10. I Accept the Theory

No doubt that’s too much metaphysics for a single tenor; but the loss of his voice explains everything, and there are philosophers who, when it comes down to it, are no better than unemployed tenors.

I, dear reader, accept old Marcolini’s theory, not only for how true it appears to be — and the appearance of truth is often as far as truth goes — but because my life matches up with its implications so well. I sang a very tender duo, then a trio, then a quartet… But let’s not get ahead of ourselves; let’s go back to the first part, where I came to learn that I was already singing, because José Dias’ disclosure, my dear reader, was principally directed to me. He disclosed me to myself.

9. The Opera

His voice was well past it, but he insisted otherwise. “It’s only for lack of practice,” he would add. Whenever a new company arrived from Europe, he would go to the impresario and expatiate on every injustice under the sun; the impresario would commit another, and he would leave railing against the iniquity.

He still sported the moustaches from his roles on stage. Whenever he gadded about, despite his age, he appeared to be paying court to a Babylonian princess. Sometimes he hummed, his mouth closed, a passage as old as himself or even older — a voice muffled like that could well be as good as a professional’s. He used to come and dine with me every once in a while. One night, after a lot of Chianti, he told me once again his customary line, and when I said that life was no more an opera than a sea voyage or a battle, he shook his head and replied:

“Life is an opera, and a grand opera at that. The tenor and the baritone contend for the soprano in the presence of the bass and the supporting cast, unless it’s the soprano and the contralto who are vying for the tenor in the presence of the same basso and the same supporting cast. There are numerous choruses, many ballets, and the orchestration is excellent…”

“But my dear Macrolini…”

“What?”

And later, after a sip of liqueur, he set his glass down and recounted the story of creation, which I will summarise as follows.

God is the poet. The music is Satan’s — a young master with a promising future, who studied in heaven’s conservatory. Michael, Raphael and Gabriel’s rival, he could not endure their preferment in the distribution of awards. It could also be that the overly sweet and mystical music of these classmates was tedious to his essentially tragic genius. And that would have been that if God hadn’t written an opera libretto and tossed it aside, deeming such amusement inappropriate to His eternity. Satan took the manuscript with him to hell. With the aim of showing that he was better than the others — and perhaps to reconcile himself with heaven — he composed the score. Soon after finishing the work, he brought it to the Eternal Father.

“Lord, I have not forgotten the lessons I learned,” he told Him. “Here is the score. Listen to it, emend it, have it performed, and if you deem it worthy of your highness, allow me to sit at your feet with it…”

“No,” replied the Lord, “I wish not to hear a thing.”

“But, Lord…”

“Nothing at all, nothing!”

Satan pleaded still without greater success, until God, tired and merciful, agreed to have the opera performed, but away from heaven. He created a special theatre, this planet, and invented a whole company replete with all the parts: the primary and the secondary, the choruses and the dancers.

“Come listen to some of the rehearsals!”

“No, I don’t want anything to do with the rehearsals. It’s enough that I wrote the libretto; I am willing to split the royalties with you.”

That refusal was probably a mistake: a certain awkwardness was the result, an awkwardness that a preliminary hearing and friendly collaboration would have avoided. Indeed, in some passages the words go one way and the music another. There is no shortage of people who say that therein lies the composition’s otherworldly wonder, avoiding monotony as it does. In this way is the Eden trio, Abel’s aria and the guillotine and slavery choruses explained. Not infrequently do the same situations recur without adequate reason. Certain motifs grow wearisome from repetition. There are obscure passages too: the maestro overuses the choral masses, which masks the text’s meaning and serves to confuse. The orchestral parts, however, are handled skillfully. Such is the opinion of the impartial.

The maestro’s friends claim that a work of such accomplishment is a rarity. Some of them admit there are a few blemishes and one or two gaps, but it’s likely that the gaps will be filled in and smoothed over and the blemishes removed with the opera’s continued run, for the maestro is not averse to emending the work wherever he finds it at variance with the sublime thought of the poet.

The poet’s friends think otherwise. They maintain that the libretto has been sacrificed, that the score has compromised the meaning of the text, and that, though it might be beautiful in some parts and artfully worked in others, it is completely unrelated, contrary even, to the drama. The grotesque element, for instance, is not in the poet’s text: it is an excrescence put there to imitate The Merry Wives of Windsor. This point is contested by the Satanists with what seems to be good reason. They say that when the young Satan composed the grand opera, not this farce nor Shakespeare himself had been born. They go so far as to affirm that the English poet’s genius amounted to nothing more than transcribing the opera’s lyrics with such art and fidelity that he seems to be the play’s author even though, as is clear, he’s a plagiarist.

“This work,” the old tenor concluded by saying, “will last as long as the theatre does — and there’s no telling when it will be destroyed as a matter of astronomic convenience. The work’s success is growing. Punctually do poet and musician each receive their royalties, which are not equally split, distributed as they are in the ratio described in Scripture: ‘Many are called, but few are chosen.’ God is paid in gold, Satan in paper bills.”

“That’s witty…”

“Witty?” he protested furiously. He calmed down quickly and replied, “Dear Santiago, I’m not a witty man — I detest wit. What I’ve been saying is the pure and ultimate truth. One day, when all the books are burnt for being useless, there will have to be someone, perhaps a tenor, maybe an Italian one, who teaches this truth to mankind. Everything is music, my friend. In the beginning there was do, and from do came re, etc. This wineglass — and he filled it once again — this wineglass is a short refrain. Don’t you hear it? Neither do you hear sticks and stones, but they all play a part in the very same opera…”


Chapter 9 in the original Portuguese.

8. It’s Time

But it’s time to go back to that afternoon in November, bright and fresh as it was, as tranquil as our home and the stretch of road on which we lived. It was truly the beginning of my life; everything that had happened before was like applying make up and putting a costume on before entering a scene; like turning the lights on; like fiddlers tuning up, the symphony… Now I was about to begin my opera. “Life is an opera,” an old Italian tenor who lived and died here used to tell me… And he explained to me one day what that meant, and in such a way that I believed it to be true. It might be worth the trouble to tell you what he explained to me; it will only take a chapter.


Chapter 8 in the original Portuguese.

7. Dona Glória

My mother was a good soul. When her husband, Pedro de Albuquerque Santiago, died, she was thirty-one years old and could have returned to Itaguaí. She didn’t want to; she chose instead to stay close to the church in which my father was buried. She sold the fazenda and the slaves, bought some others that she hired out or sent off to work for cash; she acquired a dozen or so buildings and some government bonds, and set herself up in the house at Matacavalos, where she had lived for the previous two years of her married life. Her mother was from Minas Gerais, a descendant of a lady from São Paulo, of the Fernandes family.

Now then, in the year of grace 1857, Dona Maria da Glória Fernandes Santiago was forty-two years old. She was still pretty and didn’t look her age, but she stubbornly concealed the remnants of her youth no matter how much nature wished to preserve her from the ravages of time. She lived encased in an eternal dark dress, free of adornment, with a black shawl folded in a triangle and fastened at the breast by a cameo. Her hair, plaited, was gathered at the nape of her neck by an old tortoiseshell comb; sometimes she wore a white, frilled cap. She spent the whole of her day like this, shuffling in her muffled leather flats, guiding and supervising the activities of the entire house from one end to the other, from morning to night.

I have her portrait on the wall over there, right next to her husband’s, just like they were in the other house. The paint has darkened significantly, but a reasonable impression of them both can still be made out. I don’t remember anything about him, except vaguely that he was tall and wore his hair long. The portrait shows a round pair of eyes, which follow me everywhere I go, an effect that frightened me as a child.  His neck emerges out of an undulating black necktie, his face is cleanly shaven — except for a small patch by the ears. My mother’s portrait shows how beautiful she was. She was twenty then and held a flower in her hand. In the frame she seems to be offering the flower to her husband. What is read in both their faces is that if marital bliss can be compared to winning the lottery, they had bought the winning ticket together.

I conclude by saying that lotteries should not be abolished. No winner has ever accused them of being immoral, just as nobody has denounced Pandora’s box as being evil for having Hope stuffed inside; she has to be somewhere. Here I have both my parents, the happily married couple of long ago, the contented lovers, the lucky lovers, who have left this life for the next, most likely continuing a dream. When I tire of the lottery and Pandora, I raise my eyes to them and I forget the luckless tickets I’ve drawn and the fateful box. The portraits are exceptionally lifelike. My mother’s, a flower extended to her husband, seems to say “I’m yours, completely, my handsome gentleman.” My father’s, eyes following us, comments: “See how much this woman loves me…” If they suffered from ailments, I do not know, just as I do not know if they bore any disappointments: I was a child and I began by not having been born. After his death, I remember that she cried bitterly; but here are both their portraits, and without years of accumulated grime taking anything away from their expressions of long ago. They are like snapshots of happiness.


Chapter 7 in the original Portuguese.

6. Uncle Cosme

Uncle Cosme lived with my mother after she had been widowed. He was already a widower at that stage, as was Cousin Justina; it had become the house of the three widows.

Fortune often plays tricks on nature’s course. Raised and educated to take advantage of capitalism’s august workings, Uncle Cosme did not get rich off his work as a lawyer as he lived beyond his means. He had his office on the old Rua das Violas, near the courthouse, which was in the abandoned Aljube prison building. He worked in criminal law.

José Dias never missed Uncle Cosme’s speeches for the defense. He would help Uncle Cosme in and out of his robes, paying him compliment after compliment once the day was done. At home, he would recount the arguments. Tio Cosme, as much as he wanted to appear modest, couldn’t help smiling.

He was a fat, heavy man, short of breath and sleepy-eyed. One of my earliest memories is of seeing him each morning mount the mule my mother had give him, upon which he would ride to his office. The black slave who had brought the mule from the stable would take hold of the reins while Uncle Cosme lifted his foot and set it in the stirrup, after which time a minute of rest or reflection would follow. Then he would give a shove, his first, and his body would threaten to rise without actually doing so; a second shove, the same result. Finally, after a long interval, Uncle Cosme would gather together all his strength, both physical and moral, and propel himself from the earth with one final push, this time landing on top of the saddle. The mule would rarely fail to show by some gesture that he was carrying the weight of the world on his shoulders. Uncle Cosme would adjust his beefy frame, and the mule would break out into a trot.

Nor have I forgotten what he did to me one afternoon. Although I was born in the country (I left when I was two) and despite the customs of the time, I was afraid of horses and didn’t know how to ride them. Uncle Cosme grabbed me and sat me astride the mule. When I found myself so high (I was nine), helpless and alone, the ground far below, I began screaming in desperation: “Mamma! Mamma!” She came running to the rescue, pale and trembling, thinking that someone was killing me. She brought me down and comforted me while her brother asked:

“Glória, how can a grown lad like him be afraid of a tame mule?”

“He’s not used to it.”

“He’d better get used to it. Even if he becomes a priest, should his parish be in the country, he’ll have to ride a horse; and here in the city too, although he’s not a priest yet, if he wants to cut a fine figure like the other lads and doesn’t know how to ride, he’ll blame you, Glória.”

“Let him blame away. I’m afraid.”

“Afraid! Come now, afraid!”

The truth is that I did learn to ride a horse, only later, less for the pleasure of it than for the embarrassment I’d feel saying I didn’t know how. “Now he’ll really be chasing the girls,” they said when I started my lessons. The same could not be said of Uncle Cosme. In his case, horseriding was an old habit and a necessity. He was already done with love affairs. They say that, when a lad, besides being a fanatical party member, he was quite the ladies’ man; but the passage of time had taken away the greater part of his political and sexual ardour, and his corpulence had put to bed his ambitions both public and intimate. Now he merely carried out the duties of his office joylessly. In his hours of leisure he would sit staring or play cards. Every now and again he would say something witty.


Chapter 6 in the original Portuguese

5. The Dependant

He didn’t always walk with a slow, stiff step. He would also fidget in a flurry of gestures and was often swift and agile in his movements, as natural moving in this way as the other. Likewise, he would let fly, whenever necessary, with a great hollow laugh that was nonetheless infectious, so heartily did his cheeks, his teeth, his eyes, his whole face, his whole person, the whole world seem to laugh with him. In moments more serious, he’d indeed be very serious.

He had been our dependant for many years. My father was still on the old fazenda in Itaguaí and I had just been born. One day he turned up there offering his services as a homeopathic doctor; he carried a Manual and a case of medicines. There was an outbreak of fever going round at the time; José Dias cured the overseer and a female slave but would not accept a cent in remuneration, so my father suggested he stay there living with us on a small stipend. José Dias refused, saying that it was his duty to bring health to the thatched huts of the poor.

“Who’s stopping you from getting around? Go wherever you like, but stay here living with us.”

“I’ll come back in three months.”

He came back two weeks later. He accepted food and lodging without further recompense, except for whatever might be given him on holidays. When my father was elected deputy and came to Rio de Janeiro with the family, José Dias came too, and at the back of the estate he had his lodging. One day, when fever was again raging through Itaguaí, my father told him to go and attend to our slaves. José Dias remained silent for a moment; finally, with a sigh, he confessed that he was no doctor. He had taken on the title to help spread the ideas of the new school, which he’d done only after having studied a great deal, but his conscience would not permit him to accept any more patients.

“But you cured the sick those other times.”

“I believe I did. Nevertheless, it would be more correct to say that that was due to the remedies prescribed in the books. The remedies, amen, the remedies — under God. I was a charlatan… Don’t deny it; my motives could be considered noble, indeed they were –  homeopathy really does work, and, to serve the truth, I lied. But now it’s time to set the record straight.”

He wasn’t dismissed as he requested at the time: my father could not do without him. He had the gift of making himself agreeable and indispensable; his absence was felt as strongly as anybody else’s in the family. When my father died, José Dias was terribly distressed, or so they tell me — I don’t remember.

My mother remained grateful and would not hear of his leaving his lodgings on the estate. After the seventh-day mass, he went to take leave of her.

“Stay, José Dias.”

“As you wish, Senhora.”

He was left a small legacy in the will, a gilt-edged bond and a few words of praise. He copied out the words, framed them and hung them in his room above his bed. “This is the best bond,” he would often say. Over time, he acquired a certain authority in the family, enough to be heard out at least. He didn’t overdo things, and he knew how to express his opinions submissively. Ultimately, he was a friend, I wouldn’t say the best of friends, but not everything can be the best in this world. And don’t suppose he was subservient; his politeness was more a product of calculation than natural inclination. His clothes lasted him a long while. Unlike those who soon wear out a new suit, he continued wearing his brushed, smoothed, mended, buttoned and with a poor, modest elegance. He was well-read, though haphazardly so, enough anyway to be amusing of an evening or over dessert; to explain some phonemenon; to talk about heat’s or cold’s effects, the Earth’s poles, Robespierre. He often recounted a trip he’d made to Europe and confessed that if it hadn’t been for us he would have already gone back there. He had friends in Lisbon, but our family, he would say, under God, was everything to him.

“Under or above?” Uncle Cosme asked him one day.

“Under,” repeated José Dias reverently.

And my mother, who was religious, was pleased to see that he put God in his proper place and smiled approvingly. José Dias nodded in thanks. My mother would give him a little money from time to time. Uncle Cosme, who was a lawyer, entrusted him with the copying of legal documents.


Chapter 5 in the original Portuguese

4. The Harshest of Duties

José Dias loved superlatives. They were a way of lending a monumental air to his ideas; when he didn’t have any, the superlatives served only to prolong his expression.

He got up to fetch the backgammon set, which was further into the house. I flattened myself against the wall and watched him go past with his starched, white trousers, trouserstraps, jacket and patent cravat. He was one of the last people to use trouserstraps in Rio de Janeiro, perhaps the world. He wore his trousers short so that they were stretched tight. The black satin cravat, with a steel hoop inside, immobilised his neck, which was the fashion at the time. His printed-cotton jacket, lightweight and made for indoor use, looked like a formal dress coat on him. He was thin, pinched, balding; about fifty-five years of age. He got up with his usual slow step — not with the slowness of the lazy, but with a calculated, deliberate slowness, a complete syllogism, the major premise before the minor, the minor premise before the conclusion. The harshest of duties!


Chapter 4 in the original Portuguese.

3. The Disclosure

I was about to enter the drawing room when I heard my name mentioned and hid myself behind the door. The house was the one on Matacavalos, the month November, the year — it’s a trifle remote, but I’m not prepared to change the dates of my life solely to please people who don’t like old stories — the year was 1857.

“Dona Glória, are you still set on the idea of sending our Bentinho to seminary school? It’s past time he went, and there might now be a complication standing in the way.”

“What complication?”

“A big complication.”

My mother wanted to know what it was. José Dias, after a few moments in deep thought, went to see if anyone was in the hall; he didn’t notice me, returned and, lowering his voice, said that the complication was next door, in the house of the Páduas.

“The Páduas?”

“I’ve wanted to tell you this for a while, but I didn’t dare. It doesn’t seem right to me that our Bentinho should hide away in nooks and crannies with the daughter of old Turtleback. And this is the complication, because if they should start to fall for each other, you’ll have a struggle on your hands to separate them.”

“I don’t think so. Hiding away in nooks and crannies?”

“In a manner of speaking. Whispering in secret, always together. Bentinho hardly leaves that place. The girl’s scatterbrained. The father pretends not to notice; he’d be more than happy if things went so far as… I recognise your gesture. You don’t believe people are so scheming; everybody seems to you open, honest…”

“But, Senhor José Dias, I’ve seen the kids playing together, and I’ve never noticed anything mysterious. Their ages alone say enough: Bentinho is barely fifteen; Capitu just turned fourteen last week; they’re both kids. Don’t forget: they’ve been brought up together, ever since that great flood ten years ago in which the Páduas lost so much. That’s how we came to know one another. And now I’m to believe…? Cosme, my brother, what do you think?”

Uncle Cosme replied with a “Well!” that, translated into ordinary speech, meant “José Dias and his imagination. The kids are having fun, I’m having fun — where’s the backgammon set?”

“Yes, I think you’re mistaken, Senhor.”

“Maybe so, Senhora. God willing you’re right; but believe me, I spoke only after a lot of careful thought…”

“In any case, time is getting beyond us,” interrupted my mother. “I’ll go about enrolling him into the seminary right away.”

“Well, as long as the idea of making him a priest hasn’t been given up, that’s the main thing. Bentinho has to satify his mother’s wishes. Besides, the Brazilian church has a grand destiny. Let’s not forget that a bishop presided at the Constituent Assembly, and that Padre Feijó governed the empire…”

“Governed as badly as his face is ugly!” cut in Uncle Cosme, giving way to old political rancours.

“Pardon me, doctor, I’m not defending anyone, just stating facts. What I want to say is that the clergy still has an important role to play in Brazil.”

“What you want is a sound beating: go get the backgammon set. As for the young lad, if he has to be a priest, really it would be better if he didn’t start saying mass behind closed doors. But look here, Glória, is it really necessary to make a priest out of him?”

“It’s a promise; it must be kept.”

“I know that you made a promise… but a promise like that… I don’t know… I believe, when you really think about it… What do you think, Justina?”

“Me?”

“The truth is everyone knows what’s best for themselves,” continued Uncle Cosme. “Only God knows what’s best for everyone. Still, a promise made so many years ago… But what’s this, Glória? You’re crying? Come now, is this anything to be crying about?”

My mother blew her nose without answering. I think Justina, her cousin, got up and went to her. There followed a profound silence during which I was on tenterhooks to enter the room, but some other greater force, some other emotion… I couldn’t hear what Uncle Cosme had begun to say. Justina exhorted: “Cousin Glória! Cousin Glória!” José Dias was apologising: “If I had known, I wouldn’t have spoken, but I did so out of veneration, out of esteem, out of affection, to fulfil a harsh duty, the harshest of duties…”


Chapter 3 in the original Portuguese.

2. About the Book

Now that I’ve explained the title, I turn to writing the book. First, though, let’s go over the motives behind my putting pen to paper.

I live alone with a servant. The house I live in is my own. I decided to have it built with the aim of satisfying a desire of mine so personal that I’m embarrassed to put it into print, but here goes.

One day, many years ago, I decided I would build in Engenho Novo a replica of the house I grew up in on the old Rua de Matacavalos, a house that would look and be laid out in the same way as the old one, which no longer stands. The builder and painter understood the instructions I gave them very well: it’s the same two-storey building, three windows in the front, a verandah out back, the same bedrooms and living rooms. In the main living room, the paint work on the ceiling and walls is more or less identical: garlands of tiny flowers carried in the beaks of large birds are spaced out in intervals. In the four corners of the ceiling are the figures of the seasons, and in the centre of the walls are the medallions of Caesar, Augustus, Nero and Massinissa, their names underneath… Why these four I don’t understand. When we moved into the house on Matacavalos, it had already been decorated this way a decade earlier. It must have been the taste at the time in the Americas to incorporate a classical flavour and ancient figures into paintings. The remainder of the house is in much the same style. I have a small yard, with flowers, vegetables, a casuarina tree, a well and a washing stone. I have old china and old furniture. Now at last, as before, there is the same contrast between life within the house, which is tranquil, and life without, which is rowdy.

Clearly my aim was to tie together the two ends of my life and revive adolescence in old age. Well, sir, I managed neither to recreate what had been nor what I had been. As with all things, even if the exterior remains the same, the character underneath is different. If only other people were missing, one can more or less get over their loss. But I lack something of myself, and this lack is everything. What we have here, if I may make such a comparison, is like the dye put in beards and hair that only conserves the external habit, as they say in autopsies; what’s inside does not take to dye. A certificate stating that I am twenty years of age might deceive a stranger, as might any false document, but not me. The friends I have left are of recent times; those from times long past have gone to study geology in God’s acre. As for my female friends, I’ve known some for fifteen years, others less, and almost all of them believe in their own youthfulness. Two or three have others believing in it, but the language they use has you reaching for a dictionary so often that it’s tiresome.

Even so, a life that’s different does not mean a life that’s worse, just not the same. In certain respects, that old life appears stripped of the charms I once found in it; but it’s also lost many of its painful thorns, and I still retain, in memory, some sweet and happy recollections. Truth to tell, I go out sparingly and I speak even less. I do little recreationally. Most of my time is spent tending to my vegetables, gardening, reading; I eat well and I don’t sleep badly.

Now, just as everything becomes wearisome in the long run, so too did this monotony end up exhausting me. I wanted some variety, and I thought to write a book. Jurisprudence, philosophy and politics came to mind, but they did so without the necessary excitement in tow. Later I thought of writing a History of the Suburbs, although one less dry than Padre Luís Gonçalves dos Santos’ memoirs about the city.1 It was to be a modest project, but it demanded documents and facts for a start, all long and dull. It was then that the busts painted on the walls spoke to me and said that, because they weren’t able to bring back the days long since gone, I should take up a pen and recount some of them. Maybe their recounting will beguile me and the old shades come lightly to pass by, as they did for the poet — not the one from the train, but the author of Faust: “You’ve come again, restless shades…?”2

I was so delighted with this idea that even now the pen trembles in my hand. Yes, Nero, Augustus, Massinissa and you, great Caesar, who urge me to write my own commentaries, I thank you for your counsel, and I will put to paper the reminiscences that come to me. In this way, I will relive what I lived then, and I will strengthen my hand for some other greater work. OK then, let’s begin by evoking a celebrated November afternoon, one which I’ve never forgotten. There have been others, better and worse, but that one never faded from my mind. You’ll come to understand why, reading.


Notes
1 A reference to Memórias Para Servir à História do Reino do Brasil (Memoirs Contributing to the History of the Kingdom of Brazil), which recounts events in Brazil during the time João VI of Portugal had moved his court to Rio de Janeiro from Lisbon (1809-1821) to avoid Napoleon and the French army.

2 In the notes to John Gledson’s translation of Dom Casmurro, it’s claimed that this line is the first in Goethe’s Faust. While it certainly looks like the line comes from Goethe’s Faust, I couldn’t track it down — and it’s definitely not the first line of the masterwork.

Chapter 2 in the original Portuguese.

1. About the Title

One night not too long ago, while on the train to Engenho Novo from the city, I ran into a young lad from the neighbourhood here who I knew by sight and would doff my hat to. He greeted me, sat down beside me and spoke of the moon and of government ministers before reciting some verses. The trip was short and the verses might not have been entirely bad. Nevertheless, it just so happened that, because I was tired, I closed my eyes three or four times – enough for him to stop reading and put the verses away.

“Go on,” I said rousing myself.

“I’m done,” he muttered.

“They’re very nice.”

I saw him gesture to take them out of his pocket again, but a gesture was as far as things went. He was sulking. The next day he was calling me unsavoury things and ended up nicknaming me Dom Casmurro. The neighbours, who dislike my reclusive, taciturn ways, took to the nickname and it stuck. Not that this upset me. I told the story to my friends in the city, and in jest they proceeded to call me by my nickname, some writing: “Dom Casmurro, I’m going to dine with you Sunday.” “I’m going to Petrópolis, Dom Casmurro, to that same house in Renânia.1 See to it that you drag yourself away from that cave in Engenho Novo and come down and spend a couple of weeks with me.” “My dear Dom Casmurro, don’t think I’m letting you excuse yourself from the theatre tomorrow. Come stay the night here in the city. I’ll have for you a theatre box, tea, a bed; the only thing I won’t have for you is a girl.”

Don’t consult a dictionary. Casmurro2 isn’t being used here in the same sense that dictionaries give it, but in its more common, everyday sense, that of a man withdrawn into himself, laconic. Dom is ironic, to bestow upon me aristrocratic airs. All this because of nodding off! Still, I haven’t found a better title for my story. If another doesn’t come to mind by the end of the book, the title will stand as is. My poet on the train will know that I bear him no grudge. And without too much trouble – it’s his title after all – he can think this work his. There are books that bear no further trace of their originators; some, not even this much.


Notes:
1 Petrópolis is a temperate town about sixty-five kilometres from Rio de Janeiro that is situated in the forested hills overlooking Guanabara Bay. Petrópolis was a refuge from the heat for the rich during the summer months. German immigration to the area was encouraged in the middle of the 19th century, thus Renânia, or Rhineland in Portuguese.

2 Although casmurro would be defined as someone obstinate or strong-headed in a dictionary when the book was written, since then, and likely because of the influence of this very book, the word’s dictionary definition has expanded to encompass the meaning given here, that of someone laconic, taciturn, withdrawn.

Chapter 1 in the original Portuguese.