Francis Cairns Publications

Liverpool Monographs in Hispanic Studies 3

The Deceptive Realism of Machado de Assis. A Dissenting Interpretation of Dom Casmurro

John Gledson

LMHS 3. ISBN 978-0-905205-19-9. Cloth. viii+215pp. 1984.

The Brazilian Joaquim Maria Machado de Assis, born in Rio de Janeiro in 1839, is regarded as the greatest Latin-American novelist of the nineteenth century. Dom Casmurro (1899) is one of his most important works. Its narrator, Bento, who is also its central character, sets out to convince the reader, on insufficient grounds, of the adultery of his wife, Capitu. The complexity and irony which results from this mode of presentation have led critics to see Dom Casmurro as a precursor of the fictional experimentation of the twentieth century.

This book argues, against the critical consensus, that Machado's work is in essence realist, and that Dom Casmurro in particular offers a coherent and disenchanted vision of Brazilian society in the reign of Pedro II. Slavery, the "religious question", the relationship between traditional values and developing capitalism, even the Paraguayan War – all lie ominously concealed in the background to the domestic history of Bento and Capitu.

John Gledson begins his analysis of Dom Casmurro by negotiating the labyrinth of Bento's narration; in the first chapter he shows that there is not only another possible version of the events related by Bento, but also another Bento, a sinister representative of his social class. The second chapter establishes the "true" plot of the novel, drawing its origins both from Machado's earlier fiction and from the patriarchal and paternalistic society of the period. Chapters three and four explain how various key episodes must be allegorically understood as part of Machado's vision of the politics and ideology of the Second Reign. The concluding chapter, summing up the main strands of the argument, points out that the habits of thought which govern the narration are also those which govern the class and society to which Bento belongs.

The argument throughout is supported by extensive quotations from the Portuguese, with English translation.

This study of Dom Casmurro lays the basis for a more "realistic" and comprehensive understanding of a major novelist. It has important implications for the general study of the late nineteenth-century and early twentieth-century novel, as well as for the history of Brazilian and Latin-American literature.


Bulletin of Hispanic Studies 63 (1986) 108-9 (John Parker): "a new interpretation of this calibre is an exhilarating and challenging experience, as well as an extremely important contribution to Machado criticism"

Romance Quarterly 34 (1987) 380-81 (Richard A. Preto-Rodas): "From this important addition to Machadiana the reader derives an even deeper respect for Machado's genius."

O Estado de S. Paulo 14 Apr. 1984 (Beth Brait)

Hispania 68 (1985) 79-80 (David T. Haberley): "extremely well-written – learned, but always lively and thought-provoking"

Portuguese Studies 1 (1985) 228-30 (Juliet Perkins)

Modern Language Review 81 (1986) 1028-9 (R.J. Oakley): "Truly, Machado de Assis as a great Realist sui generis, comes of age in this challenging study."

Hispanic Review 54 (1986) 239-40 (Benjamin M. Woodbridge, Jr): "one who cannot accept all of Gledson's fine-spun hypotheses finds himself grateful for an analysis that leads to re-reading and re-thinking a novel that generations of American college students have found delightfully challenging."

Latin American Research Review 21 (1986), review essay 'Race, Politics, and literary techiques in recent books on Brazilian literature', by Enylton de Sá Rego, pp.249-56, esp. 254-6: "In general, I believe that The Deceptive Realism of Machado de Assis fulfills the author's stated intention: 'This book pretends only to further the understanding of Machado de Assis, a valuable task in its own right and one which will, I hope, send the reader back to the novels and short stories with renewed insight and capacity for fresh discovery (p.12)."

Times Literary Supplement Feb. 1 1985, 127 (J.G. Merquior): There is no gainsaying that this is a remarkable, thought-provoking addition to the critical literature on Machado de Assis. In subtlety of analysis as well as conversancy with Machado's oeuvre in prose it bears comparison with the best work to date on Dom Casmurro"

Forum for Modern Language Studies 20 (1984) 373-4: "Dr Gledson's subtitle promises something different and thought-provoking, and the reader is not disappointed. What is an added bonus to this is the thoroughness with which the novel is described and analysed, making the book helpful for undergraduates as well as essential for the more advanced student of Machado and of Brazilian literature in general ..."