LXXXV - (Re)leituras - Helena, by Machado de Assis - comments by André Bandeira

This is a short romantic novel, written by the greatest name of brazilian Literature and one of the greatest in the Portuguese Language. Tomorrow, we'll commemorate the international day of the Portuguese language. The sixth Language in the world. I don't care whichever Languages, gets Portuguese to outrange. But that is a mistery, indeed, how a small nation balancing on the cliffs of the Atlantic, poor in resources, short of people, full of suicides, as Unamuno once said, manage to make people from wherever, stutter « Amo-te», or «Valha-nos Deus!», in every shore, under every sky. I think it is a mistery of lessoning, rather of shouting, a choice of enduring, instead of winning. Fernando Pessoa, a monarchist somewhat jewish, who said once that the Portuguese Language was his country, meant that a Nation is more a way of spreading and reaching out to others, than a territory. It is a shore where a handfull of people ties itself to the same mast and decides to sail forever, until the skyes open, over a new world where there is no sea. The ocean bed is full of portuguese sailores, including maybe a King who never was. This book tells us the story of a suicide, a young suicide, who comes as cousin, to be brought up in a mannor, at debuting age, falls in love with her cousin, already bound for a much more profitable marriage than hers and who finds out, too late, that she's is her cousin's half-sister. She is elegant, lovely, humble, and she cannot avoid attract and feeling attracted by a person she only got to know at a nuptial age, and who carries so many traits of her own, as she never shared with a brother or a sister. Finally, one gets to know that her father treated her as she was her own natural daughter, but she was not, in fact, her daughter. When everything seems to be rescued by a dodging fortune, when her «cousin» has already broken up with his fiancée, she tries to commit suicide and doesn't survive the attempt. She had thought, for long, that she was her beloved's sister and still she kept drawing him. She decided not to break a destiny which was bound to be fulfilled if she hadn't followed her instincts. It is a very beautiful novel which describes the watershed between romanticism and naturalism in a much intense way than some contemporaneous portuguese novels. And it invites a moral reflection, for times of whirlpools, rather than watersheds: the error lies not in our feelings, and subjective representations. We falter when we give up making our representations accord with our deeper feelings. There is no love which doesn't sail from the shore of a noble dream and we are captains of a much vaster ship than we think.

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