(Waldomiro Freitas) Autran Dourado

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Malcolm Silverman

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Last Updated on June 7, 2022, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 2012

Only two key factors qualify to differentiate among Dourado's varied works: external structure and stylistic creativity. More persistent are the similarities which interrelate them: an at times dense côr local or local color into which or in front of which Dourado's customarily troubled characters struggle with (in) themselves, sometimes successfully, most of the time not, to make their lives bearable. (Fun, per se, would be entirely out of the question in the serious, even somber context of Dourado's fictional world.) This pattern may vary from melodrama to tragedy in the classical sense, but it is always introspective, always personal to the point of intimate, always defensive bordering on paranoid. Negativeness is often confused with fatality, pathos with fear, and sex with love. There is little collective spirit (except in a background context); instead, one senses a universal separateness in which all major figures prefer to wile away their time brooding to themselves….

[Tortured] introspection is, then, synonymous with the psychologically oriented fiction to which Dourado adheres. Whether it be short story, novelette or full length novel—the very same structural differences alluded to at the outset—the constant or end result is identical. What evolves, chronologically, is the author's overall style, and hence his progressively more effective ability to probe and expose his personages' psyche. (p. 610)

Teia (Spider Web, 1947), both the author's first published work and the first of two novelettes, provides for an explosive situation later recreated and embellished in Ópera dos Mortos [Opera of the Dead; also published as The Voices of the Dead]. Dourado creates a controlled and static environment along the lines of a chemical experiment: a boardinghouse occupied by a domineering matriarch, an attractive young lady and a small girl, into which he injects a foreign element, Gustavo, the confused narrator protagonist. The consequent chain reaction envelops everyone, bringing hitherto inner conflicts, within Gustavo and between and among the others, to an intolerable (and unsustainable) level…. The result is that the matriarch triumphs, the young Iady falls irrevocably under her sinister influence (teia), the martyred child dies … and Gustavo flees by the same door he entered, thus neatly closing the novelette in the exact way it opened….

The same cannot be said for Rodrigo of Sombra e Exílio (1950), Dourado's second work and first novel, whose tragic and pathetic demise, i.e., insanity, comes about only when he finally stops vacillating and acts. Set into a depraved family circle à la Nelson Rodrigues, composed of his widowed mother Marta, unfaithful wife Sílvia and mostly absent brother Artur, a reincarnation of his hated father, and Sílvia's lover, Rodrigo struggles successfully against mental catatonia on the one hand, and an understandable inferiority complex on the other. (p. 611)

In Tempo de Amar (Time to Love, 1952), Dourado's next novel, there is a notable breakthrough on all planes: the author's preferred and persistent character type suddenly becomes three dimensional and refined. He no longer is shown to be what he is, passing from troubled puppet to troubled actor. Setting is now correspondingly less confining and restraining, and Dourado's language less psychopathic. Indeed, the novel's two hundred and fifty pages allow Dourado, for the first time, to develop character creations instead of only atmospheres…. Succeeding novels have built on this ample pattern, as concerns both format and expansiveness of style.

The plot line of Tempo de Amar, taking place in the bustling, varied and colorful town of Cercado Velho, centers around lackadaisical Ismael, who has just returned home after graduating from boarding school, and his difficult integration into Cercado Velho's bourgeois society. Urged on by his father, Ismael reluctantly foregoes his "security blanket" …, exchanging his endless daydreaming there for a boring clerkship. Night hours, though, are spent meandering through town, visiting the local brothel and passing chronic insomnia. Finally … he meets Paula, a bright, attractive, but ill-treated girl who, for his promise of escape from Cercado Velho, has sex with him. Motivated more by cowardice and disinterest than premeditated deceit, Ismael soon ignores Paula…. Now pregnant, Paula decides to leave on her own, nobly refusing to pressure the spineless Ismael for his complicity. In any event, she does decide to invite him, one last time, to leave with her, and start a new life. Predictably, he does not accept…. What starts out as a primarily personal conflict imposed on a collective backdrop ends up inverted: Ismael ceases to be even an ineffective individual, giving further corroboration to Cercado Velho's symbolic significance.

A Barca dos Homens (The Ship of Men, 1961) is conceivably the author's best work, immersed as much in poetic symbolism and allegory as it is in the ubiquitous sea, surrounding the setting: the island of Boa Vista. Personal discord oscillates, at once, among collective, epic, mythical and even mystical confrontations. The end result, however, is quite mundane…. Dourado divides his tragic narrative in half, almost as if to reflect low and high tide…. It is truly the lull before the storm, the precious few hours between when the harmless retard Fortunato flees, falsely accused of stealing a gun, and when he is hunted down in a modern day Crucifiction…. The dozen odd secondary personages simultaneously undergo their own personal dramas: (more) death, birth, sex, disillusionment, bravery, cowardice, escape to freedom. All socioeconomic types are represented, revealed, ridiculed and released, [certain of ultimate disgrace]…. (pp. 612-13)

In 1964, Uma Vida em Segredo … is released, the author's second novelette and a seemingly mineiro version (this is to say, somber and brooding) of Bahian Jorge Amado's picaresque Gabriela, Cravo e Canela. Indeed, even protagonist Biela's real name is Gabriela! Orphaned in adolescence, rustic Biela goes to live in town with her bourgeois cousins, soon obliged to forsake her symbolic vestido de chita or plain cotton dress for "civilized" dress…. In spite of a large inheritance, Biela maintains her kind, unpretentious ways: out comes the vestido de chita, and off she goes to visit local maids, cooks and indigent. So preoccupied with others is she, that both her life and health quickly pass by, her only true love being an abandoned, mistreated dog who gives her waning months unequaled pleasure. The novelette has a certain bitter sweetness to it, like a kind of adult fairy tale: happiness finally comes but it is not everlasting.

Ópera dos Mortos (… 1967), so similar to Teia in its "raw material," yet so superior in style and craftsmanship, molds quite differently its closed environment, two female residents and one male intruder…. [Juca Passarinho] is a carefree, fun-loving hunter, and the antithesis of Rosalina, his troubled, frustrated and class-conscious employer. Out of their mutual and lustful craving come not only a doomed newborn, or even the lovers' insanity, but the predictable if overdue destruction of Rosalina, her family heritage and the mystical awe in which the townspeople have been kept for three generations…. (pp. 613-14)

O Risco do Bordado (The Texture of the Embroidery, 1970), unlike any other of the novelist's works, represents a kind of bridge spanning the hiatus between Dourado's longer fictional pieces, this is to say novels and novelettes, and his short stories…. Dourado's narrative(s) can be taken either as a … novel, or an intertwined and interrelated short story collection. Nevertheless, from the standpoint of content and internal structure (i.e., Dourado's consistent emphasis on his characters' psychological development through adaptations of flow of consciousness), O Risco do Bordado is more akin to a novel. From the outset, background (again, a small mineiro town) plays the most active role found in any of the author's pieces, with the possible exception of A Barca dos Homens, collectively evolving at the same time that João, the pubescent main character, haltingly matures to manhood. In fact, it is his retrospective viewpoint that allows him chronologically to relive seven memorable episodes (chapters) out of his, his family's or the town's past. Consequently, although João's presence in any given episode is assured, he is not always the protagonist. Indeed, due to his timidity, he is more often an investigative observer or ponto de partida, reporting curious accounts as "framed tales" rather than directly participating in them. (pp. 614-15)

The [short stories, Solidão Solitude (Lonely Solitude, 1972)], all sharing the dominant theme of loneliness so evident in the collection title, are themselves further characterized by the common denominator present in each threesome: locale (the beach, a boarding school), viewpoint (first person narrator) and tempus edax rerum. Among the brief pieces is a patchwork of varying lengths, character types, conflicts and reactions. Tone tends to be generally sullen, in conformity with the consistently troubled Dourado archetype; endings usually always compromise the main character; and style proves as sharply analytical as in the case of the author's longer pieces, structural limitations notwithstanding…. In essence, Solidão Solitude comes to be a reduced composite of all the novelist's work.

In its entirety, Autran Dourado's fictional world, so esteemed at home and abroad, crystalizes its many facets around a single duality, complementary and at the same time indivisible: regionalist introspection. Certainly, the psychological development (or deterioration) of his major personages is basic, but they themselves have already been imbued with particular values—values consistently related either to purely telluric or mineiro bonds, to the characters' present physical situation (locale) or, as is often the case, to a combination of both. Through a careful and calculated juggling of this regionalist or ambient affect (i.e., the material), Dourado channels and expands on his characters' psyche (i.e., the spiritual) through to its revealing and usually climactic crescendo. (pp. 615-16)

All the author's works, large and small alike, share this almost Petrarchan concept of point-counterpoint, although it can and should be seen in the larger, thematic context: man's desire, indeed his drive to flee from reality (i.e., from those around him), pitted against the resulting loneliness—in itself, an intolerable situation. This universal pastime of aiming endlessly (and hopelessly) for the change (happiness), or better yet, a metamorphosis, is the dominant motif in Dourado's fictional world…. The escape is persistently there, a psychophysical trek, sometimes into insanity (e.g., in Sombra e Exílio or Ópera dos Mortos), but more often into fantasy. (p. 616)

Sex, be it hetero- or homosexual, is a flight from reality open to all Dourado's characters, but it is sex without love (happiness) and therefore ephemeral in the relief it provides from reality…. Indeed, only love seems both to assuage a harsh reality and end loneliness, something out of reach in Dourado's world. It is an impossibility attained only once, for Biela of Uma Vida em Segredo, and all because of a dog. The implication is that of misanthropy. (pp. 617-18)

Dourado's archetype, while not evil in the sense of original sin, is inherently petty and selfish. He cannot seem to find what he is searching for (or fleeing to) because he is too engrossed in his own egocentricity…. Out of this egoistic confusion, of course, the novelist encounters the raw materials so indispensable for the psychological analyses which all his works turn out to be.

Dourado's is an endless, repetitive and cyclical drama, and for this reason he deliberately leaves protagonists and settings openended: few definitive decisions are taken, and even when they are, they seem to preview a still more tortuous mental pilgrimage…. Laced with interior duplications, the novelist's stories do not stop, but rather return to the timelessness so prevalent at their beginnings. It is the same revolving door which begins and ends Teia; the same brothel, physically present at the outset of O Risco do Bordado, whose memory is again evoked at novel's end. Indeed, time, per se, is only incidental to Dourado's works, more a part of the distorted and distorting minds of the protagonists than a gauge for plot development. Timelessness is, in itself, universality; and it is precisely Autran Dourado's ability to project universal patterns of human behavior while focusing on introspective individuals that makes him one of Brazil's leading fictionists. (pp. 618-19)

Malcolm Silverman, "Autran Dourado and the Introspective-Regionalist Novel" (reprinted by permission of the author), in Revue des Langues Vivantes, Vol. XLII, No. 6, 1976, pp. 609-19.

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