‘The Illustrious House of Ramires’ by José Maria de Eça de Queirós – “It isn’t worth letting bad politics spoil a good supper.”


‘The Illustrious House of Ramires’ by José Maria de Eça de Queirós  (1900)  346 pages                              

Translated from the Portuguese by Margaret Jull Costa


I have become an Eça de Queirós aficionado, and I believe a lot of others would do well to be Eça de Queirós aficionados also.

Consider the renowned Portuguese fiction translator Margaret Jull Costa. She has made an excellent career of translating the best in Portuguese fiction. So far she has translated 12 works of José Saramago and 12 works of Javier Marias and has translated other works of such writers in Portuguese as Machado de Assis, Paulo Coelho, and António Lobo Antunes. She won the Portuguese translation prize for translating ‘The Book of Disquiet’ by Fernando Pessoa. ‘The Illustrious House of Ramires’ is the eleventh fiction by José Maria de Eça de Queirós she has translated.

José Saramago who was no slouch of a novelist himself has called Eça de Queirós “Portugal’s finest novelist”. I tend to agree with Saramago.

Here is a line from ‘The Illustrious House of Ramires’:

None of us can really be judged guilty by a God who made us such fickle, fragile creatures, so dependent on forces over which we have even less control than the wind or the sun!”

Goncalo Mendes Ramires, the Nobleman of the Tower, is the scion of the Ramires family which has been prominent in Portuguese history since the 10th century, even before the Portuguese kings. He is writing an heroic novella about one of his ancestors and has come to the conclusion that the main occupation of those glorified legendary ancestors had been murdering people.

A childhood friend of Goncalo has risen to be an influential Portuguese politician, and much to Goncalo’s chagrin and dismay, this guy is pursuing an affair with Goncalo’s married sister. It is a fictional case history of how political power debases people, how men (and women) are so easily corrupted by a despot.

Your letters? What did you say in your letters? That the governor is a despot and a Don Juan? Do you really think he was wounded by that? No, he was delighted.”

I must say that ‘Illustrious’ did give me some valuable insight into recent United States history.

But what happens when Goncalo himself is offered an influential position by this governor scoundrel? Will he himself succumb to the temptations of power?

Although I found ‘The Illustrious House of Ramires’ to be quite impressive, I would not recommend it as the place to start with Eça de Queirós. It starts out somewhat slowly before building up to its rousing climax. You probably won’t want to start with ‘Eça de Queirós’s masterpiece ‘The Maias’ either since it is over 600 pages, but I would recommend either the short novel ‘The Relic’ or the even shorter novella ‘The Yellow Sofa’ as a good starting point for this outstanding writer.


Grade:   A-



9 responses to this post.

  1. I’m going to take your advice on this. Saramago is really the only Portugese novelist I know, so it will be good to try someone new:)

    Liked by 2 people


    • Hi Lisa,
      Good Luck! I’ll be looking forward to your honest reactions.
      Have you read Machado de Assis, a Brazilian writer who wrote in Portuguese? He is another “can’t miss”.

      Liked by 1 person


      • I have The Alienist by de Assis on the TBR, and also The Neighbourhood by Gonçalo M. Tavares plus I read The Piano Cemetery by José Luís Peixoto when it was up for some award, but all the rest of my Portuguese shelf is Saramago.



  2. I’m so pleased to see you reviewing Eça de Queirós, and with such enthusiasm! It’s a shame he’s not better known to English readers, but hopefully that will change. I haven’t read this particular novel of his (I’ve only read The Maias and The Crime of Father Amaro so far), but it sounds like it will be very much to my taste, so thanks so much for bringing it to my attention!
    (And as a rather shallow PS — that cover design with the multiple face profiles is really quite striking!)

    Liked by 1 person


    • Hi Russophile,
      Eça de Queirós, along with your Russian Alexander Griboedov (‘Woe From Wit’), are the best two 19th century writers which are new to me that I have discovered in recent years. It is always a pleasure to discover a writer unknown to most who produced outstanding work.
      I had a long Russian phase in the 1980s and 1990s, so am familiar with the greats. I notice that I did read ‘Everything Flows’ by Vassily Grossman. I would like to read his two masterpieces ‘Life and Fate’ and ‘Stalingrad’, but they are both quite lengthy.
      One Russian writer whose work I particularly liked was Abram Tertz (Andrei Sinyavsky), especially his novel ‘Goodnight!’.

      Liked by 1 person


      • So lovely to hear your thoughts on Russian writers! I couldn’t agree more with you about Tertz/Sinyavsky — a real gem of a writer, and also a bit strangely neglected nowadays in comparison to some of the other Russian greats.
        In terms of Portuguese writers, I assume by your mention of Saramago in the review that perhaps you enjoy his work as well? I’m a huge fan. My personal favourites of his are “All the Names” and “The Year of the Death of Ricardo Reis”. His compatriot, António Lobo Antunes (a sometime contender for the Nobel as well) is also always well worth the read.

        Liked by 1 person


        • Yes, Jose Saramago is one of my absolute favorites. ‘The Year of the Death of Ricardo Reis’ was my brilliant introduction to Fernando Pessoa which led me to read Pessoa’s ‘Book of Disquiet’ which is another masterpiece. Of course there’s Saramago’s ‘Blindness’. I’ve much liked nearly everything Saramago wrote including ‘The Gospel According to Jesus Christ’, ‘Cain’, ‘The Siege of Lisbon’, ‘The Stone Raft’, etc. I still haven’t read ‘All the Names’ so I’ve got that one to look forward to.
          I still haven’t read Antunes.

          Liked by 1 person


          • Saramago is one of those writers where even his weaker works are still worthwhile — I’ve liked nearly everything too apart from “The Double”, and it’s incredible how good his best masterpieces really are. Glad he helped introduce you to Pessoa!
            You are in for a real treat with Antunes if you get around to him — very different from Saramago, much darker, but it’s really brilliant stuff. I recommend starting with “The Land at the End of the World” (translated by Margaret Jill Costa, naturally!), his breakthrough novel, if you want a taste of his work. For me so far the highlight has been his later novel, “The Splendour of Portugal”.

            Liked by 1 person


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