Machado de Assis
Joaquim Maria Machado de Assis (1839-1908) is considered the greatest Brazilian writer of all times. He was a poet, novelist, and short story writer, a classic master of Brazilian and world literature, whose art is rooted in the traditions of European culture and transcends the influence of Brazilian literary schools. He was born in 1839 in Rio de Janeiro, to a house painter of mixed black and Portuguese ancestry, and was raised, after his mother’s death, by a stepmother, also of mixed parentage. Sickly, epileptic and a stutterer, he found employment at the age of 17 as a printer’s apprentice and began to write in his spare time. Soon he was publishing stories, poems, and novels in the Romantic tradition. By the age of 30, he was a typically successful Brazilian man of letters, comfortably provided for by a government position and happily married to a cultured woman, Carolina Augusta Xavier de Novais. In that year illness forced him to withdraw from his active career. He emerged from this temporary retreat with a new novel in a strikingly original style that marked a clear break with the literary conventions of the day. This was Memórias póstumas de Brás Cubas (1881), an eccentric first-person narrative with a flow of free association and digression. Machado’s reputation now rests on this work, his short stories, and two later novels, Quincas borba (1891) and his masterpiece, Dom Casmurro (1899) – a haunting and terrible journey into a mind warped by jealousy. Urbane, aristocratic, cosmopolitan, aloof, and cynical, de Assis ignored such social questions as Brazilian independence and the abolition of slavery. He failed to share Brazilian enthusiasm for local color and self-conscious nationalism. The locale of his fiction is usually Rio, which he takes for granted as though there was no other place. The natural world is practically nonexistent in his work. He writes with a deep-rooted pessimism and disillusionment that would be unbearable were it not disguised by flippancy and wit. He became the first president of the Brazilian Academy of Letters in 1896 and held the office until his death.