Literary Saloon
Site of Review.

Trying to meet all your book preview and review needs.

the Best
the Rest
Review Index




to e-mail us:

support the site

In Association with Amazon.com

In association with Amazon.com - UK

In association with Amazon.ca - Canada

the Complete Review
the complete review - fiction

The Illustrious House of Ramires

José Maria de Eça de Queirós

general information | review summaries | our review | links | about the author

To purchase The Illustrious House of Ramires

Title: The Illustrious House of Ramires
Author: José Maria de Eça de Queirós
Genre: Novel
Written: 1900 (Eng. 2017)
Length: 351 pages
Original in: Portuguese
Availability: The Illustrious House of Ramires - US
The Illustrious House of Ramires - UK
The Illustrious House of Ramires - Canada
L'illustre maison de Ramires - France
Das berühmte Haus Ramires - Deutschland
L'illustre casata Ramires - Italia
La ilustre casa de Ramires - España
directly from: Dedalus - UK
  • Portuguese title: A Ilustre Casa de Ramires
  • Translated by Margaret Jull Costa
  • Previously translated by Ann Stevens (1968)

- Return to top of the page -

Our Assessment:

B+ : a sly piece of work, and an enjoyably rambling entertainment

See our review for fuller assessment.

Review Summaries
Source Rating Date Reviewer
Le Monde diplo. . 9/1999 François Bouchardeau
The NY Rev. of Books . 31/5/2017 James Guida
The NY Times Book Rev.* . 25/5/1969 Alexander Coleman
The Observer* . 17/1/1993 Jonathan Keates
Sunday Times* . 12/5/1968 Julian Symons
Le Temps . 12/6/1999 Isabelle Rüf
The Times* . 11/5/1968 David Gallagher
TLS . 6/10/2017 M.M.Lisboa

[* review of a different translation]

  From the Reviews:
  • "Un premier niveau de lecture nous montre ainsi un homme incapable d’appliquer dans sa propre vie les qualités morales qu’il célèbre par écrit. Cependant, on comprend vite que l’ironie de l’auteur ne s’arrête pas là. C’est bien d’une critique mordante -- mais toujours souriante et pleine d’élégance -- de la société portugaise qu’il s’agit ; et même, au-delà de l’époque et du cadre géographique, on reconnaîtra bien des travers qui furent, et parfois sont encore, ceux des sociétés modernes qui ont produit L’Homme sans qualités de Musil." - François Bouchardeau, Le Monde diplomatique

  • "(T)the novel is structured around a bold narrative conceit. As the story proceeds, Gonçalo not only manages to convince himself that he is on a path that would impress his storied forebears, but, echoing Don Quixote, more or less dreams his way into their twelfth-century world" - James Guida, The New York Review of Books

  • "The triumph of this entrancing work, irradiated by its author's indulgent humanity, derives from the truth that almost nothing happens in it. The novel is a sustained essay in comic symbolism and multifaceted allegory, Eça's most individual achievement, culminating in yet another of those story-endings in which he has no rival, where Goncalo's friends, walking down a moonlit country road, perceive their magnificently preposterous hero as an emblem of Portugal itself. Flaubert, painfully chipping at the rockface of perfection, would have killed for anything as good as this." - Jonathan Keates, The Observer

  • "The material might be called documentary, but the manner is never solemn. The style is urbane, graceful, flecked constantly with humour and benevolent irony. (...) Rhetorical, absurd, cowardly, yet also impulsively generous and kind, a self-seeker who is also the easiest of gulls, he emerges as a memorable mixture of Don Quixote and Captain Bobadil." - Julian Symons, Sunday Times

  • "C'est là qu'intervient l'audace du narrateur, qui entremêle finement les tentatives épiques de son héros et la description réaliste d'un été dans la campagne portugaise. Les bribes du roman médiéval insérées dans le récit sont à la fois un joli pastiche des chroniques de chevalerie et un bel exercice de style. Les hauts faits qu'évoque Gonçalo mettent en évidence, par contraste, la bassesse de ses propres sentiments: il trahit sa parole sans vergogne, fuit devant le danger, choisit d'ignorer l'adultère que sa sœur chérie commet sous ses yeux avec son ennemi politique et n'hésite jamais à retourner sa jolie veste de nobliau." - Isabelle Rüf, Le Temps

  • "Although his attitude was ostensibly a conservative one, Queiroz's irony is so unsparing and suggestive that the monstrosity of the assumptions behind Gonçalo Ramires's life is never in doubt." - David Gallagher, The Times

  • "The Illustrious House of Ramires, his penultimate novel, was published in 1900 and makes up in national iconoclasm what it perhaps lacks in the audacity of the sexual and anti-clerical mores that marked his earlier works (.....) A vainglorious streak in Portuguese life is satirized as humbler contemporary realities are depicted against the background of former glories. In particular, the farcical monetary and rabble-rousing misadventures of Gonçalo, who, in the words of one of his friends, resembles Portugal itself, stand in painful contrast to his more sensible medieval forebears in pre-imperial Portugal." - M.M.Lisboa, Times Literary Supplement

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.

- Return to top of the page -

The complete review's Review:

       The Illustrious House of Ramires centers around young Gonçalo Mendes Ramires -- "Portugal's most authentic nobleman, a scion of its oldest family". He lives in the hamlet of Santa Ireneia, in 'the Tower' -- the family residence that is: "older even than Portugal itself" --, a young nobleman who had an undistinguished university career and now has vague hopes and ambitions of some sort of a political career, perhaps eventually as a member of parliament. For now, at the start of the novel, he at least has another project to occupy himself with: he's writing an historical novel -- novella, really -- 'The Tower of Don Ramires', to be published in the first issue of a new journal founded by a friend of his.
       With Gonçalo, the Ramires-family has reached pretty much the end of its line. He has a sister, Graça -- Gracinha -- who is married, to a José Barrolo, but Gonçalo claims not to be the marrying kind and doesn't expect he'll ever have off-spring. There's not much of a family fortune left, either, though Gonçalo does live in reasonable comfort -- and is always on the lookout for ways to get at more money; among the minor bits of drama in the novel early on is his promising to lease some of his land to one person, butt then accepting a better offer from another.
       Gonçalo is a rather comic figure -- though he is no fool, and also, while generally acting out of self-interest, shows a surprising streak of decency. As one person sums his character up in the end, there are -- among other things --:

His impulses and sudden enthusiasms, which immediately vanish like so much smoke, combined with great determination and real grit when he sticks to an idea. His generosity, his thoughtlessness, his chaotic business dealings, his truly honourable feelings, his scruples, which can seem almost childish. His imagination, which leads him to exaggerate to the point of lying, and yet, at the same time, his practicality and realism. His intellect, his quickwittedness. His constant hope that some miracle will happen, like the famous miracle of Ourique, which will solve all his problems. His vanity, the pleasure he takes in cutting an elegant figure, and his enormous simplicity and sincerity, which means he will gladly help a beggar in the street.
       When they were younger, Gonçalo's friend André Cavaleiro had courted Gracinha -- and then abandoned her, which Gonçalo has been unable to forgive. Cavaleiro has meanwhile been appointed governor and so is an important and influential man in the region, but Gonçalo continues to cut him; so also he insists that Barrolo have nothing to do with him. When the local deputy dies, however -- freeing up his seat in parliament -- Gonçalo finds himself tested: he very much wants to fill that seat, and would be the ideal candidate, but he would need the support of Cavaleiro: though it is nominally an elected position, it is essentially Cavaleiro's to fill. The political career is too tempting, and Gonçalo reconciles with Cavaleiro, despite his (justified) misgivings -- Gracinha still holds a torch for the cad --, and embarks on something of an election campaign. (He has some concerns about not being able to round up enough votes, but he doesn't really have much grounds for concern; it's more or less a sure seat.)
       All the while, there's also that novella he works on, with a deadline looming -- with Eça blending in sections from that narrative, making for a novella-within-the-novel, a rousing, heroic tale from grander (Ramires-family-)times. While Gonçalo had initially had much greater literary ambitions -- he had planned: "to write a modern novel of epic realism in two stout tomes" -- he ultimately only works towards completing a: "brief, sober, thirty-page Novella", to be published in a magazine; it's typical of how he lets himself get carried away by an idea but then also limits himself to the feasible. In the writing, he also leans very heavily on older material, taking both the story and some of the language from a poem written by his Uncle Duarte, borrowing (extensively) and building on these; even so, he struggles some with the writing, which proceeds only in fits and bursts.
       The contrast between the brave nobility of his forefathers and Gonçalo and his times is also highlighted in the back and forth between novella and present-day account. In spirit, Gonçalo aspires to be like his ancestors; in practice, he doesn't find it so easy. Still, he can convince himself of an inner sort of nobility, able to tell himself that his instinct to, for example, run and flee any situation where he finds himself possibly physically threated isn't really his fault:
Because his soul, thank God, was not a cowardly one ! No, it was his body, his treacherous body, which startled and alarmed, fled, ran off, dragging with it his soul, which, inside, was bellowing with rage.
       While he is no great ladies' man -- and continues to claim that he does not want to get married --, Gonçalo is sorely tempted by a new widow and, specifically, her two hundred contos. He proves to be a decent flirt -- helped here by his cousin Maria, who tries to set the two of them up -- but also cautious as to who he might find himself tied down with.
       In most of his ambitions, the follow-through is somewhat lacking -- he struggles with the writing of his novella, and his heart isn't entirely in trying to round up votes when he is running for the deputy position. And then there are his more far-fetched ideas as when, in considering what he might do with his life, he suddenly announces:
     I do have an idea actually, something I've been thinking about for a while now. Perhaps I got the idea from an English novel I'm reading. King Solomon's Mines. It's really interesting. I can recommend it. Yes, I'm considering going off to Africa.
       Gonçalo is, as Eça repeatedly makes clear -- explicitly clear --, representative of nothing less than Portugal itself. Near the end, one character even says as much:
'Put it all together, the good and the bad, and do you know who he reminds me of ?'
     'Who ?'
       Indeed, all along Gonçalo has also tied his and his family's fate to that of Portugal -- encouraging his sister to see to it that she has children, as:
     We need a boy-child. And without one -- since I am never going to marry, because I'm simply not the type -- well that will be the end of both our families, the Barrolos and the Ramires. The extinction of the Barrolos would do the world a favour, frankly, but once the Ramires are finished, Portugal will be finished too.
       Gonçalo repeatedly insists that he won't marry -- claiming:
     I have no talent for it, cousin. Marriage is a very delicate art that requires vocation and a very particular genius. The Fates did not endow me with that genius. And were I to embark on such an enterprise, I would certainly run it into the ground.
       Nevertheless, he entertains the idea of marriage numerous times, listening to the suggestions of possible matches -- and certainly tempted when there is a fortune involved. (The suggestions do tend to be all over the place -- including, early on, the Viscount de Rio-Manso's daughter, Rosinha Rio-Manso; after all, as he's told: "She's really lovely !" -- but it takes Gonçalo to point out why she is an entirely inappropriate choice: "But she's only twelve years old ! She isn't even a full-blown rose yet, but a mere rosebud !" A few years later, however, it seems they might be a match -- not least because: "she would bring a huge dowry. About five hundred contos, people say" .....)
       Right before the election, Gonçalo is honored with a title by the king himself -- arranged by Cavaleiro, and so interpreted by Gonçalo as an empty gesture meant to buy him off, "as if he were a nouveau-riche shopkeeper who had bought a few votes"; he finds the whole thing unworthy of a man from a family-line older than that of Portugal itself. So too then the election-victory rings somewhat hollow -- though he apparently then takes to the Lisbon high-life easily enough -- and even the acclaim for his now-published novella only pleases him so much. Deciding that it is time for action, he sets out -- "Without a word to anyone, almost secretively" -- to make his fortune in Africa, even mortgaging the family-estate to finance the undertaking.
       A coda of sorts jumps four years ahead, when Gonçalo returns to Portugal -- though Eça basically keeps him, otherwise so much at the center of the novel, on the sidelines, reporting only through others about his return. He's made his fortune -- though, typically, too : "The African sun hasn't burned his skin at all, it's still as white as ever" -- but otherwise he's still the: "same old Gonçalo".
       Here, too, to the end, Gonçalo is Portugal itself, down to its colonial adventures. Eça leaves open what the future might hold: on the one hand, for example, he might settle down with Rosinha, and extend the Ramires-family line; on the other hand, he's clearly very much still the same old Gonçalo that he always was .....
       It makes for an enjoyable easy-going ramble of a novel, with its protagonist not easily pigeonholed as a type but rather a figure of considerable contradictions and complexity, a nobleman in a world -- the late nineteenth century -- that has outlived the notion, even as he clings to at least the pose (while unable to live up to most of the old ideals). Eça has a pleasing style, and while the story is mostly rather low-key there is both drama and emotion here. Though still a very young man -- Gonçalo is still only in his twenties at novel's conclusion -- but also set in his ways, Gonçalo is a curious mix of hapless and confident -- and quite convincingly, here, Portugal, as Eça sees it, personified.
       The Illustrious House of Ramires is still in the tradition of the nineteenth-century novel -- but neatly suggests the limits of clinging to the old and established (and worn ...) in a rapidly changing world, whether as an individual or as a nation.

- M.A.Orthofer, 25 July 2021

- Return to top of the page -


The Illustrious House of Ramires: Reviews (* review of a different translation): José Maria de Eça de Queirós: Other books by Eça de Queiróz under review: Other books of interest under review:

- Return to top of the page -

About the Author:

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

- Return to top of the page -

© 2021 the complete review

Main | the New | the Best | the Rest | Review Index | Links