José Rodrigues Miguéis John Austin Kerr, Jr. - Essay

John Austin Kerr, Jr.

(Contemporary Literary Criticism)

The novelette "Léah" by the well-known Portuguese writer José Rodrigues Miguéis has attracted a considerable amount of published comment, but it has been reviewed almost exclusively in terms of the larger work of which it now forms a part…. [However], the story was first published separately in 1940, nearly two decades before its appearance in Léah e Outras Histórias…. (p. 220)

As might be expected from Miguéis's earlier works, "Léah" is replete with social problems. Many of them are familiar. There is, for example, the problem of the modest means of the protagonist. Carlos's genteel poverty has its effect in many ways, but with relation to the plot it is particularly important to note that it is his lack of money that first brings him to Mme Lambertin's pensão, where he takes a room which is far from being luxurious and is only passably clean. It is at the pensão, of course, that he meets and falls in love with Léah. Then, as Carlos and Léah's love affair progresses, it is primarily his impecuniousness that stops him from accompanying Léah to her native France, where she hopes they can marry and settle down. Thus poverty, or at least a certain lack of affluence, not only leads to Carlos's meeting his lover but also militates against the couple's regularizing their relationship….

[The poverty in] "Léah" has many ramifications and several levels of complexity. The protagonist's poverty can logically be ascribed to his years of study as well as to his travels abroad. His lack of affluence is thus a result of positive personal decisions, of an investment in his future, as it is often put, however much it may weigh upon him at the moment. [Other characters are in an analogous financial position for different reasons]…. In this way Miguéis has highlighted certain aspects of a life of poverty through contrasting perceptions of reality. And finally, it is apparent that, even though the author has discussed the problem of poverty before and has dealt with it elsewhere from various points of view, it appears in "Léah" as yet another example of his complex treatment of a problem beneath the surface of a seemingly simple presentation.

[While there is a wide range of other social problems which the author brings to the reader's attention in "Léah" the main social problem] consists of the whole complex episode centering about the fact that a man from a relatively higher socioeconomic class falls in love with, seduces and then abandons a girl from a lower socioeconomic class. As usual, Miguéis does not present the situation in simplistic terms, for in Carlos and Léah's case the process of falling...

(The entire section is 1101 words.)