M Short Stories, Irish literature, Classics, Modern Fiction and Contemporary Literary Fiction, The Japanese Novel and post Colonial Asian Fiction are some of my Literary Interests

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Friday, October 14, 2011

"Aunt Zeze's Tears" by Emilia Moncorua Banderia de Mello

"Aunt Zeze's Tears" by Emilia Moncorua Banderia de Mello (1897, 10 pages)


Ninetieth Century Brazilian Short Stories-Part II of IV
The Wuthering Expectations Portuguese Literature Challenge

Inspired by the The Wuthering Expectations Portuguese Literature Challenge of Amateur Reader, I have begun for the first time ever in my reading life to explore 19th century Brazilian short stories.   My first of a projected four posts on this topic was on a very good short story about some really bad people from the slums of late 19th century Rio de Janeiro, "Felix's Revenge" by Jose de Medeiros Alburguerque.   


"Aunt Zeze's Tears" by Emilia Moncorua Banderia de Mello (1852-1910-Rio de Janeiro).   Writing under the pen name of Carmen Delores, Emilia Moncorua Banderia de Mello was one of the first widely read female Brazilian writers.   In addition to short fiction she wrote several novels and was a well regarded journalist in both Rio and San Paulo.    Many of her short stories first appeared in her weekly newspaper column.  She was a strong early Brazilian  advocate for the rights of women and children and was one of the first to demand equality in education.   Her literary focus was on the lives of middle class women.   



Maria-Jose, nicknamed "Zeze" was not beautiful and did not have a winning personality so when her father died it was considered best for her that she live with her older married sister, who had five children and a nice house.   She became the beloved "Aunt Zeze" prematurely matronly in her appearance and giving up, it seems, all hope of a personal life of her own.    When her sister and her husband when out it was just assumed Zeze would stay home to watch the children. This chilling line from the older sister pretty much tells it all.    "Oh Zeze, I know you do not like fancy dress balls, and besides all the girls will be so young and pretty you will feel  out of place, so why don't you just stay home?"   Zeze still dressed like a teenager as she aged, not noticing her nieces laughed at her behind her back.   


Soon everyone just accepted her as a permanent old maid and no one even thought she might want something more other than being "wonderful Aunt Zeze".   Nobody knew that  Zeze had fallen deeply in love with a good friend of her brother- in -law.  The man Zeze loved  was a well known poet and a bold man with the ladies. When the poet came to visit, he would often talk to Zeze, preferring her conversation to her less serious sisters or the neices and nephews.   Zeze thought he was in love with her also and was nearly overcome with excitement, though of course she tried to hide it, when her sister tells her the poet has written a poem about her and will be reading it aloud for the first time when he comes to dinner this weekend for the birthday celebration of Zeze.   


Zeze cannot really hide her feelings now as she is sure he will declare his passion for her in his poem.   Her nieces and even her sister and her husband begin to tease Zeze about her "first boyfriend" at age 30 (a very old age for an unmarried woman in late 19th century Brazil where women commonly  married at 13 or 14).


The poet begins to read his work and everyone says Zeze looks like a radiant young girl.   Everyone is so happy for her as the poet recites a story of a saintly, woman who has devoted her life entirely to the family of her sister and will soon be seen, along with her older sister, as a grandmother.   The poem ends praising Zeze for her commitment to a life of chastity as for her to have a romance at her advanced age would just be absurd.


Everyone is so happy for Zeze to have such a wonderful poem dedicated to her on her birthday.   Everyone but Zeze that is.   She faints and turns clammy and very pale once she understands the  future the poet has predicted for her.   Her sister and her nieces say she must have passed out because of the heat and press a cold cloth on her.  She awakes and tries to force a smile but she feels a rage rising within her that she struggles so hard to conceal that she bursts into hysterically weeping.   No one understand what the problem might be.   Everyone, including the poet, assumes she is simply overwhelmed by the poem he dedicated to her.   




"Aunt Zeze's Tears" is included in Brazilian Tales, a collection of pre-1920 short stories selected, introduced and translated by Issac Goldberg.   


You can download this book from Project Gutenburg in several different formats.   I will next post on another story from this book, "The Pigeons" by Coelho Netto then one by Joaquim Maria Machado de Assis.   


The Portuguese Empire In Asia
If anyone knows of other pre-1920 Brazilian short stories that can be read (in English) online please let us know.   


It would also be very interesting to read short stories written in other areas of once colonial Portugal such as Angola,  the Portuguese Indian states or Mozambique.   If you know of any stories from other colonies please let us know about them.   There are 49 different countries in the world today that were once part of the Portuguese Empire.   


Short stories can serve to open up new worlds to us.   I hope others will join in this challenge also.   


Mel u



1 comment:

Kelli Nørgaard said...

Thanks for the recommendation!
This will be my first taste of Brasilian lit!!!