The first in the complete volume of Clarice’s short stories is The Triumph. We start with the type of prose we would come to expect from Clarice:
The clock strikes nine. A loud, sonorous peal, followed by gentle chiming, an echo. Then silence.
In Triumph we wake to Luisa. As we get to read about the detail of what is going at that time with the clock just striking nine we get to read about Luisa’s afternoon before. She is aware of the silence when there would otherwise be noise. The afternoon before, her partner leaves, saying he despises her. We spend the next morning with poor Luisa going over what had happened before and now that the morning is different she sees things in a different light. At first Luisa cannot acknowledge that he is gone only finding a note he has written about mediocrity and some form of frustration. Luisa then realises however, that she is the better person and eventually that her partner will come back.
This first of the short stories leave us wanting to know more about Luisa and her situation. We know that she lived in an isolated area, that her partner Jorge left with his servant and that he used to travel abroad. Could it be that Jorge can no longer go abroad and is now a bit fed up of his current situation? Could it be that he is just a bit of a jerk and was just being mean? Why would Luisa want him back? These are some of the questions that I though after reading this story.
Luisa’s triumph is that she has not let Jorge leaving get to her. She realises it is a perfect day. If anything it is Jorge is the one who has lost. Without knowing the wider facts, she is not at fault and she keep her head held up high. That is always something you should make an ex spouse be aware of. That you are not at loss and Luisa has realised this.
I have looked at Clarice’s previous works most notably her novels and now I will be looking at her short stories. With Clarice’s novels, Clarice wants your undivided attention when you read them, she wants to suck you into the worlds she creates. In her short stories, we go straight to the point of the stories for want of a better word with her use of language and imagery. As mentioned by Benjamin Moser in his autobiography of Clarice people such as the poet Elizabeth Bishop preferred her short stories saying;
‘Her 2 or 3 novels I don’t think are so good but her short stories are almost like the stories I’ve always thought should be written about Brazil – Tcheckovian, slightly sinister and fantastic’
If you want to introduce people to the works of Clarice Lispector I would usually recommend Near to the Wild Heart but I would also introduce you ti her short stories as they can slowly break you in to Clarice’s style and what she is all about.
I will be using the Penguin edition of Complete Stories (2015) when looking at her short stories, the edition contains 85 of them. We will be looking at the stories written from her early years and the stories written throughout her life. Throughout these stories we will see Clarice playing with ideas and we will see stories that had an influence on her novels also. The majority of the stories look at the role of women in Brazil. These characters are just people you would meet in your own lives, housewives children, office workers for example.
As I like at the stories I will write in more detail at these stories individually and I would also like to look at if there is anything else we can learn or understand from each of them.
I will also be starting with the first short story in the Complete Stories edition with The Triumph.
This novel was published posthumously having been found with the writings she left behind and is is very different from the novels.
A Breath of Life is about a narrator and his relationship with a character he has created. There are actually three characters in the Breath of Life. The narrator himself, his creation Angela Pralini and Clarice Lisepctor herself who although has no lines herself permeates the whole feel of the novel.
Our narrator writes about his thoughts on life, on writing, on the concept of god. The narrator is trying to discover more about himself. In doing so he creates Angela, he gives her a history, a life as if she was real Brazilian woman, instils her with her own personality. She also contemplates her own thoughts and who God is. In this case her god is the narrator. As we go through the novel who is meant to be speaking can merge as if it is clearly the narrator talking as Angela. The narrator becomes captivated by his creation. He falls for her and he also questions her mortality within the life he has given her. Both characters look at how they view the world. The Narrator wants absolute control over Angela’s fate but in doing so is writing about himself more so than he his writing about Angela among all of it is Clarice who is pulling the strings from behind the scenes.
As far as I’m aware there is some Eastern European influence to this book (according to a friend a I leant it to) and there is that philosophical sense of trying to understand a way of thinking that is recognisable in almost all of Clarice’s work. As you would expect from Clarice this is a book that is not long yet at the same time you feel like you are taking in a lot. Written towards the end of Clarice’s life it also shows us if only through a prism, Clarice’s thinking at this time. Although not exactly like it, this book made me think of Agua Viva more than any of the others and I like this book as it is regardless of who the author is. It looks at our own thoughts and how we represent them and appears the most ‘meta’ of Clarice’s works.
I have looked at all of Clarice’s longer works (as far as I am aware that have been translated into English) and after this one I will be looking at Clarice’s short stories (I have a copy of the whole collection) looking at each on individually.
This was Clarice’s last published work before her unfortunate death although there were some works published afterwords (A Breath of Life being one of them). It is recognisably a work of Clarice’s in many ways, the varied use in vocabulary and an analysis of the self and who or what we are. There are two main characters in this story. Rodrigo SM the narrator and his unfortunate creation Macabea. The narrator tells us of their joy of writing, that their writing gives them a certain degree of power, in this case Macabea. We would see a similar type of theme in a Breath of Life though the narrator in that would give their heroine more of a voice.
Rodrigo has not given Macabea an easy life, she is a from poor area of Rio de Janeiro, she has simple pleasures and despite everything she goes through is actually quite content and in no way a vicious or nasty person. It would be hard to describe to much of the plot without giving too much of it a way so I will keep it to a minimum. Compared to other characters we meet Macabea is a relative saint if albeit a little naïve, her boyfriend does not have much to praise him for. Macabea is above all the other characters she meets in a number of ways without realising it. She has her own dreams and desires but never selfish. As the story develops however, we are made aware of the fact that Macabea is not master of her own fate. The narrator does say towards the end that this story is about the the greatest of everyone, more so Macabea in this case. Rodrigo then concludes with a nonchalant shrug with the acknowledgement that nothing lasts forever.
The Hour of the Star like her first published work Near to the Wild Heart is a short but well contained story. It does not feel as over done as her works The Besieged City or The Apple in the Dark. You will recognise however, again without giving too much away that the fate of Macabea resembles that of Virginia in The Chandelier. For want of a better comparison, The Hour of the Star is a lot less foggy in my mind’s eye with respect to the world it creates than The Chandelier was.
You will notice with this post that I write a lot about feeling and how I felt as for me it was the best way to describe what I was experiencing.
Agua Viva is a relatively short book, 88 pages long it can easily fit in your pocket. It however, one of the more peculiar of Clarice’s work and in no way a simple read. Unlike her other works which are almost entirely fiction with some semi autobiographical elements included, Agua Viva is a series of thoughts and meditations of Clarice. Agua Viva is definitely a lot more punchier and easier to digest then her works of fiction like the Besieged City or The Apple in the Dark but it is in no way lacking in thought and feeling. It feels like you are walking within Clairice’s mind, it’s like despite passing away in 1977 she somehow comes back to life as soon as you start reading it. It felt like I was going through a literal art exhibition like nothing you would experience before. There is no traditional order to the text. Clarice does meditate on the ‘I’. She also writes with respect to things such as life in general using flowers and cats as a form of metaphor.
I don’t feel like I could do it any justice by dissecting the text and putting my thought upon it (though I do recommend Reading With Clarice Lispector by Helene Cixous) but I can definitely tell you as I have above how I felt and what it made me feel whilst I was reading it. This is one of them texts where I think it would be much easier to pick it up from time to time. When I read it I felt like Clarice was writing to me personally, that the whole text was for me despite how impossible that is.
Again I must apologise as I am typing this being fully aware that I am not giving it the justice it deserves. Agua Viva is not just something to be read but something that is to be experienced. This is another that in the future I would like to do another post. To look at it in the way Helene Cixous or Benjamin Moser has. Despite it being a translation into English there is a feel with the language that it is playing with you, it is testing you in how you interpret it with respect to your own reality.
[In English: Penguin Classics edition published 2014.
In Portuguese: by arrangement with the heirs of Lispector and Agencia Literaria Carmen Balcells, Barcelona. Published in 1973]
The Apple in the Dark is a peculiar existential novel that as Benjamin Moser states in the introduction is influenced by Clarice’s Jewish heritage. There is a plot that keeps the story going but as you would expect with anything by Clarice Lispector there is more to it than that. In the beginning of the story Moser mentions (in his introduction) that it is no coincidence that the main character written by a Jewish writer has a shadowy character in it called simply ‘The German’.
In Apple in the Dark we get to see the inner thoughts and feelings of three characters in particular. Our main hero Martin, Vitoria and Emerlinda who Martin meets on a rundown farm and starts becoming a bit of a handyman. We are made aware that Martin is running away from something, from civilisation and from his past. We are introduced to a world where Martin finds himself walking through the darkness, he can only guess where he is going, he accidentally kills a bird and talks to the stones, almost like he has been reinvented as something new, despite this he still cannot forget his past. When the light returns Martin finds the farm mentioned above. This is where meet Vitoria who at first appears distant and unfriendly, but the more we learn about her, the more we get an understanding of her her view on life, loving and being loved. We also meet Emerlinda who appears to follow her emotions more so than Vitoria and we learn is yearning for love. Although there are some other minor characters the focus is on these three. We go into their minds and see the relationships between the three. To put it briefly, this book is about loyalty, love and betrayal along with an acceptance and refusal to accept reality.
The plot evolves around the relationship between these three. Without giving too much away, in the end, civilisation reclaims Martin and Vitoria and Emerlinda see him go possibly to never see him again, at the end Martin comes across as a somewhat tragic character especially when you find out what he had done and is somebody to be pitied. As we read through Apple in the Dark we learn how Martin tries to get to grips for his sins by creating his own form of god but in the end as stated, it is civilisation that gets to him.
The Apple of the Dark is interesting for the way it portrays the characters within it. We would be guilty of creating our own prejudices of the characters but with respect to Martin and Vitoria in particular, for me at least my perceptions of them had changed towards the end.
I imagine this book to be easier to read in Portuguese. Although easy to understand what Clarice was trying to present to us, I found this particular translation to be somewhat stilted. I do not see this to be the fault of the translator, learning Portuguese myself I know Portuguese is not the easiest language to make direct translations into English but I thought this book did not flow as well as the other Clarice Lispector books I’ve read. In fairness to the translator and anyone who does it I understand that to make a translation easy to read whilst keeping the essence of what the writer intended can be a complicated.
This is a book about characters and how they interact, develop and change along with a splash of philosophy. This is a book that you will have to keep your whole focus on with no distractions. This is a book that would need your undivided attention.
[First published in 1961(Originally in Portuguese) Haus Publishing Edition 2009 in English]
This is one of Clarice’s more famous works and a lot has been written about this book. For those of you who don’t know much about it, this post is for you. I could go on about all sorts of details about this book but I will try and be brief.
My friends are aware of my Clarice fascination and to the ones that I have introduced her works to, they find this one to be somewhat puzzling, they find it for want of a better word, odd. What we do see is Clarice at her best when it comes to style, we know that this book ‘best corresponded to her demands as a writer’ (Clarice by Nadia Gotlib).
The Passion is not like many other books you will read and this is is the first Clarice book I’ve read (other than what is seen in her short stories at the least) that is written in the first person narrated by the character GH an artist specialising in sculpture, I was always amused by the fact that our initials are the same. There is another character in this story, an unfortunate cockroach.
I’ve heard people argue (my friends in particular) that GH comes across as a bit self indulgent and full of her self. GH is more complicated than that. When we first meet GH she has a comfortable life as an artist and is clearing out her former maid’s tidy room, she comes to the realisation that this maid did not like her, she finds that the maid (who she has little recollection of) had daubed pictures of a man, a woman and a dog on one of the walls. This realisation upsets GH which starts a shift in her mind, she has an anger attack, she sees the cockroach and attacks it, what remains affects the mind of GH and this is when GH tells us about how she is thinking and feeling. She questions her life, her relationship with God, her own existence in the world. We also read about the unfortunate cockroach and how GH’s existential experience affects it.
Within her meditations for example GH says,
‘Ah, at least I had already entered the Roach’s nature to the point that I no longer wanted to do anything for it. I was freeing myself from my morality and that was a catastrophe without crash and without tragedy.’
GH sees some of her former maid in the cockroach. I was reminded a little bit of Franz Kafka’s Metamorphosis, Gregor as the monstrous vermin is the cockroach, Greta is GH who after confronting the creature sees a change in her life. GH’s change comes originally from her fit of rage after associating the room and the cockroach with the maid who didn’t like her. Going on personal experience when you have a depressive fit of rage, how you thought a second before is gone and everything feels different so I could understand GH’s sudden shift in thinking if only to a certain degree.
This is seen as one of Clarice’s better works. It is definitely well contained and felt easier to read than The Chandelier and The Besieged City. I still think Near to the Wild Heart and her short stories is when we see Clarice at her best especially with character interaction. The Passion is a fascinating treatise on the mind of a human being. Although we read about GH’s passion, it is the cockroach that suffers more. From what I have seen in the world it’s those that are repulsed by others that seem to do the most suffering.
Before the story starts Clarice herself says that people with fully formed souls should only read this book. I definitely broke that rule I read it anyway. Read this book if you want something different from everything else you have ever read. Contemplate on what GH thinks. The only down side with a book is that you can’t debate with the characters. I would love to with GH.
I have read The Chandelier twice now and do consider that what Benjamin Moser has written about The Chandelier in Why This World (which I’ve also done a post on my blog here, shameless plug of myself there) more than likely has had an influence on how I have viewed the book. Where I was quite brief in my post on Near to the Wild Heart, I want to go into more detail in The Chandelier to do it any justice and to show how Clarice contrasted the writing of the book from Near to the Wild Heart.
The Chandelier is Clarice’s second book, it should have been called the Society of Shadows (as I’ll explain later) I saw that as more fitting. The Chandelier is much longer than Near to the Wild Heart but like Near to the Wild Heart. The syntax in The Chandelier has developed on from Near to the Wild Heart. We have a story about a young woman and we read her inner thoughts. We meet Virginia who is somewhat different to Joana in Near to the Wild Heart (especially in appearance) we see how she thinks and how she perceives the world.
The world itself only appears to be vague. Although we know about Virginia and her family growing up in their old mansion in an out of the way village and then in her later life with her lover in ‘the city’, the physical world is never wholly described. We only know character’s first names, the city itself is just called ‘the city’, we are though aware of the village of Upper Marsh which isn’t wholly detailed either. The detail itself is in how Virginia is thinking and sees the world. Her biggest influence on her early life is her elder brother Daniel who truth be told isn’t that likable and appears cruel but at the same time also has a sensitive side. Daniel is mean to his sister, in a way that brothers at a young age are. The siblings when at play create the Society of Shadows after witnessing a drowning, although created just to hang around the forest and spy on their sister they give the society the motto ‘Solitude and Truth’ and within the society Daniel says
‘Everything that frightens us because it leaves us alone is what we must seek.’
The main thing that frightens Virginia however is her brother himself, he’d be verbally abusive and squeeze her arm and pushes her. Daniel does however, say to Virginia that she only knows what she is taught and that she must meditate on what is her own and what she has been taught to think, which has a long lasting effect on Virginia . She never goes against her brother, Daniel notices that she comes out happier after she does what he tells her. He unintentionally becomes like a drill sergeant in a boot camp, bringing Virginia down to build her up if albeit in an odd way. Daniel tells her that the member of the Society must perfect themselves. With the Society of Shadows although we may see an elder brother being a bit of a pain, he actually has Virginia’s best intentions at heart.
Virginia’s acts (on behalf of the Society) have a long lasting affect on her elder sister we are also made aware of the dark thoughts Virginia has (which only remain as thoughts). Where as in other more traditional stories where we can only guess what a character is thinking through suggestion or conduct (like in a detective novel) with The Chandelier and Virginia in particular it’s the other way round. We know how she is thinking but we are not too sure with how it is perceived by others or what’s really going on. Her perceptions without thought take her somewhere but we don’t quite know where.
When Virginia is older she moves to the city but we still don’t know much about her other than what she is thinking . She is at a party and she does not feel comfortable there with the different types of people. She tries to distract herself with sense perception. She is not comfortable with the people she meets in the city and her thoughts go back to her brother who has also moved on, the one person who shaped how she understood life is no longer with her and she is surrounded by other people she cannot understand and she is questioning who she is. Virginia is identified with the chandelier in her house, the chandelier is on top of everything sometimes swinging with light reflecting through it, sometimes still and dark. I would say she is more the shadows separate from the light. By the light but not part of it. Hence why I think The Society of Shadows is more fitting.
Virginia dies towards the end. Clarice writes ‘Death has finished forever, anything that could be known about her.’ We also see how this affects another character Adriano but I will leave it there with respect to the story, this is a story where the ending is not as important as what is experienced within it.
This book is almost like reading somebody else’s dream, we are inside the head of Virginia but we are not her. We are seeing things through steamed glasses that we are constantly clearing. The Chandelier isn’t written in the first person but it could be to a point. In Near to The Wild Heart where we look at different parts of Joana’s life whereas in The Chandelier we see a merger of Virginia’s earlier and later life like through a cloud.
If you are to read this book which I strongly suggest you do then I would say read it at least twice. Don’t think too much on the words (Clarice has done that for you), just read it and take it in. Clarice Lispector was still a young when this was written and you can sense her development towards her future works.
The only issue I have with the book is that if you ever have anyone ever tell you that her short stories are better than her longer ones, this is probably what they are comparing it to (Song with The Besieged City).
The Chandelier is much longer than Near to The Wild and Heart and a number of her other works and is not as easy a read. Clarice is a little more daring and experimental with with her shorter stories and especially in her later works. Where as I said in Near to the Wild Heart that not a single word is wasted, this is a larger work where I suspect Clarice was trying to shape herself as a writer especially with trying to put thought into word. However, if you take my advice and just read the words and make Virginia’s inner thoughts just appear in your head then you will get a lot from this. Clarice always makes you contemplate thoughts and ideas that may otherwise be hard to put into words.
Near to the Wild Heart is one of them special books, something original that you remember much later after you read it. Written in Brazilian Portuguese originally, the modernist style made famous by the likes of Joyce and Woolf helped create a book with a unique style.
Disclaimer of sorts before I go any further, I am a big fan of this writer’s work, I’ve read almost everything she’s written (watch this space for more on Clarice) that’s been translated in English so I will try to be as balanced as I honestly can about this book. I have already done a post on Why This World the Clarice biography by Benjamin Moser which like everything else I try to do here I more of a recommendation than a review..
I love it of course I do. It was Clarice Lispector’s first released novel and was a success in Brazil when it first came out.
The book is influenced by some of the philosophical writings of Spinoza, mainly Spinoza’s thoughts on good and evil and people’s subjective understanding of it. As a result we get an interesting look at the protagonist Joana. Her views on the world and especially how other people perceive her probably says more about the people than they do about Joana. We also get to look and see Joana’s way of thinking.
I want you to read the book so I won’t give a lot of the plot of the book away. We meet Joana through her childhood and her life as a young woman. We see her interactions with others and who have been important people in her life also get to find out what thy think of Joana. Joana is compared to animals. A snake being one of them.
Despite being less than 200 pages long this book is very rewarding. I’ve read books over 600 pages long and haven’t read anything with as much expression and substance as this book. Clarice would later go on to experiment with different ways of storytelling from her short stories to her longer ones. Now I know this is a translation by Alison Entrekin (I will quote translators from now on, they deserve credit) so we naturally will not get an exact literal translation of Clarice’s intentions at least in the English language, not a single word is wasted however, there is no rambling or sections that aren’t needed.
Clarice was 23 when this book was first published and she showed a maturity which was wise beyond her years. If you’ve read about Clarice’s life and upbringing you would not be surprised by this at all. Whilst Clarice’s next two books, The Chandelier and The Besieged City have more detail in them in the way the characters look at the world, Near to the Wild Heart is probably my favourite of her first three. As much as I loved her subsequent books, this one has