´CIII - "Quincas Borba", by Machado de Assis, comments by André Bandeira

This novel, published in 1891, narrates the rise and fall of Rubião, the personal  male nurse of the philosopher Quincas Borba, who accompanies the terminally ill Borba and who becomes his sole heir, on condition of taking care of the philosopher's dog, named exactly as him: Quincas Borba. And this is the first joke. As it often happens in Machado de Assis's plots, the novel is full of mishaps and tricks which never manage to make all characters fall in flames, because his novels are the description of a whole world which is accomodated, while marching to the abyss or perhaps, being flooded by the abyss. The characters always manage to escape, either by their own wit, or by Destiny's generosity, but once the trick becomes effective, the story will never be the same again. Rubião, who had given the dog for adoption, before the will had been unsealed, runs desperate after the pet, in order to recover it and avoiding a tentative revoke of the will. This is the second joke. Once in possession of his newly acquired fortune, Rubião moves from Minas Gerais to the capital, involves himself in Politics, buys a fine house, sponsors lavish parties and, at a certain point, he meets a couple, Palha and his young beautiful wife, Sofia. He falls in love with her, he takes her condescence by acquiescence and goes on financing Palhas misadventures in Politics and Trade. Gradually, his fortune goes from unbalanced to bankruptcy and then to misery. He ends up mad, pretending to be Emperor, granting titles to the former friends who still acquiesce in exchanging some words with him, he drills his hallucinatory armies in the streets, followed by a pack of children, in a sort of Circus parade. And then he dies, to assuage all his fatal destiny, after being sheltered from the rain with the dog Quincas Borba. He thought he was king, he wore the crown or what he thought to be a crown on his head, and committed it to the carers, almost pronouncing the last fatal words of his mentor, the philosopher Quincas Borba:  «to the winner, the potatoes!». There was a kind of parabol, by which the late philosopher used to describe the human condition: there were two tribes at the foot of two opposite slopes in a mountain. One tribe had enough potatoes to feed itself. The other one didn't. So, then, one day, the less fortunate tribe would climb up the mountain, get down to the other side, and massacre the more fortunate tribe, in order to get nourrishment. Therefore, «to the winner, the potatoes!». And that was fine and strong, according to the philosopher. I think, that Machado de Assis, who was a top official during the Empire, and went on so, during the Republic, without withdrawing the portrait of the Emperor Pedro II over his desk, chose «Quincas Borba» to describe how a wealthy, lonesome, philosophy, managed to put at its service a generous, incautious Emperor and exploit him till the end, under false seductions and unmoral shut-ups. The dog howled for three days, after Rubião death and then it died as well. And this is the third joke: no matter one could laugh or cry, it was the same. The cross above, which Rubião evoked as witness during one of his passionate tirades to Sofia and that she didn't want to stare at, went on over a hill in Rio de Janeiro, untouched by the laughs and tears of men.  And that is how the novel ends. But not Machado de Assis...

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