José Eça de Queiroz | Portugal Visitor
Famous Portuguese People: José Maria de Eça de Queiroz
José Maria de Eça de Queiroz (1845-1900) is one of Portugal’s most celebrated novelists often compared to Balzac, Dickens, and Flaubert.
Eça remains one of the greatest observers and critics of Portuguese society. He describes his characters with both irony and sarcasm.
Eça de Queiroz was born in Póvoa de Varzim, north of Porto in 1845. Illegitimate, his parents, a magistrate and a young woman from Viana do Castelo of good family, did not marry until he was 4 years old.
As a result, he was brought up by his maternal grandparents until he reached the age of 10 and then was sent to a boarding school in Porto. Indeed, though Eça’s parents went on to have six more children, his own father did not recognise him as his son until Eça was 40. The father did, however, pay for his education and always supported his son’s literary endeavors.
At 16 Eça entered the University of Coimbra as a law student. He later worked briefly as a journalist in Évora before settling in Lisbon and becoming an active member of the literary circles of the day.
Eça de Queiroz first trip overseas was to see the opening of the Suez Canal. He was to spend a good deal of his later life in other countries, mostly England but also France and these experiences were to have a great influence on his work.
Eça de Queiroz’s first realist novel was O Crime do Padre Amaro (The Sin/Crime of Father Amaro, 1875), set in Leiria, where he was working as an administrator in preparation for his future career as a consul.
Available in English translation, the book is a tragic satire of clerical corruption and sex in provincial Portugal. Father Amaro has a passionate affair with a local girl, Amelia, who becomes pregnant. The priest arranges for his lover to hide in the countryside and a mid-wife to take care of the birth. The child is killed by the mid-wife and Amelia also perishes from a stroke as she is not allowed to see her child. The novel has been made into a movie set in Mexico and is one of the author’s most popular novels.
Eça de Queiroz now began working for the consular service of Portugal and after two years in Havana was sent to Newcastle and later Bristol in England.
His time in England was one of the most productive of his life, though he disliked the food and the weather. He wrote O Primo Basílio (Cousin Bazilio) while in England and Cartas de Londres (Letters from London) published in the Diário de Notícias newspaper.
His masterpiece Os Maias (The Maias) also available in English translation was largely written in Bristol but was not published until 1888. The book portrays the moral decay and dilettantism of the Portuguese aristocracy and bourgeoisie in the late 19th century. A popular classic in Portugal, the book is compulsory reading in the country’s high schools. José Saramago called it “the greatest book by Portugal’s greatest novelist.”
Eça de Queiroz married Maria Emília de Castro and lived with her in Notting Hill in London. Together they were to have 4 children.
His final two years were spent in Paris where he died of either TB or possibly Crohn’s disease.
After a state funeral, he was first buried in the family plot in the Prazeres Cemetery in Lisbon but later laid to rest in northern Portugal in the Cemitério de Santa Cruz do Douro. This was close to his wife’s estate in Tormes where he wrote The City and the Mountains and enjoyed many pleasurable days near the end of his life.
Other works by the author available in English include The Mandarin (1880), The City and the Mountains and The Relic.
Fundação Eça de Queiroz – Casa de Tormes
The Fundação Eça de Queiroz – Casa de Tormes is housed in a property on the estate of the author’s wife in Tormes in northern Portugal. Open to visitors it contains an archive, library and museum dedicated to the author’s work and legacy.
It is also the first literary translation center in Portugal created with the support of the University of Minho.
*The author’s name is also rendered as Eça de Queiros with an “s” after the revision of Portuguese and Brazilian spelling.
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