Discuss the theme of loneliness as treated by Maria Judite de Carvalho, Maria Ondina Braga, Teolinda Gersão and Hélia.
Loneliness is a major health concern, a debilitating condition and a universal human emotion. It at once fascinates and terrifies us, which makes it an invaluable literary theme. The lonely and the elderly are often synonymous; Portuguese authors known for their short stories, such as those above, invariably include among their works an ‘old woman’ story in some form. The theme of loneliness comes as part of the package. The ways in which the narrative incorporates it, however, are as varied as the narratives themselves.
No stranger to such an emotion, Maria Judite de Carvalho’s Mariana in Tanta Gente, Mariana is, contrary to the norm, not elderly when she dies and is in fact only fifteen in one section of the narrative. Her situation also stands out due to her loneliness stemming not from bereavement and consequential solitude, but mainly from persecution received due to social prejudices.
The ironic title, ‘So many people, Mariana’, suggests as much. The line from which it comes is seminal: ‘We are all lonely, Mariana. Lonely and with so many people around us. So many people, Mariana!’ As well as the title of this novella, it is the title of the book of stories and, incidentally, the only story title of the collection in question which contains a name. Thus the reader can more easily identify with the protagonist and one of the main themes, which is, according to Ana Raquel Lourenço Fernandes, ‘solitude as an intrinsic part of the human condition.’ (2008:138). Ana Paula Fernandes (unknown:1) agrees that Carvalho’s work contains great ‘densidade emocional’ of this kind but goes on to stress that it is in particular the woman who is ‘sublinha a solidão’ and that the female soul remains ‘isolada no grupo humano’.
Indeed it seems that Mariana suffers for her gender. Her former husband, António, leaves her for another woman but it is she, the divorced woman, who is forced to bear the scorn of others: ‘Senhor Bruno has requested me to ask you to leave the company before any further scandal is caused’. Here Carvalho criticises the weakness and cowardice of people; the boss wants her out but can’t face telling her himself. She may be unmarried and pregnant, no-one knowing the father, who is in fact her friend, Luís Gonzaga. Again, he remains blameless, though he’s going away to be a priest. He, too, removes Mariana from his life and expects her to cry, which causes her to question the ‘vanity of men, the incredible, ridiculous vanity of men’. This comment could arguably be one from Carvalho herself; the first-person voice, unique among these stories, provides some instances of commentary.
Why then does Carvalho choose such a pessimistic tone and central theme of loneliness? A tone which Telma Aparecida Malfa calls one of ‘pessimismo, amargura e solidão’? (2007:99). Malfa suggests that the novella and its pessimistic view on the female condition in Portugal is a ‘crítica social empreendida pela autora’(2007:99), a key idea in Carvalho’s work. As mentioned, she critiques the attitudes of the people, especially men, towards Mariana and examines Portuguese society in general through the protagonist’s plight. Fernandes (2008:138) remarks ‘The short story is significant for its narrative structure... its shifts between past and present.’ The fragmented narrative certainly shifts in time rapidly, forcing the reader to work in order to keep up. Fernandes (unknown:2) would say that ‘o vaivém entre o pasado e o presente evidencia o drama existential da protagonista’. The reader is aware that Mariana was always a victim of circumstance due to her being a poor, uneducated woman: ‘a simple typist, penniless and with no family’. In addition, the narrative’s circular nature reveals the imminent death of the protagonist from the beginning and ends with the realisation of the event. This is the only type of ‘resolution’ allowed by Carvalho; to offer a ‘happily ever after’ or to afford Mariana some absolution would possibly counteract the social judgement. Malfa (2007:100) concurs that ‘Maria Judite de Carvalho não tentar solucionar-lhes os conflitos e também não se preocupa em justificá-los.’ Carvalho doesn’t need to justify the extreme isolation of her protagonist because there is no justification. She doesn’t resolve the situation because, in reality, there is no solution, only eventual death.
Similarly, in another of Carvalho’s short stories, ‘The Inconsolable Fiancée’, the young protagonist Joana is isolated and lonely. It seems to be a common theme of Carvalho’s; Raymond S. Sayers (1966: 264), who claims she is ‘the most gifted of all the new short story writers’, states simply that Carvalho ‘writes about lonely women’. Without doubt Joana is one of these women; the reader is aware she has lost her fiancé, though it is not stated outright: ‘He had planned to go to the beach with some friends...he had gone. That’s all she knew. That’s all anyone knew’. The worst is assumed, and arguably made more poignant for its lack of announcement.
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- Portuguese Literature Portuguese Short Stories Maria Judite de Carvalho Maria Ondina Braga Teolinda Gersao Helia Correia