This is a blog about my reads as well as everything related to them.
My taste is for good quality literature - old and new. Some of it I review here or on my main book blog Edith's Miscellany.
The high time of José Maria de Eça de Queiroz (modern spelling Queirós: 1843-1900) was the second half of the nineteenth century, and yet, he is up to this day one of the most renowned and respected writers that Portugal ever saw. The English translations of several of his works keep being in print; one of them is Cousin Bazilio that was widely celebrated at its release. First published in 1878, the novel reminds in many ways of Gustave Flaubert’s much more famous Madame Bovary that the Portuguese writer knew without doubt since its original French version appeared already late in 1856, thus about twenty years before José Maria de Eça de Queiroz set out to write his novel about an adulterous woman.
The protagonist of the novel written in the realist style that the author is famous for is Luisa, a beautiful and happily married woman in her twenties. It’s a hot month of July and her husband just left for Alentejo where he was sent on business. For the first time Luisa is alone with the servants in their house in Lisbon and in powerful images of daily routine the author evokes her growing loneliness and boredom. Then fate has it that her cousin, first love and short-time fiancé Bazilio turns up at her door. He returns every day seizing the opportunity to awake not just dear memories in Luisa, but also her repressed desire for new, not to say forbidden adventures as she knows them only from novels and the confidences of her already ill-famed school-friend. José Maria de Eça de Queiroz deftly hints at the fact that Luisa’s need for company and her romantic ideas of love make her easy prey for the womaniser. Before long, she believes herself in love with Bazilio, but in reality she is fooling herself as the author reveals in the scene of Luisa’s and Bazilio’s first meeting in “paradise”. She is terribly disappointed at finding that his idea of a love nest is a sleazy room. However, Bazilio’s experience in seducing women and the unknown pleasures she finds in his arms are stronger than reason and conscience. Blind with passion she no longer thinks of her caring husband, who unlike Bazilio never ceased to treat her with respect, nor of their neighbours, who love gossip too much to ignore her daily comings and goings. Even worse, she is completely unaware that her sickly and always rancorous servant Juliana gathers compromising information to blackmail her. When Luisa’s husband is due to return home, she doesn’t know how to assure that Juliana keeps silent about her affair. The author shows the effects of overwhelming fear and growing desperation on her mind and body in great detail and with extraordinary skill… pushing the story to the inevitable end.
There can be no doubt that Cousin Bazilio by José Maria de Eça de Queiroz must be counted among the masterpieces of literary realism although outside Portugal it is little known today. It’s a gripping read in the tradition of Gustave Flaubert that clearly deserves my recommendation.
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This review is a contribution to the
Back to the Classics Challenge 2015,
namely to the category 19th Century Classic.