‘The Maias’ By Eça de Queirós – A Portuguese Romance


‘The Maias’ By Eça de Queirós  (1888) – 628 pages           Translated from the Portuguese by Margaret Jull Costa

As of today, it looks like ‘The Maias’ will be the novel of the year for me. ‘The Maias’ is romantic and passionate as I expected somehow a Portuguese novel to be, but it also quite humorous in places and with finely drawn characters and a gripping busy plot. It is a jaunty vastly pleasurable trip in mid-to-late 19th-century Lisbon, Portugal society with some lively quick-witted companions. Whenever our characters get into a position that is just too comfortable or romantic or pleasing so that they start to notice the luxurious flower gardens and the old trees and sunny days of Portugal, a new predicament arises.

With this excellent translation by Margaret Jull Costa, ‘The Maias’ is filled with appealing details of its time which is the 1870s in Portugal. The descriptions of the settings are precise, and the descriptions of nature are luminous. The characters in the novel are the well-to-do, the rich of inherited money, who don’t really have to work to maintain their place in society. Thus they are avidly interested in literature and the arts and have almost violent arguments pitting the new naturalism and realism of such writers as Zola and Flaubert against the lyricism of the old school of writers.

Writers, for their part, read the precise chiseled style of a Goncourt or a Verlaine and immediately tortured and tangled and mangled their own poor sentences until they descended into the crazed or the burlesque.”

Sometimes these young men are fiercely critical of Portuguese society:

Here we import everything, ideas, laws, philosophies, theories, plots, aesthetics, sciences, style, industries, fashions, manners, jokes, everything arrives in crates by steamship.”

Carlos Maia, the main character in ‘The Maias’, is living the good life. He comes from a family which is well-respected in Lisbon and has enough inherited money so he barely has to work at all, even though he has been trained as a doctor. He has a wide group of well-to-do friends who spend their time playing cards, fencing, drinking alcohol, discussing the artistic and literary and political issues of the day, and pursuing women who are already married. That’s right, most of Carlos’ and his friends’ romances are on the sly with married women.

One of the premises of ‘The Maias’ seems to be that many beautiful young women want to improve their status in life by marrying a rich husband. Frequently these potential rich husbands are several years or decades older than the young woman. These young gals find their rich suitor, get married, and then discover that their husband is a dreadful bore. Thus these young married women are easy marks for romance by the right young guy who approaches with the appropriate smooth line. The first step is to become very good friends with the woman’s husband.

Yes, one does not read ‘The Maias’ for moral or spiritual guidance. ‘The Maias’ is a novel of marital infidelities.

Her urgent kisses seemed to go beyond his flesh, to pierce him through, as if wanting to absorb both will and soul.”

‘The Maias’ has a passionate, romantic, and world-wise plot that coheres throughout the entire novel.

One thing that ‘The Maias’ is not is introspective. It is very much a novel of people conversing and socializing. On a continuum of extroversion to introversion, Eça de Queirós would definitely rate as an extrovert. He was a diplomat for much of his lifetime, and ‘The Maias’ reflects his love of being around people. ‘The Maias’ is above all a social novel.

There are several grand set pieces in the novel, one is of a horse race. Many of Carlos’ friends have shown up for the horse races and are placing their bets. Carlos is sitting in the grandstand with his current married mistress Countess Gouvarinho and awaiting the arrival of his new prospective married mistress Maria Eduarda who is the wife of Castro Gomes.

Readers new to Eça de Queirós can start with the short novella ‘The Yellow Sofa’ to determine if you like his style of writing or not. If you do like his work then you can read ‘The Relic’ or ‘Cousin Basilio’ or one of the other novels he wrote and then you can finally graduate to his masterpiece ‘The Maias’.


Grade:    A+



5 responses to this post.

  1. Nice, think I’ll be adding this to my list!

    Liked by 1 person


  2. I like the sound of this, but will take your advice about the novella.



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