The Greatness Of Clarice Lispector
Last week I had the chance to talk about the towering influence of Clarice Lispector over Brazilian literature. Critics lauded her stream-of-consciousness style and described her as glamorous and mysterious. When an industry expert on Goodreads asked me to recommend books that could be adapted into a Netflix series: Without hesitation, I put forth her name. The Greatness Of Clarice Lispector surpasses storytelling, a self-described wordsmith. The iconic poet captured the Brazilian psyche perhaps better than Brazilian-born writers themselves.
Clarice Lispector was born in 1920 to a Jewish family in Soviet Ukraine. As a result of the anti-Semitic violence they endured, the family fled to Brazil in 1922, and Clarice Lispector grew up in Recife. Following the death of her mother when Clarice was nine, she moved to Rio de Janeiro. There she lived with her father and two sisters, and she went on to study law.
With her diplomat husband, she lived in Italy, Switzerland, England, and the United States. When they separated and she returned to her beloved Rio in 1959; she died there in 1977. Though widely respected in Brazil while she was still alive, since her death, Clarice Lispector has earned universal recognition as Brazil’s greatest modern writer.
Lispector Style of Writing
Not many authors come with a warning “It’s not literature it’s witchcraft.” Better than food says fans of Kafka, Dostoevsky, Virginia Woolf should read her. I am of the opinion that many can write poetry, but only a select few are poetry. Lispector is poetry, and fortunately now there are enough translations for rest of the world to appreciate her literary legacy too.
Clarice Lispector published nine novels, 85 short stories, five books for children and countless letters and newspaper columns, cementing her reputation as a writer of great, if cryptic, power.
As a teenager she was transfixed by the novels of Dostoyevsky, Hermann Hesse and the Brazilian modernist Monteiro Lobato. She was got into to the University of Brazil’s law school after scoring fourth place on the national exam . And there she began to read the work of the Jewish mystical philosopher Baruch Spinoza, who became a lifelong influence.
She published her first short story, “O Triunfo” (“Triumph”), in Pan magazine in 1940, the same year her father died of complications of a routine gall bladder surgery.
Of Lispector and her characters — women “on the verge of exaltation, greatness, dissolution, spiritual ecstasy,”
Her readers say she’s is a literary mammoth with an unprecedented, unique voice. Her legacy is often overlooked, but those who have read her will never forget her – the woman behind the words was as intense, mysterious and profound as her work itself.
I would like to see an adaptation of The Foreign Legion. It opens with thirteen stories and the second part of the book presents her newspaper crônicas. Lispector addresses life’s big questions with dazzling taxonomies, that paragraphs hardly seem to be a unit of organization.
Novel thought inversions, and almost brutal honesty delivered with elegance and grace. Her characters display an exuberant range. She delves far beyond their superficiality getting to the heart of their psychological makeup, allowing the reader to hear and feel the minds and hearts of her characters pulse against their fingertips and far into the depths of their psyche.
They stand as perfect examples of human imperfection compiled richly of all the inadequacies it has to offer. She is one of those authors that every time I read her books I am hooked, enamored, bewitched. I surrender. I am both mesmerized and furious. But above all I am deeply invested.
Here’s an interview where she speaks of her last masterpieces The Hour of the Star (A hora da estrela) published in 1977, shortly before the author’s death.
Remnants Of Carnival by Clarice Lispector, 1971
The magic trick:
Shrouding a happy story in the sadness of a celebration’s end
I much prefer this story to yesterday’s similar coming-of-age feature, “The First Kiss.” There’s a greater sense of mystery and loss. The narrator begins by describing the aftermath of the Carnival beautifully, the desolate streets, the stray trash left over from a celebration. It casts a somber nostalgia over the story. But then the plot kicks in and we find a woman reminiscing about the Carnival when she began to feel like a woman for the first time. She wears makeup and pretends to be grown up. It is thrilling for her, in many ways. The combination of this coming-of-age memory mixed with the end-of-the-party images that start the story, well, it’s a beautiful thing. Growing up maybe isn’t the start of something, but rather the end of something else. What a story. And that’s quite a trick on Lispector’s part.
No, not this past Carnival, but I don’t know why this one transported me back to my childhood and those Ash Wednesdays on the dead streets where the remains of streamers and confetti fluttered. The occasional devout woman with a veil covering her head would be heading to church, crossing the street left so incredibly empty after Carnival. Until the next year. And when the celebration was fast approaching, what could explain the inner tumult that came over me? As if the budding world were finally opening into a big scarlet rose. As if the streets and squares of Recife were finally explaining why they’d been made. As if human voices were finally singing the capacity for pleasure that was kept secret in me. Carnival was mine, mine.
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