Lúcio Cardoso - The book itself is strange, part Faulknerian meditation on the perversities, including sexual, of degenerate country folk; part Dostoevskian examination of good and evil and God, but in its strangeness lies its rare power
Lúcio Cardoso, Chronicle of the Murdered House, Trans. by Margaret Jull Costa and Robin Patterson, Open Letter, 2016.
“A real revolution in Brazilian Literature.” —Benjamin Moser
Long considered one of the most important works of twentieth-century Brazilian literature, Chronicle of the Murdered House is finally available in English.
Set in the southeastern state of Minas Gerais, the novel relates the dissolution of a once proud patriarchal family that blames its ruin on the youngest son Valdo’s marriage to Nina—a vibrant, unpredictable, and incendiary young woman whose very existence seems to depend on the destruction of the household. This family’s downfall, peppered by stories of decadence, adultery, incest, and madness, is related through a variety of narrative devices, including letters, diaries, memoirs, statements, confessions, and accounts penned by the various characters.
Salacious, literary, and introspective, Cardoso’s masterpiece marked a turning away from the social realism fashionable in 1930s Brazilian literature and had a huge impact on the writing of Cardoso’s life-long friend and greatest admirer — Clarice Lispector
"The book itself is strange, part Faulknerian meditation on the perversities, including sexual, of degenerate country folk; part Dostoevskian examination of good and evil and God, but in its strangeness lies its rare power, and in the sincerity and seriousness with which the essential questions are posed lies its greatness." - Benjamin Moser, from the introduction
André’s Diary (conclusion)
18th . . . 19 . . . - (. . . ah, dear God, what is death exactly? When she’s far from me, beneath the earth that will enfold her mortal remains, for how long will I have to go on remaking in this world the path she taught me, her admirable lesson of love, finding in another woman the velvet of her kisses—“this was how she used to kiss”—in yet another her way of smiling, in yet another the same rebellious lock of hair—all the many women one meets throughout one’s life, and who will help me to rebuild, out of grief and longing, that unique image gone for ever? And what does “forever” mean—the harsh, pompous echo of those words ringing down the deserted corridors of the soul—the “forever” that is, in fact, meaningless, not even a visible moment in the very instant in which we think it, and yet it is all we have, because it is the one definitive word available to us in our scant earthly vocabulary . . .
What does “forever” mean but the continuous, fluid existence of all that has been set free from contingency, that is transformed, evolves and breaks ceaselessly on the shores of equally mutable feelings? There was no point in trying to hide: the “forever” was there before my eyes. A minute, a single minute—and that, too, would escape any attempt to grasp it, while I myself—also forever—will escape and slip away, and, like a pile of cold, futile flotsam, all my love and pain and even my faithfulness will drift away forever. Yes, what else is “forever” but the final image of this world, and not just this world, but any world that one binds together with the illusory architecture of dreams and permanence—all our games and pleasures, our ills and our fears, our loves and our betrayals—the impulse, in short, that shapes not our everyday self, but the possible, never-achieved self that we pursue as one might follow the trail of a never-to-be-requited love, and that becomes, in the end, only the memory of a lost love—but lost when?—in a place we do not know, but whose loss pierces us and, whether justifiably or not, hurls us, everyone of us, into that nothing or that all-consuming everything where we vanish into the general, the absolute, the perfection we so lack.)
All day, I wandered about the empty house, unable even to dredge up enough courage to enter the living room. Ah, how painfully intense the knowledge that she no longer belonged to me, that she was merely a thing looted and manhandled by strangers, without tenderness or understanding. Somewhere far from me, very far, they would uncover her now defenseless form—and with the sad diligence of the indifferent, would dress her for the last time, never even imagining that her flesh had once been alive or how often it had trembled with love—that she had once been younger, more splendid than all the youth you could possibly imagine blossoming throughout the world. No, this was not the right death for her, at least, I had never imagined it like this, in the few difficult moments when I had managed to imagine it—so brutal and final, so unjust in its violence, like the uprooting of a new plant torn from the earth.
But there was no point in remembering what she had been—or, rather, what we had been. Therein lay the explanation: two beings hurled into the maelstrom of one exceptional circumstance, and suddenly stopped, brought up short—she, her face frozen in its final, dying expression, and me, still standing, although God knows for how long, my body still shaken by the last echo of that experience. All I wanted was to wander through the rooms and corridors, as bleak now as a stage when the principal actor has left—and all the weariness of the last few days washed over me, and I was filled by a sense of emptiness, not an ordinary emptiness, but the total emptiness that suddenly and forcefully replaces everything in us that was once impulse and vibrancy. Blindly, as if in obedience to a will not my own, I opened doors, leaned out of windows, walked through rooms: the house no longer existed.
Knowing this put me beyond consolation; no affectionate, no despairing words could touch me. Like a cauldron removed from the fire, but in whose depths the remnants still boil and bubble, what gave me courage were my memories of the days I had just lived through. Meanwhile, as if prompted by a newly discovered strength, I managed, once or twice, to go over to the room where she lay and half-opened the door to watch from a distance what was happening. Everything was now so repellently banal: it could have been the same scene I had been accustomed to seeing as a child, had it not been transfigured, as if by a potent, invincible exhalation, by the supernatural breath that fills any room touched by the presence of a corpse. The dining table, which, during its long life, had witnessed so many meals, so many family meetings and councils—how often, around those same boards, had Nina herself been judged and dissected?—had been turned into a temporary bier. On each corner, placed there with inevitable haste, stood four solitary candles. Cheap, ordinary candles, doubtless rescued from the bottom of some forgotten drawer. And to think that this was the backdrop to her final farewell, the stage on which she would say her last goodbye.
A gothic classic of Brazilian literature making its English language debut, Cardoso’s novel is the story of the Menses family, whose desperate existence in a decaying backwater estate is disrupted when youngest son Valdo returns home from Rio with a young bride, the passionate and impulsive Nina. The new mistress of the house becomes a pawn in the simmering rivalry among the Menses brothers—Valdo, cross-dressing recluse Timoteo, and the icy elder Demetrio, who longs only for his ancestral house to be graced by a visit from the local baron—and a subject of gossip for the townspeople, whose letters back and forth form the bulk of the novel. There’s the doctor who examines Valdo after a supposed suicide attempt, maid Betty who is taken into Timoteo’s confidence, and the priest who receives the confessions of Demetrio’s jealous wife, Ana, regarding the suspicious death of the Menses’ gardener. But these concerns are nothing compared to the tragedy that follows Nina’s incestuous affair with Andre, her tortured son, who alone cares for her during a long convalescence. A foreword by Benjamin Moser focuses more on Cardoso’s status as a gay writer and the novel’s influence on fellow Brazilian writer Clarice Lispector than the novel itself. Perhaps this is because, despite all its intrigues, the book reads today as a bloated melodrama whose considerable ambiance is sapped by the monotony of its story line, punctuated by characters (cadaverous brother, snooping maid) that are little more than monster-movie grotesques. - Publishers Weekly
Lucio Cardoso (1912-1968) is one of the leading Brazilian writers of the period between 1930 and 1960. As well as authoring dozens of novels and short stories, he was also active as a playwright, poet, journalist, filmmaker, and painter. Within the history of Brazilian literature, his oeuvre pioneered subjective scrutiny of the modern self, bringing to the fore the personal dramas and dilemmas that underlie perceptions of collective existence. He turned away from the social realism fashionable in 1930s Brazil and opened the doors of Brazilian literature into introspective works such as those of Clarice Lispectorhis greatest follower and admirer.