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Papéis Avulsos
J.M. Machado de Assis
publisher: , 1882

translated as:
The Psychiatrist and Other Stories
publisher: Querido, Amsterdam, 1963
translation: William L. Grossman / Helen Caldwell

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This selection of twelve of the best of Machado de Assis’s short stories (he wrote altogether almost two hundred), is headed by "The Psychiatrist". This is in fact one of his most important works, running to some 50 pages, and less a short story than a comic philosophical tale in the style of Swift or Voltaire. It is set in the last years of Portuguese rule in Brazil, in Itaguaí, a small town not far from Rio de Janeiro. The central character is a doctor, Simão Bacamarte, who decides to carry out a large scale experiment in the town, to define the frontiers of madness: predictably, the results are comic and perverse, ending up with Simão deciding that he himself is the only mad person in the town. On the way, a number of minor charcaters, like Simão’s wife, whose exclusive diet of "the wonderful Itaguaí pork" fails in its object of making her pregnant, or the psychiatrist’s cowardly side-kick, Crispim Soares, make this a comment on human nature in various of its aspects, including the political.

From the same collection, Loose leaves, published in 1882, comes "The Mirror", another typical mixture of comedy and philosophy: this time it is the essence of human beings, the "soul" which
is the subject. Jacobina is made Second Lieutenant in the (more decorative than useful) National Guard, and, with a handsome uniform. However, in a typical reversal, it turns out that, when he is alone, isolated from others’ flattery, it is not his sense of his own identity that saves him, so much as this uniform, without which he would disappear into the mirror. Two other stories, "Education of a Stuffed Shirt" and ‘Final Request’, are taken from this, the most comic and fantastic of Machado’s collections.

Other stories, in a more realist vein, show Machado’s awareness of the brutal side of human nature: "The Secret Heart" is a study of sadism, climaxing in an unforgettable sense of cruelty wreaked on a mouse. "The Rod of Justice" and "Father versus Mother" show this in the context of slavery — they concentrate on figures who are poor, but free, and whose tight, tense situation induces them to vent their frustration on those beneath them, the slaves, with dreadful consequences. His sympathetic and intelligent treatment of women is beautifully displayed in "A Woman’s Arms", "Admiral’s Night", and "Midnight Mass", the latter a classic of unreliable narration. (

bookweb from:
Lezen&Cetera, Pieter Steinz

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[Contos fluminenses]


[Histórias Sem Data]

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Dom Casmurro

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