Last Updated on May 6, 2015, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 856
Quincas Borba (Joaquim Borba dos Santos), a wealthy man and a self-proclaimed philosopher, dies and leaves his large estate to his friend, Rubião, a teacher. The only condition of the bequest is that Rubião care for Quincas Borba’s dog, also named Quincas Borba, as if the dog were human. Rubião travels from the provincial town of Barbacena to the city of Rio de Janiero to establish himself with his newly inherited wealth. On the train, he meets Christiano Palha and Palha’s wife, Sophia. Rubião soon becomes infatuated with Sophia.
In Rio, Palha borrows money from Rubião to invest in business, and the two men become partners. Rubião also meets Carlos Maria, an arrogant young man, and Freitas, an unsuccessful middle-aged man, who exploit Rubião for his wealth and innocence. Major Siqueira and his thirty-nine-year-old daughter, Doña Tonica, attach themselves to Rubião, hoping that Rubião will marry Doña Tonica, who meanwhile becomes jealous of Sophia.
Rubião misinterprets as a love offering a box of strawberries Sophia had sent him. At the Palhas’s house in Santa Thereza, he clutches her hand and makes his affection clear to her. Distressed by Rubião’s advances, Sophia suggests to her husband that they end their relationship with Rubião. Having borrowed money from Rubião, however, Palha is reluctant to break with him.
Guilt-ridden about his infatuation with Sophia, Rubião begins to worry that the deceased Quincas Borba has somehow transmigrated into his dog’s body. This anxiety is one of the first signs of Rubaio’s impending madness.
Rubião becomes friends with Dr. Camacho, a lawyer and the editor of a politically oriented newspaper called Atalaia. On his way to meet Dr. Camacho, Rubião rescues a small child, Deolindo, in danger of being run over by a carriage and horses. Rubião then goes on to Dr. Camacho’s office, where he subscribes generously to the capital fund for Atalaia. Dr. Camacho flatters Rubião by publishing an account of Rubião’s heroism in saving Deolindo. Although Rubião is at first modest and dismissive about his heroism, as he reads Camacho’s account he becomes increasingly self-important.
Maria Benedicta, Sophia’s young cousin, is another potential wife for Rubião, but Rubião is too infatuated with Sophia to be interested in Maria Benedicta. After the incident at Santa Thereza, Rubião appears more cosmopolitan and confident. He spends his inherited money freely, often in support of others in addition to Palha and Dr. Camacho. When his impoverished friend, Freitas, falls ill, Rubião generously gives Freitas’s mother a substantial sum of money. Later, he pays Freitas’s funeral expenses.
Rubião tries to stay away from Sophia, but he finds an envelope addressed in Sophia’s handwriting to Carlos Maria. When he confronts her with the envelope, she tells him to open it. He refuses and leaves. Although Carlos Maria had flirted with Sophia, the envelope contains only a circular about a charitable committee on which Sophia serves.
Palha’s business flourishes as Rubião’s wealth begins to dwindle. Rubião becomes subject to fits of madness, believing that he is Napoleon III of France. When Rubião gets into a carriage alone with Sophia, she thinks he is still attracted to her. She panics and orders him to get out. Thinking he is Napoleon III, Rubião treats Sophia as if she were the emperor’s mistress, but eventually he leaves the carriage.
After Carlos Maria’s flirtation with Sophia, Doña Fernanda acts as a matchmaker and brings Carlos Maria and Maria Benedicta together. Although Maria Benedicta is not beautiful, Carlos Maria marries her because she adores him. Following their marriage, they travel to Europe, returning to Rio de Janiero after Maria Benedicta becomes pregnant.
For a time, Rubião’s friends accept his madness as he continues to provide meals and entertainment for them. Eventually, however, Rubião’s house falls into disrepair as his belief in himself as the emperor becomes constant. Doña Tonica becomes engaged to a man who dies before the wedding. Children on the street, including Deolindo, whose life Rubião had saved, make fun of him as a madman. Prodded by Doña Fernanda, a woman who barely knows Rubião, Sophia convinces Palha to set Rubião up in a little rented house on Principe Street. No one visits Rubião in his new humble residence. His former “friends” miss the luxury of Rubião’s wealthy surroundings in the house in Botafogo.
Rubião continues to believe he is Napoleon III, but Doña Fernanda thinks he can be cured. She manages to get him to enter an asylum. She also rescues Quincas Borba and sends the dog to the sanatorium to be with Rubião. After a short time, appearing to be regaining his sanity, Rubião escapes the asylum and returns to Barbacena with Quincas Borba, his only friend. Rubião dies there, and within three days, Quincas Borba dies there as well.
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