Inherent in the ideology underlying the conquest and colonization of Latin America were certain factors that severely curtailed the development of the novel there. Notable among those factors was the Roman Catholic Church’s view that the novel form was harmful to morals, coupled with the vision of Latin America as a mission field, from which such negative influences could and should be excluded. Thus, in 1531, it was forbidden for books such as Amadís de Gaula (1508; Amadis of Gaul, partial translation, 1567, 1803; better known as Amadís) to be imported.
While it is true that from 1580 on, all sorts of fiction did enter the region—and it even appears that a sizable portion of the first edition of Miguel de Cervantes’ Don Quixote de la Mancha (1605, 1615) came to the New World—the law is indicative of an attitude that, in the Spanish-speaking regions, successfully prevented until 1816 the production of anything that might properly be called a novel.
In Brazil, in contrast, the attempt to exclude the form was not so successful. It was, in fact, a churchman who produced Brazil’s first novel. Four years after the publication of John Bunyan’s The Pilgrim’s Progress (1678, 1684), the Jesuit Alexandre de Gusmão (1628-1724) published História do predestinado peregrino e seu irmão Precito (1682). Also in the allegorical mode is the Compêndio narrativo do peregrino da América (1728), by Nuno Marques Pereira (1652-1728), and Teresa Margarida da Silva e Orta’s Aventuras de Diófanes (1752). These attempts to turn the form to the service of morality left no progeny, and when the Brazilian novel returned, it was in the fullness of the Romantic movement.
The outstanding Brazilian novelist of the Romantic period was José de Alencar (1829-1877), whose early work consists of a series of sentimental novels of adventure, dealing particularly with the idealized “Indian,” modeled on Chateaubriand’s “noble savage,” who predominated throughout Latin American literature in this era. Alencar’s more mature works, including Lucíola (1862), Iracema (1865; Iracema, the Honey-Lips: A Legend of Brazil, 1886), and Senhora (1875; Senhora: Profile of a Woman, 1994), are more concerned with the portrayal of urban society, as is the notable Memórias de um sargento de milícias (1854; Memoirs of a Militia Sergeant, 1959), by Manuel Antônio de Almeida (1831-1861), which concentrates on Rio de Janeiro. At the same time, Bernardo Guimarães (1825-1884) was dealing with nationalistic themes.