The Passion According to G.H.
Cover for the first Brazilian edition of the novel, Editora do Autor, 1964.
|Original title||A Paixão segundo G.H.|
Published in English
|1988 / 2012|
|Preceded by||A Legião estrangeira (The Foreign Legion)|
|Followed by||Uma aprendizagem ou o livro dos prazeres (An Apprenticeship or The Book of Pleasures)|
The Passion According to G.H. (A paixão segundo G.H.) is a mystical novel by Brazilian writer Clarice Lispector, published in 1964. The work takes the form of a monologue by a woman, identified only as G.H., telling of the crisis that ensued the previous day after she crushed a cockroach in the door of a wardrobe. Its canonical status was recognized in 1988 by its inclusion in the Arquivos Collection, the UNESCO series of critical editions of the greatest works of Latin American literature. It has been translated into English twice, the first time in 1988 by Ronald W. Sousa, and then by Idra Novey in 2012.
Background and publication
The novel was written in a quick burst at the end of 1963, following a period of difficulty in Lispector's life. "It's strange," she remembered, "because I was in the worst of situations, sentimentally as well as in my family, everything complicated, and I wrote The Passion, which has nothing to do with that." The novel was published in the following year by Editora do Author, which was run by Lispector's friends Rubem Braga and Fernando Sabino.
When the book opens, G.H., a well-to-do resident of a Rio de Janeiro penthouse, reminisces on what happened to her the previous day, when she decided to clean out the room occupied by the maid, who had just quit.
"Before I entered the room, what was I?" G.H. asks. "I was what others had always seen me be, and that was the way I knew myself."
In the maid's room, G.H. expects chaos. Instead, to her shock, she finds a desert; "an entirely clean and vibrating room as in an insane asylum from which dangerous objects have been removed".
The room was the opposite of what I had created in my house, the opposite of the soft beauty that came from my talent for arrangement, my talent for living, the opposite of my serene irony, of my sweet and exempt irony: it was a violation of my quotation marks, of the quotation marks that made me a citation of myself. The room was the portrait of an empty stomach.
Only one thing disturbs the room's perfect order: black carbon scratches on the dry white wall, outlining a man, a woman, and a dog. Pondering the inscrutable drawing, she realizes that the black maid, whose name she has forgotten, and whose face she has trouble calling to mind, had hated her. Overwhelmed by anger, she opens the door to the wardrobe. Terrified by the cockroach she sees emerging, she slams the door shut, severing the cockroach in its centre, and sees the still-living animal's entrails beginning to ooze out.
G.H. is appalled by the sight, but she is trapped in the room by the irresistible fascination for the dying insect. She wants to scream, but she knows it is already too late: "If I raised the alarm at being alive, voiceless and hard they would drag me away since they drag away those who depart the possible world, the exceptional being is dragged away, the screaming being [sic]."
Staring at the insect, her human personality begins to break down; finally, at the height of her mystic crisis, she famously takes the matter oozing from the cockroach — the fundamental, anonymous matter of the universe which she shares with the roach — and puts it in her mouth.
Literary significance and criticism
The book's shocking dénouement has made it famous in Brazil, but it is its description of the breakdown of G.H.'s personality and the mystical crisis, couched in Lispector's unmistakable language, that has made the novel one of the most important works of Brazilian fiction.
Shortly before her death, Lispector told a reporter that of all her books G.H. was the one that "best corresponded to her demands as a writer". Many critics have agreed, and few Brazilian authors have failed to comment on it, as the extensive bibliography in the UNESCO edition, edited by philosopher Benedito Nunes, indicates.
Ronald W. Sousa, translator of the novel from Portuguese to English, re-examines the way most criticism addresses the key issue of the language dynamics of the novel. Rather than seeing the dynamics in a Romantic or avant-garde position, Sousa poses that Lispector does not seek to remake language but rather seeks to work within it. Throughout the novel, "G.H. explores before our eyes some of the key oppositions upon which language is built."
To accompany the irregular plot and substance of the novel, Lispector uses unique techniques to help convey her overarching ideas and themes. Like most of her works, The Passion According to G.H. is divided into many sections, but it differs since the last sentence of every chapter is also the beginning of the next. This separates the chapters, giving them the semblance of a collection of short stories. However, it also connects the discrete parts of the novel, as if saying that every end is also a beginning – something that accompanies Lispector's motifs of time and eternity.
Additionally, the narrator is only referred to as 'I', and remains undefined even towards the end of the book. As opposed to most literature, the narrator is not important as a human subject, but rather as a mode to express ideas that are beyond and above the human. By assigning the acronym G. H. for the novel's narrator, short for gênero humano, meaning human kind in Portuguese, Lispector implies that G.H.'s perspective in the novel is not limited to her but is representative of the human species and its breakdown. G.H.'s radical immanence in the novel rejects Mary's transcendence in the Bible and consequently alludes to the condition of immanence for not only humans but for all living things.
- Lispector, Clarice (1988). Benedito Nunes, ed. A paixão segundo G.H. Florianópolis/Paris: UNESCO ALLCA XX.
- Clarice Lispector. Passion according to G.H. (Exxon Lecture Series), Univ Of Minnesota Press; 1 edition (September 15, 1988). ISBN 978-0-8166-1712-8
- Idra Novey (Translator), Benjamin Moser (Preface). The Passion According to G.H., New Directions (May 8, 2012). ISBN 978-0-8112-1968-6
- Gotlib, Nádia Battella (1995). Clarice : Uma vida que se conta. São Paulo: Ática. p. 357.
- Lispector, Clarice (1964). A paixão segundo G.H. Rio de Janeiro: Editora do Autor. p. 27.
- Lispector, Clarice (1964). A paixão segundo G.H. Rio de Janeiro: Editora do Autor. p. 41.
- Lispector, Clarice (1964). A paixão segundo G.H. Rio de Janeiro: Editora do Autor. p. 46.
- Lispector, Clarice (1964). A paixão segundo G.H. Rio de Janeiro: Editora do Autor. p. 67.
- Gotlib, Nádia Battella (1995). Clarice : Uma vida que se conta. São Paulo: Ática. p. 480.
- Sousa, Ronald W. "At the Site of Language: Reading Lispector's G.H." Chasqui: revista de literature latinoamericana 18.2 (1989): 43–48.
- New York Times: "Everything happens in the maid's room". Review of the English translation.
- Levilson C. Reis. "G. H., Janair, and the Mulata: Race and Gender in Lispector's The Passion According to G. H." Notes on Contemporary Literature 35.2 (2005): 7–9.