- The Formation of Brazilian Souls: Imagery of the Republic in Brazil by José Murilo de Carvalho
Natalia Brizuela, José Murilo de Carvalho, Brazilian Republic, National Imagery
Ambitious in scope, José Murilo de Carvalho’s award winning The Formation of Brazilian Souls: Imagery of the Republic in Brazil begins by showing how there was no unified nor coherent Republican ideology that organized the passage from Empire to Republic in Brazil. He then moves on to focus on a study of the contradictory symbols that the newly proclaimed Republic constructed as the images of the nation-state. Working with and from a stunning array of materials, most of them iconographic, this book asks the question of the modes of construction and the needs of collective imagination for political ideology to coalesce. Political legitimization needs to reach popular social imagination through symbols, allegories, rituals, and myths. Thus, one of the most important observations in Murilo de Carvalho’s argument is that the proclamation of the Republic in Brazil lacked popular support because it was not the result of a revolution, a revolt, or even an uprising. What follows, after eloquently setting the stage for this dismembered Republic, is an investigation into how a collective spirit was built to uphold the new Republic through the use of imagery, often at odds with the Republican ideology itself.
Murilo de Carvalho begins by describing the three types of Republican ideologies that competed to define the new Brazilian state at the end of the nineteenth [End Page 323] century: American-style liberalism, French-style Jacobism, positivism. Even if all three ideologies proposed a Republic, the Brazilian historian shows that there was very little, if any, shared ground between them. Furthermore, all three were cloistered within the cultured and lettered elites, which meant that all three competing ideologies had to produce and dispute each other over the images that would help consolidate a popular collective image of the Brazilian Republic. The United States and France were the two main models for republics for the Brazilian military and cultured elite, yet their symbols, as Murilo de Carvalho demonstrates throughout the book, are ill suited for the tropical setting.
The first dispute for symbolic control over the proclamation of the Republic was to claim power over what Murilo de Carvalho calls its “myth of origin.” Ex post facto, the leaders of the radically different Republican ideologies proposed a liberal republic, a military republic, or a sociocratic republic. The myth of origin was inchoate, however, as the historian shows, since surprise was the only unanimous feeling in regards to how the Republic had come into being. Republics, classic or modern, always had a popular base for their existence, but this was not the case in Brazil, where it seemingly arose from one day to the next, with Republican groups, much less the common people, unaware that this major event was happening. Consequently, no single unifying myth of origin seemed to hold up.
The remaining chapters of the book look at three aspects of all Republics, critically analyzing their doing or undoing in Brazil: the construction of the Republic’s hero, the Republic’s gendered symbolism, and its flag and anthem. Murilo de Carvalho shows how the symbols that worked—the choice of Tiradentes, the mythic leader of the late eighteenth-century rebellion, as hero; the impossibility of figuring the Republic as female, as had been historically the case; the popular desire and eventual choice of keeping the same national anthem as during the monarchy; and only slightly altering the previous flag—reveal that the Republic was indeed “incapable of creating a popular republican imagery” (151).
At several moments, the book points to contemporary Brazil, suggesting that this chaotic and unpopular beginning for the Republic could help explain Brazil’s present. Written during the centennial “celebrations” for the proclamation of the First Republic, one wishes that Murilo de Carvalho would have taken the leap and developed further the relation between the then and the now. This...