Manuscripts of A Breath of Life

In February of this year, the second part of the original manuscripts of A Breath of Life was delivered by the writer’s son, Paulo Gurgel Valente, to be incorporated into the Clarice Lispector Collection, which, under the care of the IMS, has contained the first part of the novel since 2004, when it arrived here alongside other documents.

This is a complex book to edit. In 1977, the year of the author’s death, the writings, at that time sparse and on separate sheets, had not yet been organized by Clarice. The posthumous publication was the responsibility of Olga Borelli, according to her opening note to the first edition, in 1978:

For eight years I lived with Clarice Lispector, participating in her creative process. I wrote down her thoughts, typed her manuscripts and most of all shared in her moments of inspiration. As a result, she and her son Paulo entrusted me with the organization of the pages of A Breath of Life

This explanatory note, however, disappeared from the most recent editions, leaving new readers with the impression that Clarice had conceived the book as published. Invited by the Moreira Salles Institute, Portuguese professor and critic Carlos Mendes de Souza – a specialist of Lispector’s work and author of Clarice Lispector: figuras de escrita (Clarice Lispector: Figures of Writing) – came to Rio with the task of examining the manuscripts and comparing them with the book. The scholar noted that some observations can already be made:

Most of these fragments show an indication of belonging to the lines of Angela and the author, but we also come across some fragments that refer to names and speeches of characters not included by Olga Borelli in the book. It was probably an aborted project on Clarice’s part, since in the work A Breath of Life, as we know it, we only find indications of Angela and the author. On the other hand, there are still some manuscripts with an explicit reference to these characters that were not included by Olga Borelli in A Breath of Life, but were in the book Clarice Lispector: Esboço para um possível retrato (Clarice Lispector: A Sketch for a Possible Portrait).

The study of the originals of A Breath of Life, which go back to the same writing period as The Hour of the Star (1974 to 1977), also under the care of the IMS, will continue next year, in Portugal, where Mendes de Souza is a professor at the University of Minho.

Conversation with José Castello

The critic José Castello will teach new classes for Grupo Clarice, a group dedicated to the reading and study of the works of Clarice Lispector. Among the works discussed are Água Viva and The Passion According to G.H., in addition to the texts recently collected in the Complete Stories edition and the chronicles that comprise the book Discovering the world. The next meetings will take place on May 11th and 12th and July 20th and 21st at the Instituto Estação das Letras (IEL). Below is a brief email conversation with José Castello:

What kind of public is attracted to Clarice’s texts?

What impresses me most in the Clarice groups is the almost total predominance of lay readers. Of course, writers and literature teachers also tend to participate. But the majority of students are lawyers, psychologists, journalists, doctors, psychoanalysts, etc. I have even had physicists, astronomers, dancers, architects, and mathematicians in my groups. What does that say? Although she was a very cultured woman, in her books Clarice works above all with existence. She herself didn’t like to be called a writer, she considered herself just an ordinary woman. This intense openness to life and the real appears with much force in her writing. And it attracts all kinds of readers.

How do you view the reception of Clarice’s oeuvre in Brazil, and the author’s recent success in the United States and Europe?

I believe that in Brazil we still have, in general, a fairly distorted image and view of Clarice’s work. Distorted by prejudice (because she was a very beautiful woman, who in this view perhaps should have been on television, or in the beauty salons, but not in literature), and by intellectual laziness (many don’t even give her a serious reading and then fix on a quick impression of her). There’s even a certain disdain that Brazilian readers themselves hold towards Brazilian literature. Some simply say that Clarice didn’t create literature, but philosophy, or was merely an author of aphorisms, hastily sewn together, or even that she was a witch, and not a writer. Some even see her as a mere author of catchphrases and generic thoughts, in the style of a Madame de Sévigné. But Clarice isn’t just a writer, she’s an uncommon writer. I think she is on the level of a Kafka, or a Pessoa. Now that the translation market has expanded, it’s natural that the world is discovering her. Even if slowly, often viewing her with great suspicion or distrust, still they are discovering her.

What seduces you most about the writer’s work?

I am, in particular, touched by her immense courage. Clarice writes exactly what she thinks. For this reason, her writings are often frightening: because they bring us a frontal and unadorned view of reality. A reading of Clarice – if we read for real, without prejudice and defenseless – always shakes us. When I read for the first time, at 18 years old, The Passion According to G.H., I quite simply got sick. I had a high fever and immense weakness that no physician could explain. One day, an old family doctor, after examining me, declared: “This is only passionitus.” What a great literary critic this doctor was! Without even knowing it, he simply read The Passion According to G.H. in my body.

What is the current status of Clarice Lispector?

We live in hard and dogmatic times. The time of beliefs and convictions, dominated by pragmatism and the idea of practical results. Clarice goes against the current of all that. She had a libertarian spirit, she was not attached to anything, and she wouldn’t allow anything to hold her back. She was also a woman very touched by the concrete problems of her time. The devastation caused by hunger, for example, appears in many of her writings. For those who still insist on seeing her as a frivolous woman, a rich housewife – and how many still think that way! –, it’s enough to recall, for example, that in 1968 Clarice was in the first row of the historic March of the One Hundred Thousand in Rio de Janeiro. Life and the present are her great themes. I think her literature attracts us so much for this reason.

*Photo: Miller of Washington/ Clarice Lispector Collection/ IMS