Library Exhibits

Machado de Assis: Reading the Brazilian Master, Then and Now

This exhibit was mounted from April 15 to June 5, 2008 in the John Hay Library.

The exhibit was sponsored by the Department of Portuguese & Brazilian Studies and the Center for Latin American Studies.

The exhibit was curated by Ana Catarina Teixeira and Patricia Figueroa in collaboration with Prof. Nelson Vieira.

To both Brazilian and international critics, Machado de Assis is a name that stands alone in 19th century Latin American fiction. Born on the 21st of June 1839 in Rio de Janeiro to a father of African ancestry and a Portuguese mother, Machado de Assis, as an autodidact, rose above humble beginnings and a meager education to achieve the highest status of his country's literary establishment.

During his prolific career, Machado explored nearly every genre--poetry, theater, journalism, literary criticism, and translation--but it was as a novelist and a short story writer that Machado forged a narrative voice that would forever impact the literary topography of his nation. At a time when European models dominated, Machado rejected pure imitation and explored new ways to represent Brazilian society.

In 1908, at the age of 69, Machado de Assis died in his native city, leaving behind a legacy of short stories and novels, which mordantly criticized Brazil's insensitive upper middle class and elites with the use of subtle irony and well-crafted ambiguity.

The masterful manner in which Machado created his memorable characters not only allows his readers, then and now, to better comprehend the realities of Brazilian society, but above all, the complexities of the human condition. This unprecedented contribution not only placed Brazilian literature on the literary map, but also paved the way for the "new novel" in 20th century Portuguese and Spanish America.

In 2008 Brown Univertsity Library joined the literary community to commemorate the 100th anniversary of Machado's death with a display of early criticism of Machado's works, donated by Professor William Leonard Grossman. The materials selected highlight not only the vast array of responses by his contemporaries, but also reveal insights into the timeless and universal nature of his prose in an attempt to help the audience gain a glimpse of Machado, the man and the writer, as a source of inspiration for an exponentially growing corpus of literary criticism.

Image source: cover from "Machado de Assis" by Augusto Corrêa Pinto. Rio de Janeiro: Irmãos Pongetti, 1958. John Hay Library.

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