Literature of Brazil

Literature of Brazil

The Literature of Brazil refers to literature written in the Portuguese language by Brazilians or in Brazil, even if prior to Brazil's independence from Portugal, in 1822. During the 20th century Brazilian literature gradually shifted to a different and more Brazilian literary use of the Portuguese language.

Colonial period

The first extant document that might be considered Brazilian literature is the "Carta de Pero Vaz de Caminha" (Pero Vaz de Caminha's letter). It is written by Pero Vaz de Caminha to Manuel I of Portugal, which contains a description of what Brazil looked like in 1500. Journals of voyagers and descriptive treatises on "Portuguese America" dominated the literary production for the next two centuries, including well-known accounts by Jean de Léry and Hans Staden, whose story of his encounter with the Tupi Indians on the coast of São Paulo was extraordinarily influential for European conceptions of the New World.

A few more explicitly literary examples survive from this period, such José Basílio da Gama's epic poem celebrating the conquest of the Missions by the Portuguese, and the work of Gregório de Matos Guerra, a 17th century lawyer from Salvador who produced a sizable amount of satirical, religious, and secular poetry. Matos drew heavily from Baroque influences such as the Spanish poets Luis de Góngora and Francisco de Quevedo.

Neoclassicism was widespread in Brazil during the mid-18th century, following the Italian style. Literature was often produced by members of temporary or semi-permanent academies and most of the content was in the pastoral genre. The most important literary centre in colonial Brazil was the prosperous Minas Gerais region, known for its gold mines, where a thriving proto-nationalist movement had begun. The most important poets were Cláudio Manoel da Costa, Tomás Antônio Gonzaga, Inácio José de Alvarenga Peixoto and Manuel Inácio da Silva Alvarenga, all them involved in an uprising against the colonial power. Gonzaga and Costa were banned to Africa as a consequence.


Neoclassicism lasted for an unnaturally long time, stifling innovation and restricting literary creation. It was only in 1836 that Romanticism began influencing Brazilian poetry on a large scale, principally through the efforts of the expatriate poet Domingos José Gonçalves de Magalhães. A number of young poets, such as Casimiro de Abreu, began experimenting with the new style soon afterward. This period produced some of the first standard works of Brazilian literature.

The key features of the literature of the new-born country are exaggerated affect, nationalism, celebration of nature and the initial introduction of colloquial language. Romantic literature soon became very popular. Novelists like Joaquim Manuel de Macedo, Manuel Antônio de Almeida and José de Alencar published their works in serial form in the newspapers and became national celebrities.

Around 1850, a transition began, centered around Álvares de Azevedo. Azevedo's novel "Noite na Taverna" (Night at the Tavern) and his poetry, collected posthumously in "Lira dos Vinte Anos" (Lyre of the Twenty Years -- his age at the time of writing), became influential. Azevedo was largely influenced by the poetry of Lord Byron. This second romantic generation was obsessed with morbidity and death.

At the same time, poets such as Antônio Castro Alves, who wrote of the horrors of slavery ("Navio Negreiro"), began writing works with a specific progressive social agenda. The two trends coincided in one of the most important accomplishments of the Romantic era: the establishment of a Brazilian national identity based on Indian ancestry and the rich nature of the country. These traits first appeared in Antônio Gonçalves Dias's epic poem, "I-Juca Pirama", but soon became widespread. The consolidation of this sub-genre ("indigenism") is found in two famous novels by José de Alencar: O Guarani, about a family of Portuguese colonists who took Indians as servants but were later slain by an enemy tribe, and Iracema, about a Portuguese shipwrecked man who lives among the Indians and marries a beautiful Indian woman. Iracema is especially lyrical, opening with five paragraphs of pure free-style prose-poetry describing the title character.


The decline of Romanticism, along with a series of social transformations, occurred in the middle of the 19th century. A new form of prose writing emerged, including analysis of the indigenous people and description of the environment, in the "regionalist" authors (such as Franklin Távora and João Simões Lopes Neto). Under the influence of Naturalism and of writers like Émile Zola, Aluísio Azevedo wrote "O Cortiço", with characters that represent all social classes and categories of the time. Brazilian Realism was not very original at first, but it took on extraordinary importance because of Machado de Assis and Euclides da Cunha.

Machado de Assis

Perhaps the most important writer of Brazilian Realism is Joaquim Maria Machado de Assis (1839-1908), the natural son of a half black wallpainter and a Portuguese woman, whose only education, besides literacy classes, was the extensive reading of borrowed books.

Working as typesetter at a publishing house, he was soon acquainted with most of the world's literature and even managed to grasp something of English and French. In his early career he wrote several best-selling novels (including "A Mão e a Luva" and "Ressurreição") which, despite their overzealous Romanticism, already show his vivacious humour and some of his pessimism towards the conventions of society.

After being introduced to Realism, Machado de Assis changed his style and his themes, producing some of the most remarkable prose ever written in Portuguese. The style served as the medium for his corrosive humour and his intense pessimism, which was very far from the plain conceptions of his contemporaries.

Machado's most crucial works include:
* "Memórias Póstumas de Brás Cubas "(Posthumous Memories of Bras Cubas), the fictional autobiography of a recently-deceased man, written by himself "from beyond." It is entirely anti-Romantic and ridicules the society of Rio de Janeiro of the time. This book contains one of the most pitiless sentences about love ever written: "Marcela amou-me durante quinze meses e onze contos de réis; nada mais. (Marcela loved me for fifteen months and eleven thousand reis; nothing more)".
* "Dom Casmurro" ("Sir Frown") purports to be the autobiography of a lonely man who has left his wife and his only son after enjoying years of happy conjugal life. The novel is famous in the Portuguese-speaking world for its analysis of a (possible, but never proven or admitted) case of adultery.
* "Quincas Borba"
* "O Alienista", the short story about a psychiatrist who founds a hospital for the mentally ill in a small town and later engages in profound investigations on the nature and the cure of mental illness, greatly upsetting the town's lifestyle.

Machado was also a minor poet, writing mostly casual poetry of extraordinary correctness and beauty. His reputation as a novelist has kept his poetry in print, and recent criticism has regarded it better than that of many of his contemporaries.

Euclides da Cunha

The most important adept of Naturalism, Cunha was always tormented by his family problems (he was killed by his wife's lover) and had to face political opposition because of his opinions. As a freelance journalist working for O Estado de São Paulo he covered the Canudos War -- a popular revolt with some igualitary and Christian-fundamentalist traits that took place in Bahia in 1895-97. His stories, together with some essays he wrote about the people and the geography of the Brazilian North-East, were published in a thick volume called Os Sertões ("Rebellion in the Backlands").

In his work is found the revolutionary thesis that the Brazilian state was a violent and foreign entity, rejected (but often tolerated) by the vast majority of the illiterate and dispossessed population, among whom were still found beliefs and behaviours that had not changed in a thousand years or more. He discovered, for instance, that Sebastianism was then present in the Brazilian North-East and that quite a many medieval Portuguese rhymes, folk-tales and traditions were still kept by rude people of "sertões". This population did not accept secularism, the Republican government and, especially, justice of peace.


The period between 1895 and 1922 is called Pre-Modernism by Brazilian scholars because, though there is no clear predominance of any style, there are some early manifestations of Modernism. The Pre-Modern era is curious, as the French school of Symbolism did not catch on and most authors of Realism still maintained their earlier styles and their reputations (including Machado de Assis and poet Olavo Bilac). Some authors of this time, like Monteiro Lobato, Lima Barreto and Simões Lopes Neto, already show a distinctly modern character.


Modernism began in Brazil with the Week of Modern Art, in 1922. The "1922 Generation" was a nickname for the writers Mário de Andrade ("Paulicéia Desvairada", "Macunaíma"), Oswald de Andrade ("Memórias Sentimentais de João Miramar"), Manuel Bandeira, Cassiano Ricardo and others, all of whom combined nationalist tendencies with an interest in European modernism. Some new movements as the surrealism which ones were already important in Europe, began to take hold in Brazil during this period.

Mário de Andrade

Mário de Andrade was born in São Paulo. He worked as a professor and was one of the organizers of the Week of Modern Art. He researched Brazilian folklore and folk music and used it in his books, avoiding the European style. His Brazilian hero is Macunaíma, a product of ethnical and cultural mixture. Andrade's interest in folklore and his use of colloquial language were extremely influential, to the point that his innovations, at first revolutionary, came to dominate Brazilian literature.

Oswald de Andrade

Oswald de Andrade, another participant in the Week of Modern Art in 1922, worked as a journalist in São Paulo. Born into a wealthy family, he travelled to Europe several times. Of the generation of 1922, Oswald de Andrade best represents the rebellious characteristics of the modernist movement. He is the author of the "Manifesto Antropófago (Cannibal Manifesto)" (1927), in which he says it is necessary that Brazil, like a cannibal, eat foreign culture and, in digestion, create its own culture.


Two writers that have published after the 1950s are without a doubt already inside the canon of Brazilian literature. Clarice Lispector, whose existentialist novels and short stories filled with stream-of-consciousness and epiphanies, and João Guimarães Rosa, whose experimental language has changed the face of Brazilian literature forever. His novel "" has been compared to James Joyce's "Ulysses" or Alfred Döblin's "Berlin Alexanderplatz".

On the poetry side, you have major poets such as João Cabral de Melo Neto and Carlos Drummond de Andrade, dealing with similar existential and social issues of their periods with radically different estetic approach.

Nélson Rodrigues was a writer, playwright and sports journalist. His plays and stories chronicled the social mores of the 1950s and 60s; adultery being a major fixation of his. His sports writing describes the evolution of football into the national passion of Brazil. He was heavily critical of the naïveté of the young leftists who opposed the military dictatorship after the ; for that he was penned as right-wing and conservative. He wasn't pro-dictatorship though, only refused to take sides at a very politically polarized time.


Contemporary Brazilian literature is, on the whole, very much focused on city life and all its aspects: loneliness, violence, political issues and media control. Writers like Rubem Fonseca, Sérgio Sant'Anna have written important books with these themes in the 70s, breaking new ground in Brazilian literature, up until then mostly having dealt with rural life.

Poets such as Ferreira Gullar and Manoel de Barros are among the most acclaimed within literary circles in Brazil, the former had been nominated for the Nobel Prize.


*pt icon cite book | author=Candido, Antonio | title=Formação da Literatura Brasileira | year=1959 | publisher=
*pt icon cite book | author=Romero, Silvio | title=História da Literatura Brasileira | year=1888 | publisher=
*pt icon cite book | author=Veríssimo, José | title=História da Literatura Brasileira | year=1915 | publisher=

ee also

*List of Brazilian writers
*Portuguese language literature
*Latin American literature

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