BSP-OUBS Seminar Series: "O sorriso aprovador", for a critical reading of late Machado de Assis

Speaker: Vinicius Brunette, DPhil candidate in Literature

In-Person: to attend, please write to: 


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Machado de Assis last two novels, Esau e Jacó e Memorial de Aires, are widely less read than his most famous novels. Even Brazil’s foremost literary critics tend to see the novels as a lesser work made by an older and sickly Machado, recently windowed, obsessed by topics such as grieving, boredom, and death. It was a striking contrast with his most famous books – far removed from his past funny and/or egregious narrators.     

Machado’s final books share a much more restrained narrator: Jose da Costa Marcondes Aires. A retiring career diplomat and counsellor for the Emperor, Aires is a highly educated curmudgeon with a gentlemen’s pose. Reserved to a fault, Aires assures the reader that he is just a regular public servant. His mantra is thus: “tédio a controvérsia” or feeling bored by any controversy.   

What this presentation will try to do is to argue that there is much more to Aires’ actions and beliefs than what meets the eye. Furthermore, an in-depth investigation into the historical materiality of the books (both situated during the latter days of the Brazilian Empire) shows that Aires' approach can be seen as a particular kind of behaviour typical of oligarchic elites.