Nov 01, Henry Avila rated it really liked it King John V the Magnanimous of Portugal is a frustrated man, to continue the royal dynasty children are obviously needed, set back in the year of our Lord, married two years to the devout Austrian Princess Maria Ana, and yet no babies. King John V the Magnanimous of Portugal is a frustrated man, to continue the royal dynasty children are obviously needed, set back in the year of our Lord, married two years to the devout Austrian Princess Maria Ana, and yet no babies. So when a Franciscan St. Francis friar promises that God will grant the King his wish, through their prayers, if a convent, monastery is built for that religious order, John the Fifth agrees readily as soon as the Queen gives birth The vast Portuguese Empire in Asia, Africa and South America is very rich, money keeps flowing into the royal treasury, they are the envy of the rest of Europe, the all-powerful king can do anything he wants.
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His parents were not wealthy, so he completed his secondary education in a vocational school, where he trained to become a mechanic. He nonetheless found time to read widely, and, after working only briefly as a mechanic, progressed through a variety of newspaper jobs, from clerical worker, to production assistant, proofreader, and newspaper columnist. Meanwhile, his literary career began unspectacularly, including one early novel, two collections of verse, and four volumes of journalistic writing, none of which attracted much attention.
Similar acclaim and greater commercial success followed for subsequent novels, including Memorial do Convento ; Baltasar and Blimunda, and , the work that launched him on a series of critical and commercial triumphs.
Works such as his rewriting of the gospel story in O Evangelho Segundo Jesus Cristo ; The Gospel According to Jesus Christ, provoked heated debate, in which government ministers condemned his work, contributing to his subsequent emigration to Spain. Written in his characteristic multivocal, oral style, Baltasar and Blimunda epitomizes the powerful mix of social conscience and fantasy typical of his fiction.
The novel allows the ordinary citizen to take center stage in an age that usually gave such prominence only to royalty, clergy, and nobility. Events in History at the Time the Novel Takes Place All that glittered was not gold Early-eighteenth-century Portugal was an imperial power at the peak of its prestige but already in decline in terms of influence on the international stage.
Major European cultural figures, such as the Italian composer Domenico Scarlatti and the German architect Johann Friedrich Ludwig who both appear in fictional form in Baltasar and Blimunda were invited by the Court to Lisbon from overseas, and they did much to enrich Portuguese cultural life.
All the glitter and magnificence were deceptive, however. Although the country had recovered from 60 years of Spanish domination — to regain its role as a seat of empire in Africa, Asia, and America, its strength was relative: Britain, Holland, and France were now the major colonial and trading powers in Europe. Also, the Treaty of Methuen, in which Portugal permitted the import of English woolens in return for a preferential duty by England on Portuguese wines, proved more favorable to the British than to the Portuguese.
In addition, the dependence of the Portuguese economy on the export of one product—port wine—to the British market made the economic health of the country dangerously dependent on the needs and interests of this dominant trading partner.
Colonial gold was used to import luxury goods from overseas rather than to invest in the development of domestic industrial production. As a result, Portugal tended to export raw materials and to depend on foreign markets for manufactured goods, to the detriment of the underlying economic health of the nation.
Whereas the new powers emerging in Northern Europe primarily Britain, Holland, and France benefited from the dynamism born of a spirit of philosophical inquiry, freedom of speech , and increasing democracy, Portugal remained a country institutionally rooted in the past.
As societal head, the king thus had the uncontestable right to make decisions on behalf of the nation as a whole. Though the sovereign had ultimate authority, the Church wielded considerable influence on civil society, especially in the era of the Inquisition — The Inquisition, a tribunal to suppress deviation from the teachings of the Roman Catholic Church , possessed the powers to condemn ordinary citizens for loosely defined offenses such as heresy, witchcraft, and observance of Judaic practices.
Livermore writes that Confession and denunciation were required in cases of keeping the Sabbath on Saturday or Friday, fasting for Ramadan, praying shoeless, bathing the whole body, refusal to consume bacon or wine, the denial of hell, paradise, mass, absolution, the virgin birth or the articles of faith, and bigamy, witchcraft or the unauthorized possession of the Bible in Portuguese.
Livermore, p. The total number of victims executed by the Holy Office probably was not as high as many might think. Oliveira Marques gives the total number burned at the stake between and as Marques, p.
Maria Ana of Austria, would bear him an heir. The massive project took nearly 20 years to construct and required the use of forced-labor chain gangs brought in from all over the country. This is presented in the novel as leading to the neglect and even the willful destruction of valuable agricultural land: They left early, meeting up with other men along the route, whom Baltasar recognised as neighbours also helping to build the convent, which might explain why the surrounding fields have been abandoned, the old folks and the women cannot cultivate the land on their own.
On a small plot of land situated behind the convent walls lying to the east, the friar in charge of the kitchen-garden attached to the hospice had planted fruit trees and laid out beds with a variety of produce and borders of flowers, the mere beginnings of a fully established orchard and kitchen-garden.
All of this would be destroyed. Saramago, Baltasar and Blimunda, pp. Thus, reports Oliveira Marques, the wine industry which enjoyed an unprecedented boom at the time, due largely to exports to Britain was allowed to extend its vineyards to clearly unsuitable land, and this led to a decline in staples needed for domestic consumption, such as wheat Marques, p.
Baltasar and Blimunda, p. The story is clearly based on the accident suffered by the Portuguese dictator Salazar in , when a chair collapsed under him, leading to his incapacitation for office and thus to the eventual fall of his regime, the New State, in The analogy sheds new light on the frequent likening in Baltasar and Blimunda of the workers at Mafra to ants. Likewise, the bedbugs gnawing at the bodies of the king and queen under their eiderdown may be seen as signaling the fall of the monarchy and loss of its accompanying privileges.
Meanwhile, ordinary citizens, such as Baltasar and Blimunda, were essentially pawns of those with greater power in a society that still preserved many of the structures of feudalism: individual progress was dependent on patronage; soldiers were recruited by force from the ranks of the peasantry, and then discarded when no longer required by the Crown, as happens to Baltasar in the novel Baltasar and Blimunda, pp.
Ironically the one major construction project clearly undertaken for the public good, the Free Waters Aqueduct in Lisbon, was paid for by the common people themselves, with taxes being levied on staples such as wine, olive oil , and meat in order to finance the scheme Carvalho in Levenson, p.
Maria Ana of Austria, who he hopes will bear him an heir to the throne. The bedbugs that afflict the royal couple as they lie beneath the blankets suggest the moral degeneracy of the monarchy.
Subsequent chapters set the scene for the major events of the novel by depicting with some exuberant color the realities of life for ordinary citizens in Lisbon in the early eighteenth century: the corruption and hypocrisy of the clergy; prostitution, crime, and disease; the popular entertainments provided by bullfights, religious processions, and, more sinisterly, the burning of heretics at the stake; and the miserable lot of average citizens such as Sebastiana Maria de Jesus, publicly humiliated by the Inquisition at an auto-da-fe an exemplary public punishment.
Also miserable is the lot of Baltasar Seven Suns, a soldier returning from fighting for his country in the War of the Spanish Succession , having lost a hand in battle, and now facing an uncertain future with no guarantee of employment. He was dismissed from the army where he was of no further use once his left hand was amputated at the wrist after being shattered by gunfire at Jerez de los Caballeros, in the ambitious campaign we fought last October with eleven thousand men, only to end with the loss of two hundred of our soldiers and the rout of the survivors, who were pursued by the Spanish cavalry dispatched from Badajoz.
Baltasar and Blimunda, pp. The attraction between Baltasar and Blimunda is immediately obvious; Bartolomeu oversees a ceremonial union of the two lovers, which is very pointedly not a Christian marriage and, in its simplicity and sincerity, contrasts vividly with the rituals and expenditure surrounding an arranged royal marriage later in the novel Baltasar and Blimunda, pp.
Subsequently Baltasar and Blimunda help Bartolomeu build his flying machine powered by the wills of ordinary people, which are captured from their bodies and stored in a glass jar by Blimunda before these people die. The three characters take one exhilarating but uncontrolled flight in the machine before it comes to earth, after which Bartolomeu flees to Spain, never to reappear in the novel.
The two other characters lovingly look after his flying machine while Baltasar also works on a number of projects connected with the construction of the convent at Mafra. Baltasar accidentally sets off the Passarola and is carried away by it to be seen again only in , when Blimunda who has spent nine years searching for him all over Portugal finds him, just as he is being executed by the Inquisition for unspecified crimes. Perhaps because of his blackened beard, a miraculous transformation caused by the soot, he looks much younger.
And there is a dark cloud in the centre of his body. Then Blimunda said, Come. By this action Blimunda asserts the significance of the popular over the powerful but wealthy king, who is but a shadowy figure beside the more memorable characters of Baltasar and Blimunda. In he gave a demonstration at the royal court in Lisbon of a prototype of his projected flying machine based on a theory he described in a surviving document.
There is, however, no strong evidence to suggest that he ever succeeded in building a machine big enough to transport a human being, in spite of later reports of a flight carried out from the castle in Lisbon to the nearby Terreiro do Pago. His brother subsequently testified to the Inquisition that Bartolomeu had adopted Judaism in preference to Christianity: The poor youth declared that his brother had tenaciously instilled in him the belief that he, Bartolomeu, was the Messiah, the Redeemer foretold by the Old Testament , since the redemption promised to the Jews by Holy Scripture had still not been fulfilled.
If he did not undertake the work of Redemption, God would call him severely to account. Also the Passarola becomes a symbol of the freedom lacked by ordinary people in the eighteenth century. The notion of flight in the novel points to the infinite capacity of the human mind, will, and spirit to seek new possibilities of thought and self-expression, a capacity that was repressed in the eighteenth century by a combination of the Inquisition which required absolute Catholic orthodoxy and the power of the king to treat his kingdom as his own possession, without any consideration for the needs or wishes of ordinary citizens.
Sources and literary context In spite of the prominent element of fantasy in his novel, Saramago makes extensive use of historically documented sources. Like these works, Baltasar and Blimunda focuses on the miserable experiences of the downtrodden poor in an authoritarian society that denies them any voice to express their feelings or alter their living and working conditions. Both of these traditions emphasize the potential of the human voice and of the multiplicity of perspectives on life that have shaped the course of human history.
Frequently these remarks place the events described in a broader historical context, leading the reader to reflect on periods other than those in which the novel takes place. For example, News reached Mafra sporadically that Lisbon was suffering the tremors of an earthquake. The reference here is to an earlier, smaller earthquake that occurred in October No longer preoccupied with modernization, but rather with the entrenchment of power and privilege, Portugal returned to unenlightened absolutist rule.
The extract printed above is one of seven successive narratives of the same type presented at this point in the novel, each one reinforcing the image of a poor, exploited workforce, which has been hoodwinked into serving the interests of its real enemies, the twin forces of Church and State.
Not only does this strategy achieve equalization of commoner and royal, by foregrounding the commoner for a change, it also invites readers to reconsider their understanding of history in general and to see it not as an immutable, objective reality but as a collation of narratives shaped according to the needs and interests of its narrators at different periods.
Events in History at the Time the Novel Was Written From sovereignty to dictatorship—pertinent parallels By Portugal was a parliamentary democracy beginning to develop the full-scale integration into Western European patterns of life that are readily visible today.
This dictatorship had defined twentieth-century Portuguese history, invoking an introverted, economically austere, and socially conservative model of a pious society dedicated to following the will of its father figure Salazar , with a certain degree of connivance from the Roman Catholic hierarchy even if, at a popular level, the social and political attitudes of the Church were more mixed than this broad generalization might suggest.
As a result, the country entering a new era of democracy in had one of the highest illiteracy records in Europe, and rights and benefits that are today taken for granted in the West had still to be secured: women were regarded almost as the property of their husbands or fathers; material standards of living were the lowest in Western Europe ; and there was no freedom of political or trade-union association.
These unpleasant realities were further reinforced by strict censorship of the press and the media in general, which reproduced only officially sanctioned opinions. Portugal was the first and the last of the major European colonial powers in the continent, and, even after other imperial rulers such as France and Britain had relinquished these roles, Portugal continued to adopt a self-appointed and ultimately unsustainable role as importer of European civilization to Africa.
Similarly, a parallel can be drawn between the dependence of the figure of D. From dictatorship to capitalist democracy At the time the novel was written, some eight years after the Revolution, Portugal was seeking a new role for itself as a post-imperialist state.
After a period in which it seemed likely that Portuguese society might be remodeled along explicitly socialist lines banks were nationalized and many large agricultural estates were taken into collective ownership in the immediate aftermath of the Revolution , the country moved towards a more conventional Western European pattern of market capitalism combined with elements of social democracy.
Property that had been appropriated after the Revolution was largely returned to private hands, and the country sought membership in the European Economic Community now the European Union , a goal finally achieved in Instead, Saramago FLOWERS, MUSIC, AND REVOLUTION The chest is no longer there, they have loaded it into the Passarola, what else do we need, the knapsacks, some food, and the harpsichord, what is to be done with the harpsichord, let it stay here, these are selfish thoughts, which one must try to comprehend and forgive, such is their anxiety that all three of them fail to reflect that if the harpsichord is left behind, the ecclesiastical and secular authorities are likely to become even more suspicious, why and for what purpose is a harpsichord in a coach-house, … an instrument so delicate that even being transported on the shoulders of porters was enough to put the keys out of tune.
This is perhaps the real significance of the thwarted flight of the Passarola in the novel. Reception Baltasar and Blimunda was generally received with enthusiasm, both in Portugal and in English-speaking countries. He might also have taken a kinder view of the novel if the translation as originally drafted by Giovanni Pontiero had not been substantially altered at the insistence of the publishers, whose attempts to make the novel more palatable to an English-speaking audience removed the very element of multivocal discourse within the text that contributes so strongly to its appeal.
Birmingham, David. A Concise History of Portugal. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, Ferros, Clare. Portuguese Studies 4 : — Frier, David G. Romance Quarterly 49 Levenson, Jay A. The Age of the Baroque in Portugal. Livermore, H. A New History of Portugal. Marques, A. Lisbon: Palas Editores, Review of Memorial do Convento. Baltasar and Blimunda. Giovanni Pontiero. London: The Harvill Press, Mike Gerrard and Thomas McCarthy.
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Baltasar and Blimunda