Maria Firmina dos Reis

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Maria Firmina dos Reis
Sculpture of Maria Firmina dos Reis's portrait
Sculpture of Maria Firmina dos Reis's portrait
Born(1825-10-11)October 11, 1825
São Luís, Maranhão, Brazil
DiedNovember 11, 1917(1917-11-11) (aged 92)
Guimarães, Maranhão, Brazil
Pen nameUma Maranhense
Notable worksÚrsula (1859)

Maria Firmina dos Reis (October 11, 1825 – November 11, 1917)[1] was a Brazilian abolitionist and author. Her novel Úrsula (1859) was a depiction of life for Afro-Brazilians under slavery.

Life and work[edit]

Maria Firmina dos Reis was born in São Luís, Maranhão, Brazil. "At age five, her mother and relatives moved to Viamão where she attended school. In 1847, due to outstanding performance, she won a scholarship for further studies at the level of 'cadeira de primeiras letras' that prepared her to be a teacher."[2] She maintained the profession ″until her retirement in 1881″.[3] "At the age of fifty-five, she founded a school for poor children."[3]

In 1859, Firmina dos Reis published her single major novel Úrsula (the same year, Harriet Wilson published her Our Nig).[4]

Úrsula, the main character, is a weak and sweet girl with whom two men are in love: one is a good person, the other a villain. Úrsula is expected to fall in love with the good man. However, she falls for the villain and becomes a victim of his cruelty. She is condemned and mistreated for having made the wrong choice. Reis shows through her characters that whenever women and slaves deviate from the established rules of the patriarchal system or refuse to accept the rules of society, they are punished. Furthermore, Úrsula, her mother, and some female slaves are portrayed from an inside perspective, showing a truthful historical point of view from Colonial Brazil.[5]

Besides Úrsula, "Firmina dos Reis wrote poetry and short stories. While still in her twenties she began to collaborate with several local newspapers in her hometown of São Luis, an activity she sustained for many years. It was the only opening available for getting her works published.″[3] She also "wrote an intimate, melancholic diary written dating from 1853 to 1903 in which the themes of regilious self-denial, death, and suicide recur".[6] In 1975 by the Brazilian scholars Antônio de Oliveira and Nascimento Morais Filho recovered the long forgotten Úrsula 1975 in a facsimile edition.

As a "privileged free black woman within nineteenth-century colonial slave society″, Maria Firmina dos Reis ″stands out because she was very well-educated and a vigorous opponent of slavery".[7] Dawn Duke considers Maria Firmina dos Reis, together with Cuban writer María Dámasa Jova Baró, "as eminent precursors to a distinguished line of subsequent women writers" in the Afro-Latin American context.[8] "Horácio de Almeida believed Maria Firmina dos Reis to be the first Brazilian woman writer. [...] Luiza Lobo has since opposed the allegation by presenting Ana Eurídice Eufrosina de Barandas of Porto Alegre as the first female Brazilian novelist."[8] But the "long-term symbolic value of Maria Firmina dos Reis's only novel Úrsula (1859) rests in its distinction as a work that lays the foundations for an Afro-Brazilian female literary consciousness."[9] For Rita Terezinha Schmidt, "Maria Firmina dos Reis inscribes a black voice in the construction of national subjectivities engendering what Homi Bhabha defines as a counter narrative of the nation that 'continually evoke and erase its totalizing boundaries – both actual and conceptual – disturb those ideological maneuvers through which "imagined communities" are given essentialist identities'".[10]

In her Ph.D thesis Life Among the Living Dead, Carolyn Kendrick-Alcantara (2007) analyzes "the Gothic as a powerful abolitionist discourse in Brazil and Cuba through [her] readings of Maria Firmina dos Reis′ Ursula and Gertrudis Gomez de Avellaneda y Arteaga′s Sab".[11]


On October 11, 2019, Google celebrated her 194th birthday with a Google Doodle.[12]

On June 9, 2021, Google announced on their Google Cloud blog that they will name a new undersea cable that is being constructed between Brazil and the United States after her.[13]


By Maria Firmina dos Reis[edit]

  • Ursula, "Romance original brasileiro, por Uma Maranhense". São Luís: Typographia Progresso, 1859. 199 pages.
  • Facsimile: Maranhão: Governo do Estado; 2nd edition, 1975, with a foreword by Horácio de Almeida. OCLC 2403003[14]
  • Reprint: Rio de Janeiro: Presença; Brasília: INL, 1988; with an introduction by Charles Martin, updated and annotated by Luiza Lobo, Coleção Resgate. ISBN 8525200352
  • Gupeva, “romance brasileiro indianista”. Published in O jardim dos Maranhenses, 1861/62.
This novel was republished in 1863 in the journal Porto Livre, as well as in the literary review Eco da Juventude.
Transcripted in: FILHO, José Nascimento Morais. Maria Firmina – Fragmentos de uma vida. Maranhão: Imprensa do Governo do Maranhão, 1975. OCLC 762780691
  • A Escrava. Story published in A Revista Maranhense, nr. 3, 1887.
Republished in: FILHO, José Nascimento Morais. Maria Firmina – Fragmentos de uma vida. Maranhão: Imprensa do Governo do Maranhão, 1975. OCLC 762780691
  • Cantos à beira-mar. Poetry. São Luís do Maranhão: Typographia do Paiz. Reprint by “M.F.V. Pires”, 1871. OCLC 420181658
  • 2nd edition, facsimile, by José Nascimento Morais Filho: Rio de Janeiro: Granada, 1976. OCLC 494335967
  • Hino da libertação dos escravos. 1888.
  • Maria Firmina dos Reis is included in the poetry anthology Parnaso maranhense: collecção de poesias, edited by Flávio Reimar and Antonio Marques Rodrigues. OCLC 492474114
  • She published poems in the following literary journals: Federalista; Pacotilha; Diário do Maranhão; A Revista Maranhense; O País; O Domingo; Porto Livre; O Jardim dos Maranhenses; Semanário Maranhense; Eco da Juventude; Almanaque de Lembranças Brasileiras; A Verdadeira Marmota; Publicador Maranhense; y A Imprensa.

English translations[edit]

  • Ursula. Trans. and Introduction by Cristina Ferreira Pinto-Bailey. Dartmouth, MA: Tagus P, 2021.
  • “The Slave Woman.” Trans. and Introduction by Cristina Ferreira Pinto-Bailey. Afro-Hispanic Review. 32. 1 (Spring 2013): 209-18.

Selected further reading[edit]


  1. ^ Souza Dorea, Alfredo (1995). "Maria Firmina dos Reis, negra memória do Maranhão". Cadernos do Ceas. Salvador da Bahia. ISSN 0102-9711. OCLC 1490971.
  2. ^ Duke, Dawn (2008). "2. Pioneers in a Tradition of Afro-Latin American Women's writings". Literary Passion, Ideological Commitment: Toward a Legacy of Afro-Cuban and Afro-Brazilian Women Writers. Associated University Presses. pp. 57–94 [61]. ISBN 978-0838757062. OCLC 185021522.
  3. ^ a b c Duke (2008). "2. Pioneers in a Tradition of Afro-Latin American Women's writings". Literary Passion, Ideological Commitment. pp. 57–94 [62].
  4. ^ Charles Petzold. 1859 Books: Harriet Wilson’s "Our Nig", Roscoe, N.Y., 2009.
  5. ^ Isabel Cristina Rodrigues Ferreira. The dialogue about “racial democracy” among African-American and Afro-Brazilian Literatures. Dissertation. University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, 2008, p. 82.
  6. ^ Luiza Lobo. ″A poineira maranhense Maria Firmina dos Reis". In: Estudos afro-asiáticos, Vol. 16, 1989, pp. 91–100.
  7. ^ Duke (2008). Literary Passion, Ideological Commitment. p. 20.
  8. ^ a b Duke (2008). "2. Pioneers in a Tradition of Afro-Latin American Women's writings". Literary Passion, Ideological Commitment. pp. 57–94.
  9. ^ Duke (2008). "2. Pioneers in a Tradition of Afro-Latin American Women's writings". Literary Passion, Ideological Commitment. pp. 57–94 [59].
  10. ^ Schmidt, Rita Terezinha. "The nation and its other" (PDF). Revista Conexão Letras. Programa de Pós-Graduação em Letras da UFRGS (1): 10 (?).
  11. ^ Carolyn Kendrick-Alcantara. Life Among the Living Dead: the Gothic Horrors of Latin American Literature. Los Angeles: University of California, 2007. OCLC 174148987
  12. ^ "Maria Firmina dos Reis' 194th Birthday". Google. 11 October 2019.
  13. ^ "Google-built Firmina subsea cable runs from the US to Argentina". Google Cloud Blog. Retrieved 2021-06-11.
  14. ^ Available at the Maranhão State Public Library.

External links[edit]