Posts Tagged ‘Eca de Queirós’

‘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!”







‘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+



The Yellow Sofa’ by Jose Maria Eca de Queirós – “No Digressions, No Rhetoric – Everything is Interesting and Dramatic and Quickly Narrated”.


The Yellow Sofa’ by Jose Maria Eca de Queirós     (Sometime during the 1880s) – 112 pages                                                         Translated from the Portuguese by John Vetch

As ironic as it might seem, there are still new developments occurring in 19th century literature. There are almost-forgotten writers finally being rediscovered for the virtuosos that they really were. Perhaps the biggest recent development is the ascendancy of the Portuguese writer Jose Maria Eca de Queirós to the upper echelons of the literary world.

José Saramago, no slouch of a writer himself, called Eca de Queirós ‘ novel ‘The Maias’ “the greatest book by Portugal’s greatest novelist.”

Eca ought to be up there with Dickens, Balzac, and Tolstoy as one of the talismanic names of the nineteenth century.” – The London Observer

I am going to quote a long paragraph from V. S. Pritchett, because I believe it captures the essence of Eca de Queirós :

The making of this novel and indeed all the others, is the restless mingling of poetry, sharp realism and wit. Queirós is untouched by the drastic hatred of life that underlies Naturalism; he is sad rather than indignant that every human being is compromised; Indeed that enables him to present his characters from several points of view, and explore the unexpectedness of human nature.”

‘The Yellow Sofa’ was not published during Queirós lifetime. In 1925 his son found it in a desk among other miscellaneous writings, and his son had it published then. We almost lost a short masterpiece.

‘The Yellow Sofa’ is a novella that is a vivid thoughtful thorough argument against rash action. In Eca de Queirós’ own words, he wrote ‘The Yellow Sofa’ with “no digressions, no rhetoric – everything is interesting and dramatic and quickly narrated”. I won’t go into any of the details of the plot of ‘The Yellow Sofa’ because it is full of surprises, and I don’t want to spoil any of them for you.

One of the reasons I always enjoy reading Eca de Queirós is because I find his novels always upbeat. His main characters are strongly etched and always fascinating in their approach to their own situations.

In 2009, ‘The Yellow Sofa’ was turned into an opera by British composer Julian Philips and attracted wide critical notice.

‘The Yellow Sofa, being a novella, would be a great place to start to get to know this important yet delightful author.

Now with the epidemic lock down upon us, I may take the time to read Eca de Queiros’ 628-page masterpiece ‘The Maias’.


Grade:   A+



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