Critical Context

(Literary Essentials: World Fiction)

Cousin Bazilio has been criticized for imitating Madame Bovary, though Eça de Queiróz’s defenders have demonstrated his original treatment of a similar story. In a savage essay, Eça de Queiróz’s contemporary, the Brazilian novelist Joaquim Maria Machado de Assis, condemned Cousin Bazilio’s unconvincing plot and sensational sexuality. The book’s portrayal of sexuality and frank expression of a woman’s desires are the best aspects of the novel, but the plot does have two radical weaknesses. Juliana’s theft of the love letters and Jorge’s interception of Bazilio’s letter seem contrived, though people communicated more frequently by letter before the invention of the telephone. The other problem concerns the successive and convenient deaths of Juliana and Luiza. Juliana had been suffering from heart disease, but Luiza, who faints all too frequently during crucial moments of the novel, dies merely from emotional shock and not from any physical cause. Despite these relatively minor defects, Cousin Bazilio is a masterpiece of satiric realism, giving a lively picture of Portuguese society, passionate love, and a vengeful servant. It fully justifies Eça de Queiróz’s reputation as one of the major novelists of the nineteenth century.