Machado de Assis, Joaquim Maria
de Assis, Joaquim Maria Machado 1839-1908
Brazilian novelist, short story writer, poet, critic, playwright, essayist, and journalist.
Machado de Assis is thought by many to be Brazil's greatest writer. Although he wrote in many genres, he achieved his greatest literary successes in both the novel and short-story forms. A complex blend of psychological realism and symbolism, Machado's fiction is marked by pessimism, sardonic wit, an innovative use of irony, and an ambiguous narrative technique. His best known novel, Memorias postumas de Brás Cubas (Epitaph of a Small Winner), is often cited as the first modern novel of the western hemisphere. Another, Dom Casmurro is thought by many to be the finest novel ever written in both Americas. But Machado is also acknowledged as the father of the modern Brazilian short story, producing more than 200 works that use a wide range of styles and forms. Earl E. Fitz has remarked that "whether we consider him primarily as a short story writer of as a novelist, Machado de Assis deserves—and is beginning to receive—recognition as one of the true modern masters of Western narrative."
Machado was born in Rio de Janeiro on June 21, 1839, to a Portuguese mother, who died when he was ten, and a mulatto father. Machado had epilepsy and a speech impediment, which are thought to have made him very self-conscious. During his teens he met many prominent literary figures while working as a printer's apprentice. These acquaintances helped Machado get his first works published. He was an early success, and his work was widely acclaimed by the time he was twenty-five. In 1860 he entered the civil service, to which he dedicated himself, and he eventually attained the directorship of the Ministry of Agriculture. Over the next decade, while working for the Ministry, Machado wrote mostly poetry and several comedies—drama being his first literary passion—before he gave more serious attention to narrative fiction. During the 1880s and 1890s Machado wrote what many critics consider his greatest fiction: the novels Epitaph of a Small Winner, Quincas Borba (Philosopher or Dog?), and Dom Casmurro; and the stories in Papeis avulsos, Historias sem data, Varias historias, and Paginas recolhidas. In 1897 Machado was named the first president in perpetuity of the Brazilian Academy of Letters, of which he was a founding member. He held this title until his death on September 29, 1908, of arteriosclerosis.
Major Works of Short Fiction
Having a much broader range than his novels, Machado's short fiction is concerned with the destructiveness of time, the nature of madness, the isolation of the individual, conflicts between self-love and love for others, and human inadequacy. Often humorous, Machado's stories portray the thoughts and feelings, rather than the actions, of characters who often exemplify Brazilian social types. Machado's stories deal satirically with cultural institutions and contemporary social conditions. His short fiction eschews description or narration in favor of selfrevealing dialogue and monologue. Unlike his novels, very few of Machado's more than two hundred short stories have been translated into English, but those that have represent his most accomplished works in the genre. These include "The Psychiatrist," which struggles with the twin questions of who is insane and how one can tell; "Alexandrian Tale," a satirical attack on the tendency to use science to cure human problems; "The Companion," one of Machado's most anthologized tales, in which a man hired to care for a cantankerous old invalid is driven to murder him instead; and "Midnight Mass," regarded by most as his best single story, which relates the events surrounding an ambiguous love affair between the young narrator and a married woman.
Outside his native Brazil, Machado's short stories are relatively unknown, and consequently they have received little international critical attention. This is due to the fact that Portuguese is not widely accepted as a literary language, and Brazilian literature, in particular, comprises a small part of the traditional Western canon. According to Fitz, "had [Machado] written in French, German, or English, for example, [he] would be as well-known today as Flaubert, Goethe, or Shakespeare." Recent comparative studies have linked his short stories with those of such masters as Henry James, Anton Chekhov, and Guy de Maupassant. Some critics have interpreted Machado's narrative art as being part of the realistic trend in literature, but most have identified his work with the modern movement, linking the style and technique of his fiction to writers such as Marcel Proust, James Joyce, and Thomas Mann. Other scholars have examined Machado's works as an influence in the construction of a postcolonial Brazilian national identity and for indications of the author's stand on racism and civil rights. As international readers have slowly discovered his fiction through translation, most agree that Machado's narrative art is the work of an unrecognized genius.
Major Works of Short Fiction
Contos fluminenses 1869
Histórias da meia-noite 1873
Papéis avulsos 1882
Histórias sent data 1884
Várias Histórias 1896
Páginas recolhidas 1899
Reliquias de casa velha 1906
Brazilian Tales 1921
The Psychiatrist, and Other Stories 1963
The Devil's Church, and Other Stories 1977
Other Major Works
"Ela" (poetry) 1855; published in journal Marmota Fluminense
Hoje avental, amanha luva (drama) 1860; published in journal A Marmota
Desencantos (drama) 1861
Quase ministro (drama) 1863
Crisalidas [Chrysalises] (poetry) 1864
Os deuses de casaca (verse drama) 1865
*Falenas (poetry and drama) 1870
Ressurreiçao (novel) 1872
A mao e a luva [The Hand and the Glove] (novel) 1874
Americanas (poetry) 1875
Helena [Helena] (novel) 1876
Antes da missa (drama) 1878; published in journal O Cruzeiro
O bote de rape (drama) 1878;...
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SOURCE: "Machado de Assis: Short Story Craftsman," in Hispania, Vol. XLVIII, No. 1, March, 1965, pp. 76-81.
[In the following essay, Decker discusses the themes, style, and technique in Machado's later stories from Histórias sem data to Várias Histórias.]
The themes of Machado's short stories are subtopics of one broad basic concept of human life and the world in which men live. If there is a purpose in Machado's writing, other than simply to entertain his readers, it is to reveal to them this concept by combining fantasy, irony, and reality, blended in innumerable and original juxtapositions.
In "Adão e Eva" a judge explains that the earth was really created by the Devil, not by God. In "Viver!" the last man on earth, being weary of the world's ills, is happy to have reached the end of his existence. Although Machado appears to view the world as the Devil's creation, he does not find it perfect in its evil. In the story "A igreja do Diabo" the Devil establishes his own Church on earth, but its success is tempered by followers who "practice virtues on the side." The enraged Devil approaches God, who calmly replies: "—Que queres tu, meu pobre Diabo? . . . é a eterna contradicção humana." William L. Grossman, in translating some of Machado's stories into English, has noted the writer's "curiosity about the relationship between good and evil—and always his critique, now...
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SOURCE: "Love and the 'Causa Secreta' in the Tales of Machado de Assis," in Hispania, Vol. XLIX, No. 4, December, 1966, pp. 778-86.
[In the following essay, Virgilio examines Machado's representation of true love in his stories, detecting even in his early "romantic" stories that true love is rarely genuine, and usually motivated by self-interest.]
It has been observed that Machado de Assis' fiction reveals the author's preoccupation with the theme of true love versus self-love. One can add, however, that excluding perhaps Memorial de Aires, his last novel, true love generally appears in his works as a device concealing an ulterior motive deeply rooted in self-love. This motive Machado himself has called the "causa secreta," or the ugly side of human beings, which his fictional characters try to conceal behind a mask of selfless humanity. Machado's denial of true love, furthermore, can be observed in his short stories as well as his novels, and even in those early tales commonly taken as emotional, sentimental stories supposedly aimed at the immature, love-starved reader who delights in the triumph of true love. These earlier tales, assigned to his so-called romantic period, seem to be filled with sentimental clichés very much in keeping with the literary conventions of the times. As one looks more closely, however, at the stories in Coritos fluminenses and Histórias da meia noite, his...
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SOURCE: "The Short Stories of Machado de Assis," in Arizona Quarterly, Vol. 24, No. 1, Spring, 1968, pp. 5-22.
[In the following overview of The Psychiatrist, and Other Stories , Nist discusses themes and techniques used in the stories, and praises Machado's subtle and understated style of writing.]
Joaquim Maria Machado de Assis (1839-1908) is generally recognized as the finest novelist in all of Latin America. Indeed the epileptic quadroon who founded the Brazilian Academy of Letters in 1897 combines such deep Dionysian wisdom of life with such cool Apollonian control of his medium that his genius must rank him with Flaubert, James, Kafka, and Proust. But it was not until forty years after Machado's death that literary criticism in the United States made a first serious assessment of the creative magnitude of Brazil's number one man of letters. In 1948 Samuel Putnam devoted most of Chapter XIV of his book Marvelous Journey to the delineation of Machado's life and work and called for the translation into English of three supreme novels (Dom Casmurro, Quincas Borba, Brás Cubas) and the short stories. A modest enough challenge to American publishers when one considers that Machado's collected works run to thirty-one volumes. In 1952 Noonday Press responded to Putnam's challenge with Epitaph of a Small Winner (tr. William L. Grossman) and followed up this initial succès...
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SOURCE: An introduction to The Devil's Church, and Other Stories, by Machado de Assis, translated by Jack Schmitt and Lorie Ishimatsu, University of Texas Press, 1977, pp. ix-xiii.
[In the following essay, Schmitt and Ishimatsu examine Machado 's fiction as a kind of social and literary criticism, and also discuss the ways in which it approached literary modernism.]
The modern Brazilian short story begins with the mature works of Joaquim Maria Machado de Assis (1839-1908), acclaimed almost unanimously as Brazil's greatest writer. Between 1858 and 1906, Machado wrote more than two hundred stories, and no other writer in Brazil achieved his technical mastery of the story form before the 1930s.
Until recent years, Machado's reputation abroad was not commensurate with the quality of his remarkable stories and novels or his high position in Western letters. The Brazilian critic Antônio Cândido considered it a paradox that a writer of international stature, whose style and themes are characteristic of the twentieth century, should have remained relatively unknown outside Brazil. The obscurity of Machado's works in the United States was closely related to the fact that Portuguese was not widely known in this country, and translations of his novels and stories into English have been available only in recent years, thanks especially to the excellent translations by Helen Caldwell and William...
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SOURCE: "An Artist's Identity versus the Social Role of the Writer: The Case for Joaquim Maria Machado de Assis," in CLA Journal, Vol. XXVII, No. 2, December, 1983, pp. 187-96.
[In the following essay, Nunes defends Machado against attacks that he was unsympathetic to blacks in Brazil based on his apparant reticence on the issue of slavery. The critic cites examples from Machado's fiction that demonstrate the writer's "anti-slavery" position.]
Joaquim Maria Machado de Assis, 1839-1908, was the greatest Brazilian writer of his time and perhaps of all time. Because he wrote in Portuguese, his works have not received the universal acclamation they merit, but in the past twenty years or so, most of his major novels have been translated into English—Memórias Postumas de Bras Cubas (Epitaph for a Small Winner), Quincas Borba (Dog or Philosopher?), Dom Casmurro, Esau e Jaco (Esau and Jacob), and Memorial de Aires (Ayres' Memorial). In combination with his novels, Assis's short stories make up the corpus of imaginative literature on which his fame rests. His great works are marked by a profound knowledge of universal literature and the innovations of an originality that was exclusively his own.
Despite his incomparable artistic achievement, there is a long tradition of speculation on Machado de Assis the man. Because he was an extremely private person who spoke little of his...
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SOURCE: "Machado de Assis between Romance and Satire: 'A Parasita Azul'," in What's Past is Prologue: A Collection of Essays in Honor of L. J. Woodward, edited by Salvador Bacarisse, and others, Scottish Academic Press, 1984, pp. 57-69.
[In the following essay, Gledson discusses the parallels between the story "A Parasita Azul" and the plots of Machado's major novels. The critic argues that the story, when read as satire rather than straight-forward romance, can be better understood as a forerunner of Machado's later novels, which are more overtly concerned with social and political criticism.]
"A Parasita Azul" is the opening story of Machado de Assis' second collection, Histórias da Meia-Noite (1873): it was first published in the preceding year, in four parts, in the Jornal das Familias. It is not an undiscovered masterpiece, but it is a surprising work which does not merit the almost complete critical neglect which has been its lot. There are fascinating parallels between its plot and those of the great novels published after 1880—in particular, Memorias Postumas de Brás Cubas (1881) and Quincas Borba (1885-91). Most suggestively, the novel whose plot most closely resembles that of "A Parasita Azul" is Machado's last, the strange and in many ways off-putting Memorial de Aires (1906). If this parallel can be established and explained, this long and in some ways...
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SOURCE: "The Short Story Collections," in Machado de Assis, Twayne Publishers, 1989, pp. 61-71.
[Below, Fitz traces the development of Machado as a short story writer, commenting on each of his collections.]
For all Machado's innovative skill and imagination as a novelist, many critics, including Lucia Miguel Pereira, Renard Pérez, and Barrèto Filho, believe he attained his highest levels of excellence in the demanding short story form, a genre Machado cultivated throughout his career. His first published story, a comic piece about mistaken identity and a spurious love affair involving the narrator's wife and best friend entitled, "Três tesouros perdidos" (Three lost treasures), appeared 5 January 1858, when he was eighteen years old. In all, Machado wrote more than two hundred pieces of short fiction, many of which originally appeared in literary journals and were anthologized much later; some have been discovered only very recently. During Machado's lifetime, seven collections of stories, a few of which had appeared earlier in journals, were published. Other stories have appeared posthumously, as in Outros contos andOutras reliquias, reflecting Machado's enduring popularity in Brazil and reinforcing his reputation as the father of the modern Brazilian short story.
Technically and thematically, the history of Machado's development as a story writer parallels his...
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Machado, Jose Bettencourt. Machado of Brazil: The Life and Times of Machado de Assis, Brazil's Greatest Novelist, second edition. New York: Charles Frank Publications, 1962, 246 p.
Bio-critical study of Machado's life and work.
Bagby, Albert I., Jr. "Brazilian Literary and Bibliographic Studies over the Last Twenty Years." The Modern Language Journal LIX, No. 4 (April 1975): 186-89.
Acquaints English-speaking readers with reference materials on Machado and Brazilian literature in general.
Barrow, Leo L. "Ingratitude in the Works of Machado de Assis." Hispania XLIX, No. 2 (May 1966): 211-17.
Studies the theme of ingratitude in Machado's works.
Brakel, Arthur. "Ambiguity and Enigma in Art: The Case of Henry James and Machado de Assis." Comparative Literature Studies 19, No. 4 (Winter 1982): 442-49.
Compares the ambiguous narrative techniques of Machado and Henry James.
Decker, Donald M. "Machado de Assis: Short Story Craftsman." Hispania XLVIII, No. 1 (March 1965): 76-81.
Overview of the wide variety of styles, themes, and techniques in Machado's later stories, from Historias sem data to Várias historias.
Dixon, Paul B....
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