Today viewed as an important novelist in Brazil, Clarice Lispector received little popular attention early in her career and was brought to international attention by the feminist theorist Hélène Cixous. Though there are some discrepancies concerning her birth year, 1925 is generally accepted as the year of Lispector's birth in Ukraine. Her Jewish parents immigrated to Brazil shortly after her birth, and
Lispector was educated in and wrote in Portuguese. Lispector earned a degree in law, married another law student, and had two sons. After the dissolution of her marriage, Lispector lived in Rio de Janeiro until her death from cancer in 1977. Lispector's first novel, Near to the Wild Heart (1944), was written when she was only nineteen, but it has retained an important place in her body of work and in the general modernist canon. She takes her title from a line in James Joyce's A Portrait of the Artist as a Young Man, and certainly her style shares many modernist conventions, such as stream of consciousness, internalized intellectualism, and narrative discontinuity. Lispector's main character, Joana, is a lonely and precocious child abandoned by her mother and largely ignored by her father. The first chapter ends with the question, “What's to become of Joana?” and establishes the narrative angst of the novel (15).
Part I of the novel opens with Joana's childhood experiences and moves to her marriage. As a child, Joana is aware of her own creativity, a “restrained force, ready to explode into violence, ” and she feels compelled to repress its power (16). An ongoing dialogue with herself centers on this urge to release the “animal” within (16) and the need to restrain it. The young Joana is hurt by her father's playfulness when he tells one of his friends, “She has told me that when she grows up she's going to be a hero” (24). Insofar as the novel has autobiographical roots, Joana's prophecy is not far from wrong.
After the early death of her father, Joana goes to live with her aunt and uncle in an environment without stimulation or understanding. The preternaturally sensitive Joana, who recognizes “the tranquility that came from the eyes of an ox, the tranquility that came from that sprawling expanse of sea, from the sea's deep womb, from the cat lying rigid on the pavement” (42), meets no sympathetic vibrations in her aunt's home. When she steals a book, Joana's aunt and uncle are all too eager to send her to boarding school so that the “strict discipline” “might help to tame her” (46).