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the Complete Review
the complete review - fiction


Joaquim Maria Machado de Assis

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To purchase Resurrection

Title: Resurrection
Author: Joaquim Maria Machado de Assis
Genre: Novel
Written: 1872 (Eng. 2013)
Length: 182 pages
Original in: Portuguese
Availability: Resurrection - US
Resurrection - UK
Resurrection - Canada
from: Bookshop.org (US)
directly from: Dalkey Archive Press
  • Portuguese title: Ressurreição
  • Translated by Karen C. Sherwood Sotelino
  • With an Introduction by José Luiz Passos (translated by Kevin G. McDonald)

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Our Assessment:

B : limited, but quite enjoyable

See our review for fuller assessment.

Review Summaries
Source Rating Date Reviewer
Hispania . (97:4) 12/2014 Luciana Namorato

  From the Reviews:
  • "Throughout her translation, Sherwood Sotelino skillfully renders Machado de Assis's trademark irony, which remains delicately poised between bemusement and causticity. Sherwood Sotelino also makes effective choices to capture Portuguese connotations (...) Even though Resurrection is not listed among Machado de Assis's most accomplished novels, it is a significant work that is sure to be of interest to scholars and the general public." - Luciana Namorato, Hispania

Please note that these ratings solely represent the complete review's biased interpretation and subjective opinion of the actual reviews and do not claim to accurately reflect or represent the views of the reviewers. Similarly the illustrative quotes chosen here are merely those the complete review subjectively believes represent the tenor and judgment of the review as a whole. We acknowledge (and remind and warn you) that they may, in fact, be entirely unrepresentative of the actual reviews by any other measure.

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The complete review's Review:

       Resurrection -- Machado de Assis' first novel -- centers around Félix. Just in his mid-thirties, he used to be a doctor but has already abandoned his profession; an "unexpected inheritance" apparently allows him to live a life of idle comfort.
       Machado de Assis makes little effort to present Félix as sympathetic, introducing him as: "an idle, unambitious fellow" and noting at the outset that

His character is flawed, illogical and lacking consistency. He is a complex man, incoherent and capricious, in whom opposing elements meet, both refined qualities and irreconcilable failings.
       With the coming of the new year he ends the affair he's been having for the last six months, with a woman named Cecília -- "I've finished with that chapter, Cecília is disengaged", he tells a friend. He doesn't have to worry about finding a substitute, if he so wishes. There's Raquel, "an interesting child of seventeen", who is already in love with him -- not that he picks up on that very quickly --, and there's the widow Lívia, the beautiful sister of Viana, another of Félix's friends. Félix had met Lívia before, two years earlier, but only briefly; still, she made an impression -- he remembers the encounters. So does she, as Viana lets Félix know that, since her return, she: "speaks of you often".
       Félix and Lívia begin an affair, quickly forming a close, intense relationship. It all seems to be moving clearly down the familiar path and towards the obvious conclusion:
They depended on each other exclusively. Marriage was the logical and customary outcome of such a romance.
       There's a problem, however: "Félix's love had a bitter taste, ridden with doubt and suspicion". He has trust issues, an experience in his past having permanently scarred him. He even tries to explain it to Lívia:
You didn't lose a precious good, stolen from me by time: trust. You can still find the happiness you once yearned for. It's enough for you to love someone. While I, my dear Lívia, lack the principle element of inner peace, for I don't trust in the sincerity of others.
       Loving him, Lívia imagines she can also save him: "she trusted herself with the renewal of that soul, so prematurely aged" -- a resurrection, as the title suggests. And Félix thinks there's hope for him yet, too, trying to convince himself:
     "Marriage will restore my trust," he thought; "when the two of us are together, removed from society, from contact with strangers, peace will rule my heart. Only then will we be happy, without bitterness or remorse."
       Removed from society ? From contact with strangers ? That's a lot to expect -- and, of course, leaves some of those closer to home to worry about .....
       Adding to the (melo)drama, there's Raquel, pining away so badly that she's soon nearly on her deathbed, "dying like the flower she was". No one knows why she has nearly given up on life -- certainly not oblivious Félix -- but it's clear that:
Raquel had suffered, perhaps, some sort of failed hope -- or more clearly put, a hopeless attachment.
       Indeed. Nevertheless, when Félix is consulted in his role as one-time medical professional he saves the day, or at least the girl, who is restored to better spirits thanks to just this small bit of his attention.
       For some moments, it seems everything can work out, and at roughly the novel's midway point Machado even goes so far as to suggest that here already: "the novel might end naturally and traditionally, marrying the two pairs of hearts and dispatching them off to enjoy the honeymoon in some faraway place unknown to man". But it isn't meant to be; the one couple isn't in love -- Raquel still pines after Félix, while her would-be beau, Meneses, lusts after Lívia -- and the other couple, Félix and Lívia, continue to face the same problems as before.
       The story wends its way on, with Lívia and Raquel learning of each other's love for Félix, -- but managing to become friends. Félix and Lívia resume their course towards marriage -- but, but ..... Yes, Félix just can't get over those trust issues: "The doubt is enough", he admits, and he just can't shake those doubts.
       So, no, Resurrection is no happy romance. Yes, there's a semi-happy end for one couple -- Raquel gets over Félix and is able to move on, and makes a good match, as we learn in the novel's final chapter, set a decade on -- but star-crossed lovers Félix and Lívia missed the boat. Lívia at least has her son from her first marriage to console her; Félix has pretty much nothing, so that at the end, even: "With all of the means available to be fortunate, by society's standards, Félix is essentially unhappy" -- and is doomed to stay that way.
       Félix had acknowledged that experience wore him down, long ago: "My soul was gradually made callous, and my heart literally died" (well, you know what he meant ...). Briefly, Lívia had allowed for his (soul and heart's) resurrection -- but only briefly. He couldn't change the very fundamentals of his being, and those would always undermine any possible way out. So there he is, doomed never to find and have that love that he longs for.
       It's rather daring to write a would-be romance featuring such an irredeemable (and also rather mediocre) man as Félix, but it's not really a bad angle: worthy, noble lovers are a dime a dozen in nineteenth century literature -- as are dishonorable and wicked ones. Félix is neither. Machado de Assis doesn't try to sell him as a tragic hero either; yes, he apparently suffered -- but there's not enough about what happened that might make us sympathize with him. Félix is, in no small way, a broken man, but Machado de Assis makes it sound like it's still his fault -- certainly in his inability to get over it, especially given how devoted Lívia is to him. All he has to do is go along with it -- trust and believe in her -- and he could have all the happiness he wants. But doubts will always gnaw at him, even for no good reason .....
       The fact that Félix stays so true to character is the novel's greatest weakness, both in making the outcome inevitable and in Machado de Assis not even really allowing for the possibility of personal growth or change, and thus toying with reader (or Lívia) that a redemptive resurrection is possible.
       One representative exchange between the couple, after Lívia reveals Meneses' interest in her (and how she let him down and turned him away, and how he accepted that) includes in its back and forth:
     — Do you censure me ? the young woman asked.
     — No, the doctor said, I pity you.
     — My intention was good.
     — It would be. But life's not composed of feelings. One doesn't carry on as if living in a novel.
       Leaving aside the irony that he is actually literally 'living in a novel', the other irony, of course, is that Félix could and would be much happier if he were carrying on 'as if living in a novel' ..... But he lacks the imagination to free himself in this way; he is truly small-minded. Machado de Assis' portrait of such a figure is, in this sense, unwavering -- for better and worse: the figure is limited, and that ultimately also limits what the novel can be and do.
       In short snappy chapters Resurrection, and the relationship, move along briskly, through quick ups and downs. With a small cast of characters, whose fates become intertwined, it's a rather small, insular world on display here -- but the arrangement helps, for example, to keep Raquel in the picture, as a slightly complicating factor (though Félix doesn't seem to consider having a go at her very seriously, even after he learns that she has feelings for him).
       It's a small novel, but there's already a lot of Machado de Assis' spark to it, and it is enjoyable enough -- and more than just a curiosity. If it is a somewhat odd exercise that Machado de Assis set himself here, with the character of Félix and the impossibility of him finding happiness, he nevertheless pulls it off quite well.

- M.A.Orthofer, 26 March 2022

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Resurrection: Reviews: Joaquim Maria Machado de Assis: Other books by Machado de Assis under review: Other books of interest under review:

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About the Author:

       Brazilian author Joaquim Maria Machado de Assis lived 1839 to 1908.

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© 2022 the complete review

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