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 in love and being seduced is a mutual affair. But in the end it is Carlos who abandons Léah. This is a very old theme in Miguéis's writings….
Typically, too, Miguéis prepares the way for Carlos's final act of abandonment by pointing out early in the story the differences in social class that exist between him and Léah. These are due primarily to education, which Léah lacks almost entirely. This facet is given a neat, rationalizing twist, however, to obscure this basic incompatibility between the two lovers: Léah's lack of formal education is seen initially as a virtue because it results in her having a refreshing candor. In this manner Léah's innate attractiveness has been enhanced at the beginning of the episode, while the seed of future dissension and drawing apart has also been planted, all but unnoticed. Thus it can be seen that the author's subliminal infiltration, observable in such earlier works as
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Typically, too, Miguéis prepares the way for Carlos's final act of abandonment by pointing out early in the story the differences in social class that exist between him and Léah. These are due primarily to education, which Léah lacks almost entirely. This facet is given a neat, rationalizing twist, however, to obscure this basic incompatibility between the two lovers: Léah's lack of formal education is seen initially as a virtue because it results in her having a refreshing candor. In this manner Léah's innate attractiveness has been enhanced at the beginning of the episode, while the seed of future dissension and drawing apart has also been planted, all but unnoticed. Thus it can be seen that the author's subliminal infiltration, observable in such earlier works asPáscoa Feliz, continued to be an important part of his literary technique…. (p. 222)
[Carlos] is not intentionally an evildoer, for he at least thinks he has been in love with Léah and is left with a sense of permanent loss…. Carlos is … typical of the ordinary mortal, neither weak enough to be entirely evil nor strong enough to master all of life's temptations. He is, in sum, a very human character….
There is … a group of psychological problems which is both central to the development of the plot of "Léah" and is observable in many other works by the same author: that is, the problems a foreigner has in adjusting to his new surroundings, which are manifested in Carlos by his disillusionment with his Belgian surroundings, a recurring sadness and loneliness and a longing for home. He is dissatisfied with life and even with his own compatriots. In this respect, then, Carlos is in a position analogous to that of the protagonist of "Cinzas de Incêndio": in many ways he could be the latter's twin except that he has scientific rather than artistic tendencies. Like his counterpart, Carlos is ripe for an amorous adventure—hence the importance of these problems to the story's development.
There are other psychological problems apparent in "Léah," such as the fact that Mme. Lambertin's husband does not seem to care about anything that takes place around him, M. Albert's mental retardation and the emotional effects of a girl's loss of virginity prior to marriage. None of these, however, is as important to the progress of the story as those preparing the way for, and arising from, Carlos and Léah's love affair. And of course these have their social as well as their psychological importance: it is an added dimension which furnishes yet another bit of evidence that Miguéis is a writer of major talents.
Finally and perhaps most importantly, because one can note this point of view in earlier writings—as, for example, in Páscoa Feliz and "O Acidente"—the most striking of the various complementary aspects of "Léah" which come to the fore is the author's depiction of the worker as an essentially noble being…. The theme of the nobility of work itself is incorporated into that of the nobility of love between man and woman as well…. [This] aspect is hedged with rhetorical doubt and melded into a dream of a fuller life. But it is there, and it was perhaps one of the reasons why a critic of the stature of Adolfo Casais Monteiro could place on Miguéis's brow the perhaps unwanted laurel of being the true, if unacknowledged, mentor of the Portuguese neo-realist movement. (p. 223)
John Austin Kerr, Jr., "Some Considerations on Rodrigues Miguéis's 'Léah'," in World Literature Today (copyright 1977 by the University of Oklahoma Press), Vol. 51, No. 2, Spring, 1977, pp. 220-23.