The Nation's Narrative. Literature as Urban and Social Transformations: Testimony in Belle ÉPoque Rio De Janeiro

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"Nations - wrote Gellner - unlike the brotherhood of man favoured by the Enlightenment, are exclusive clubs" (Gellner, 1997:68). This exclusive club allegory may be applied to the Republican Regime installed in 1889 in Brazil, which would put into practice and would intensify the elite's power project implanted since 1822, after the country's independence. By the use of well succeeded strategies, popular masses were excluded from politics and were seen as dangerous and antagonists of the State, despite the fact of being constituted by the country's inhabitants. For them it was restrained a similar treatment appropriated for a foreign enemy. Not being recognized in their alterity, they were targeted by discursive operations produced by the elite which applied scientific knowledge to reach this aim. They were tutored and stigmatized by their bestiality, under the rubric of complete incapacity for citizenship. These masses were constituted in its majority by ex-slaves from African origin and mixed race people. Even the whites, or nearly, white when poor, all depended on elite's favors and clientelism. The slaves, freed on 13th May 1888, were impeded from participating in the political process, among other causes, as a consequence of the electoral law from 1881, which also limited the right of vote just for the literate people reducing the amount of electors from 10% to 1% in a total population of approximately of 14 million (de Carvalho, 1990:24). Despite being in freedom after the Republic was declared, they were impeded from voting or being elected; therefore being more and more distant from formal citizenship. In the present paper, we analyze different social origins writers' narratives engraved during the Belle Époque. Their vision of reality reflects their aspirations, frustrations, perspectives, belongings and refusals despite applying very different approaches. They represent their time, in which they are passive actors. Many times they reveal their preference for one side. According to Certeau's heterology and Laura de Arriba's words, the speech about the other is shown filled with meanings, being a place where readings and knowledge interact, and where politics of action on the real are founded (de Arriba, 2004:57). The result is the production of a narrative that reflects the nation in its contradictions, revelations and occultations. Their narratives scenery is the city of Rio de Janeiro, capital of a country which, until then, was predominantly rural. A country where slaverism and physiocracy were the elite's traditional speeches, added to the maintenance of big extensions of cultivated land where their externalized production aimed North-American and European consumption. Hence, our corpus is composed by texts from writers such as João do Rio, Gonzaga Duque, Machado de Assis and the Portuguese, Eça de Queiroz. Among them, the quadroon Afonso Henriques Lima Barreto's work will be specially highlighted. Due to his origin and his writing, he was despised and discredited by the elite and ended his days in poverty, forgetness, deeply plunged in depression and alcoholism. He would frequently denounce the elites' countermands, as well as the lack of citizenship able to bind together different national segments. His more emblematic works under this critical and incisive condition were Triste fini de Policarpo Quaresma (1911), Recordações do escrivão Isaías Caminha (1909), Vida e Morte de M. J. Conçalves de Sá (1919). We are applying Michel de Certeau's notions of cunningness and practice as well as the attempts to find in these texts a narrative of a nation which, according to Bhabba, may be able to enlight this literature analysis as a witness of its time.


After the proclamation of the republic, the composition of Rio de Janeiro city adopted a quite heterogeneous profile; despite it went on being nominally the capital of a country with continental dimensions, it was impeded to reverberate the national problems and supplies. …