Joaquim Maria Machado de Assis

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Joaquim Maria Machado de Assis (June 21, 1839 - September 29, 1908) was a Brazilian realist novelist, poet and short-story writer born in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil. He is the most important name in Brazilian literature and his works had a great influence on Brazilian literary schools of the late 19th century. Harold Bloom and Woody Allen are a few of his admirers, Bloom calls him the greatest black writer he has ever read.



Son of Francisco José de Assis (a half-black housepainter, descendant of freed slaves) and Maria Leopoldina Machado de Assis (a washerwoman), Machado de Assis lost both his mother and his only sister at an early age. Machado is said to have learnt to write by himself, and he used to take classes for free will. He learnt to speak French first and english later, both fluently. He started to work for newspapers in Rio de Janeiro, where he published his first works and met established writers such as Joaquim Manuel de Macedo.

In 1869 Machado de Assis married Carolina Xavier de Novaes, a descendant of noble family. Soon the writer got a public job, and stability that permitted him write his best works.

Machado de Assis began by writing popular works which sold well, but are not read much nowadays. His style changed in the 1880s, and it is for the sceptical, ironic, comedic but ultimately pessimistic works he wrote after this that he is remembered (the first novel in his 'new style' was Epitaph for a Small Winner, known in the new Gregory Rabassa translation as Posthumous Memoirs of Bras Cubas -- a literal translation of the original title, Memórias Póstumas de Brás Cubas.). In their brilliant comedy and ironic playfulness, these resemble in some ways the almost contemporary works of George Meredith in the UK, but Machado de Assis' work have a far bleaker emotional undertone. Assis' work has also been compared with Tristram Shandy by Sterne. He is probably the greatest of all Brazilian writers.

Machado de Assis could speak English fluently and translated many works of Shakespeare into Portuguese. This explains Machado de Assis' numerous allusions to Shakespearean plays.

Machado died in Rio de Janeiro, on September 29, 1908.



His last novel, Dom Casmurro, is widely read in Brazilian schools. Dom Casmurro reflects Machado de Assis' life as a translator of many of Shakespeare's works. In the novel, he refers to Much Ado About Nothing, The Merry Wives of Windsor, Hamlet, Romeo and Juliet, and most importantly, Othello. Othello's influence can be seen through out the novel. One example would be the name of the main character: Bentinho Santiago. Santiago can be broken into two parts - Saint Iago. Iago is the name of the antagonist in Othello. Bento Santiago, who is saintly as a boy, turned into an Iago as he grows up. Capitu, on the other hand, could be compared to Desdemona. One of the differences is the fact that Desdemona is the daughter of a wealthy statesman, whereas Capitu is the daughter of a poor government official. In Othello, it is the handkerchief that convinces Othello of fictious relationship between Desdemona and Cassio. In Dom Casmurro, it is the son of Capitu that serves as the "handkerchief."

Machado de Assis was fascinated with the theme of jealousy and wrote many novels with the theme; Dom Casmurro can be said to be the greatest one of all, as illustrated by Brazillian critics arguing over whether Capitu was guilty or not. A portion of his achievement can be attributed to the fact that if Capitu and Bento were to go to court (only with the information published in the novel), neither would win.

Some Machado de Assis commentarists:

Helen Caldwell John Gledson

List of Major Works

de:Joaquim Maria Machado de Assis pt:Machado de Assis es:Machado de Assis


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