Brazilian literature

The Columbia Encyclopedia, 6th ed.

Brazilian literature

Brazilian literature, the writings of both the European explorers of Brazil and its later inhabitants.

The Colonial Period

Upon the discovery of Brazil, the Portuguese began to describe the wonders of the new land. Brazilian literature began with the letter of Pero Vaz de Caminha announcing the discovery to the king of Portugal. That descriptive trend was continued in the 16th and 17th cent. in the works of European missionaries. José de Anchieta wrote in Portuguese about Brazil and is considered the father of Brazilian literature. The dualism of European tradition and New World feeling continued. Many consider the 17th-century Jesuit priest Antônio Vieira (brought to Brazil as a child) the true master of Portuguese prose in the classic style.

In the late 17th cent. the first native Brazilian writer of note, Gregório de Matos Guerra, wrote poetry satirizing the society of his time. During the 18th cent. poetic "academies" sprang up in various parts of Brazil. The most famous was in Minas Gerais; it included José Basílio da Gama, author of the epic poem O Uraguai (1769), and Tomás Antônio Gonzaga, best known for his pastoral love poem Marília de Dirceu (1792). This group had helped introduce revolutionary ideas from France into Brazil.

Independence and Nineteenth-Century Literary Movements

Independence from Portugal in 1822 fostered national feeling and ushered in the romantic era, which is generally dated from the appearance in 1836 of volumes of poetry by Domingos José Gonçalves de Magalhães, and by Manuel de Araújo Porto-Alegre. The two major Brazilian romantic poets were Antônio Gonçalves Dias, who glorified the indigenous people and the native soil, and Antônio de Castro Alves, a leader in the fight for the abolition of slavery. Alves's social awareness introduced a new dimension into the nascent "Brazilianism." A more introspective mood was created by Alvares de Azevedo. The romantic era also witnessed the birth of the novel in Brazil, notably O Guarani (1857) by José de Alencar and the later Iracema (1865).

A realist note was sounded by Manuel Antônio de Almeida in Memórias de um sargento de milícias (2 vol., 1854–55) and by Alfredo d'Escragnolle Taunay in his novel Inocência (1872). The works of the man generally considered the greatest of Brazilian writers, Joaquim Maria Machado de Assis, were in the same realist vein. His novels and short stories are noted for their psychological depth and classic purity of style. Contemporary with Machado de Assis were the Parnassian poets, headed by Olavo Bilac, but theirs was an isolated trend. Seven years before the appearance of Bilac's Poesias, Aluísio de Azevedo had published O Mulato (1881), a novel that dealt in naturalistic fashion with the Brazilian scene.

The Twentieth Century

In 1902 Euclides da Cunha wrote his masterly description of an uprising in the Brazilian northeast, Os sertões (tr. Rebellion in the Backlands, 1944). Canaan (1902), a pessimistic novel of ideas by José Pereira da Graça Aranha, appeared in the same year, and the children's literature of José Bento Monteiro Lobato also became popular. The strong nativist and sociological bias of many of these works was even evident in the modernismo movement. It began in Brazil as a poetic movement influenced by French symbolists and led by Mário de Andrade, whose prose work Macunaíma (1928, tr. 1984) made pioneer use of the vernacular; the movement was soon joined by other poets of stature, including Manuel Bandeira.

The social novel came into its own in the 1930s with the works of Graciliano Ramos, José Lins do Rego, and Jorge Amado. Their concern with the Brazilian interior has been continued by writers such as João Guimarães Rosa, whose poetic novel Grande sertão: veredas appeared in 1956 (tr. 1963). At the same time, the more subjective trend continued with, among others, novelists Rachel de Queiroz, Érico Veríssimo, and Clarice Lispector, poets Jorge de Lima, Carlos Drummond de Andrade, Vinícius de Morais, and Cecília Meireles, and dramatists Nelson Rodrigues, Ariano Suassuna, and Alfredo Dias Gomes.

Reflecting the rise of military dictatorship, the themes of violence and repression, prominent in Brazilian literature since the late 1960s, run through the novels of Ignácio de Loyola Brandão, João Ubaldo Ribeiro, Lygia Fagundes Telles, Rubem Fonseca, and Nélida Piñon; through the poetry of Ferreira Gullar and Carlos Néjar; and through the plays of Chico Buarque and Gerald Thomas. The novels of Antônio Callado and Darcy Ribeiro depict the clash of political and social forces and the collapse of traditional ways of life.


See A. Coutinho, An Introduction to Literature in Brazil (tr. 1969); D. T. Haberly, Three Sad Races (1983); D. Brookshaw, Race and Color in Brazilian Literature (1986); I. Stern, ed., Dictionary of Brazilian Literature (1988).

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