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Historical Source and Biographical Context in the Interpretation of Euclides da Cunha's Os Sertões*

  • Frederic Amory
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1 A sample of North American scholarly opinion of Euclides and his book is in Putnam, Samuel (trans.), Rebellion in the Backlands (Chicago and London, 1967), pp. iii–xviii; Cava, Ralph della, ‘Brazilian Messianism and National Institutions: A Reappraisal of Canudos and Joaseiro’, Hispanic American Historical Review, vol. 48, no. 3 (08. 1968), pp. 404, 407–8; Skidmore, T. E., Black into White: Race and Nationality in Brazilian Thought (New York, 1974), pp. 103–9, 186–8; Forman, S., The Brazilian Peasantry (New York, 1975), p. 227; Haberly, D. T., Three Sad Races (Cambridge, 1983), pp. 126–7; Burns, E. Bradford, ‘The Destruction of a Folk Past: Euclides da Cunha and Cataclysmic Cultural Clash’, Review of Latin American Studies, vol. 23, no. 1 (1990), pp. 1736; Madden, L., The Discourses on the Canudos War (PhD diss., University of Florida, 1990), pp. 6293; Levine, R. M., ‘“Mud-Hut Jerusalem”: Canudos Revisited’, in Scott, R. J. et al. (eds.), The Abolition of Slavery and the Aftermath of Emancipation in Brazil (Durham, N. C. and London, 1988), pp. 119–66; idem, Vale of Tears: Revisiting the Canudos Massacre in Northeastern Brazil (Berkeley and Los Angeles, 1992), pp. 1822 and passim, ; and Wasserman, R. R. Mautner, ‘Mario Vargas Llosa, Euclides da Cunha, and the Strategy of Intertextuality’, Publications of the Modern Language Association of America, vol. 108, no. 3 (05, 1993), pp. 460–73. Correctives to these publications in the Brazilian biographies of Euclides by Pontes, E., A Vida Dramática de Euclydes da Cunha (Rio de Janeiro, 1938); Rabello, S., Euclides da Cunha (Rio de Janeiro, 1966); Andrade, O. de Souza, Histoória e Interpretação de ‘Os Sertões’ (São Paulo, 1966); and Tostes, J. B. and Brandão, A., Águas de Amargura (Rio de Janeiro, 1990).

2 Cf. Benicio's, novel 0 Rei dos Jagunços (Rio de Janeiro, 1899) and Arinos's 0s Jagunços, in Obra Completa, ed. Coutinho, A. (Rio de Janeiro, 1969), pp. 123383. The latter, who had a literary impact on Euclides in Os Sertões, was an folklorist, amateur, as in Lendas e Tradições Brasileiras (Obra Completa, pp. 691786).

3 See, e.g., Levine, , Vale of Tears, pp. 3, 19, 60, 112, on Euclides's, positivism, and Skidmore, , Black into White, pp. 106–9, on the racism in Os Sertões.

4 OC, vol. I, p. 656. Reference under OC in this paper is to the two volume Obra Completa of Euclides da Cunha, ed. A Coutinho (Rio de Janeiro, 1966). Absurdly enough, these lines have been read by E. Bradford Burns, ‘The Destruction of a Folk Past’, p. 27, as an autobiographical hint at mixed blood in the author; cf. Levine, , Vale of Tears, pp. 1819, on his ‘mixed-race ancestry' and ‘mulato appearance’. There is no hard evidence for a mulato Euclides in the biographical literature cited in n. 1, or in any other documentation of his life.

5 Recovered from the archives in São José do Rio Pardo (São Paulo) by Olímpio de Souza, Andrade and excerpted in his História e Interpretação, p. 56.

6 OC, vol. I, p. 583.

7 See most recently on Benjamin Constant and political positivism, de Carvalho, José Murilo, A Formação das Almas: 0 Imaginario da República no Brasil (São Paulo, 1990), pp. 40–7. Fuller survey of positivism in Costa's, João CruzA History of Ideas in Brazil, trans. Macedo, S. (Berkeley and Los Angeles, 1964), ch. 5.

8 This is the position of Sevcenko, N. in Literatura como Missão: Tensões Sociais e Criação Cultural na Primeira República (São Paulo, 1989), p. 149, on Euclides's ‘positivist’ politics. On Euclides's true relation to Brazilian positivism see, rather, , Lins, I., História do Positivismo no Brasil (São Paulo, 1967), pp. 503 ff.

9 On this topic see my article ‘Euclides da Cunha as Poet’, Luso–Brazilian Review vol. 12, no. 2 (Winter, 1975), pp. 175–85.

10 OC, vol. II, p. 539.

11 OC, vol. II, p. 638. Some members of his family may have been spreading rumours of free-thinking about Euclides; see Rabello, , Euclides da Cunha, p. 105, and Pontes, , Vida DramÁtica, pp. 315 ff., on this family matter.12 OC, vol. II, p. 202.

13 The imputation of E. Bradford Burns, p. 22, and Pessar, P. R., ‘Three Moments in Brazilian Millenarianism: The Interrelationship between Politics and Religion’, Luso-Brazilian Review, vol. 28, no. 1 (Summer, 1991), p. 112.

14 The respective authors of Viventes das Alagoas: Quadros e Costumes do Nordeste (São Paulo, 1962) and Memórias de Gregório Bezerra (Rio de Janeiro, 1980), in 2 vols., esp. 1.

15 Skidmore, , Black into White, p. 186, and Levine, Vale of Tears, p. 1.

16 E.g., Pereira, José Veníssimo da Costa, ‘O Espírito Geográfico na Obra de Euclides da Cunha’ (1950), as reprinted in OC, vol. II, pp. 6371.

17 On the European background of this kind of geography, see Febvre, Lucien, la terre et l'evolution humaine (Paris, 1922) and Sodre, N. W., Introdução à Geografia (Petropolis, 1976).

18 Trans. C. Baye (Paris, 1893). In the haphazard source-slinging of Brazilians and North Americans at Os Sertões, the writings of Agassiz, Gobineau, and Vacher de Lapouge are often cited as the sources of racially offending passages in ‘O Homem’; (e.g., OC, vol. II, pp. 166–8), but, though these Europeans could and did articulate the ideology of racism in late nineteenth century Brazil, their works were not specific sources of Euclides's, any more than Ratzel's Anthropogeographie was. On the cultural standpoint of Euclides relative to the Swiss and the French racists, see pp. 683–4 and n. 63 below.

19 OC, vol. II, pp. 164 ff.

20 OC, vol. II, p. 479.

21 OC, vol. II, pp. 140–1, n. 10.

22 Raymond Firth's fine comment on the ‘mixed-blood peoples’ is apropos here: ‘It is vulgarly said, “A half-caste has the vices of both parents and the virtues of neither”. In so far as this is true …, it is due primarily not to the fact of being a mixed-blood, but to the social environment in which the mixed-blood grows up. Lack of proper education…,barriers to free relationship with either his father's or his mother's people, difficulties if he wants to marry, all tend to destroy his confidence and self-esteem, and unfit him for a stable social life. The very social prejudice which condemns the instability of the half-caste is the cause of it’, Human Types (New York and London, 1956), p. 28. Euclides's, ‘irritating parenthesis’, OC, vol. II, pp. 166–8, unhappily illustrates this same fault.

23 E.g., Haberly, , Three Sad Races, p. 126, and Stepan, N., The Hour of Eugenics: Race, Gender, and Nation in Latin America (Ithaca, 1991), p. 46; correctly, Skidmore, , Black into White, pp. 1067.

24 OC, vol. II, pp. 93–94.

25 OC, vol. I, p. 187–90.

26 That is the drift of Euclides's argument, but the current prospects for São Paulo as the cradle of Brazilian nationality were a good deal more hopeful – see the Baron of Rio Branco's ‘anthropological’ remarks on the central Brazilian planalto in compendium, P. E. Levasseur's, Le Breésil (Paris, 1889), p. 24.

27 OC, vol. II, p. 141, in Putnam's translation, Rebellion in the Backlands, p. 54, slightly altered.

28 OC, vol. II, p. 93.

29 Ed. Filho, A. de Guimaraens (Rio de Janeiro, 1981), pp. 52 ff.

30 The ‘social Darwinism’ of the North American Darwinists and Spencerians has been admirably treated by Hofstadter, Richard in Social Darwinism in American Thought (Boston, 1959); cf. on Darwin and the English Darwinists, Stepan, N., The Idea of Race in Science: Great Britain 1800–1960 (Hamden, Conn., 1982), chs. 3–4, and on the German Darwinists, Weikart, R., ‘The Origins of Social Darwinism in Germany, 1859–95’. journal of the History of Ideas, vol. 54, no. 3 (06, 1993), pp. 469–88. There is no comparable study of the disciples of Darwin and Spencer in Brazil. On Spencer, see Hofstadter, ch. 2; Kolakowski, L., The Alienation of Reason, trans. Guterman, N. (Garden City, N.Y., 1969), pp. 8797; and Martins, Wilson, Histoéria da Inteligência Brasileira (São Paulo, 1978), vol. 4, p. 402.

31 In L'animisme fétichiste des nègres de Bahia (Salvador, Bahia, 1900). There is a just estimation of Nina Rodrigues in Bastide's, R.0 candomblá da Bahia, trans, de Queiroz, M. I. Pereira (São Paulo, 1978), pp. 78. It is to be noted that, like Euclides afterwards, Nina Rodrigues took a psychological approach to the ‘abnormal collectivity’ of Canudos in his 1897 article ‘A Loucura Epidémica de Canudos’ (in As Collectividades Anormaes (Rio de Janeiro, 1939), pp. 5077), and he also entertained two views of Brazilian miscegenation, as better in the interior, worse on the coast (pp. 65–6; cf. Euclides's OC, vol. II, pp. 166–9).

32 Oc vo1. II. P. l88.

33 OC, vol. II, pp. 189–90, 208, 232. In Vale of Tears Levine seems undecided whether Sebastianism was immanent in Canudos (pp. 33, 198) or not (pp. 213–14), but it was there all right, in the popular prophecies which Euclides collected on the fourth campaign. On Sebastianism at Canudos and elsewhere see the latest pronouncement of de Queiroz, M. I. Pereira, ‘D. Sebastião no Brasil’, Revista USP, vol. 20 (12. 1993–Feb. 1994), pp. 2941.

34 0 Candomblé da Bahia and Les religions africaines au Brésil (Paris, 1960) are fundamental contributions to Afro-Brazilian anthropology.

35 Casa Grande e Senzala (Rio de Janeiro, 1964), vol. I, pp. 1112.

36 As by de Holanda, Sérgio Buarque in his erudite Visão do Paraiso (São Paulo, 1969). I have heard that the gifted Belgian medievalist, Paul Zumthor, will be engaging in research into ‘le Brésil médiévale'.

37 OC, vol. II, pp. 193–6, 207–9.

38 The last volume of his Histoire des origines du Christianisme, vol. 7, with the subtitle Marc-Aurèle et la fin du monde antique (Paris, 1882); cf. Euclides's OC, vol. II, pp. 19;, 204–5, 207–9, Marc-Aurèle, chs. 8, 10, 13, 21.

39 Preface to Rebellion in the Backlands, p. xv, n. 61.

40 (São Paulo, 1970), pp. 11–12, quoted by Putnam in Rebellion, pref., p. vi, n. 23.

41 Cf. his double vision of the past in the present in the war-diary, Canudos, for 15 Aug. 1897, at the rendezvous of the troops of the fourth expedition in Salvador, ‘a historical resurrection…, a prodigious reflux of our history…” (OC, vol. II, pp. 505–6). Sight-seeing on 20 August becomes a veritable ‘voyage to Byzantium’ for him, and he roams the first capital of Brazil as if it were the seat of the eastern Roman empire and he a Byzantine Greek ( = ‘um grego antigo’, OC, vol. II, p. 518, with which cf. the verses quoted above, p. 670).

42 Cf. OC, vol. II, p. 673, letter to Francisco Escobar.

43 OC, vol. II, p. 169.

44 The difference, on this score, between the non-racial war-diary Canudos and the racial Os Sertões is indicative of Euclides's shift of ground. See Sodré's, Nelson W. article, ‘Revisão de Euclides da Cunha’ (1959, reprinted in OC, vol. II, pp. 1155), pp. 35–6, and after Sodré, Skidmore, , Black into White, p. 248, n. 74.

45 By far the most judicious of Euclides's critics, his lecture on the then national author, ‘Euclides da Cunha Naturalista’, was reprinted last in his Ensaios Brasileiros (São Paulo, 1940), pp. 129–38; cf. on Roquette-Pinto, Skidmore, , Black into White, pp. 185–90. Most North American criticism, however, takes its cue from Gilberto Freyre's wartime lecture of 1940, Atualidade de Euclydes da Cunha (Rio de Janeiro, 1941), expanded in Perfil de Euclydes e outros Perfís (Rio de Janeiro, 1944), pp. 2163.

46 As at OC, vol. II, pp. 142–9.

47 Ed. J. M. Robertson (London and New York, 1904). For its Brazilian reception, see Lessa, Pedro A. Carneiro, ‘Reflexões sâbre o Conceito da História’, Revista do Institute Histórico e Geográphico Brasileiro, vol. 69, no. 2 (1906), pp. 223–53.

48 His library resources have not yet been publicly catalogued, but they included such books as he had acquired on his own (never many), plus the huge library of his friend Francisco Escobar, mayor of São José do Rio Pardo (São Paulo), while Euclides was writing Os Sertães in that town. Sale inventories of the libraries of Francisco and Euclides are still extant in São Paulo and Rio de Janeiro, from which the reading of Euclides at the time of the writing of his book cxould be reconstructed. Through the kindness of Dona Rosaura de Escobar (Francisco's daughter) and Dr. Oswaldo Galotti in São Paulo, I have been able to consult the private inventories of both libraries, which have resolved a number of source questions in Os Sertães.

49 OC, vol. II, p. 144.

50 Le crime et la folie, trans, in Bibliothèque scientifique Internationale, vol. 8 (Paris, 1877), pp. 38 ff.

51 OC, vol. II, pp. 196 and 489.

52 On his geology see Azevedo, A. de, ‘“Os Sertões” e a Geografia’, Boletim Paulista de Geografia, vol. 5 (1950), pp. 2544, and Furlani, G. M., A Geografia de ‘Os Sertões’ (São José do Rio Pardo, 1969); and on his military science, Peregrino, U., ‘Os Sertões’ como História Militar (Rio de Janeiro, 1956). Levine's conclusion, Vale of Tears, p. 244, that Os Sertões (‘A Luta’) belongs to the ‘inhumane’ military historiography of Hans Delbrück and his European epigones in the early twentieth century is contradicted by Euclides's disapproval of the new Prussian ‘doutôres da arte de matar’ (OC, vol. II, p. 251) and by his conservative regard for the Napoleonic strategist Henri Jomini and his Précis de I'art de guerre (OC, vol. II, p. 255).

53 Rpt. in two vols. (São Paulo, 1943).

54 0 Tupí na Geographia National (São Paulo, 1901) and 0 Rio de São Francisco e a Chapada Diamantina (São Paulo, 1905) are relevant to Os Sertões.

55 See his recollections of their association in ‘À Memória de Euclides da Cunha no Décimo Aniversário de sua Morte’ (1919), reprinted in Appendix 2 of Neves's, E. de CarvalhoAfirmação de Euclides da Cunha (São Paulo, 1960), pp. 143–8.

56 ‘Como se deve escrever a história do Basil’, Revista Trimensal de História e Geographia, vol. 24 (01., 1845), pp. 389411. This prize-winning article was much debated by the Brazilian intelligentsia of the nineteenth century.

57 On the composition of Os Sertoes, see Andrade, O. de Souza, História e Interpretação, pp. 145–57, 176–263, 276–88, and the just published edition of a discarded manuscript fragment of the book, with commentary on its literary sources, by Bernucci, Leopoldo, A Imitaço dos Sentidos: Proógonos, Contemporâneos e Epígonos de Euclides da Cunha (São Paulo, 1995).

58 Levasseur's compendium, Le Brésil; Nery, Santa-Anna et al. , Le Brésil en 1889 (Paris 1889).

59 See OC, vol. II, p. 231. Gross, Though S. A. in ‘Religious Sectarianism in the “Sertões” of Northeast Brazil, 1815–1966’, Journal of Inter American Studies, vol. 10, no. 3 (1968), p. 381, underscored the isolation of the Northeasterners in the interior, Cava, Ralph della, Miracle at Joaseiro (New York, 1970), p. 5, and Levine, , Vale of Tears, p. 142, still object that Euclides ‘overstated’ the isolation of the Conselheiristas and ignored the network of communication between the Bahiah backlands and Salvador. These objections miss the mark, since Euclides was talking primarily about temporal, not spatial, isolation as his two critics do; but, of course, he was also cognisant of the spatial isolation of the backlands populations, which in reality could hardly be ‘overstated’. Cf. the Euclidean chapter on population dispersion in Berlinck's, E. L.Fatores Adversos na Formação Brasileira (São Paulo, 1954), ch. 10.

60 Preface to first edition of La Méditerranean (Paris, 1949)5, vol. I, p. xiii, in the translation by Reynolds, S. of the second edition, The Mediterranean and the Mediterranean World in the Age of Philip II (London and New York, 1972), vol. I, pp. 20–1.

61 See the devastating reviews of Buckle's history by Lord Acton and Richard Simpson (1858), as in Acton's Historical Essays and Studies (London, 1919), pp. 305–43. Agassiz's biblical racism was soon discredited along with his antiquated paleontology by Lyell, as quoted by Lurie, E. in Louis Agassiz. A Life in Science (Chicago, 1960), p. 266.

62 See OC, vol. II, p. 140, on Brazilian racial speculation. fails, Skidmore, in Black into White, p. 104, to tease the doctrine of racial whitening out of a newspaper article by Euclides on a violent Italian-Brazilian incident in Santos, during the first week of July, 1892 (OC, vol. II, pp. 624–6).

63 With reference to Agassiz's speeches and papers on race, Gobineau's, Essai sur I'inégalité des races humaines (Paris, 18531855), vol. I, and Lapouge's, Vacher deLes sélections sociales (Paris, 1896), see Costa, E. Viotti da, Da Monarchia à República: Momentos Decisivos (São Paulo, 1987), pp. 255–6, and Matta, R. Da, Relativizando, Uma Introdução a Antropologia Social (Rio de Janeiro, 1991), pp. 58–8;, on the ideological interchange between 19th century European and Brazilian racism.

64 OC, vol. II, p. 140.

65 História da Inteligência Brasikira, vol. 5, pp. 216–17.

66 phrase, Levine's, Vale of Tears, p. 18; cf. p. 244, ‘unchallenged status’.

67 The title of José Calasans's programmatic essay in Canudos: Subsidies para a sua Reavaliação Histórica, eds. de Araúrjo, J. Gonçalves et al. (Rio de Janeiro, 1986), pp. 121.

68 Historiae, eds. Jones, H. S. and Powell, J. E. (Oxford, 1966), vol. I, bk. I, ch. 23, sect. 4.

* An initial Portuguese version of this article was delivered in a session of the 19th International Congress of Fillm (Fédération Internationale des Langues et Littératures Modernes), held in August 1993, in Brasília. I wish to thank the anonymous reader of the journal for some constructive criticism of the English version, and also Jordina Guitart and Marek Filipczak for much help in the preparation of the final draft of this article.

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