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||José Maria Eça de Queirós (1846-1900)|
Novelist and short-story writer, one of the leading intellectuals of the 'Generation of 1870'. Eça de Queirós introduced naturalism and realism to Portuguese literature. He is considered the major novelist of his generation. The French writer Emile Zola admired him greatly and said that Eça was "greater than Flaubert".
"Happiness would arrive one day and to hasten its arrival I did everything that a good Portuguese and a constitutionalist could do: I prayed every night to Our Lady of Sorrows and bought lottery tickets, the cheapest available." (from The Mandarin, 1880)
José Maria Eça de Queirós was born in Póvoa de Varzim, a small fishing town. He was the illegitimate son of a prominent Brazilian judge, Maria de Almeida Teixeira de Queiroz. His mother and grandmother had moved to Póvoa de Varzim in order to keep the her pregnancy a secret. Formally Eça de Queirós was not acknowledged by his parents until he was in his forties. With his father's support he was able to study at the University of Coimbra. Originally Eça's name was spelled Queiroz, but after the spelling of Portuguese was standardized with an agreement with Brazil, the name is now Queiros.
Eça de Queirós was raised by his paternal grandparents, even after his father had married Carolina Augusta Pereira d'Eca, who was most likely his mother. At the age of five he was sent to a boarding school in Oporto. He studied law at the University of Coimbra and after graduation his father helped him make a start in legal profession. Eça de Queirós spent most of his life in the consular service. He worked in the 1870s and 1880s in diplomatic missions in Havana and in Victorian London. At the age of forty-one, he married Emília de Resende, the sister of his friend Count Luís Resende. In the late 1880s, Eça de Queirós founded with others Revista de Portugal which appeared in 1889-92. In 1888, he was appointed consul in Paris, where he served until his death.
In 1871 Eça de Queirós started to publish with Ramalho Origão (1837-1915) a monthly journal, As Farpas, which satirized Portuguese life. During these years Eça de Queirós became closely associated with the "Generation of Coimbra". The group was committed to social and artistic reforms. After the civil war of 1828-1834, Portugal was politically and economically dependent on Great Britain and culturally dominated by France. Eça and other members of the group wanted to replace the conventional literary traditions with literature dealing with the contemporary issues."Over the railroads that had opened the peninsula," he wrote, "whole waves of new things descended upon us every day from France, and Germany by way of France: ideas, aesthetic systems, forms, sentiments, humanitarian concerns."
Eça de Queirós's work is characterized by ironic tone and social criticism. His best known novel, O Crime do Padre Amaro (1875), was based on his experiences as a municipal official in the province of Leiria. The protagonist is a priest, Father Amaro. Eça follows his life from his youth to middle age, satirizing in his character clerical corruption and the destructive effects of celibacy. The story is set in a provincial town, which is described in a harsh light: "In the row of poor dwellings at the side of the Archway, the old women sat at their doors, spinning; the dirty, ill-nourished children played on the ground, showing their nude, swollen bellies; and the hens went round voraciously picking among the dirt and filth. Round the fountain all was noise; vessels were dragged over the stones, servants abused one another, soldiers in dirty uniforms and enormous laced down-at-heel boots waved their malacca canes and made love; girls with fat-paunched pitchers on their heads walked in pairs swinging their hips; two lazy officers, with their uniforms unbuttoned and hanging loose over their stomachs, chatted together as they waited to see who might arrive."
O Primo Basilio (1878) was a Flaubertian study of a middle-class Lisbon family and focused on adultery. The novel has been praised for its female characters - the romantic and sensual Luiza, who falls in love with her cousin Bazilio; and Luiza's servant, Juliana, embittered and virginal, who scorns her. Eça doesn't condemn the cheating wife or the blackmailing servant - he shows much understanding to human weaknesses as in the character of Father Amaro. Os Maias (1880) depicted upper-class life and the degeneration of an old Beira family, the Maias, through the love affair between Carlos, the grandson of Alfonso de Maia, and Maria Eduarda, who turns out to be not the wife of a wealthy Brazilian, Castro Gomes, but his mistress. The ironic or tragic destines of the characters reflect ideological, cultural and political development in Portugal from the beginning of the nineteenth century to the mid-1880's.
In 1889-1890 the Revista de Portugal published Eça de Queirós's free translation of Henry Rider Haggard's imperial romance King Solomon's Mines under the title As Minas de Salomão. The translation appeared in book form in 1891. Perhaps for political reasons, Eça de Queiró toned down in his version Haggard's critical remarks on the Portuguese presence in Africa.
Eça de Queirós's naturalism and attacks on religious hypocrisy and defects of the elite arose much controversy, and he was called the "Portuguese Zola." Eça himself loved Balzac and Flaubet, and the France they portrayed, well aware of its fictional nature. In O Mandarim (1880) Eça de Queirós moved from naturalism toward a new aesthetic form and gave more space to the interaction between the reality and the free flight of imagination. "... rest a while from the harsh study of human reality. Let us depart instead for the fields of Dreams and wander those blue, romantic hills where stands the abandoned tower of the Supernatural, where cool mosses clothe the ruins of Idealism. Let us, in short, indulge in a little fantasy."
A Relíquia (1887) was a provicative story of religious hypocrisy and truth. Its writing coincided with his marriage and drew on the travels with his wife's brother to Egypt and the Near East. The young Teodorico Raposo is a Christian Bachelor of Law, an opportunist and an obsessed hunter of women. His wealthy Aunt Titi, whom he tries to please, is a fetish-loving Catholic. Teodorico hangs on the walls pictures of saints, "as a gallery of spiritual ancestors from whom I received a constant example in the difficult path of virtue." He is sent Jerusalem to acquire a healing relic for his aunt, but lands first on Alexandria, where he meets the German scholar Topsius, and Mary, an English whore. Aboard the Shark, bound from Aleksandria to Jaffa, he has a vision of the Ascension, the Christ, the Devil, and the furious Auntie with her prayer-book. Teodorico comforts Lucifer: "Never mind, there will be plenty of pride and dissolution and blood and fury in the world. Do not regret the holocaust of Moloch. You shall have holocaust of Jews." In the Holy Land he is transported back in time as Theodoricus, a Lusitanian, with his companion, Dr. Topsius. He sees Jesus the Nazareth before the Praetor, and witnesses the crucifixion. The still-living Jesus is smuggled from the cross into a grave, and after adventures Teodorico returns back to his own century. Jerusalem, "the shining citadel of a god", on the eve of the Passover, has become "sombre, packed with monasteries and crouched behind its crumbling walls, like a poor, flea ridden woman who crawls into a corner to die, wrapped in the ragged remnants of her cloak." Instead of the Crown of Thorns, Teodorico gives accidentally Auntie another souvenier from his voyage, Mary's night-dress. "One hails Eça de Queiroz, to give him his true name, as a master who in The Relic has done the improbable," wrote the American literature critic Harold Bloom. "He has united Voltaire and Robert Louis Stevenson in a single body, and given us a general romance that is also a superb satire, a unique literary triumph." (from Genius, 2002)
Eça de Queirós died of tuberculosis in Paris on August 16, 1900. Posthumously appeared A ilustre Casa de Ramires (1900), a story of a decacent aristocrat, Goncalo Mendes Ramires, the most genuine and ancient nobleman in Portugal, who writes a historical novel about his ancestors. A correspondência de Fradique Mendes (1900) was a study of Portugal's past and the simple life in the countryside. In A Cidade e as Serras (1901) a rich young man enjoys in Paris from all the pleasures that a modern society can offer. Eventually his moral crisis leads him back to his rural surroundings. "Persistently I considered her as a flower of 'Civilisation' - and I thought of the centuries of toil, refinement and culture that were required to produce the soil from which such a flower could bud, and then bloom fully..." Eça de Queirós's romantic early writings, collected under the title Prosas Bárbaras (1903), showed his lyrical and ironic prose style at its best.
For further reading: 'Versions of the imperial romance: King Solomon's Mines and As Minas de Salomao' by Alan Freeland, in Portuguese Studies (Spring, 2007); A tertulia ocidental: estudos sobre Antero de Quental, Oliveira Martins, Eça de Queiroz e outros by António José Saraiva (1995); Dicionario de Eca de Queiroz, ed. by A. Campos Matos (1993); Introdução á leitura d'Os Maias by Carlos Reis (1986); Eca De Queiros and the European Realism by Alexander Coleman (1980); Eça de Queiroz e a questao social by Jaime Cortesão (1970) - Suomeksi kirjailijalta on käännetty tekstikatkelma teoksessa Espanjan ja Portugalin kirjallisuuden kultainen kirja, toim. Tyyni Tuulio (1953)