Dom Casmurro is a tale of love and jealousy written in 1899 by the Brazilian author Joaquim Maria Machado de Assis, a man regarded as one of the foremost writers in Brazilian literature.
The novel tells the story of seminarian and lawyer Bento ‘Bentinho’ Santiago, and his childhood sweetheart Capitu. Written as memoirs penned in his old age, Dom Casmurro (‘Lord Taciturn’) as he is now known, recounts the first flush of young love through to his brooding suspicion that Capitu has been unfaithful and that their son is not his. The testimony is one-sided, however, and the evidence for his wife’s supposed betrayal is scant. The narrator’s unreliability quickly becomes clear.
Machado’s prose is humorous, as the spoilt, self-justifying and melodramatic Bentinho flits from one digression to another. The supporting characters (his ‘saintly’ mother; their superlative-spouting, sycophantic dependent Jose Dias; bitchy Cousin Justina) are well rendered and relatable, but it is Capitu who steals the show. She laughs joyously, mocks, scolds and captivates Bentinho, whose obsession with her beauty veers from the poetic to the hilarious. Not just her expressive ‘hangover’ eyes, which burn through the book, but even her arms. ‘Her arms were… her arms deserve a paragraph.’
A paragraph, or a chapter? The two are often interchangeable in this book, each bearing a funny title further endearing the narrator to us: ‘Idea without legs and idea without arms’, ‘Shake your head, reader’, ‘Love, lads!‘ and of course ‘Arms‘.
Despite being over a century old, the characters and themes of suspicion and jealousy remain contemporary. Capitu’s ‘guilt’ is still hotly debated by literary critics, priests and lawyers. Dom Casmurro is an enjoyable, intriguing read and I suspect my copy will become well thumbed as I ponder the ambiguity of Bentinho and Capitu’s doomed romance.
Dom Casmurro – Machado de Assis
English edition published by Farrar, Straus and Giroux
Originally published in Brazil 1900
Thanks to Joyce from Cansei Do Mainstream for my copy. 🙂
“Lovers’ language, give me an exact and poetic comparison to say what those eyes of Capitu were like. No image comes to mind that doesn’t offend against the rules of good style, to say what they were and what they did to me.”
Bento Santiago (Dom Casmurro) can’t get enough of Capitu’s peepers.