From a giant of literature in Brasília we have a short story from Clarice Lispector (1920-1977). Whilst studying law in Rio de Janeiro she wrote her first novel – Near the Wild Heart – and that shot her to fame at 23.
From there on she was prolific, writing many novels and short stories. This tale of desire and madness is now part of the Penguin modern classics series – a short read of 64 pages. It stands as an intriguing introduction to a revolutionary writer.
Daydream and Drunkenness of a Young Lady
"The morning became a long, drawn-out afternoon that became depthless night dawning innocently through the house."
Instead of spending the £1 to buy the book, we sat in Waterstones of Manchester and read through it all in one sitting.
The shop on Deansgate is a curious thing. Right next to it is the bustling metropolis of Manc city life. Take the walk up to the third floor and there’s a certain sense of repose – it’s quiet, there are few people. You can grab a book, sit, and enjoy.
In this story we find Maria Quiteria – she’s a mother and wife struggling with her purpose in life.
With her children away, and her husband visiting, she sleeps through his visit without bothering to prepare his meals or help him in any way. The bloke proclaims she must be ill.
Although aware he doesn’t need her in his life, such a thought rather excites Quiteria. She stays in bed daydreaming until the following day.
Her husband then takes her out to meet some fancy pants businessmen at a dinner/meeting, during which time she gets a bit wasted and contemplates her self (as in her nature in society and her being – yes, it’s another existential consideration).
She realises as a housewife she’s fufilled on a financial and means-driven front. Fancy house, money, kids, a prosperous husband.
Yet she serves no purpose. At that dinner table she can get as thoroughly drunk as she wants, but her position protects her from societal judgement.
There’s a great deal of situational irony here – there’s an unexpected outcome from what you were expecting as a reader. Not quite a twist ending, but a personal relevation of some form for a main character.
In the reader review responses we found to her text, some criticise the story as dull, meandering, and ultimately pointless.
We can’t agree with that. Quiteria represents an easy life, a woman with everything society has told her she needs to be happy. Everything that society pretends makes a person successful – wealth, a doting husband, children, a traditional purpose. Raise the kids and contribute to the future of humanity – and the money confirms you’re a success. Oh, you good egg.
Yet she’s entirely unfulfilled. So there’s a feministic leaning here, too, in that by taking up the traditional housewife role (as that’s supposed to make you happy, right?) Quiteria has inadvertently immersed herself into malaise.
She returns from the dinner and feels lost in sadness, unable to comprehend who she is. She opines: “Oh, what sadness. What can you possibly do?” She blinks in response and the story ends.
We found it all rather intriguing. Considering this dates from around the middle of the 20th century (a time of strong traditional values clashing with post-WWII progressive outbursts), it sends out the message success isn’t defined by popular societal notions.
It’s what you make of it – no amount of money or kisses from your husband, or insults from your kids, will make it so if that’s not what you want from life.
Born in Ukraine, her family moved to the land of Brasília after struggling due to the Russian Civil War. They fled to Romania before emigrating to South America.
We haven’t got a clue what she’s saying in the above video clip, but it’s included as a reference point – there’s the writer in action.
Near to the Wild Heart (1943) was the book that took her to stardom, which led her to move to America – Washington DC – in 1952.
Unhappy remaining away from her sisters, in 1959 she returned with her sons (leaving her husband in the US) back to Brasília.
She spent the rest of her life there, although her writing was curtailed by an accident in 1966 that restricted her output. She died in December 1977 aged 56.