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Brazilian Gothic: Allegories of Tradition in Gilberto Freyre and the Catholic Novelists of the 1930s

Journal: Athens Journal of Philology (Vol.1, No. 3)

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Authors : ;

Page : 209-220

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This paper traces the intertextual presence of the eighteenth-century English gothic novel in the works of Brazilian sociologist Gilberto Freyre, notably The Masters and the Slaves (1933), and the novels by Brazilian Catholic writers Lúcio Cardoso and Cornélio Penna, who both depict a setting marked by emblems of a ruined patriarchic tradition that echo the splendour of a bygone monarchic and aristocratic past. In the context of 1930 Brazil, the decadent plantation manors of the once thriving coffee plantation areas of inland Rio de Janeiro and Minas Gerais stand as tropical counterparts of the haunted castles present in the gothic literary tradition, according to both Freyre’s sociological study on Brazilian society and to Cardoso’s and Penna’s novels. Indeed, the focus of Brazilian Modernism on that decade begins to lie upon the tensions between tradition and modernity, in a country where the archaic coexisted with urban industrialization. In the same manner that it occurs in the English gothic novels, in which the imagery of tradition appears in a phantasmatic way, with the ruined castle as an allegory of the medieval past overthrown by modernity, the ruined plantation houses of Brazil’s imperial and colonial times that are so recurring in Cardoso’s and Penna’s novels stand for the country’s tradition supplanted by the Republic, which brought about the industrialization and the growth of the Brazilian bourgeoisie and its values. Taking a theoretical stance based on Walter Benjamin’s concept of allegory in The origin of German tragic drama (1925), on Giorgio Agamben’s reflections about the phantasmatic in Stanze: La parola e il fantasma nella cultura occidentale (1977), and on Matei Calinescu’s various definitions of modernity in Five faces of modernity (1987), this paper focuses on a literary construct of “brazilianness” that derives from both a sociological point of view (Freyre’s) and a literary European tradition (the Gothic).

Last modified: 2015-07-01 19:54:06