Last Updated on May 5, 2015, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 748
Jorge and Luiza have a happy but unexciting marriage. Luiza, childless and bored, amuses herself with music, romantic novels, and visits to her dressmaker. Immediately after Jorge leaves on a mining expedition to the south of Portugal, Bazilio returns to Lisbon after a seven-year absence in Brazil and France. Luiza has fond memories of her tall, bronzed, and mustached cousin, with whom she had had a youthful romance. Bazilio’s ruthless character, scorn for social conventions, and seduction and abandonment of Luiza provide a striking contrast to her husband’s circle of bourgeois friends. Only Luiza’s intimate friend Leopoldina, whom Jorge despises because of her immoral life, is sympathetic to Luiza’s love affair.
Bazilio’s seduction slowly progresses from provocative familiarities, tender kisses, and ardent embraces during rides in closed carriages, to its consummation in Luiza’s drawing room. Bazilio then finds a squalid room, which the lovers ironically call their “Paradise,” where they can secretly meet. He completely dominates her, teaching her new sexual sensations, to which she responds deliriously. Yet Luiza’s disillusionment is foreshadowed by her comparison with a yachtsman on a romantic voyage who anchors on the mud banks of the Tagus River and must breathe the surrounding marshy stench. Bazilio soon loses interest in his prey: He abandons his pretense of affection for Luiza, treating her in a brutal manner; humiliates her by openly expressing his boredom; and refuses to run away with her as promised.
This degrading love affair, which echoes Leopoldina’s coarse liaisons with numerous lovers, is contrasted not only with Luiza’s affectionate marriage to Jorge but also with Felicidade’s absurd attempt to arouse the amorous inter-est of Councilor Accacio—she even tries the magic of a fraudulent wise-woman—and with Joanna’s frankly carnal connection with a carpenter. Only Juliana—embittered by poverty, hard work, and bad health—is completely without an emotional life. She consults an “arranger” about how to deal with Luiza (just as Felicidade consults a wisewoman) and vents her sexual frustration on her indolent and egoistic mistress.
The maid steals Luiza and Bazilio’s love letters, using them to blackmail her mistress. While waiting for her money, Juliana seizes control of the household, changes places with Luiza, and degrades her mistress in a lingering martyrdom—as Bazilio did after his passion subsided. Juliana works less and less, goes out whenever she pleases, takes the best food and wine, brutally insults her mistress, and forces her to fire Joanna (who had struck the intolerable Juliana). Luiza meekly submits to her grasping maid and makes excuses for Juliana’s bizarre behavior. Aware of her impending tragedy, and imagining the ruin of her marriage and the loss of her reputation, “she felt that, at the very centre of her being, something had been broken off and was bleeding painfully.”
Faced with Juliana’s blackmail, Bazilio follows the advice of his cynical friend Viscount Reynaldo and offers Luiza money, which she refuses, and then leaves Lisbon as suddenly as he had appeared. Jorge returns from his long trip and, though everything is now changed, on the surface everything is the same. Luiza resumes the role of devoted wife, but Jorge, increasingly suspicious of the maid’s arrogance, finally insists that they dismiss Juliana.
In desperation, Luiza asks Leopoldina to arrange a meeting with old Castro, who has always lusted for Luiza, so that she can get money for Juliana from him. Yet she is repelled by his anticipated advances and, in a grotesquely comic scene, expresses her rage against Bazilio and Jorge by seizing a cane and slashing the flabby flesh of the astonished lecher. In a final attempt to save herself, Luiza confesses to Jorge’s friend Sebastian, who is sympathetic and promises to help her. He brings a policeman to the house to frighten Juliana and provokes her fatal heart attack. Luiza falls into a fever from the shock of happiness but begins to recover.
Unfortunately, Jorge intercepts a letter from Bazilio that reveals the sordid story and becomes frantic. He loves Luiza more than ever, but with a carnal and perverse love. Mad with jealousy, he confronts his wife with Bazilio’s letter. She faints, and he pardons her with a long kiss. Becoming delirious, Luiza moans lascivious words to Bazilio, falls into a coma, and dies. When Bazilio returns to Lisbon and learns of Luiza’s death, he regrets only that he has not brought his French mistress to amuse him.
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