived”. On the other hand, ignoring erudition and making use of historical-sociological synthesis, “it suffocated the germs of the research of texts and sources (…) less of a critic than a sociologist and historian” (p. 111).

Silvio Romero's Critical Method it is still a current book, raising a series of questions, such as what is Brazilian literature, what is nationality, what is the work method of criticism. However, the pioneering work of Antonio Candido could be enriched if “extra-literary” aspects were also explored, involving Sílvio and the other critics of the period, examining the position they occupied in the then embryonic literary field, the controversies that took place ( Sílvio even writes a book against José Veríssimo entitled Inept Zeverissimations of Criticism), the livelihoods of these critics, their relationships with government agencies that employed and co-opted journalists, intellectuals, writers, etc. Despite practically not mentioning any of these aspects, Candido's thesis gives safe clues for following them – in fact, isn't this the great merit of the classics?

*Afranio Catani, retired professor at USP and visiting professor at UFF, he is the author, among others, of The Revista de Cultura Anhembi (1950-62): an elitist project to raise the cultural level of Brazil (Eduem, 2009).


Antonio Candido. Silvio Romero's Critical Method. Rio de Janeiro, Editora Ouro Sobre Azul, 256 pages.


[1] This article reproduces, with minor changes, the review published in the extinct “Caderno de Sabado” of the Jornal da Tarde of 17.09.1988, p. 7.


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