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  • Dream or Delirium? Revisiting the Ages in Eça and Machado
  • K. David Jackson

Eça de Queirós’s recourse to the “diaphanous veil of fantasy” introduced in novels of the 1880s, O Mandarim (1880) and A Relíquia (1887), finds a counterpart in Machado de Assis’s first major novel of the same decade, Memórias Póstumas de Brás Cubas (1880–81). The two authors were aware of each other’s work, documented by Machado’s sharp critique of characterization and motivation in O Primo Basílio (in O Cruzeiro, April 16, 1878). As if to suggest a further oceanic dialogue between the two great Luso-Brazilian novelists, A Relíquia was first published in the Rio de Janeiro journal Gazeta de Notícias in 1887, the same year of its publication as a book in Portugal. After 1880, according to Machado da Rosa, Eça explored the oneiric experiences of his characters and in the process enlarged the frame of conscious reality: “Talvez que a sua maior originalidade resida na integração do subconsciente com a consciência da personagem, feita sob um plano em que as fronteiras da realidade externa se enredam no mundo da fantasia, sem contudo perderem as suas linhas prosaicas . . .” (Rosa 199). Oneiric versatility is equally an innovative, even experimental feature in Machado’s Memórias Póstumas. The striking similarities of Brás Cubas’s “delirium” with the dream sequences of Teodorico Raposo in A Relíquia offer an illuminating counterpoint in the use and meaning of scenes of imagination and dreams and their role in the art of the nineteenth-century realist novel. Duílio da Gama, a Brazilian diplomat who frequented Eça’s house in Paris, confirmed the Portuguese writer’s special fascination with Machado’s oneiric episode:

. . . uma das especialidades de Eça como ‘entertainer’ na sua casa de Neuilly, nos arredores de Paris, durante a década de 90, era a recitação memorizada do Capítulo VII, [End Page 47] ‘O Delírio,’ da obra de Machado, Memórias Póstumas de Brás Cubas. Eça conhecia-o de cor. Nas palavras de uma testamunha de uma exibição do mestre actor/comediante que Eça seguramente era, ele ‘gostava de o declamar pausadamente, com inflexões estudadas, que sublinhava e esclarecia, com um comentário, as passagens de mais apurada análise psicológica ou da mais subtil ironia.’

(Lyra 199–200)

What the fantasies in each novel most have in common is a universal re-visitation of the ages, placing the unsuspecting narrator in an abnormal reality with a privileged perspective on the theater of human history, described by Óscar Lopes as an “. . . amplo e imaginoso distanciamento histórico e geográfico” (83). Both create an aura of hallucination treated by the narrator with sarcastic and intense irony, contradicting the normal sense of reality in the attempt to reconstruct both personal and historical consciousness. Dreams are incorporated into Eça’s and Machado’s novels as a new counterpoint to descriptive realism, as Lopes comments: “Tanto em A Relíquia, escrita desde 1884, como mais tarde em A Ilustre Casa de Ramires (1900), o naturalismo das notações contemporâneas tem uma importante contrapartida de sonho, polarizada num subenredo que se insere na intriga principal” (85).

Traveling back in time

Brás Cubas’ “Delirium” (Chapter VII) consists of a hallucinatory trip back through the centuries, involving magical perspectives, moral critique, and metamorphosis. In an uncanny parallel to Eça’s novel of the same year, Brás first took the form of a Chinese barber shaving a mandarin, who mistreated him, before his body was transformed into a morocco-bound volume of St. Thomas Aquinas’s Summa Theologica. Restored to human form, he was carried off by a hippopotamus on a furious ride to the origin of the centuries. The delirium is considered by Benedito Nunes to be one of three exemplary moments in Machado, all involving metaphor or fantasy, in which the author’s fiction becomes a form of thought, absorbing and restating philosophies aesthetically.1 The chapter mixes the skepticism of Montaigne with Pascal’s sense of the tragic...

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Additional Information

ISSN
2165-7599
Print ISSN
0035-7995
Pages
pp. 47-59
Launched on MUSE
2012-02-19
Open Access
No
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