Intimate satire

James Ensor, Interior with three portraits


Some literary fictions from the XNUMXth and XNUMXth centuries that bring an intimate accent

Em The Man in the Red Coat, a bestseller, Julian Barnes sketches a wealth of information about the Belle Epoque, in the radiating centers that were Paris and London, giving the reader a vivid overview. Scholar, he has the opportunity to unearth far-fetched information, as in an article in London Review of Books (7.4.2022), where, right in the first paragraphs, it provides three news of sarapantar. Let's go to them.

First, he claims that it was the Italian theorist Ricciotto Canudo who baptized cinema with the title of “Seventh Art”, in 1911. Second, he comments on a postcard (which he has!) in which Puccini and a friend indulge in trickery. And thirdly, he decrees that the expression “decisive moment”, attributed to Cartier-Bresson, was actually coined by Cardinal de Retz in the seventeenth century. Incidentally, Julian Barnes withholds the fact that the information comes from the photographer himself, by explicitly citing Cardinal de Retz.

Among the literary fictions that deal with English national snobbery, the most famous is perhaps even brideshead revisited, by Evelyn Waugh. Or the impression derives from having given so many offspring in so many times. A scathing remark by Gore Vidal, who was a master of them, states that Evelyn Waugh was lucky that her book contained several soap operas, which were unfolding… Of her works, the best known in Brazil is the best-seller the beloved, fierce and hilarious caricature of the United States and Americans, filtered through its bizarre burial customs.

But now there are those who think that in terms of intimate satire on the English ruling class, Nancy Mitford's novels are much better. And there are still those who prefer some of the rarer ones authored by their sisters, such as the family memoir that, among others, Jessica Mitford wrote, very appropriately titled honors and rebels. The six sisters were really from the shovel turned and among them there were even personal friends of Adolf Hitler.

It's right at the beginning of brideshead that the reader receives a veritable compendium of snobbery, in a ten-page monologue spoken aloud by Anthony Branchan, a gay character who excels in gay mannerisms. But he also likes to brag about affairs with women, as long as they were celebrities – and probably made up. He's given to visages, but so is Sebastian, the protagonist.

As a broader theme, in fact dear to the romance of formation, we have a constant in this novel of the XNUMXth century: love misused and with connotations of class, in which someone, the hero or heroine, belonging to a subordinate layer, is dazzled by someone in the upper layers. Overcoming this mistaken interest is part of the process of maturing and reaching adulthood. The theme appears wandering through these novels.

It is common, though not exclusive, for it to appear wrapped in a homosexual aura, as in brideshead, in which Sebastian, the object of multiple desires, in addition to being aristocratic and extremely rich, is also a unique beauty, attracting men and women.

Even EM Forster, in Maurice (novel and film) goes in the wake of the customs of the upper classes, in this more or less repressed or clandestine homosexual novel, in which, as in brideshead, the inferior falls in love with the superior in class. The elements are familiar: the University of Cambridge, the aristocratic friend, etc. The allure of class is very common in this literature, even in Proust.

But it can be heterosexual. And Rosamond Lehman, with Dust (dusty answer), the heroine has affairs with four of her five cousins ​​next door. Only after that would she feel free to lead her own life, without past illusions. Rare thing: it's a female education novel.

In the great realistic novel of the XNUMXth century, an individualist expression of the bourgeoisie rising to power, in which education is confused with the project of “getting ahead in life”, the protagonist is invariably a man, and in general his name gives the book its title. It is very rare for the protagonist to be a woman, and even so, she will not be able to survive: look at the two most notable ones, which end in suicide. Anna Karenina and Madame Bovary. And this despite the overflowing sympathy with which the authors treat them. But Rosamond Lehman can already allow her heroine to survive.

*Walnice Nogueira Galvão Professor Emeritus at FFLCH at USP. She is the author, among other books, of reading and rereading (Sesc\Ouro over Blue).

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