‘The Maias’ on Living, Loving, and Writing


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

Not only does ‘The Maias’ have a moving and enjoyable story, but also some of the lines from the novel are quite striking. I want to share with you some excellent words from ‘The Maias’ about art, literature, love, and life. Don’t worry; I won’t be giving away any of the plot. These are incidental comments made along the way. I found this novel not only delightful but also perceptive in the extreme.

Due to circumstances described in ‘The Maias’, our hero Carlos is raised by his grandfather Afonso who discusses the boy’s upbringing with the parish Abbot.

You see, abbot, that’s the main difference. I want the boy to be virtuous out of a love for virtue and honest out of a love of honesty, not out of a fear of Old Nick’s cauldrons, or because he’s tempted by the thought of entering the Kingdom of Heaven.”

Carlos grows up to become a doctor.

The keen-eyed Dr. Teodosio had one day said to him quite frankly “You’re too elegant to be a doctor! What female patient could resist flirting with you! And what good bourgeois gentleman is going to trust you with his wife in her bedroom? You would terrify any paterfamilas.”

Thus we move on to the Carlos’s love life.

You really are extraordinary! But your case is a perfectly simple one. It’s the old Don Juan syndrome. Don Juan experienced these same alternations between fire and ashes. He was looking for his ideal woman, and looking for her principally, and quite rightly too, among the wives of other men. And once he had slept with a woman, he’d declare he’d been deceived, that she was not the one for him.”

However all is not a bed roses for Carlos in these adulterous romances.

And this wasn’t the first time he experienced these false rushes of desire, which always came disguised as love, threatening at least for a time, to absorb his whole being, but which always ended in tedium and boredom.”

Then Carlos meets Maria Eduarda, another married woman.

She sincerely believed that there could be such a thing as pure disinterested friendship between a man and a woman, based on the loving meeting of two sensitive souls. ”

Carlos falls hard.

It did not even occur to him to think that this ideal friendship, with its entirely chaste intentions, was the surest road to deceive her gently into his ardent male arms.”

Meanwhile Carlos continues to see and have lively discussions with his friends, two of whom are writers. First a couple of quotes about writing in general:

It’s a matter of temperament. There are inferior beings to whom the sound of an adjective is more important than the exact working of a system – and I’m one of those monsters.”

In poetry, it’s often the need for a rhyme that produces the most original image…Long live the beautiful phrase!”

There is much talk of Romanticism vs. Realism.

All this business about realism and romanticism is a lot of nonsense. A lily is as natural as a bedbug. If some prefer the stench of the gutter, fine, open up the public sewers. I prefer a dusting of powder on a soft white breast, you can do what you like. What you need is heart.”

However at that time naturalism, a form of realism, was advancing by such writers as Gustave Flaubert and Emile Zola. Flaubert was the writing idol of Eça de Queirós.

It was a social necessity to call things by their proper name. What use, otherwise, was the great Naturalist movement? If vice continued unabated, it was because an indulgent romantic society gave it names that embellished and idealized it. Why should a woman scruple to roll about in the conjugal sheets with a third party if the world insisted on referring to it sentimentally as “a romance” and if poets sang about it in golden verses?”

Here’s one last exchange in the Romanticism vs. Realism debate which I found particularly meaningful.

And what are we, if not romantics?” exclaimed Ega. “What have we been since we were at school, since we were sitting for our Latin exam? Romantics, which is to say, inferior individuals ruled in life by feelings and not by reason.”

Carlos wanted to know if, deep down, they really were so much happier, these people who were guided solely by reason, never deviating from it, determined to toe that inflexible line – dry, rigid, logical and emotionless to the last, and putting themselves through torments.

Finally an observation from ‘The Maias’ about the Portuguese people of that time:

Basically, we are nothing but thugs. What we like is cheap wine, a bit of guitar music, a good brawl, and plenty of back-slapping bonhomie afterwards! That’s how it is!”







4 responses to this post.

  1. This is an author I’ve long intended reading. After these posts I feel even more inclined to. Must sort out the waiting list of titles first…



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