Academic journal article Romance Notes

Dream or Delirium? Revisiting the Ages in Eca and Machado

Academic journal article Romance Notes

Dream or Delirium? Revisiting the Ages in Eca and Machado

Article excerpt

Eca de Queiros's recourse to the "diaphanous veil of fantasy" introduced in novels of the 1880s, O Mandarim (1880) and A Reliquia (1887), finds a counterpart in Machado de Assis's first major novel of the same decade, Memorias Postumas de Bras Cubas (1880-81). The two authors were aware of each other's work, documented by Machado's sharp critique of characterization and motivation in O Primo Basilio (in O Cruzeiro, April 16, 1878). As if to suggest a further oceanic dialogue between the two great Luso-Brazilian novelists, A Reliquia was first published in the Rio de Janeiro journal Gazeta de Noticias in 1887, the same year of its publication as a book in Portugal. After 1880, according to Machado da Rosa, Eca explored the oneiric experiences of his characters and in the process enlarged the frame of conscious reality: "Talvez que a sua maior originalidade resida na integracao do subconsciente com a consciencia da personagem, feita sob um plano em que as fronteiras da realidade externa se enredam no mundo da fantasia, sem contudo perderem as suas linhas prosaicas..." (Rosa 199). Oneiric versatility is equally an innovative, even experimental feature in Machado's Memorias Postumas. The striking similarities of Bras Cubas's "delirium" with the dream sequences of Teodorico Raposo in A Reliquia offer an illuminating counterpoint in the use and meaning of scenes of imagination and dreams and their role in the art of the nineteenth-century realist novel. Duilio da Gama, a Brazilian diplomat who frequented Eca's house in Paris, confirmed the Portuguese writer's special fascination with Machado's oneiric episode:

... uma das especialidades de Eca como 'entertainer' na sua casa de Neuilly, nos arredores de Paris, durante a decada de 90, era a recitacao memorizada do Capitulo VII, 'O Delirio,' da obra de Machado, Memorias Postumas de Bras Cubas. Eca conhecia-o de cor. Nas palavras de uma testamunha de uma exibicao do mestre actor/comediante que Eca seguramente era, ele 'gostava de o declamar pausadamente, com inflexoes estudadas, que sublinhava e esclarecia, com um comentario, as passagens de mais apurada analise psicologica ou da mais subtil ironia.' (Lyra 199-200)

What the fantasies in each novel most have in common is a universal re-visitation of the ages, placing the unsuspecting narrator in an abnormal reality with a privileged perspective on the theater of human history, described by Oscar Lopes as an "... amplo e imaginoso distanciamento historico e geografico" (83). Both create an aura of hallucination treated by the narrator with sarcastic and intense irony, contradicting the normal sense of reality in the attempt to reconstruct both personal and historical consciousness. Dreams are incorporated into Eca's and Machado's novels as a new counterpoint to descriptive realism, as Lopes comments: "Tanto em A Reliquia, escrita desde 1884, como mais tarde em A Ilustre Casa de Ramires (1900), o naturalismo das notacoes contemporaneas tem uma importante contrapartida de sonho, polarizada num subenredo que se insere na intriga principal" (85).

TRAVELING BACK IN TIME

Bras Cubas' "Delirium" (Chapter VII) consists of a hallucinatory trip back through the centuries, involving magical perspectives, moral critique, and metamorphosis. In an uncanny parallel to Eca's novel of the same year, Bras first took the form of a Chinese barber shaving a mandarin, who mistreated him, before his body was transformed into a morocco-bound volume of St. Thomas Aquinas's Summa Theologica. Restored to human form, he was carried off by a hippopotamus on a furious ride to the origin of the centuries. The delirium is considered by Benedito Nunes to be one of three exemplary moments in Machado, all involving metaphor or fantasy, in which the author's fiction becomes a form of thought, absorbing and restating philosophies aesthetically. (1) The chapter mixes the skepticism of Montaigne with Pascal's sense of the tragic; yet the delirium belittles philosophy with derisive laughter and irony. …

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