Joaquim Maria Machado de Assis Analysis

Other Literary Forms

(Literary Essentials: Short Fiction Masterpieces)

Joaquim Maria Machado de Assis’ first published works were poems and literary criticism, including two frequently cited studies on Brazilian literature. He wrote comedies for the theater, was master of a journalistic genre known as the crônica (literally, “chronicle”), and carried on an extensive correspondence, since published. He is best known for his novels, especially the last five, for which Memórias póstumas de Brás Cubas, 1881 (The Posthumous Memoirs of Brás Cubas, 1951; better known as Epitaph of a Small Winner, 1952) and Dom Casmurro, 1899 (English translation, 1953) are probably the best known outside Brazil.


(Literary Essentials: Short Fiction Masterpieces)

At the time of his death, in 1908, Joaquim Maria Machado de Assis was revered as Brazil’s most important and influential man of letters, a distinction many critics feel he deserves. An innovator in such areas as the use of irony and of self-conscious but unreliable narrator/protagonists, Machado de Assis was instrumental in leading Brazilian literature toward an appreciation of both technical sophistication and authenticity of expression. Although he did outstanding work in all the literary genres, including poetry, drama, translation, and critical theory, it was in narrative—the novel and short-story forms especially—that he achieved his greatest successes. His extraordinary work Memórias póstumas de Brás Cubas (1881; The Posthumous Memoirs of Brás Cubas, 1951; better known as Epitaph of a Small Winner, 1952) can, for example, be regarded as the first modern novel of either North or South America, while the text widely held to be his supreme achievement, Dom Casmurro (1900; English translation, 1953), ranks as one of the outstanding novels of its time. Perhaps even more brilliant as a writer of short fiction, however, Machado de Assis is credited with having originated the modern short-story form in Brazil, where tales such as “The Psychiatrist,” “Midnight Mass,” “A Singular Event,” “The Companion,” and “Dona Paula” are still judged to be masterpieces of his laconic, metaphoric art.

Other literary forms

(Survey of Novels and Novellas)

Although Joaquim Maria Machado de Assis (muh-SHAH-dew dee ah-SEES) is best known for his novels, especially in the non-Portuguese-speaking world, he did not begin writing in this genre until comparatively late in life. He started with poetry at the age of fifteen and the short story at eighteen. During the first fifteen years of his writing career, Machado de Assis produced some six thousand lines of poetry, nineteen plays and opera librettos, twenty-four short stories, almost two hundred newspaper columns and articles, and a number of translations, chiefly from French and Spanish into Portuguese. Most of this work appeared in periodicals, but ten volumes were published in book form as well. Machado de Assis continued to work in other literary forms after he began to write novels.


(Survey of Novels and Novellas)

Joaquim Maria Machado de Assis is so singular a figure in Brazilian literature, one who lends himself so little to inclusion in any school, that in any history of Brazilian literature he must be discussed in a separate chapter. He was a contemporary of the second generation of Romantics, who influenced him in his formative years, but during the succeeding generations of late Romantics, Parnassians, and Symbolists, he developed along highly personal lines. In addition, he merits special consideration because of his unquestionable supremacy in Brazilian letters, a supremacy that he exercised during his lifetime and that would continue to grow.

Machado de Assis’s talent could not be contained by any one form or genre. His Ocidentais (Occidentals), first published in the Revista brasileira in 1879 and 1880, contains poems that in perfection of form were not to be surpassed by the Parnassians and whose thought sums up the bitter, disillusioned philosophy that seems to characterize Machado de Assis’s prose work from 1881. Collections of short works such as Papéis avulsos (1882; miscellaneous papers), Histórias sem data (1884; undated stories), and Várias histórias (1896; various stories) include some of Machado de Assis’s finest writing, among which are “Missa do galo” (“Midnight Mass”) and “O alienista” (“The Psychiatrist”).

Another important facet of Machado de Assis’s oeuvre is the series of crônicas (columns) and articles of literary criticism that he wrote for the press over a period of some forty years....

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Discussion Topics

(Masterpieces of World Literature, Critical Edition)

Although written mostly in the latter part of the nineteenth century, the work of Joaquim Maria Machado de Assis only began to appear in English in the latter part of the twentieth century. What factors do you think effected this delay?

Machado de Assis evolves from a Romantic writer given to droll humor to a realist of penetrating psychological analysis. What is meant by Romanticism and realism and what evidence of them appears in his work?

What might have motivated the development of Machado de Assis from Romanticism to psychological realism? What other authors can you cite who show similar changes of outlook or orientation over the course of their careers?

Some authors are identified with certain locations and times, such as Mark Twain and the frontier Mississippi River, or Charles Dickens and Victorian London. Machado de Assis is invariably identified with late nineteenth and turn-of-the-century Rio de Janeiro. What were the socioeconomic, political, and cultural conditions and changes occurring in Rio and Brazil then that are reflected in the work of Machado de Assis?

Racial intermixture is a dominant characteristic of Brazilian social history. How are racial tolerance, prejudice, or indifference reflected in the life and work of Machado de Assis?


(Great Authors of World Literature, Critical Edition)

Caldwell, Helen. The Brazilian Othello of Machado de Assis. Berkeley: University of California Press, 1960. The first book-length study in English to deal with Machado de Assis. Focuses on his masterpiece Dom Casmurro and shows how Machado apparently utilized a modified version of Othello’s plot structure. Also discusses numerous other examples of the influence William Shakespeare had on Machado de Assis’ work. Caldwell was the first critic to argue that the novel’s heroine, Capitu, was not necessarily guilty of adultery, as generations of readers had assumed.

Caldwell, Helen. Machado de Assis: The Brazilian...

(The entire section is 961 words.)