The bell and the clock



Comment on a recently released “anthology of the Brazilian romantic tale

The bell and the clock - an anthology of the romantic tale Brazilian adopts unexpected criteria for selecting and organizing the 25 short stories assembled. The organizers set aside the principle of “evolution” that ordered authors and works according to the sequential dates of their publication. But in a care with the historicity of the ethical and aesthetic systems of the time, Hélio de Seixas Guimarães and Vagner Camilo collected narratives originally published between 1836 and 1879.

The accuracy of this last time frame finds support in the controversies, almost a year before that last date, involving Machado de Assis's criticism of Eça de Queirós. Launched in 1881, the mulatto e The Posthumous Memoirs of Bras Cubas each in its own way, a reflection on the ruin of romantic assumptions in the face of the emergence of new social actors, and political and aesthetic regimes in dispute.

The organizers contemplated authors familiar from the traditional canon, but others who were excluded from it, two of them without author signature and two others of unconfirmed authorship. Even of today's best-known writers, the selection work prioritized rarely published narratives, in a research that mined gems.

In a criterion for updating this anthology, respect for the country's cultural history made room for writers who deal with slavery, thus shaking the sentence that the Romantic era would have silenced the subject. In another, The bell and the clock reproduces stories written by women. Finally, one can observe in this anthology the presence of short stories that would hardly gain value in other times.

Vagner Camilo and Hélio Guimarães divided the stories into four sections according to the temporality represented in them: mythical time; some episode or historical figure of Brazil as the motor of the narrated action; the time of the contemporary urban experience of the reported story; the subjective and metaphorical time of the effects of the social experience on the destiny of the characters. In a depth that reaches the diverse complexity of the period, some story of one of the sections can also approach a theme or formal style of another narrative located in another block.

The six tales gathered in the first of them, composed in the form of the fantastic, become interesting for different reasons. Four follow the convention of the genre which, since its advent at the end of the XNUMXth century, ties its stories to an affirmation of nationalism. In Franklin Távora, Fagundes Varela and Apolinário Porto Alegre, there is a recurrent procedure in which the narrator denies that his story was the product of literate invention, previously taken from some member of popular culture, an old man, fisherman or workers, holders of the local knowledge that supposedly circulate them orally. In these last two authors, the conflict between the narrator with Enlightenment training and regional mysticism forges the contradiction between the appreciation of local legends and, at the same time, the caveat that they result from the “backward spirit of the crendeiro people” (Távora).

The narrative of Porto Alegre (“Mandinga”, 1867) shows the author's strong ability to set up the plot and forge, in the metonymy of the sugar mill with workers of different ethnicities, a figuration of the national community in its regional diversity. But his boastful racism constitutes the black as a demonic alterity that must be sacrificed in favor of whites.

His story contrasts with a tale in the last section of the book. In “Um hanged, um executioner” (1837), Josino do Nascimento e Silva discusses the preservation and restriction of the death penalty to slaves accused of some crime. In quick scenes, he presents everyday rudeness of families in dealing with them. The insistence on the humanity of the black person who will be executed and the executioner subjected to the slavery regime is associated with the understanding that the death penalty is a barbaric spectacle, mounted for the delight of the sadistic elite, as is still seen today in Brazil.

The stories by Bernardo Guimarães and José Ferreira de Menezes are surprising because they set satirical purposes in the serious style of the fantastic. In the golden bread (1879), Bernardo Guimarães groups two stories and merges the myth of Eldorado with the legends of the Mother of Gold and the white armadillos.

In the first, Bernardo places, in an uncertain and isolated point in South America, never trodden by human foot, a mountain whose natural architecture forms a castle that houses all the precious stones on Earth. The author brings Iracema closer to the fairy who inhabits him, characterizing her as an indigenous vestal, but charged by Tupã with guarding that treasure and reverberating its light through the dawn and the horizon. After indulging in an affair and neglecting her divine duties, she and her lover are punished with a flood that scatters the precious metals across the Earth, which leads to the spread of lust. In the myth of Tupinambá, used by José de Alencar in the guarani and ubirajara, the deluge favors the birth of a new “race”. But in Bernardo's tale, the cataclysm separates the loving couple and blames romantic love for spreading the search for gold and for the threat of the disappearance of beauty.

The second story takes place after this deluge, when the historic Gaspar Nunes leaves for Goiás in search of gold. When invading a mountain, studded with the coveted precious metal, his band is imprisoned by Pygmy Indians, the cannibal white armadillos who sleep in caves during the day because they cannot bear the sunlight. The bandeirante survives cannibalism thanks to an irresistible passion that one of these beings of darkness has for him, characterized as Marabá, by Gonçalves Dias, but almost albino, with fine hair of white gold. In the story of the love union between an Indian woman and a Portuguese man, Bernardo Guimarães restyles the theme of Iracema, but deprives the colonizers of any “civilizing” heroism. It also comically reduces the white indigenous woman's irresistible love story to a devouring sexual passion.

the ivory dagger (1862), by Ferreira Menezes, gains an accentuated complexity by linking fantastic procedures with irony techniques. Among the resources typical of this genre, the author uses the castle located in an idyllic but sinister environment, the pursuit of one character by another and the ruin of the nobility, already complete at first. But parallel to these aspects, Menezes conducts another discursive line in which he engages in a critical clash with the reader who hopes to find in the central conflict his familiarity with the convention of the fantastic.

Among so many inversions, its story replaces the Gothic castle with an urban palace from the XNUMXth century, leaving the heroine to pursue and harass the protagonist. Thus the author performs, as he says, a fiasco of this formal kind, disenchants and interprets it rationally. In the narrator's words, the tale will make a real event throb that actually happened, leaving it to the reader to uncover the allegory.

Already in the opening paragraph, the definition of supernatural history as an imitation of a fact that actually occurred is elucidated in the description of the character and actions of the protagonist. Alberto is configured as a rich poet, dedicated exclusively to plural erotic loves, to exchanging gold for wine and to the cultivation of an intellectual life. The constant search for an aesthetically conditioned life turns him into a ghost, into pure soul and spirit. But his obsession with a virgin stems from the fear that, with the loss of his parents, he might lack a companion in old age. This comic sadness debases Alberto's spiritual ideals and confronts them with practical needs.

The tale abounds in quotations from the work of Álvares de Azevedo, from its prologue which ironically dialogues with the preface to lira of the twenties years. Like Alberto, the heroes of night at the tavern are rich bon vivants. Analogously to Álvares de Azevedo in his speeches, the protagonist of the ivory dagger affirms the revolutionary strength of students. The anti-hero Azevediano, from the poem “O vagabundo”, and Alberto have the habit of writing verses to the moon and dating stars. As in the bedroom and living room of the poem “Intimate Ideas” (Álvares de Azevedo), in the house of Menezes' hero reigns disorder with overlapping paintings, dirty by the dust that falls from wine bottles. Among so many other quotes, Macário, the lyrical subjects of twenty years lira and Alberto smoke a pipe, are 20 years old and have dreams that drive you crazy.

In the most significant citation, Georgia, at the end of night at the tavern – precisely in the chapter entitled “Last kiss of love” –, undergoes a character change and takes revenge for having been sexually violated. Conversely, in the last kiss of the ivory dagger, Princess Maria turns into a seductress who ardently begs for sex and marriage. In the final pages of Menezes' tale, the exhaustive repetition of the same content, but in a varied way, accentuates the sameness of the love dialogue. The boredom of the lovers' interlocutions about the contradicted feeling degrades the subject.

By disqualifying the poetic principles of Álvares de Azevedo, Ferreira de Menezes judges them as the proper matter of a member of the wealthy and idle bourgeoisie. In a kind of Realpolitik, considers that the possibility of a rhythm of life marked by the cultivation of the spirit has lost its place in his time. On the other hand, it decrees the inexorability of practical needs and of monogamous matrimonial unions. It is about explaining the life of Álvares de Azevedo through his fiction, confusing him with his subject of enunciation and associating them with the artistic conscience of a poet who, being “rich”, could only adopt a rebellion without cause, despite of their positions contrary to the then initial process of commodification of life and the monarchical order.

In the midst of the tales section of The bell and the clock, set in a significant event in the history of Brazil, “Camirã, a quiniquinau” (1874), by the Viscount of Taunay, offers an Indianism of another lineage. The author articulates the invasion of Mato Grosso by Paraguayan troops with a quick anthropological survey of the region's indigenous tribes, involving them in an elegy.

The portrait of the Indian Pacalalá forges a hero neither a victim of white Europeans nor a voluntary servant, rather an epic hero endowed with resistance, moral and intellectual greatness, but credible to the conditions of the Mato Grosso region, without idealism. The vigorous painting of the natural environment and the war scenario is linked to the narrativization of history, the dramatization of mourning and the evocation of absent beings. The conciseness and pictorial vigor of his language remove, previously, any margin for the expression of feelings or for subjective metaphors of the natural landscape.

The third block of The bell and the clock privileges some habit, social type, custom or poetic code in force in the contemporary time of the narrated story. It includes some stories that are like anecdotes, sometimes about a Brazilian student wandering the streets of Paris, punished with culture shock and through a subtle and crude allusion to homosexuality; now about some d. Juan caricato who also deserves punishment. This anecdotal speech praises the ethos bourgeois while censoring its supposed vices, recalling, in this first aspect, the model of novel of customs provided by Joaquim Manuel de Macedo, named by Antonio Candido as “picturesque”.

In another line of short stories in the section, the mother of “Conversações com minha minha festa” (1879), by Corina Coaracy, contests her daughter's idea that female independence would open up space for women to gain the right to exercise their literary talent. Maternal advice emphasizes the bourgeois woman's isolation from worldly experience and educational methods aimed at making her delicate and passive. In her mother's rigorous analysis of the customs of the time, the inexorable monopoly of artistic production by men contrasts with the writer's action to shape the theme.

In a different position on the female condition, “Fany, or the model of maidens” (1847), from the previous section, cuts a snapshot of the Farroupilha revolution and traces a hagiography of a certain exemplary model of femininity. The story follows the Marianist movement that, in Europe, sought to contain the growing discredit of the Catholic Church after the fall of the Ancien Régime, restoring the cult of the Mother of Christ to circulation. Nísia Floresta borrows from Maria the praise of woman's obedience to her parents, her supposedly innate tendency to motherhood and her “nature” prone to sacrifice for love.

Still in the third block of the book, Martins Pena confirms himself as the master of the comedy of manners in “My adventures on a bus trip” (1836). In this collective transport, the author puts common types of comic actions on stage, and applies traditional characters to them, updated in the urban scene of the XNUMXth century. In your sketch, the compulsive flirt, the old witch or plump woman, the hillbilly compadres with their linguistic variants and the narrator himself, disqualified as a pernostic buffoon, act in a single situation that makes laughter break out at all times.

In addition to Bernardo Guimarães and Ferreira de Menezes, throughout the book, there is an admirable set of short stories that fictionalize the authors' criticism of some topic, procedure or romantic theme. The incorporation of irony as a structural resource and with the function of reflecting on art within fiction highlights the modern trait of romantic aesthetics.

“The box and the inkpot” (1836), José Justiniano da Rocha, enacts the dilemmas of a writer of the time who, facing a lack of will and inspiration, needs to deliver, two hours later to a newspaper, his literary text still nor redacted. The dramatization of this simulated anguish constitutes a diatribe against the ongoing subjectivization of language, represented by the form of the monologue or the discourse of confession, valued from the literate reception of Rousseau's daydreams.

In the writer's comical conflict, the use of snuff as a stimulant of inspiration makes fun of the practice of some romantics who, in a reaction contrary to rationalism, make use of narcotics to enliven the imagination and register their visions in free association. In the short story, the approximation between the production of this type of artistic discourse and the speed of composition of a newspaper text, as well as the false homage directed to the snuffbox and the inkwell, distances the author from the prosaic language and the poetic valuation of the world daily. He also reveals his artistic conscience which, already becoming a pastist, attaches itself to the cult of rationality and formal regularity.

In the nine tales of the last section of The bell and the clock dramas of family life and sentimental stories predominate, interspersed with other narratives that draw a critical balance of some romantic principle or social practice. Among them, “Carolina” (1856), by Casimiro de Abreu, hyperbolically accentuates the pathetic. The beautiful pastoral “Lembra-te de mim” (1872), by José de Alencar, is thematically similar to the previous story in that it builds the institution of marriage while censuring, respectively, female love inconstancy and marital unions made out of interest.

“Posthumous Revelation” (Francisco de Paula Brito, 1839) recalls Machado de Assis' first forays into the short narrative. The epistolary form of the heroine has something in common between Machadiano's “Confessões de uma widow negra” (1865) and that short story. The purpose of alerting the bourgeois family to the dangers of educating their daughters is also reiterated, which, isolated from practical experience, makes them easy prey for adventurers.

If there is something romantic in “O Relógio de Ouro” (1873), by Machado de Assis, present in the book, it refers only to the choice of theme on marital customs and the punishment of infidelity. Structured as an enigma that history will decipher, the frustration of the expectation of female betrayal defuses the melodrama. The third-person ironic commentary keeps distance from the judgmental and judgmental intrusions typical of the author's first-hour narratives. They have already been replaced by humor that delights in laying bare the contrast between the characters' speech, focused on the vow of single love and fidelity, with their actions that deny these principles.

Two stories in this section revolve around the recurrent unapproachable female muse, but in opposite ways. Until then, the typical fictional situation in which a poet contemplates the image of a beautiful woman becomes a strategy to affirm some ethical or aesthetic ideal. In another variety of this situation, an artist's attraction to a dead female figure, or sculpted, or painted, can serve as a pretext for a reflection on the historicity of beauty, in a procedure that tended to figure the quarrel between classics and romantics.

Dead or plastic beauty can allegorize the impossibility of art transmitting virtues embodied by the muse, or transistorly restore ancient precepts and authorities, whose perfection is sometimes associated with the symmetry and regularity of so-called “classical” art. In different authors, ancient beauty is identified with Italian art and becomes morbid, or ethereal and vaporous. With these attributes, the “old” eternal feminine becomes de-idealized and loses the ability to transmit any ethical or aesthetic value.

In “The Last Concert” (1872), by Luís Guimarães Júnior, the inaccessible muse to the musician Salustiano is ardently desired as the very sublime work he hopes to compose. Its inaccessibility is associated with social reasons and the class conflict between a poor artist and a daughter of the oligarchy. The story unfolds in an elegy that represents the end of art, treated as a religion, in a highly hierarchical society.

The Great Chinese Vase (1877) traces an unexpected revision of the recurrent female muse. The first-person narrator chooses the figure of a Chinese woman as the feminine ideal, suggestively named “Tcha-tcha”, painted on the vase in the title. With good humor, the first person conveys the coldness and pallor of Carrara marble to the affectivity of his oriental. The tale articulates the memory of the hero's childhood with the parable of the prodigal son.

In large part, one reads the memory of childhood fantasies with this beloved plastic surgery, chosen as an imaginary friend and space of escape from family annoyances. But gradually the pictorial image and the mouth of the vase occupied by flowers refer to the discovery and childish curiosity about female sexuality. In the narrator's adult life, this irresistible attraction for cursed beauties triggered the abandonment of the family, the surrender to an erratic life and misery. In a clash between the practical world and the broad model of historicity – from Beatriz, Laura, Helena Goethean, among many others – Flávio d'Aguiar endows her with sexuality and buries her for good, in a gesture carried out in the name of family integrity .

In an introduction to Memoirs of my uncle's nephew (Companhia das Letras, 1995), by Joaquim Manuel de Macedo, Flora Sussekind discusses the dialogue between Machado de Assis and this author and their legacy to each other. The recovery, by The bell and the clock, from a little-known short story by Macedo, is of interest not only because it confirms the scholar's assumption. In his admirable “Inocêncio” (1861), Macedo's skill in setting up a satirical plot and showing the effects of contemporary times on the conflict there narrated shows that his talent is best exercised in his ironic narratives.

In the well-woven plot, a false heroine with a pure soul lets herself be courted by Inocêncio, Geraldo-Risota's godson. The reasons that prevent their marriage are almost the same as Brás Cubas' frustration with the prospect of marrying Virgília. Analogously to the memories of Machado's hero, and despite their profound differences, the sentimental story of Inocêncio proves to be a pretext for the author to capture the reader's attention and set up a human comedy at the historic time of the parliamentary elections, during the ascension from the office of the Duke of Caxias (1861).

If Machado's first-person narrator is fused with an implicit third-person that contradicts his point of view about the narrated, Macedo, in his own way, structures the tale also as a polemic, but between a skeptical conscience and another candid one. regarding the exercise of virtue in politics, professional merit as a criterion for appointment in the State bureaucracy and the implementation of disinterested marital unions. In discreet sentences, the Macedian narrator, in the style of Sterne, dialogues with the reader, breaks the artistic illusion and affirms the fictionality of his story. But he cedes the interpretation of history to the clown Geraldo-Risota, an alter-ego of the author. This character's laughs, free of moral judgments, unmask the illusions that the characters tell themselves to affirm values ​​that their actions belie.

Faced with the thematic, stylistic and formal diversity of these narratives, the fictionalization, in some of them, of the artistic awareness of their artifact, the criticism of motifs, procedures and recurrent forms in the XNUMXth century, The bell and the clock undermines the unity inscribed in the positivist notion of “romantic period style”.

*Cilaine Alves Cunha is a professor of Brazilian literature at USP. She is the author, among other books, of The beautiful and the misshapen: Álvares de Azevedo and romantic irony (Edusp).

Originally published on USP Magazine, no. 126.



Hélio de Seixas Guimarães and Vagner Camilo (eds.). The bell and the clock – an anthology of the Brazilian romantic tale. São Paulo, Carambaia, 2020, 416 pages.


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