Near to the Wild Heart
The rare first Brazilian edition, published by the newspaper A Noite in December 1943.
|Original title||Perto do coração selvagem|
|Cover artist||Tomás Santa Rosa|
|Publisher||A Noite Editora|
Published in English
|1990 / 2012|
|Followed by||O Lustre (The Chandelier)|
Near to the Wild Heart (Perto do coração selvagem) is Clarice Lispector's first novel, written from March to November 1942 and published around her twenty-third birthday in December 1943. The novel, written in a stream-of-consciousness style reminiscent of the English-language Modernists, centers around the childhood and early adulthood of a character named Joana, who bears strong resemblance to her author: "Madame Bovary, c'est moi", Lispector said, quoting Flaubert, when asked about the similarities. The book, particularly its revolutionary language, brought its young, unknown creator to great prominence in Brazilian letters and earned her the prestigious Graça Aranha Prize.
Background and publication
When Lispector began writing, in March 1942, she was still a law student at the Faculdade Nacional de Direito (National Law School), and was also working as a journalist. In February, she had transferred to the newspaper A Noite (The Night), once one of the glories of Brazilian journalism but by then under the direction of the dictatorial Getúlio Vargas government. She had published some stories and journalism, and turned to one of her colleagues, Francisco de Assis Barbosa, for help with the novel she had begun writing. She pieced the book together by jotting down her ideas in a notebook whenever they occurred to her. To concentrate, she quit the tiny maid’s room in the apartment she shared with her sisters and brother-in-law and spent a month in a nearby boardinghouse, where she worked intensely. At length the book took shape, but she feared it was more a pile of notes than a full-fledged novel. Her great friend Lúcio Cardoso, a slightly older novelist, assured her that the fragments were a book in themselves. Barbosa read the originals chapter by chapter, but Clarice vividly rejected his occasional suggestions: “When I reread what I’ve written,” she told him, “I feel like I’m swallowing my own vomit.”
Cardoso suggested a title, borrowed from James Joyce’s Portrait of the Artist as a Young Man: “He was alone. He was unheeded, happy, and near to the wild heart of life.” This became the book’s epigraph, which, together with the occasional use of the stream-of-consciousness method, led certain critics to describe the book as “Joycean.” The comparison annoyed Lispector, who had not read Joyce; instead, the book bears the much more distinctive mark of Spinoza, whom she had been reading at the time she wrote it.
Barbosa, who together with Cardoso was one of the book’s first readers, recalled his amazement. “As I devoured the chapters the author was typing, it slowly dawned on me that this was an extraordinary literary revelation,” Barbosa said. “The excitement of Clarice, hurricane Clarice.” He steered it to the book-publishing wing of their employer, A Noite, where it appeared with a bright pink cover, typical for books by women, in December 1943. It was not a lucrative arrangement for the new author. “I didn’t have to pay anything [to have it published], but I didn’t make any money either. If there was any profit, they kept it,” Lispector said. A thousand copies were printed; in lieu of payment, she got to keep a hundred. As soon as the book was ready, she began sending the book out to critics.
Near to the Wild Heart does not have a conventional narrative plot. It instead recounts flashes from the life of Joana, between her present, as a young woman, and her early childhood. These focus, like most of Lispector's works, on interior, emotional states.
The book opens with a scene of the child Joana playing in the garden, making up poems for her father. Joana's wildness and barely suppressed violence, along with her linguistic creativity, are her most notable features. She is frequently compared to animals: over the course of the book Lispector describes her to a bird, a snake, a wildcat, a horse, and a dog. She commits transgressive acts—as a child she throws a book at an old man's head, for example, and as a married woman she leaves her husband, Otávio, and greets the news of his adultery—he has made another woman, his old friend Lídia, pregnant—with utter indifference. She is not so much immoral as she is amoral: “Evil is not living, and that’s it. Dying is already something else. Dying is different from good and evil.” In the book, she cites long passages from Spinoza, the longest quotes that appear anywhere in her novels; it seems that she felt an affinity with the Dutch philosopher's amoral conception of the world.
Literary significance and criticism
Near to the Wild Heart was greeted as a revolution in Brazilian literature, though it was very rarely compared to the work of any Brazilian writer. Critics mentioned James Joyce, Virginia Woolf, Katherine Mansfield, Fyodor Dostoyevsky, Marcel Proust, André Gide, and Charles Morgan. The reason seems to be that its language sounded completely un-Brazilian, as the poet Lêdo Ivo wrote: “Clarice Lispector was a foreigner. … The foreignness of her prose is one of the most overwhelming facts of our literary history, and even of the history of our language.”
I met Clarice Lispector at the exact moment that she published Near to the Wild Heart. The meeting took place in a restaurant in Cinelândia. We had lunch and our conversation strayed from literary matters. … The least I can say is that she was stunning. It was autumn, the leaves in the square were falling, and the grayness of the day helped underscore the beauty and luminosity of Clarice Lispector. Alongside the foreign climate was that strange voice, the guttural diction which rings in my ears to this day.
At the time, Ivo called it "the greatest novel a woman had ever written in the Portuguese language". Other reviews were as enthusiastic. For almost a year after publication, articles about the book appeared continuously in every major city in Brazil. “The whole book is a miracle of balance, perfectly engineered,” combining the “intellectual lucidity of the characters of Dostoevsky with the purity of a child.” A Manhã (The Morning), not going quite as far as Lêdo Ivo, had declared it to be “the greatest debut novel a woman had written in all of Brazilian literature.”
Awards and nominations
In October 1944, the book won the prestigious Graça Aranha Prize (Prêmio Graça Aranha) for the best debut novel of 1943. The prize was a confirmation of what the Folha Carioca had discovered earlier that year when it asked its readers to elect the best novel of 1943. Near to the Wild Heart won with 457 votes: a spectacular number, considering that only nine hundred copies had actually been put on sale.
- Lispector, Clarice (1943). Perto do coração selvagem. Rio de Janeiro: Editora A Noite.
- Varin, Claire (1987). Clarice Lispector : rencontres brésiliennes. Laval, Québec: Trois. p. 69.
- Giovanni Pontiero (Translator), Near to the Wild Heart, New Directions (September 17, 1990). ISBN 978-0-8112-1140-6
- Alison Entrekin (Translator), Benjamin Moser (Preface). Near to the Wild Heart, New Directions (May 8, 2012). ISBN 978-0-8112-2002-6
- Gotlib, Nádia Battella (1995). Clarice : Uma vida que se conta. São Paulo: Ática. p. 172.
- Ferreira, Teresa Cristina Montero (1996). Eu sou uma pergunta: Uma biografia de Clarice Lispector. Rio de Janeiro: Rocco. p. 93.
- Ivo, Lêdo (2004). Melhores crônicas de Lêdo Ivo. São Paulo: Global Editora.
- Cadernos da Literatura Brasileira: Clarice Lispector. São Paulo: Instituto Moreira Salles. 2005. |page = 49}
- Carlos Mendes de Sousa (2000). Clarice Lispector, figuras da escrita. Minho: Universidade de Minho, Centro de Estudos Humanísticos. pp. 59–71.