Short Stories, Irish literature, Classics, Modern Fiction, Contemporary Literary Fiction, The Japanese Novel, Post Colonial Asian Fiction, The Legacy of the Austro-Hungarian Empire and quality Historical Novels are Among my Interests

Wednesday, October 12, 2011

"The Revenge of Felix" by Jose de Medeiros Albuquerque

"Revenge of Felix" by Jose de Medeiros Albuquerque (1899, translated by Issac Goldberg)

The Wuthering Expectations Portuguese Literature Challenge

When Amateur Reader of Wuthering Expectations announced his Portuguese Literature Challenge (September 20 to April 20, 2012) I knew I wanted to be a part of it but I was not sure exactly how to approach it until he added that Brazilian literature was a part of this.   (The only real rule to the challenge is whatever you read must have been written before 1920 first in Portuguese with an English translation available.)

I knew at once I wanted to read some older Brazilian short stories.    I was lucky enough to find a collection of stories, Brazilian Tales (translated and introduced by Issac Goldberg-a noted scholar of the time) published in 1921 that could be downloaded from Poject Gutenburg that contains short stories by four different writers.   I plan to do a post on each of these authors, starting with Jose de Medeiros Albuquerque.

I will also post on stories by Joaquin Machado de Assis, Coelho Netto, and Carmen Delores.  

Jose de Medeiros Albuquerque (Recife-1867 to 1934) was the son of a prosperous doctor.   He was educated in Brazil and Lisbon.   He had a very diverse career.   He, according to his profile at the The Brazilian Academy of Letters, was  a teacher, an essayist, a journalist, a novelist and short story writer and was heavily involved in politics.   He was a professor of fine arts and director of the a theater company.   Part of the time he was quite successful in his political endeavors and part of the time, as the fortunes swung another way, he had to go into exile for a while.

His lasting legacy is  his short stories of the lives of ordinary Brazilian men and women.   Brazil in 1899 was a very class stratified society.     Reading short stories was pretty much for the wealthier (which also meant the light skinned) elements of society.   To them the favellas of the big cities were almost a foreign country, much as the depths of the slums of London were to the first readers of the novels of Charles Dickens.

"The Revenge of Felix" is a very well done, totally entertaining story set in the slums of Rio de Janeiro in the 1890s.   There are four characters in the story.   Brazil at that time (others can say if this is still true!) was a very race aware society where people were classified by how dark they were.   This is a legacy of 100s of years of slavery and colonial rule.   You can, I think, see that in this story.   Felix is an old man now but he used to be the strongest worker in the stone quarries.  He is a widower.    He is weak and infirm now and lives with his daughter, a laundress and we are lead to believe also a prostitute.   I do not know what was in the mind of the author, but the assumption that a poor woman descended from slaves was sexually loose and easily available was  part of the mind set of the affluent readers for whom this story was written.   Felix also has a son who from his earliest days has been involved in all kind of petty crimes but he has not seen him in a while.   His daughter supports him but treats him with total contempt heaping abuse on him as a worthless parasite at every opportunity.    His main occupation is reading the newspaper.

One day he reads an article about his missing son.   It seems the son stabbed and killed for no reason at all a very respectable citizen and is now to be tried for the crime.    To make it all worse, he was arrested by a policeman who is actually one of Felix's neighbors.   Felix already hated the man because he was a "pretentious mulatto" who had once been a well known dishonest political figure powerful in the slums but was now reduced to being a policemen.   Felix begins to really hate the man now.   Then he finds out his own daughter is the mistress of the man and his hatred begins to totally consume him.

Felix is getting sicker and sicker by the day.   He and his daughter now fight all the time and his son is doing life in prison.   All he thinks about is getting revenge on the policeman.   He pretends he is not mad, after all his son did stab someone and the policeman was just doing his job.   He invites the policemen to his house and tells him he has an important story to tell him and wants to give him his only valuable possession, an expensive watch he treasures.   Felix first tells the man to bring him a long knife from the kitchen.   The policeman is worried he plans to stab him.    Felix calls him over and puts the watch in the man's pocket.   Then he begins to scream at the top of his voice (quarters are close in the slums) "stop thief don't murder me for my watch".    Just before his neighbors rush in, he stabs himself in the heart and with his last strength pulls out the knife and puts it in the policeman's hand.   No one, not even his fellow policemen, believe the man's story when he tries to tell them he did not kill Felix for his watch as he was found with the watch in his pocket and the murder weapon in his hand.    The policemen ends up doing life in prison along side of Felix's son.

You can download Brazilian Tales Here in various formats.

I enjoyed reading this story a lot and think others will also.   I am looking forward to reading more older Brazilian short stories.

Mel u


Amateur Reader (Tom) said...

All right, I just read this one. That was horrible! Horrible meaning, horrible people, horrible actions. As a story, it was quite good, sourly ironic.

Good find - I had not thought to look for titles at Gutenberg.

CHE said...

I've read almost nothing of Brazilian or Portuguese literature. I've going to be keenly following your posts on the subject. This story sounds great, also vaguely familiar. I'll give it a read.

Nan said...

Wow! What a twist. I love surprise endings like this. I've not read anything Portuguese or Brazilian. I must remedy that.
Do you read the Arnaldur Indridason series? His policeman is Erlendur, and he has troubles with his adult children which are a bit similar to poor Felix'.

Mel u said...

Amateur Reader (Tom)-yes it is a really nasty twist at the end

CHE-this will be my first venture into Brazilian lit. also-

Nan-I in fact never heard of Arnaldur Indridason until you mentioned him and now that I have Googled him I will have to try to read him -thanks so much for the suggestion

Darlyn (Your Move, Dickens) said...

Thank you so much for recommending this story, Mel. It sounds like something Guy de Maupassant would write, but with a South American flavor. I'm downloading Brazilian Tales while typing this. :)

@parridhlantern said...

Great find, have glanced through & downloaded a couple from Gutenberg, but will have to explore deeper.