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       Quincas Borba, p.1

           Machado De Assis
Quincas Borba



  General Editor

  Jean Franco

  Series Editor for Brazil

  Richard Graham, with the assistance of Alfredo Bosi

  Editorial Board

  Antonio Cornejo Polar

  Tulio Halperín Donghi

  Iván Jaksić

  Naomi Lindstrom

  Eduardo Lozano

  Francine Masiello


  A Novel by


  Translated from the Portuguese by




  Oxford University Press

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  Copyright © 1998 by Oxford University Press

  First published by Oxford University Press, Inc., 1998

  First issued as an Oxford University Press paperback, 1999

  Oxford is a registered trademark of Oxford University Press

  All rights reserved. No part of this publication may be reproduced,

  stored in a retrieval system, or transmitted, in any form or by any means,

  electronic, mechanical, photocopying, recording, or otherwise,

  without the prior permission of Oxford University Press.

  Library of Congress Cataloging–in–Publication Data

  [Quincas Borba. English]

  Quincas Borba / a novel by Joaquim Maria Machado de Assis:

  translated by Gregory Rabassa : with an introduction by David T.

  Haberly: and an afterword by Celso Favaretto.

  p. cm. —(Library of Latin America)

  Includes bibliographical references.

  ISBN o–19–510681–4

  ISBN 0–19–510682–2 (Pbk.)

  I. Rabassa, Gregory, II. Tide. III. Series.

  PQ9697.MI8Q5I3 1998

  869.3—deal 97–27706

  1 3 5 7 9 1 0 8 6 4 2

  Printed in the United States of America


  Series Editors’ General Introduction



  Quincas Borba




  Series Editors’ General Introduction

  The Library of Latin America series makes available in translation major nineteenth–century authors whose work has been neglected in the English–speaking world. The titles for the translations from the Spanish and Portuguese were suggested by an editorial committee that included Jean Franco (general editor responsible for works in Spanish), Richard Graham (series editor responsible for works in Portuguese), Tulio Halperín Donghi (at the University of California, Berkeley), Iván Jaksić (at the University of Notre Dame), Naomi Lindstrom (at the University of Texas at Austin), Francine Masiello (at the University of California, Berkeley), and Eduardo Lozano of the Library at the University of Pittsburgh. The late Antonio Cornejo Polar of the University of California, Berkeley, was also one of the founding members of the committee. The translations have been funded thanks to the generosity of the Lampadia Foundation and the Andrew W. Mellon Foundation.

  During the period of national formation between 1810 and into the early years of the twentieth century, the new nations of Latin America fashioned their identities, drew up constitutions, engaged in bitter struggles over territory, arid debated questions of education, government, ethnicity, and culture. This was a unique period unlike the process of nation formation in Europe and one which should be more familiar than it is to students of comparative politics, history, and literature.

  The image of the nation was envisioned by the lettered classes—a minority in countries in which indigenous, mestizo, black, or mulatto peasants and slaves predominated—although there were also alternative nationalisms at the grassroots level. The cultural elite were well educated in European thought and letters, but as statesmen, journalists, poets, and academics, they confronted the problem of the racial and linguistic heterogeneity of the continent and the difficulties of integrating the population into a modern nation-state. Some of the writers whose works will be translated in the Library of Latin America series played leading roles in politics. Fray Servando Teresa de Mier, a friar who translated Rousseau’s The Social Contract and was one of the most colorful characters of the independence period, was faced with imprisonment and expulsion from Mexico for his heterodox beliefs; on his return, after independence, he was elected to the congress. Domingo Faustino Sarmiento, exiled from his native Argentina under the presidency of Rosas, wrote Facundo: Civilización y barbarie, a stinging denunciation of that government. He returned after Rosas’ overthrow and was elected president in 1868. Andrés Bello was born in Venezuela, lived in London where he published poetry during the independence period, settled in Chile where he founded the University, wrote his grammar of the Spanish language, and drew up the country’s legal code.

  These post-independence intelligentsia were not simply dreaming castles in the air, but vitally contributed to the founding of nations and the shaping of culture. The advantage of hindsight may make us aware of problems they themselves did not foresee, but this should not affect our assessment of their truly astonishing energies and achievements. It is still surprising that the writing of Andrés Bello, who contributed fundamental works to so many different fields, has never been translated into English. Although there is a recent translation of Sarmiento’s celebrated Facundo, there is no translation of his memoirs, Recuerdos de provincia (Provincial Recollections). The predominance of memoirs in the Library of Latin America series is no accident—many of these offer entertaining insights into a vast and complex continent.

  Nor have we neglected the novel. The series includes new translations of the outstanding Brazilian writer Joaquim Maria Machado de Assis’ work, including Dom Casmurro and The Posthumous Memoirs of Brás Cubas. There is no reason why other novels and writers who are not so well known outside Latin America—the Peruvian novelist Clorinda Matto de Turner’s Aves sin nido, Nataniel Agame’s Juan de la Rosa, José de Alencar’s Iracema, Juana Manuela Gorriti’s short stories—should not be read with as much interest as the political novels of Anthony Trollope.

  A series on nineteenth-century Latin America cannot, however, be limited to literary genres such as the novel, the poem, and the short story. The literature of independent Latin America was eclectic and strongly influenced by the periodical press newly liberated from scrutiny by colonial authorities and the Inquisition. Newspapers were miscellanies of fiction, essays, poems, and translations from all manner of European writing. The novels written on the eve of Mexican Independence by José Joaquin Fernandez de Lizardi included disquisitions on secular education and law, and denunciations of the evils of gaming and idleness. Other works, such as a well-known poem by Andrés Bello, “Ode to Tropical Agriculture,” and novels such as Amalia by José Marmol and the Bolivian Nataniel A.gaiire’s Juan de la Rosa, were openly partisan. By the end of the century, sophisticated scholars were beginning to address the history of their countries, as did João Capistrano de Abreu in his Capítulos de história colonial.

  It is often in memoirs such as those by Fray Servando Teresa de Mier or Sarmiento that we find the descriptions of everyday life that in Europe were incorporated i
nto the realist novel. Latin American literature at this time was seen largely as a pedagogical tool, a “light” alternative to speeches, sermons, and philosophical tracts—though, in fact, especially in the early part of the century, even the readership for novels was quite small because of the high rate of illiteracy. Nevertheless, the vigorous orally transmitted culture of the gaucho and the urban underclasses became the linguistic repertoire of some of the most interesting nineteenth-century writers—most notably José Hernández, author of the “gauchesque” poem “Martin Fierro,” which enjoyed an unparalleled popularity. But for many writers the task was not to appropriate popular language but to civilize, and their literary works were strongly influenced by the high style of political oratory.

  The editorial committee has not attempted to limit its selection to the better-known writers such as Machado de Assis; it has also selected many works that have never appeared in translation or writers whose work has not been translated recently. The series now makes these works available to the English-speaking public.

  Because of the preferences of funding organizations, the series initially focuses on writing from Brazil, the Southern Cone, the Andean region, and Mexico. Each of our editions will have an introduction that places the work in its appropriate context and includes explanatory notes.

  We owe special thanks to Robert Glynn of the Lampadia Foundation, whose initiative gave the project a jump start, and to Richard Ekman of the Andrew W. Mellon Foundation, which also generously supported the project. We also thank the Rockefeller Foundation for funding the 1996 symposium “Culture and Nation in Iberoamerica,” organized by the editorial board of the Library of Latin America. We received substantial institutional support and personal encouragement from the Institute of Latin American Studies of the University of Texas at Austin. The support of Edward Barry of Oxford University Press has been crucial, as has the advice and help of Ellen Chodosh of Oxford University Press. The first volumes of the series were published after the untimely death, on July 3,1997, of Maria C. Bulle, who, as an associate of the Lampadia Foundation, supported the idea from its beginning.

  —Jean Franco

  —Richard Graham


  Joaquim Maria de Machado de Assis (1839–1908) is the greatest nineteenth–century novelist of Latin America and one of the most remarkable literary talents to appear in the Americas as a whole. His most important fictions are complex and highly original texts that were carefully and deviously designed to be open to multiple interpretation. As Antônio Cândido noted in 1970, Machado’s major texts are so rich in potential meanings that successive generations of critics have found in these works “their own obsessions, their own ideas of what must be expressed.”1

  Machado’s major novels, including Quincas Borba (1891), often strike English–speaking readers as at once comfortably familiar and disquietingly alien. We recognize the narrative voice, discursive, descriptive, and often intrusive, as one we have encountered in British and French novels of the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries. Machado, despite his relative isolation in a nation on the fringes of nineteenth–century Western culture, immersed himself in the European fictional tradition; Laurence Sterne was Machado’s favorite novelist and one of his primary models, but echoes of a great many other novelists can be found everywhere in his texts. In the case of Quincas Borba, for example, Sofia owes a great deal to Emma Bovary. Because we are familiar with at least some of the European novels Machado relied upon to create his own fictions, we recognize both some of his basic plot elements—the quest for a socially suitable spouse and even, perhaps, a happy marriage; the struggle to move upwards in society or, at the very least, to hold on to status and respectability. Moreover, Machado’s characters play out their dramas surrounded by carefully described artifacts, almost all imported from Europe. Beyond this, Machado’s various narrators constantly refer to both major and minor figures from the whole sweep of European cultural history, reflecting the profound and remarkable knowledge of Classical and Renaissance literature of a self-educated Brazilian who never traveled more than a few hundred miles from Rio de Janeiro.

  At the same time, there are many elements in Machado’s texts that fall considerably outside both the European cultural tradition and our own experiences and expectations as readers of eighteenth- and nineteenth-century European fiction. To suggest but a few examples, the stars Machado’s characters contemplate, in moments of passion or despair, are the constellations of the Southern Hemisphere. In Quincas Borba, Sofia tends her roses—but outside the walls of her garden lies Brazilian nature in all its lush exoticism, a nature that has survived intact, in at least a few areas of the city, despite the nineteenth-century urbanization of Rio de Janeiro. Machado’s novels deal at some length with the politics and personalities of the Brazilian Empire, an Empire about which most English-speaking readers know very little. And while Cristiano Palha assures Rubião, in the first chapters of Quincas Borba, that Rio de Janeiro is fast becoming a South American Paris or London, it is impossible to read this novel without realizing that imperial Brazilian society, despite its architectural imitations and imported European artifacts, was very different indeed from that of nineteenth-century France or England. Many of the most striking differences do not appear overtly in the text, largely because Machado and his readers took them so much for granted; those differences—the oppressive heat, the tropical diseases, the filth and squalor of much of the city, the omnipresent poverty, the African origins of the great majority of Rio’s population—can better be seen in contemporary photographs and in the narratives and drawings of European and North American visitors. But one absolutely essential difference does appear in Quincas Borba, and is here described more openly and in greater detail than in any of Machado’s other novels: while Rubião takes Cristiano Palha’s advice and hires European servants, hidden behind the kitchen door is Rubião’s black slave—symbolic of the hundreds of thousands of black slaves who served imperial Brazil until the abolition of slavery in 1888.

  The alien quality of Machado’s fiction, however, extends beyond these differences in setting and social context into the nature of the text itself, as the novelist alters or ignores the ground rules of nineteenth-century European Realism. The stars are not simply a different set of heavenly bodies; they look back down at Machado’s characters and, sometimes, comment upon those characters. The European roses in Sofia’s garden converse with each other, discussing her character and actions. A major character in Quincas Borba is a dog of the same name, who may or may not be the reincarnation of a philosopher named Quincas Borba. The erudite narrator of the novel occasionally inverts or even perverts his references to the European classics, transforming them in bizarre ways; for example, a quote from Hamlet (“There are more things on heaven and Earth, Horatio, than are dreamt of in your philosophy”) appears in several whimsical and almost incomprehensible variations. The voice of that narrator, moreover, is often extreme, referring to the novel’s characters—and to us, his readers—with sarcasm and patronizing condescension. A good many of the very brief chapters into which the narrator’s text is divided do not appear to be directly related to the action; the narrator uses some of those chapters to reflect at some length upon the nature of his text, upon his defects as a narrator and our defects as readers, upon the problems inherent in any attempt to portray reality. Above all, careful readers of Quincas Borba come to realize that the novel’s third-person omniscient narrator is, like all of the narrators of Machado’s greatest novels, utterly unreliable.

  Readers wishing to approach Quincas Borba entirely on its own terms, fully experiencing the text within the context of their own reactions—and, quoting Antônio Cândido again, “their own obsessions” —should stop here and go directly to Machado’s novel; Celso Favaretto’s Afterword and the rest of this Foreword can be read later. Those, on the other hand, who wish to first find out a bit more about the novel’s social and historical context, about its structure, and about
a few possible interpretations of the text should read on—but should also be aware that any discussion of the novel necessarily gives away large chunks of the plot and that, further, in Machado’s fictional universe any attempt to construct a single interpretation of any phenomenon is prima facie evidence of mental instability.

  * * *

  QUINCAS BORBA WAS SERIALIZED in a women’s magazine, A Estaçāo, between 1886 and 1891, but was considerably revised before its final publication in 1891.2 We can only guess at what contemporary Brazilian readers made of the text, for one of the curiosities of Machado’s career is that his major novels, which sold very well and established his reputation as Brazil’s greatest writer, were almost never reviewed. Two phrases in one review of Quincas Borba, by Tristão de Alencar Araripe Júnior, nonetheless suggest that at least a few of Machado’s readers did read the novel in ways not dissimilar from modern interpretations of the text. Araripe Júnior, first, posed a basic question about Rubião, the novel’s central figure: “Can anyone say,” he asked, “that this character is not Brazil?” Secondly, Araripe Jünior described Rubião as “the stalking–horse for the rage of a philosopher hiding in the bushes.”3

  Let us turn first to the idea, suggested by Araripe’s rhetorical question, of Quincãs Borba as allegory. A modern critic, John Gledson, has argued that Rubião is an allegorical representation of Pedro II, ruler of Brazil from 1831 to 1889.4 There is certainly considerable evidence within the text to support this view. For example, Rubião’s full name, Pedro Rubião de Alvarenga, is very close to the Emperor’s given name, Pedro de Alcântara. Rubião first meets the Palhas on the Pedro Segundo Railway, and his later fantasies that he is Napoleon III of France draw heavily upon real or imagined details of life in the Brazilian Court and can be read as a carefully oblique attack on Pedro II’s pretensions to imperial status.

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