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the Complete Review
the complete review - fiction

The Relic

José Maria Eça de Queiróz

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To purchase The Relic

Title: The Relic
Author: José Maria de Eça de Queiróz
Genre: Novel
Written: 1887
Length: 281 pages
Original in: Portuguese
Availability: The Relic - US
The Relic - UK
The Relic - Canada
La relique - France
Die Reliquie - Deutschland
  • Portuguese title: A Relíquia
  • Translated by Margaret Jull Costa (1994)
  • Previously (1925) also translated by Aubrey F.G. Bell

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Our Assessment:

B : fine comic story

See our review for fuller assessment.

Review Summaries
Source Rating Date Reviewer
The Nation . 20/1/1925 .
The New Republic . 16/9/1925 Rose Lee
New Statesman . 6/11/1954 Maurice Richardson
The NY Times Book Rev. . 16/8/1925 .
The NY Times Book Rev. A- 9/5/1954 Richard Sullivan

  Note that the reviews from 1925 and 1954 all refer to Aubrey F.G. Bell's 1925 translation, not the Margaret Jull Costa translation under review here.

  From the Reviews:
  • "Within a few pages he has us straining to keep up with the modernity of his thought, we are instantly impressed by the purity and imagery of his style, respectful before his restraint and economy of word and incident; above all fascinated by the rapier-like thrust of his satire. And -- yes -- convulsed by his hilarious comedy." - The New York Times Book Review

  • "The novel is brilliantly written; the translation by Aubrey F.G. Bell (...) is so lively and graceful that it almost suggests that the work had been originally composed in this racy English prose." - Richard Sullivan, The New York Times Book Review

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:

       The Relic is narrated by Teodorico Raposo. His mother died after giving birth to him, and when he was seven his father died too. He was then entrusted to the care of his aunt, Patrocínio -- a very wealthy woman, but not a very sympathetic one.
       Ultra-devout, Aunt Patrocínio's only concern is religion. She gives off "the bitterwsweet odour of snuff and formic acid" and has a "greenish, sunken-cheeked face". She runs a strict house, expecting everyone -- and especially Teodorico -- to live up to her high religious standards. Teodorico has other things in mind (like any normal young man), but realises that it's a good idea to stay in his aunt's good graces in order to eventually inherit her fortune.
       Teodorico soon becomes adept at leading a double life: appearing as obsessively devout as his aunt is to her, while leading a pleasantly debauched life when out of her purview. He has to be careful, but he manages quite well.
       Sex, of course, is the greatest of horrors for his aunt:

Incessant mutterings before the naked figure of Christ, prayers for indulgence said at the Hours of Piety, all the while aching with divine love, had gradually filled my aunt with a bitter, envious rancour regarding human love in all its forms.
       So it is his romantic encounters that he has to be especially careful to keep hidden.
       Knowing that he has to compete with the Church itself for his aunt's fortune he works doubly hard to appear as obsessively devout as her -- and thus a worthy successor to her. Still, he has other yearnings too -- such as a desire to travel abroad, to Paris, for example. Paris, of course, is out of the question -- a den of sin that's no place for Teodorico -- but the aunt does agree to send him to the Holy Land. All she asks is that he brings back a relic -- and he's sure if he accomplishes this then he'll be made her heir.
       Despite all the religious play-acting not all that much of it had actually gone into Teodorico's head:
     Jerusalem ! Where was Jerusalem ? I ran to the trunk containing my schoolbooks and my old clothes. I pulled out an atlas, and with it open on the desk, before the image of Our Lady of Grace and Favour, I started looking for Jerusalem (.....)
     I could already feel in my wandering finger the weariness of a long journey; I paused on the tortuous bank of a river which I supposed to be the holy Jordan. It was the Danube.
       Teodorico sets out on his adventure, finding a travel companion in the German academic Dr. Topsius -- and some oriental romance (with, of all things, a girl from Yorkshire) in Alexandria. Eventually Teodorico and Topsius get to the Holy Land -- which doesn't impress the young man all that much. But he has a relic to find !
       An unusual centrepiece to the novel -- a long chapter in the middle -- is a dream in which Teodorico is transported back to the time of Christ, and where he and Topsius become witnesses to history in the making. It's an odd tour de force, and a big chunk of the novel, a bit jarring because it doesn't entirely fit in with the rest of the story. But it's quite well done, a fun bit of time travel with the fairly hapless Teodorico in the middle.
       Teodorico also does find a relic -- or rather (not at all surprisingly) he fakes one. What he plans to offer his aunt is nothing less than the crown of thorns that Jesus wore -- something he's quite sure he can get away with.
       Possibly he could, but Teodorico finally falters a bit in his attempts at showing piety when he returns to Portugal and his aunt (a good dose of very bad luck complicating things for him). He misses his opportunity (and then doesn't make the most out of the alternative) and winds up on the street: all the years of faking it for naught.
       Teodorico eventually manages well enough, though he doesn't get any of his aunt's fortune upon her death (in a typical Eca touch the priest who does wind up with most of the money is the least deserving). He's disappointed that he didn't get all the riches, but also amused at his own downfall.

       Teodorico is an entertaining figure, a fairly simple bon vivant who, for much of the novel, hilariously tries to outdo his aunt in her own insane piety. The aunt is, of course, a caricature -- but not an entirely unbelievable one. It makes for a fun story, with some fine comic moments, though ultimately the whole is not quite substantial enough.

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The Relic: Reviews: José Maria de Eça de Queirós: Other books by Eça de Queiróz under review: Other books of interest under review:

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About the Author:

       Portuguese author José Maria de Eça de Queirós lived 1845 to 1900.

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© 2003-2021 the complete review

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