Over the past century Eça de Queirós has become part of the Portuguese literary canon. Whatever the perspective we take into account, Eça comes across as one of the most celebrated and discussed writers of Portuguese language.
As early as the late nineteenth century (with the first Spanish translations of his writings ), Eça’s work has been the object of a comparatively large and enthusiastic reception abroad, on a par only with Camões, Pessoa, and, most recently, Saramago. In 2000, the Camões commemorative issue of the death of the novelist registers (from 1975 onwards) more than forty-five translations in eighteen different languages and more than a hundred texts of critical appreciation in languages other than Portuguese .
Due to its historical proximity, Brazil has taken up a more organic responsibility in the process of the writer’s canonicity (when Eça began writing for the Rio de Janeiro Gazeta de Notícias hardly half a century had elapsed since the independence). Besides benefiting from a widespread readership, Eça was regarded as a putative supporter of the newborn country’s rejection of the former coloniser’s endemic atavism – his unconventional style being one of the qualities that brought him closer to Brazilian literary sensibilities . Furthermore, it was in Brazil as well as in Portugal that academic interest in Eça emerged in the nineteen-forties .
In Portugal, the reception of Eça’s work can be traced back to his own literary generation. His first works are from 1866 and, in 1874, it is Ramalho Ortigão who introduces him to the readers of Diário Ilustrado as a writer on the margins of the literary establishment. Eça’s writing is described as an uncompromising and insightful amalgamation of sublime and grotesque elements served by a crafty and unprecedented use of language. These characteristics, argues Ortigão, would make him an unpopular writer of a peculiar extraction, that of those who are secretly admired .
The aura of outcast writer stemming from Ortigão’s words was obviously shaped by Eça’s literary debut: the romantic imagery of Prosas Bárbaras and the provocative effort of O Mistério da Estrada de Sintra and As Farpas. The first edition of O Crime do Padre Amaro was yet to be published – in 1875. However, it is this marginality of ideas and style the grounding on which his contemporary critics base their appreciation. If we focus on the testimonial period of Eça’s critical fortune (post-1900) or even on previous criticism, this suggestion is reinforced and enlarged by Eça’s first novels.
It is again Ramalho Ortigão who speaks of a blank scandal – ‘escândalo branco‘ – among readers and periodicals following the publication of O Crime do Padre Amaro. Ortigão claims that this was a deliberate silence meant to discourage a novelistic production clearly at odds with a tradition of innocuous writing, namely the sentimental romanticism of Camilo and the derogatively dubbed ‘tricot‘ writing of Júlio Dinis .
What was at...