Tuesday, February 19, 2008

The Maias discussion: Chapters 7 – 10

One thing that stood out for me in this section is the use of parallels or comparisons, where events echo a previous occurrence or current situation. Some examples:
  • Carlos’ first viewing of Maria Eduara Gomes echoes that of his father, Pedro, seeing Maria Monforte for the first time. Not only their reaction, but their language is the same with repeated usage of the word “goddess.”
  • The scandal Ega causes as his affair with Raquel Cohen is made public precedes and foreshadows the affair Carlos Maia begins with the Countess. Carlos’ trip to Sintra to try and ‘run into’ Maria Gomes is unproductive, as is traveling companion Cruges’ mission to bring home some cheese pastries for his mother.
  • There are even running gags throughout, with Carlos’ office couch the source of many jokes as to its real purpose (Ega—“I like this sofa. Made for love.” The Marquis ““tested its springs and said, with a wink: “Just the thing, eh, Carlos!” And later, the Countess sees it as “that soft, ample seat worthy of a seraglio.”)
  • The pimp Palma explains to Eusébio “the best way to treat Spanish women” (a sharp beating, followed by kindness), which is what happens when Cohen finds out about his wife’s infidelity with Ega (although Raquel isn't Spanish).
Generational differences and the decline of Portugal continue to be major themes. Everyone seems to have an idea of why everything around them is in decline, whether traceable to those in power or to the people themselves. Afonso views it as the latter, noting “We Portuguese will never be men of ideas because of our passion for form. … The thought may have been lost, but the beautiful phrase has been saved.” On several outings, the disrepair and dilapidation of many of the estates and houses are highlighted. Yet there are still some characters that defend Portugal and its potential while admitting to the decline the see around them. The easy mixture of different generations at Ramalhete shows some hope for the transition of generations, particularly when debate covers basic behavior, like when the Marquis argues with Craft:
“…conscience is merely a matter of upbringing. It’s something you acquire, like good manners. Suffering in silence because you’ve betrayed a friend is something you learn, just as you learn not to pick your nose in public. It’s all a matter of upbringing. Otherwise, conscience is just the fear of prison or of the big stick.”
Yet there are still troubling signs around the country such as the amount of soldiers present at the big race day. Were they there simply because the King was present or was it a sign of further unrest? However when juxtaposed with the amusing view of the Lisbon social scene at the race (pretentious at best, but mostly crude), the negative tones of the soldiers’ presence is minimized.

The mixture of the generations at Ramalhete also sets the stage for discussion on the arts and literature of the day, along with weaving in (then) current events and actual people in Europe. Alencar’s railing against modern literature manages to be both funny and sad. Also discussed are the protocols of having a successful affair (“He admires the wife and flatters the husband”). At times it seems that Lisbon is only populated by libertines and cuckolds. I think I can safely say The Maias is the 19th century book most open regarding sexuality that I’ve read so far.

Eça de Queirós’ style continues to be fun to read, although after a while the protracted set-up between Carlos and Maria Eduarda Gomes grows tiresome. Fortunately it is still enjoyable on all other counts.

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