(Masterpieces of American Fiction)

In The Hour of the Star, Clarice Lispector creates a male narrator, Rodrigo S. M., to write the story of a young Brazilian girl who has recently moved to Rio de Janeiro. The narrator has caught sight of this young girl on the street. She is nothing special; the slums of Rio de Janeiro are filled with thousands like her, shopgirls and office workers sharing one-room flats, invisible and superfluous, silent in the clamor of the city.

The first quarter of the book is taken up with Rodrigo’s ruminations on why and how he is writing the story of this young girl. He declares that her story must be told by a man, for a woman would feel too much sympathy and end up in tears. The story must be told simply and with humility, for it is about the unremarkable adventures and the shadowy existence of a young girl trying to survive in a hostile city. Rodrigo feels the need to identify with his subject, so he decides to share her condition as closely as possible by wearing threadbare clothes, suffering from lack of sleep, neglecting to shave, giving up sex and football, avoiding human contact, and immersing himself in nothingness. He envisions this identification with his protagonist as a quest for transfiguration and his “ultimate materialization into an object. Perhaps I might even acquire the sweet tones of the flute and become entwined in a creeper vine.”

After describing the disastrous physical appearance of the girl, Rodrigo briefly rehearses her early history. She was born, suffering from rickets, in the backwoods of Alagoas, where her parents died of typhoid when she was two years old. Later she was sent to Maceio to live with her maiden aunt. The aunt, determined to keep the girl from becoming a prostitute, enjoyed thrashing her niece at the slightest provocation or no provocation at all. The child never knew exactly why she was being punished. The only education she experienced beyond three years of primary school was a short typing course, which gave her enough confidence to seek a position as a typist in Rio de Janeiro.

At the moment Rodrigo’s story intrudes into her life, the girl is about to be fired. Her work is hopeless—full of typing errors and blotched with dirty spots. Yet her polite apology for the trouble she has caused inspires her boss to modify his dismissal into a warning. The girl retreats to the lavatory to try to recover her composure. When she looks into the tarnished mirror, her reflection seems to have disappeared; her connection to even her own existence is as fragile and tenuous as is Rodrigo’s...

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(Masterpieces of World Literature, Critical Edition)

This brief, densely written novel explores the relationship between writer and work and subject and object in a way that casts doubt on traditional categories. The novel is about a man writing about a woman. The writer, Rodrigo, is educated, sensitive, and politically aware. The woman, Macabéa, is deprived, impoverished, and barely aware of her own existence.

The title refers to the writer’s idea that at death everyone is a star, presumably since at death, the great mystery is revealed. Macabéa in her few short years experiences misery, desire, and rejection, and then after finally being made aware of her unhappiness by a fortune-teller, she is run over by a Mercedes and killed. Lying in the street, she has her “hour of the star”: “She felt like vomiting something that was not matter but luminous. Star with a thousand pointed rays.” When she does die, her creator, tangled in her story, feels that in some sense he dies, too. Macabéa’s biographer is, however, still alive at story’s end, pondering: “Dear God, only now am I remembering that people die. Does that include me?”

Written just before Lispector’s death from cancer and published in the year of her death, this novel raises important questions about the meaning of death, the relationship between author and work, and the isolation of the individual, but it does not provide answers. It suggests, rather, that there are none. Its uncertainty is suggested by the fact that Lispector offers thirteen alternative titles for the novel. Some of the titles include suggestions of self-mockery, and there are strongly comic events that show the girl’s näiveté. Lispector also includes her signature in the list of titles.

The Hour of the Star also looks back to Lispector’s own childhood in its choice of heroine. Macabéa comes from poverty-stricken northeast Brazil, where Lispector spent her formative years. It is interesting to note the contrast between this heroine and that of An Apprenticeship. Macabéa, perhaps because she has no self-awareness to speak of, is doomed. There is no doom for the self-creating heroine Lori; she is able to choose her future.


(Masterpieces of American Fiction)

Cixous, Helene. Reading with Clarice Lispector. Minneapolis: University of Minnesota Press, 1990. Chapters on The Stream of Life, The Apple in the Dark, “The Egg and the Chicken,” and The Hour of the Star. The book includes an introduction by Verena Andermatt Conley, carefully explaining Cixous’s critical approach to Lispector. Recommended for advanced students.

Coutinho, Afranio. An Introduction to Literature in Brazil. New York: Columbia University Press, 1960. A major Brazilian critic assesses Lispector’s achievement, emphasizing her place in Brazilian literature and her powerful metaphorical and atmospheric fiction.

Fitz, Earl F. Clarice Lispector. Boston: Twayne, 1985. A useful introduction that includes a chapter of biography, a discussion of Lispector’s place in Brazilian literature; a study of her style, structure, and point of view in her novels and short stories; and her nonfiction work. Includes chronology, detailed notes, and a well-annotated bibliography.

Lowe, Elizabeth. The City in Brazilian Literature. Rutherford, N.J.: Farleigh Dickinson University Press, 1982. Discusses Lispector as an urban writer, focusing mainly on A cidade sitiada, The Passion According to G. H., and The Stream of Life.

Peixoto, Marta. Passionate Fictions: Gender, Narrative, and Violence in Clarice Lispector. Minneapolis: University of Minnesota Press, 1994. Written with a decidedly feminist bias, Passionate Fictions analyzes Lispector’s frequently violent subject matter, juxtaposing it with her strange and original use of language. Special attention is paid to the nexus with Helene Cixous and to the autobiographical elements of The Stream of Life and A via crucis do corpo.