(Waldomiro Freitas) Autran Dourado Essay - Critical Essays

Dourado, (Waldomiro Freitas) Autran


(Waldomiro Freitas) Autran Dourado 1926–

Brazilian novelist and short story writer.

Although Dourado is a major literary figure in Brazil, his work is not well known to the English-speaking world. The somber tone of Dourado's fiction results from his intense psychological examination of the alienated occupants of a small imaginary town in Minas Gerais.

(See also Contemporary Authors, Vols. 25-28, rev. ed.)

Donald A. Yates

[A Hidden Life (Uma Vida em Segredo)] is a brief, poetic, but tightly controlled account of an inconspicuous existence so far removed from the broad social channels into which it might well have been directed that it seems, in a sense, a "secret life."… Dourado tells the story of Biela, a young country girl reared in [rural surroundings]…. Brought into town after [her father's] death to live with her uncle and his family, she is compelled to adapt to a new world.

The small crises of Biela's life are ticked off by the author with almost Olympian detachment: at first she appears to gain a sense of self and to blossom in the new environment, but something within her shrinks…. Gradually, Biela withdraws from the family circle and finds her place among the servants in the kitchen. They are like her. The years pass; she grows old. One day she finds a hungry stray dog and takes it home to live with her in the shabby back room into which she has retreated.

The similarities between Dourado's A Hidden Life and Flaubert's Un Coeur Simple are obvious, and extend even to the exalted mystical vision involving their pet that both self-effacing women experience…. There is no dramatically Brazilian aspect to the work, no fresh insight into life, no arresting characterizations. It is as if the author proposed to transfer Flaubert's simple tale to a milieu that he was more familiar with and rewrite it—as a sort of literary exercise.

Donald A. Yates, "Biela's Small Crises," in Saturday Review (copyright © 1969 by Saturday Review; all rights reserved; reprinted by permission), Vol. LII, No. 13, March 29, 1969, p. 28.

Malcolm Silverman

Only two key factors qualify to differentiate among Dourado's varied works: external structure and stylistic creativity. More persistent are the similarities which interrelate them: an at times dense côr local or local color into which or in front of which Dourado's customarily troubled characters struggle with (in) themselves, sometimes successfully, most of the time not, to make their lives bearable. (Fun, per se, would be entirely out of the question in the serious, even somber context of Dourado's fictional world.) This pattern may vary from melodrama to tragedy in the classical sense, but it is always introspective, always personal to the point of intimate, always defensive bordering on paranoid. Negativeness is often confused with fatality, pathos with fear, and sex with love. There is little collective spirit (except in a background context); instead, one senses a universal separateness in which all major figures prefer to wile away their time brooding to themselves….

[Tortured] introspection is, then, synonymous with the psychologically oriented fiction to which Dourado adheres. Whether it be short story, novelette or full length novel—the very same structural differences alluded to at the outset—the constant or end result is identical. What evolves, chronologically, is the author's overall style, and hence his progressively more effective ability to probe and expose his personages' psyche. (p. 610)

Teia (Spider Web, 1947), both the author's first published work and the first of two novelettes, provides for an explosive situation later recreated and embellished in Ópera dos Mortos [Opera of the Dead; also published as The Voices of the Dead]. Dourado creates a controlled and static environment along the lines of a chemical experiment: a boardinghouse occupied by a domineering matriarch, an attractive young lady and a small girl, into which he injects a foreign element, Gustavo, the confused narrator protagonist. The consequent chain reaction envelops everyone, bringing hitherto inner conflicts, within Gustavo and between and among the others, to an intolerable (and unsustainable) level…. The result is that the matriarch triumphs, the young Iady falls irrevocably under her sinister influence (teia), the martyred child dies … and Gustavo flees by the same door he entered, thus neatly closing the novelette in the exact way it opened….

The same cannot be said for Rodrigo of Sombra e Exílio (1950), Dourado's second work and first novel, whose tragic and pathetic demise, i.e., insanity, comes about only when he finally stops vacillating and acts. Set into a depraved family circle à la Nelson Rodrigues, composed of his widowed mother Marta, unfaithful wife Sílvia and mostly absent brother Artur, a reincarnation of his hated father, and Sílvia's lover, Rodrigo struggles successfully against mental catatonia on the one hand, and an understandable inferiority complex on the other. (p. 611)

In Tempo de Amar (Time to Love, 1952), Dourado's next novel, there is a notable breakthrough on all planes: the author's preferred and persistent character type suddenly becomes three dimensional and refined. He no longer is shown to be what he is, passing from troubled puppet to troubled actor. Setting is now correspondingly less confining and restraining, and Dourado's language less psychopathic. Indeed, the novel's two hundred and fifty pages allow Dourado, for the first time, to develop character creations instead of only atmospheres…. Succeeding novels have built on this ample pattern, as concerns both format and expansiveness of style.

The plot line of Tempo de Amar, taking place in the bustling, varied and colorful town of Cercado Velho, centers around lackadaisical Ismael, who has just returned home after graduating from boarding school, and his difficult integration into Cercado Velho's bourgeois society. Urged on by his father, Ismael reluctantly foregoes his "security blanket" …, exchanging his endless daydreaming there for a boring clerkship. Night hours, though, are spent meandering through town, visiting the local brothel and passing chronic insomnia. Finally … he meets Paula, a bright, attractive, but ill-treated girl who, for his promise of escape from Cercado Velho, has sex with him. Motivated more by cowardice and disinterest than premeditated deceit, Ismael soon ignores Paula…. Now pregnant, Paula decides to leave on her own, nobly refusing to pressure the spineless Ismael for his complicity. In any event, she does decide to invite him, one last time, to leave with her, and start a new life. Predictably, he does not accept…. What starts out as a primarily personal conflict imposed on a collective backdrop ends up inverted: Ismael ceases to be even an ineffective individual, giving further corroboration to Cercado...

(The entire section is 2012 words.)

John M. Parker

The four excellent novellas which comprise [Armas & corações] … display all the qualities which have made Dourado a major figure in contemporary Brazilian fiction. Each of the stories in Armas & corações illustrates a different method of delaying the unfolding of the plot, and in this sense Dourado can be seen to make further use of the process explored so effectively in Novelário de Donga Novais (1976). At the same time, the author's particular reliance on point of view proves to be, here again, a central feature, in this case making an essential contribution to the delay-suspense formula. It is by narrating "Manuela em dia de chuva" from the point of view of the child Manuela, and with frequent recourse to style indirect libre, that the author is able to allow conjectures to form very gradually in the reader's mind as he follows the child's slow, frequently interrupted review and assimilation of the tragedy. In "Às seis e meia no Largo do Carmo" three points of view are used in succession, so that the same set of facts seen from different angles, even in terms of physical location, is each time superimposed on the skeleton outline: the third viewpoint, that of Orizombo the hit man, provides an unexpected denouement in a story presenting an ironical account of the workings of machismo.

If these stories are linked by method of composition, their collective purpose is further borne out not only by their being set in Dourado's fictional town of Duas Pontes, in the south of Minas...

(The entire section is 637 words.)

John Naughton

[The Voices of the Dead] is a spacious, leisured work reminiscent of earlier times, a baroque tale of an imposing manor-house in a small Brazilian town, wherein dwelleth a haughty lady (who never goes out, preferring to observe the world from her window) and her dumb servant. Into this stable, ordered, claustrophobic ménage comes an itinerant handyman who becomes the lady's lover, with appalling consequences. It isn't the tale that counts but the way Dourado circles its events, building up an absorbing picture of the private worlds inhabited by his three characters, and providing an exquisitely detailed case study of the tragic irreversibility of sexual commitment. (p. 701)


(The entire section is 129 words.)

Peter Lewis

Dourado has been likened to Faulkner and this comparison helps to give the English-language reader some idea of his work, although it must be qualified by emphasizing the distinctly Latin, indeed Iberian, nature of Dourado's imagination. Like Faulkner, Dourado is not a novelist of contemporary city life … but of small-town and rural life in the provinces, specifically the upland state of Minas Gerais where he comes from. Minas Gerais is to Dourado what Mississippi was to Faulkner, and out of his home state Dourado has created an equivalent of Yoknapatawpha. If Dourado's work is regional, it is regional in the same way that Faulkner's is: he is a poetic and symbolist novelist who transforms the particulars of the...

(The entire section is 564 words.)