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J.M. Machado de Assis
Rio de Janeiro 21 June 1839 - Rio 29 Sept. 1908 • Brazilian novelist and short story writer

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Brazilian novelist and poet J.M. Machado de Assis was a predecessor to the imaginative fictions of Jorge Luis Borges and Julio Cortázar. Machado de Assis' career brought him from the lower social classes to the intellectual elite. His work reflects the trends of several European literary movements of the19th-century, including romanticism, realism, naturalism, impressionism, and symbolism. He is widely regarded as Brazil's greatest novelist. Machado wrote nine novels, eight short-story collections, four volumes of poetry, 13 plays, and numerous critical essays. He often satirized bourgeois values and behavior.

"For some time I debated over whether I should start these memoirs at the beginning or at the end, that is, whether I should put my birth or my death in first place. Since common usage would call for beginning with birth, two considerations led me to adopt a different method: the first is that I am not exactly a writer who is dead but a dead man who is a writer, for whom the grave was a second cradle; the second is that the writing would be more distinctive and novel in that way. Moses, who also wrote about his death, didn't place it at the opening but at the close: a radical difference between this book and the Pentateuch." (from The Posthumous Memoirs of Brás Cubas, 1881)

Joaquim Maria Machado de Assis was born in Rio de Janeiro, the son of a mulatto house painter and a Portuguese woman. He was the grandson of freed slaves – in Brazil the slavery was not abolished until 1888. His mother died in his early childhood, and Machado was raised by his step-mother, a mulatto woman,
who worked as a cook. He also spent some time with his wealthy godmother. Machado received little formal education; French he learned from a neighboring baker. Machado worked as a printer's apprentice at the National Press, and later he was a salesman and a proof-reader at Paulo Brito Bookshop. During these years he started to write stories, poems, and novels. He published his first works in periodicals including A Marmota Fluminense, Correio Mercantil, Diário do Rio de Janeiro, and A Semana Ilustrada. He began to gain fame as a poet in his mid-twenties.

From 1862 to 1864 Machado de Assis was a member and a censor of Conservatório Dramático Brasileiro. By the late 1860s he had became a successful Brazilian man of letters. In 1869 he married Carolina de Novaes, a cultured Portuguese woman from a distinguished family. They had no children, but the marriage was happy and harmonious. From 1873 he worked as a clerk and then as a Director of the accounting division at the Ministry of Agriculture. When his health broke down in 1879, Machado went to a health resort, from where he emerged with a new vision of literature. He dictated to his wife Memórias póstumas de Brás Cubas (1881, Posthumous Reminiscences of Bras Cubas), in which the narrator tells his story after his death. In 1897 he founded and became first president of the Brazilian Academy of Letters. Machado de Assis was afflicted by epilepsy and he rarely traveled outside his native city. He died on September 29, 1908. (read on...)
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ON MACHADO'S BOOKSHELF

The Red and the Black
Stendhal, 1830
The rise and fall of Julian Sorel. Born into peasantry, he connives his way into aristocratic circles, but his powers of seduction lead to his downfall when he commits a crime of passion.

Iracema
José Martiniano de Alencar, 1865
Set in the sixteenth century, Iracema is an extremely romantic portrayal of a doomed love between a Portuguese soldier and an Indian maiden.

Gulliver's Travels
Jonathan Swift, 1726
In this 18th-century satire, Gulliver's adventures in Lilliput, Brobdingnag, Laputa and in the country of the Houyhnhnms, expose the absurdity and hypocrisy of intellectuals and governments the world over.

Jacques the Fatalist and his Master
Denis Diderot, 1796
Jacques the Fatalist is Diderot's answer to the problem of existence. If human beings are determined by their genes and their environment, how can they claim to be free to want or do anything?

The Life and Opinions of Tristram Shandy, Gentleman
Laurence Sterne, 1759-1767
Part novel, part digression, this gloriously disordered narrative interweaves the birth and life of the unfortunate 'hero' Tristram Shandy, the eccentric philosophy of his father Walter, the amours and military obsessions of Uncle Toby, and a host of other characters.

A Journey Around My Room
Xavier de Maistre, 1794
Confined to his quarters for 42 days as punishment for dueling, the French soldier Xavier de Maistre (1763-1852) decides to undertake a journey around his room.

Cousin Basilio
José Maria Eça de Queirós, 1878
A Flaubertian study of a middle-class Lisbon family. The novel has been praised for its female characters: the romantic and sensual (and happily married) Luiza, who falls in love with her cousin Basilio; and Luiza's servant, Juliana, embittered and virginal, who scorns her.

BOOKS BY J.M. MACHADO DE ASSIS:

The Psychiatrist and Other Stories
1882
Humorous tales on the cutting edge of illusion and reality.

WHAT TO READ AFTER MACHADO'S STORIES?

BRAZILIAN CLASSICS
Dona Flor and Her Two Husbands
Jorge Amado, 1966
Dona Flor' s husband may have been a gambler and womanizer, but when he dies all she remembers is his lovemaking. A new marriage does not bring the erotic love she longs for. So when her first husband appears naked at the foot of her bed, eager to reclaim his conjugal rights, it is hard to resist.

Rebellion in the Backlands
Euclides da Cunha, 1902
Examining the brutal campaign against religious mystic Antonio Conselheiro and his rebels, this work is an account of the resistance of the backland natives at the seige of Canudos in 1896-1897, and a treatise on the geography, climatology and anthropology of Brazil's back countries and peoples.

São Bernardo
Graciliano Ramos, 1934
The rise and fall of an illiterate Brazilian peasant-turned-capitalist.

The Devil to Pay in the Backlands
João Guimaraes Rosa, 1956
Riobaldo, a man who has long been a bandit travelling the interior or Brazil, tells the story of his life and love to an unknown listener.

FIREWORKS AND PITFALLS
Zeno's Conscience
Italo Svevo, 1923
A neurotic old man looks back over his life, exploring his motives and trying to make sense of things.

Fictions
Jorges Luis Borges, 1935/ 1944 / 1949
This is a collection of Borges's fiction, translated and gathered into a single volume. From his 1935 debut with The Universal History of Iniquity, through the influential collections Ficciones and The Aleph, to his final work from the 1980s, Shakespeare Memory.

[Zes novellen]
J.M.A. Biesheuvel, 1972-1985; 2002
Six novellas.

MACHADO'S 'COUSINS'
The Voices of the Dead
Autran Dourado, 1967
The reclusive life of a woman, last in line of a Brazilian family of landowners, is disrupted by the arrival of a stranger.

Sergeant Getulio
João Ubaldo Ribeiro, 1971
In the backlands of Brazil, Sergeant Getulio, a hired gunman capable of terrible brutality and brilliant primitive philosophy, seeks to fulfill his bosses orders: to capture a political enemy and deliver him up for retribution.

SLICE OF LIFE - WITH A TWIST
The Turn of the Screw
Henry James, 1898
The narrator is a young governess, sent off to a country house to take charge of two orphaned children. She finds a pleasant house and a comfortable housekeeper, while the children are beautiful and charming. But she soon begins to feel the presence of intense evil.

Dubliners
James Joyce, 1914
Fifteen stories about ordinary people, trapped in their everyday lives.

[Contos fluminenses]
1870

Helena
1876

[Histórias Sem Data]
1884

Epitaph for a Small Winner
1891

Philosopher or Dog?
1891
The rich and eccentric philosopher Quincas Borbas names his dog after himself because he knows his pet will outlive him. Quincas does die first, leaving his fortune to his dim-witted friend Rube, provided that he takes care of the dog. Rube is hardly prepared for the life that awaits him.

Dom Casmurro
1899

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