The Trilogy of Machado de Assis: Prophet of Coldness and Cynicism

When it comes to Brazilian literature, the first name that comes to one’s mind is Joaquim Maria Machado de Assis, or as he is usually called, Machado de Assis. He was without doubt the greatest and most important Brazilian writer. Born June 21, 1839 in Rio de Janeiro (he died in September 29, 1908), Machado experienced an important Brazilian historical moment: the transformation of the Empire into a Republic.

Machado de Assis was born poor, but that did not stop him from achieving glory during his lifetime. Even though he hardly ever attended schools or universities, Machado stood out from the rest thanks to his enormous intellectual capacity. He held various public offices and managed notoriety writing for newspapers, which published his chronicles and poetry.

Although the beginning of his literary work had a strong influence of Romanticism, his work soon became the name of the main Brazilian Realism. The “realistic” style  sought not only to entertain readers, but divert their attention to the problems that faced society.

In this sense, Machado de Assis surpassed even the ‘realistic’ style of writing. With his nine novels and plays, in addition to 200 stories (he was also a poet, but the quality of his poetry can not be compared to the quality of his novels), he was able to influence an entire generation through his acrid comments and coldly analytical vision of reality. His remarks on the personality of his characters, full of coldness and cynicism, extrapolated everything that any other writer had done so far. This is one of the highlights in his works, together with a description of nineteenth century Rio de Janeiro.

Three of his works are highly acknowledged: “Posthumous Memoirs of Brás Cubas”, “Dom Casmurro (Lord Taciturn)” and “Quincas Borba.” They form a “trilogy” of Machado de Assis. An interesting and essential factor that should be noted in these three major literary works is the fact that there is a love triangle in all of them.

 A brief presentation of the main works of Machado de Assis

Posthumous Memoirs of Brás Cubas

“The Posthumous Memoirs of Brás Cubas” is a unparalleled novel in Brazilian Literature. Controversial when it was released, the novel gradually won public sympathy.

What causes controversy in this work is the fact that it does not have a linear narrative: the narrator begins to tell his story during his funeral. It is an autobiography narrated in the first person and topics such as slavery, the relationship of social classes, adultery and positivism are themes that are explored by the narrator.

Brás Cubas is both the hero and the villain of the story (comments on the other characters range from pure cynicism to black humor). Another factor that should be mentioned is that the work is fragmented, breaking the patterns of the realistic style in vogue at the time and is considered the first great narrative of Brazil.

  Dom Casmurro (Lord Taciturn)

“Dom Casmurro” is also narrated in first person by Bento Santiago (the protagonist) and is a true classic of Brazilian literature.

It is considered by many as the supreme work of Machado de Assis and was interpreted by various forms of knowledge: Psychology, Sociology, Philosophy and Psychoanalysis. The interpretations of this work has changed over the years due to the author’s storytelling ability, which is timeless.

Bento Santiago (or as it’s called in the book “Bento”) tells the story of his marriage to Capitu, making an analysis of social relations in Rio de Janeiro during the Empire. The problem begins when Bentinho begins to believe that his wife had an affair with Escobar (his best friend). Suspicions increase as his son looks a lot like Escobar and also the way Capitu reacts at the funeral of Escobar.

In this sense, one can say that there is a certain intertextuality with “Othello” by Shakespeare. The fixation with Capitu’s possible adultery begins to dominate the character to the point that he “ignores” the death of his own son.

“Dom Casmurro” is considered one of the most important and influential books of the Portuguese Language.

Quincas Borba

“Quincas Borba” is a curiosity. The name of the book is not the name of the protagonist, but that of a hypothetical philosopher named Quincas Borba and his dog.

Rubião Pedro de Alvarenga, or simply Rubião, receives an inheritance of the philosopher and decides to move to Rio de Janeiro. There, he meets Cristiano Almeida e Palha and his wife Sofia. Rubião, who was naive, ends up being manipulated by the couple and also falls for Sofia. Rubião declares his love for Sofia who does not like it and complains to her husband, but Cristiano ignores his wife because he wanted to appropriate the wealth of Rubião. The unrequited love eventually leads the protagonist to madness.

In this book there is a parody of scientism, criticizing the positivist thinking of the time. Sociologically speaking, this book allows the analysis of various aspects of the human condition.

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