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being used here in the same sense that dictionaries give it, but in its more common, everyday sense, that of a man withdrawn into himself, laconic.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.
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.