- Passionate Fictions: Gender, Narrative, and Violence in Clarice Lispector
Passionate Fictions is a brief monographic study of a set of related issues concerning the narrative of Clarice Lispector (Brazil, 1920-1977). Lispector, though she has not attained the celebrity of Borges or Garcia Marquez, has won an international audience. As early as 1967, her The Apple in the Dark appeared in Gregory Rabassa's translation into English; the greater part of her published fiction is by now available in that language. Because Lispector was so often drawn to questions of masculinity and femininity, her work has caught on among feminist critics, leading to some analyses concerned primarily with gender issues. Given these circumstances, Marta Peixoto's discussion of Lispector is a true pleasure to encounter. As its title notes, gender is a major focus, but Peixoto's principal interest is in Lispector and her texts. Peixoto should be recognized for her exceptionally accurate and thorough knowledge of Lispector's oeuvre. This body of writing is difficult to keep track of, not just because of the complexity of the writing, but because of Lispector's publishing idiosyncrasies, which included cannibalizing her own earlier-printed work. As well as being familiar with the most important source—the Portuguese-language published works—she has examined material in the Clarice Lispector Archive and the English-language translations on which many readers of Passionate Fictions will most probably rely. [End Page 393]
The book is organized into chapters focused to some extent on a critical problem in Lispector studies and to some degree on the analysis of a particular text or texts. It starts out with an analysis of two Lispector narratives, Near to the Wild Heart and "The Misfortunes of Sofia," both of which feature a young female artist struggling with writing and with the confusion wrought by masculine and feminine roles. The second chapter of analysis starts out from the premise that the much-studied stories in Lispector's 1960 Family Ties jointly constitute a larger text. This is a reasonable idea, since readers have often been struck by the interconnections between stories, and results in a strong analysis. In the course of this chapter, "Female Power in Family Ties," it becomes evident that a major focus of Peixoto's book, beyond those announced in the title, is mothering and mother-child relations.
Those who enjoy conflict in literary studies will be most interested in the third chapter, "The Nurturing Text in Hélène Cixous and Clarice Lispector." Though temperate in her expression, Peixoto eviscerates the French feminist's much-publicized commentaries on Lispector, which are based more on an empathetic than on an analytical reading. Peixoto's detailed and accurate knowledge of Lispector's works places her in a good position to criticize Cixous, whose casual acquaintance with Lispector's work, and particularly with the Portuguese in which it is written, is the weakest point in her claim to a privileged intimacy with the writer. Peixoto also points out that Cixous's fidelity, in her commentaries, is fundamentally to the thought of Hélène Cixous and not to the writing of Lispector.
The fourth chapter deals with two texts Lispector critics found a little hard to assimilate: The Stream of Life and The Stations of the Body. The latter, particularly, disturbed longtime readers of lyrical, refined Lispector narratives. Raw, lurid, and punk in its treatment of sensational themes, Stations seemed to represent either an abandonment of art or an inscrutable joke. Peixoto suggests reading its stories as parodies of earlier Lispector pieces or as a response to the crude, violent stories with which certain Brazilian men made their names.
The last chapter is concerned with violence, both rape and textual violence, which is harder to specify. While the meaning of violence, symbolically extended, threatens to become unmanageably broad, the chapter offers an excellent reading of The Hour of the Star. Peixoto's bibliography is basically a works-cited section, and not one of the attractions of the book.