Machado de Assis

Last updated

Machado de Assis
Machado de Assis 1904.jpg
Machado de Assis in 1904.
Brazilian National Archives
1st Academic of the 23rd chair of the Brazilian Academy of Letters
In office
28 January 1897 29 September 1908
Preceded byPosition established
José de Alencar (patron)
Succeeded byLafayette Rodrigues Pereira
President of the Brazilian Academy of Letters
In office
28 January 1897 29 September 1908
Preceded byPosition established
Succeeded by Ruy Barbosa
Personal details
Joaquim Maria Machado de Assis

(1839-06-21)21 June 1839
Rio de Janeiro, Empire of Brazil
Died29 September 1908(1908-09-29) (aged 69)
Rio de Janeiro, Brazil
Spouse(s)Carolina de Novais
(1869–1904; her death)
OccupationNovelist, short story writer, poet, literary critic
Movement Romanticism, Realism
Other namesMachado, "The Warlock from Cosme Velho"
Signature Assinatura de Machado de Assis.gif

Joaquim Maria Machado de Assis (Portuguese:  [ʒwɐˈkĩ mɐˈɾi.ɐ mɐˈʃadu dʒi ɐˈsis] ), often known by his surnames as Machado de Assis, Machado, or Bruxo do Cosme Velho [1] (21 June 1839 – 29 September 1908), was a pioneer Brazilian novelist, poet, playwright and short story writer, widely regarded as the greatest writer of Brazilian literature. [2] [3] [4] Nevertheless, Assis did not achieve widespread popularity outside Brazil during his lifetime. In 1897 he founded and became the first President of the Brazilian Academy of Letters. He was multilingual, having taught himself French, English, German and Greek in later life.


Born in Morro do Livramento, Rio de Janeiro from a poor family, he was the grandson of freed slaves in a country where slavery wouldn't be fully abolished until 49 years later. Machado faced many challenges for being an afro-Brazilian in the 19th century, including limited access to formal education. He barely studied in public schools and never attended university. With only his own intellect to rely on, and largely self-taught, he struggled to rise socially. To do so, he took several public positions, passing through the Ministry of Agriculture, Trade and Public Works, and achieving early fame in newspapers where he published his first poetry and chronicles.

Machado's work shaped the realism movement in Brazil. He became known for his wit and his eye-opening critiques of society. Generally considered to be Machado's greatest works are Dom Casmurro (1899), Memórias Póstumas de Brás Cubas ("Posthumous Memoirs of Brás Cubas", also translated as Epitaph of a Small Winner) and Quincas Borba (also known in English as Philosopher or Dog?). In 1893 he published "A Missa do Galo" ("Midnight Mass"), often considered to be the greatest short story in Brazilian literature. [5] American literary critic Harold Bloom's included Machado de Assis in his list of 100 geniuses of literature. Bloom considers him the greatest black writer in Western literature. Although, until today, he faces a diminishing amount of whitewashing, having his blackness being hidden, so far that a lot of people thought he was a white man, therefore, Brazilian black activists have been doing their best into surpassing the information that he was, in fact, a black man, and that his heritage should not be deleted from history, not only because of how many obstacles he faced in the 19th century, but also for empowerment reasons.


Birth and adolescence

Morro do Livramento. The arrow in the right corner shows the house where Machado was probably born and spent his childhood. Morro do Livramento, onde Machado nasceu.jpg
Morro do Livramento. The arrow in the right corner shows the house where Machado was probably born and spent his childhood.

Joaquim Maria Machado de Assis was born on 21 June 1839 in Rio de Janeiro, then capital of the Empire of Brazil. [6] [7] [8] His parents were Francisco José de Assis, a wall painter, the son of freed slaves, [9] and Maria Leopoldina da Câmara Machado, a Portuguese washerwoman from the Azores. [7] [10] He was born in Livramento country house, owned by Dona Maria José de Mendonça Barroso Pereira, widow of senator Bento Barroso Pereira, who protected his parents and allowed them to live with her. [6] [7] Dona Maria José became Joaquim's godmother; her brother-in-law, commendatory Joaquim Alberto de Sousa da Silveira, was his godfather, and both were paid homage by giving their names to the baby. [6] [7] Machado had a sister who died young. [8] Joaquim studied in a public school, but was not a good student. [6] While helping to serve masses, he met Father Silveira Sarmento, who became his Latin teacher and also a good friend. [6] [7]

When Joaquim was ten years old, his mother died, and his father took him along as he moved to São Cristóvão. Francisco de Assis met Maria Inês da Silva, and they married in 1854. [6] [7] [8] Joaquim had classes in a school for girls only, thanks to his stepmother who worked there making candies. At night he learned French with an immigrant baker. [6] In his adolescence, he met Francisco de Paulo Brito, who owned a bookstore, a newspaper and typography. [6] On 12 January 1855, Francisco de Paula published the poem Ela ("Her") written by Joaquim, then 15 years old, in the newspaper Marmota Fluminense. [6] [7] [8] In the following year, he was hired as typographer's apprentice in the Imprensa Oficial (the Official Press, charged with the publication of Government measures), where he was encouraged as a writer by Manuel Antônio de Almeida, the newspaper's director and also a novelist. [6] There he also met Francisco Otaviano, journalist and later liberal senator, and Quintino Bocaiúva, who decades later would become known for his role as a republican orator. [11]

Early career and education

National Press, c.1880, where Machado de Assis began his services as typographer and reviser. Imprensa Nacional onde trabalhou como tipografo, por Marc Ferrez.jpg
National Press, c.1880, where Machado de Assis began his services as typographer and reviser.

Francisco Otaviano hired Machado to work on the newspaper Correio Mercantil as a proofreader in 1858. [8] [11] He continued to write for the Marmota Fluminense and also for several other newspapers, but he did not earn much and had a humble life. [8] [11] As he did not live with his father anymore, it was common for him to eat only once a day for lack of money. [11]

Around this time, he became a friend of the writer and liberal politician José de Alencar, who taught him English. From English literature, he was influenced by Laurence Sterne, William Shakespeare, Lord Byron and Jonathan Swift. He learned German years later and in his old age, Greek. [11] He was invited by Bocaiúva to work at his newspaper Diário do Rio de Janeiro in 1860. [7] [12] Machado had a passion for theater and wrote several plays for a short time; his friend Bocaiúva concluded: "Your works are meant to be read and not played." [12] He gained some notability and began to sign his writings as J. M. Machado de Assis, the way he would be known for posterity: Machado de Assis. [12] He established himself in advanced Liberal Party circles by taking stands in defense of religious freedom and Ernest Renan's controversial Life of Jesus while attacking the venality of the clergy. [13]

Machado de Assis when he was 25 years old, 1864. Machado 25 anos.jpg
Machado de Assis when he was 25 years old, 1864.

His father Francisco de Assis died in 1864. Machado learned of his father's death through acquaintances. He dedicated his compilation of poems called "Crisálidas" to his father: "To the Memory of Francisco José de Assis and Maria Leopoldina Machado de Assis, my Parents." [14] With the Liberal Party's ascension to power about that time, Machado thought he might receive a patronage position that would help him improve his life. To his surprise, aid came from the Emperor Dom Pedro II, who hired him as director-assistant in the Diário Oficial in 1867, and knighted him as an honor. [14] In 1888 Machado was made an officer of the Order of the Rose. [8]

Marriage and family

In 1868 Machado met the Portuguese Carolina Augusta Xavier de Novais, five years older than him. [14] She was the sister of his colleague Faustino Xavier de Novais, for whom he worked on the magazine O Futuro. [8] [11] Machado had a stammer and was extremely shy, short and lean. He was also very intelligent and well learned. [14] He married Carolina on 12 November 1869; although her parents Miguel and Adelaide, and her siblings disapproved because Machado was black and she was a white woman. [7] [14] They had no children. [15]


Machado de Assis around age 41, by Marc Ferrez, c. 1880. MarcFerrez MachadodeAssis.jpg
Machado de Assis around age 41, by Marc Ferrez, c. 1880.

Machado managed to rise in his bureaucratic career, first in the Agriculture Department. Three years later, he became the head of a section in it. [7] [16] He published two poetry books: Falenas, in 1870, and Americanas, in 1875. [16] Their weak reception made him explore other literary genres.

He wrote five romantic novels: Ressurreição , A Mão e Luva , Helena and Iaiá Garcia. [16] The books were a success with the public, but literary critics considered them mediocre. [16] Machado suffered repeated attacks of epilepsy, apparently related to hearing of the death of his old friend José de Alencar. He was left melancholic, pessimistic and fixed on death. [17] His next book, marked by "a skeptical and realistic tone": Memórias Póstumas de Brás Cubas (Posthumous Memoirs of Brás Cubas, also translated as Epitaph of a Small Winner), is widely considered a masterpiece. [18] By the end of the 1880s, Machado had gained wide renown as a writer. [8]

Although he was opposed to slavery, he never spoke against it in public. [16] [19] He avoided discussing politics. [18] [19] He was criticized by the abolitionist José do Patrocínio and by the writer Lima Barreto for staying away from politics, especially the cause of abolition. [1] [19] He was also criticized by them for having married a white woman. [1] Machado was caught by surprise with the monarchy overthrown on 15 November 1889. [18] Machado had no sympathy towards republicanism, [18] as he considered himself a liberal monarchist [20] and venerated Pedro II, whom he perceived as "a humble, honest, well-learned and patriotic man, who knew how to make of a throne a chair [for his simplicity], without diminishing its greatness and respect." [21] When a commission went to the public office where he worked to remove the picture of the former emperor, the shy Machado defied them: "The picture got in here by an order and it shall leave only by another order." [18]

The birth of the Brazilian republic made Machado become more critical and an observer of the Brazilian society of his time. [22] From then on, he wrote "not only the greatest novels of his time, but the greatest of all time of Brazilian literature." [20] Works such as Quincas Borba (Philosopher or Dog?) (1891), Dom Casmurro (1899), Esaú e Jacó (1904) and Memorial de Aires (1908), considered masterpieces, [20] were successes with both critics and the public. [23] In 1893 he published "A Missa do Galo" ("Midnight Mass"), considered his greatest short story. [24]

Later years

Students and friends, among them Euclides da Cunha, leave the Academy carrying the coffin of Machado de Assis to the Cemetery St. John the Baptist, 1908. Enterro de Machado de Assis 2 (1908).jpg
Students and friends, among them Euclides da Cunha, leave the Academy carrying the coffin of Machado de Assis to the Cemetery St. John the Baptist, 1908.

Machado de Assis, along with fellow monarchists such as Joaquim Nabuco, Manuel de Oliveira Lima, Afonso Celso, Viscount of Ouro Preto and Alfredo d'Escragnolle Taunay, and other writers and intellectuals, founded the Brazilian Academy of Letters. He was its first president, from 1897 to 1908, when he died. [1] [8] For many years, he requested that the government grant a proper headquarters to the Academy, which he managed to obtain in 1905. [25] In 1902 he was transferred to the accountancy's directing board of the Ministry of Industry. [25]

His wife Carolina Novais died on 20 October 1904, after 35 years of a "perfect married life". [1] [25] [26] Feeling depressed and lonely, Machado died on 29 September 1908. [15]

Narrative style

Volume of The Posthumous Memoirs of Bras Cubas dedicated by the author himself to the National Library of Brazil. Memorias Posthumas de Braz Cubas.jpg
Volume of The Posthumous Memoirs of Bras Cubas dedicated by the author himself to the National Library of Brazil.

Machado's style is unique, and several literary critics have tried to describe it since 1897. [27] He is considered by many the greatest Brazilian writer of all time, and one of the world's greatest novelists and short story writers. His chronicles do not share the same status. His poems are often misunderstood for the use of crude terms, sometimes associated to the pessimist style of Augusto dos Anjos, another Brazilian writer. Machado de Assis was included on American literary critic Harold Bloom's list of the greatest 100 geniuses of literature, alongside writers such as Dante, Shakespeare and Cervantes. Bloom considers him the greatest black writer in Western literature;

His works have been studied by critics in various countries of the world, such as Giuseppe Alpi (Italy), Lourdes Andreassi (Portugal), Albert Bagby Jr. (US), Abel Barros Baptista (Portugal), Hennio Morgan Birchal (Brazil), Edoardo Bizzarri (Italy), Jean-Michel Massa (France), Helen Caldwell (US), John Gledson (England), Adrien Delpech (France), Albert Dessau (Germany), Paul B. Dixon (US), Keith Ellis (US), Edith Fowke (Canada), Anatole France (France), Richard Graham (US), Pierre Hourcade (France), David Jackson (US), G. Reginald Daniel (US), Linda Murphy Kelley (US), John C. Kinnear, Alfred Mac Adam (US), Victor Orban (France), Daphne Patai (US), Houwens Post (Italy), Samuel Putnam (US), John Hyde Schmitt, Tony Tanner (England), Jack E. Tomlins (US), Carmelo Virgillo (US), Dieter Woll (Germany), August Willemsen (Netherlands) and Susan Sontag (US). [28]

Critics are divided as to the nature of Machado de Assis's writing. Some, such as Abel Barros Baptista, classify Machado as a staunch anti-realist, and argue that his writing attacks Realism, aiming to negate the possibility of representation or the existence of a meaningful objective reality. Realist critics such as John Gledson are more likely to regard Machado's work as a faithful description of Brazilian reality—but one executed with daring innovative technique. In light of Machado's own statements, Daniel argues that Machado's novels represent a growing sophistication and daring in maintaining a dialogue between the aesthetic subjectivism of Romanticism (and its offshoots) and the aesthetic objectivism of Realism-Naturalism. Accordingly, Machado's earlier novels have more in common with a hybrid mid-19th-century current often referred to as "Romantic Realism." [29] In addition, his later novels have more in common with another late 19th-century hybrid: literary Impressionism. Historians such as Sidney Chalhoub argue that Machado's prose constitutes an exposé of the social, political and economic dysfunction of late Imperial Brazil. Critics agree on how he used innovative techniques to reveal the contradictions of his society. Roberto Schwarz points out that Machado's innovations in prose narrative are used to expose the hypocrisies, contradictions, and dysfunction of 19th-century Brazil. [30] Schwarz, argues that Machado inverts many narrative and intellectual conventions to reveal the pernicious ends to which they are used. Thus we see critics reinterpret Machado according to their own designs or their perception of how best to validate him for their own historical moment. Regardless, his incisive prose shines through, able to communicate with readers from different times and places, conveying his ironic and yet tender sense of what we, as human beings, are. [29]

Machado's literary style has inspired many Brazilian writers. His works have been adapted to television, theater, and cinema. In 1975 the Comissão Machado de Assis ("Machado de Assis Commission"), organized by the Brazilian Ministry of Education and Culture, organized and published critical editions of Machado's works, in 15 volumes. His main works have been translated into many languages. Great 20th-century writers such as Salman Rushdie, Cabrera Infante and Carlos Fuentes, as well as the American film director Woody Allen, have expressed their enthusiasm for his fiction. [31] Despite the efforts and patronage of such well-known intellectuals as Susan Sontag, Harold Bloom, and Elizabeth Hardwick, Machado's books—the most famous of which are available in English in multiple translations—have never achieved large sales in the English-speaking world and he continues to be relatively unknown, even in comparison with other Latin American writers.

In his works, Machado appeals directly to the reader, breaking the so-called fourth wall.[ citation needed ]

List of works

Machado de Assis around age 57, c. 1896. Machado de Assis aos 57 anos.jpg
Machado de Assis around age 57, c. 1896.
Bust in Lisbon. Poetisized (35715707801).jpg
Bust in Lisbon.
Statue in Madrid, Spain, inaugurated in 1998, replica of the statue made by Humberto Cozzo in 1929 for the Brazilian Academy of Letters in Rio de Janeiro.. Estatua de Machado de Assis, Madrid.jpg
Statue in Madrid, Spain, inaugurated in 1998, replica of the statue made by Humberto Cozzo in 1929 for the Brazilian Academy of Letters in Rio de Janeiro..



Collected works

There are several published "Complete Works" of Machado de Assis:

Works in English translation

Titles and honours

1987 banknote of 1,000 Brazilian cruzados featuring Machado de Assis. Brazilian 1000 cruzados obverse.jpg
1987 banknote of 1,000 Brazilian cruzados featuring Machado de Assis.




On June 21, 2017, Google celebrated his 178th birthday with a Google Doodle. [33]


  1. 1 2 3 4 5 Vainfas, p. 505.
  2. Candido; Antonio (1970), Vários escritos. São Paulo: Duas Cidades. p. 18.
  3. Caldwell, Helen (1970), Machado de Assis: The Brazilian Master and his Novels. Berkeley, Los Angeles/London: University of California Press.
  4. Fernandez, Oscar, "Machado de Assis: The Brazilian Master and His Novels", The Modern Language Journal, Vol. 55, No. 4 (April 1971), pp. 255–256.
  5. Scarano, p. 775.
  6. 1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 10 Scarano, p. 766.
  7. 1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 10 Vainfas, p. 504.
  8. 1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 10 Enciclopédia Barsa, p. 267.
  9. "Machado de Assis".
  10. Scarano, p. 765.
  11. 1 2 3 4 5 6 Scarano, p. 767.
  12. 1 2 3 Scarano, p. 769
  13. Borges, Dain (2016). "Mockery and Piety in Eça de Queirós and Machado de Assis". Revista de Estudos Literários. 6: 97.
  14. 1 2 3 4 5 Scarano, p. 770.
  15. 1 2 Scarano, p. 780.
  16. 1 2 3 4 5 Scarano, p. 773.
  17. Scarano, pp. 774–774.
  18. 1 2 3 4 5 Scarano, p. 774.
  19. 1 2 3 Daniel, pp. 61–152.
  20. 1 2 3 Bueno, p. 310.
  21. Vainfas, p. 201: "Machado de Assis, porém, soube definí-lo em rápidos traços: um homem lhano, probo, instruído, patriota, que soube fazer do sólio uma poltrona, sem lhe diminuir a grandeza e a consideração."
  22. Bueno, p. 311.
  23. Scarano, p. 777.
  24. Scarano, p. 775.
  25. 1 2 3 Scarano, p. 778.
  26. Enciclopédia Barsa, p. 267: "vida conjugal perfeita".
  27. Romero, Silvio (1897), Machado de Assis: Estudo Comparativo da Literatura Brasileira, Rio de Janeiro: Laemmert.
  28. Susan Sontag, Foreword. Epitaph of a Small Winner. By J. M. Machado de Assis. Trans. William Grossman. New York: Farrar, Straus and Giroux, 1990. xi–xxiv.
  29. 1 2 Daniel, pp. 190–237.
  30. Daniel, pp. 153–218.
  31. Rocha, João Cezar de Castro (2006). "Introduction" (PDF). Portuguese Literature and Cultural Studies. 13/14: xxiv. Archived from the original (PDF) on 25 June 2008.
  32. Machado's translation originally appeared in serial form in the newspaper Jornal da Tarde, from 24 April to 23 August 1870.
  33. "Machado de Assis' 178th Birthday". Google. 21 June 2017.

Related Research Articles

Assis Chateaubriand

Francisco de Assis Chateaubriand Bandeira de Melo, also nicknamed Chatô, was a Brazilian lawyer, journalist, politician and diplomat. He was founder and director of the then main press chain of Brazil, the Diários Associados: 34 newspapers, 36 radio stations, 18 television stations, one news agency, one weekly magazine, one monthly magazine as well as many magazines for children.

José de Alencar Brazilian writer

José Martiniano de Alencar was a Brazilian lawyer, politician, orator, novelist and dramatist. He is considered to be one of the most famous and influential Brazilian Romantic novelists of the 19th century, and a major exponent of the literary tradition known as "Indianism". Sometimes he signed his works with the pen name Erasmo.

Brazilian literature

Brazilian literature is the literature written in the Portuguese language by Brazilians or in Brazil, including works written prior to the country's independence in 1822. Throughout its early years, literature from Brazil followed the literary trends of Portugal, whereas gradually shifting to a different and authentic writing style in the course of the 19th and 20th centuries, in the search for truly Brazilian themes and use of Brazilian forms.

Roberto Santos Pinhanez (1928–1987) was a Brazilian film director, known for films like Matraga and The Great Moment.

Lygia Fagundes Telles Brazilian novelist and writer (born 1923)

Lygia Fagundes da Silva Telles is a Brazilian novelist and writer. Educated as a lawyer, she began publishing soon after she completed high school and simultaneously worked as a solicitor and writer throughout most of her career. She is a recipient of the Camões Prize, the highest literary award of the Portuguese language and her works have received honors and awards from Brazil, Chile and France. She was elected as the third woman in the Brazilian Academy of Letters in 1985 and holds Chair 16.

<i>The Posthumous Memoirs of Brás Cubas</i>

The Posthumous Memoirs of Brás Cubas, also translated as Epitaph of a Small Winner, is a novel by the Brazilian writer Joaquim Maria Machado de Assis.

<i>Dom Casmurro</i>

Dom Casmurro is an 1899 novel written by Brazilian author Joaquim Maria Machado de Assis. Like The Posthumous Memoirs of Bras Cubas and Quincas Borba, both by Machado de Assis, it is widely regarded as a masterpiece of realist literature. It is written as a fictional memoir by a distrusting, jealous husband. The narrator, however, is not a reliable conveyor of the story as it is a dark comedy. Dom Casmurro is considered by critic Afranio Coutinho "a true Brazilian masterpiece, and maybe Brazil's greatest representative piece of writing" and "one of the best books ever written in the Portuguese language, if not the best one to date." The author is considered a master of Brazilian literature with a unique style of realism.

Quincas Borba is a novel written by the Brazilian writer Machado de Assis. It was first published in 1891. It is also known in English as Philosopher or Dog? The novel was principally written as a serial in the journal A Estação from 1886 to 1891. It was definitively published as a book in 1892 with some small but significant changes from the serialized version.

Afro-Brazilian literature has existed in Brazil since the mid-19th century with the publication of Maria Firmina dos Reis's novel Ursula in 1859. Other writers from the late 19th century and early 20th century include Machado de Assis, Cruz e Sousa and Lima Barreto. Yet, Afro-Brazilian literature as a genre that recognized the ethnic and cultural origins of the writer did not gain national prominence in Brazil until the 1970s with the revival of Black Consciousness politics known as the Movimento Negro.

Capitu the name of the Brazilian television series written by Euclydes Marinho, directed by Luiz Fernando Carvalho, who also finalized the script, and presented by Rede Globo between 8 and 13 December 2008. The production was a homage to the centennial anniversary of the death of Machado de Assis, author of the 1899 novel Dom Casmurro, on which the miniseries was based. Capitu is the main female character of that novel, and is the object of Bentinho's obsession. The novel forces the reader to decide if Capitu cheated or not on Bentinho.

Teófilo Dias

Teófilo Odorico Dias de Mesquita was a Brazilian poet, journalist and lawyer, nephew of the famous Romantic author Gonçalves Dias.

Mário de Alencar Brazilian writer

Mário Cochrane de Alencar was a Brazilian poet, short story writer, journalist, lawyer and novelist. He was one of the children of famous novelist José de Alencar.

1899 in Brazil

Events in the year 1899 in Brazil.

1904 in Brazil

Events in the year 1904 in Brazil.

1908 in Brazil

Events in the year 1908 in Brazil.

1915 in Brazil

Events in the year 1915 in Brazil.

Quincas may refer to:

<i>Memórias Póstumas</i> 2001 film by André Klotzel

Memórias Póstumas is a 2001 comedy-drama film directed by André Klotzel based on The Posthumous Memoirs of Bras Cubas by Machado de Assis. It follows Brás Cubas, played by Reginaldo Faria and Petrônio Gontijo, as he recounts his life after his death.

Afonso Celso de Assis Figueiredo Júnior

Afonso Celso de Assis Figueiredo Júnior, titled Count of Afonso Celso by the Holy See, better known as Afonso Celso, was a teacher, poet, historian and Brazilian politician. He is one of the founders of the Brazilian Academy of Letters, where he occupied the chair number 36.

Joel Silveira was a Brazilian writer and journalist. Silveira was a war correspondent in Europe during World War II, following the Brazilian Expeditionary Force. He became known for his investigative news stories, and incisive personality; Assis Chateaubriand nicknamed him "a víbora".


Further reading

Academic offices
José de Alencar
1st Academic of the 23rd chair of the
Brazilian Academy of Letters

Succeeded by
Lafayette Rodrigues Pereira
New office President of the Brazilian Academy of Letters
Succeeded by
Rui Barbosa

[[Category:Brazilian people of African descent]