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Maias is a vast and satirical fresco of the Portuguese aristocracy, focused on the libertines who seduce married women. Fate will take its revenge on the protagonist who is not ashamed of seducing other men's wives. The protagonist is not much of a hero, rather a useless spineless spoiled brat. The reader may get lost in the maze of characters and episodes. While the plot often appears to mimic the standards of the melodrama, the tone is always lightweight, factual and even humorous, sometimes openly satirical. The real protagonist is the moral decline of the Portuguese aristocracy. But there is also a philosophical theme mixed with the comic theme of ridiculous pomp and the tragic theme of decline and disillusionment: whatever conclusion you reach in life, life has a way to make you do the exact opposite. The Maias have lived for generations in an old house of the capital, "Ramalhete" (bouquet). There are now only two surviving members of the family: the old Afonso and the young Carlos, his grandson. Carlos has just returned from an international trip after graduating, and Afonso has decided to move back into the old house after spending 25 years in the countryside. They charged the property manager, Vilaca, to restore the house.
A flashback tells the story of Afonso, who was a fan of the French revolution as a young man, married a beautiful woman, and had one son, Pedro. When the mother died, Pedro mourned her endlessly until one day he himself met a beautiful woman, Maria, just arrived in the neighborhood with her father Manuel. The problem is that Manuel turned out to be a murderer and slave driver shunned by everybody. Pedro, instead, was determined to conquer her heart and eventually succeeded. His father Afonso, however, refused to give his blessing to the marriage and Pedro was banned forever from the ancestral house. Pedro and Maria traveled to Italy and France, while Afonso retreated to the country house. When Pedro and Maria returned to Lisbon, they started living a fashionable life, using Pedro's money to throw big parties. Maria became very popular with the aristocracy. Maria gave birth to a girl and then to a boy, Carlos. The stubborn Afonso still refused to see Pedro and Maria. One day Pedro brought home an Italian prince, Tancredo, who had to flee Italy due to his political views. Tancredo was so handsome that he soon became the star of their parties. But he was so handsome that eventually Maria eloped with him, taking the girl with her. Pedro went to cry at his father's place, bringing with him the little Carlos. But Pedro couldn't live anymore: he shot himself, leaving Carlos a little orphan.
Years later Carlos has been raised by a British tutor who is instructed to enforce discipline. Carlos studies very little, and no Catholic doctrine at all, but exercises a lot, even on the acrobat's trapeze. Afonso lives with a distant widowed relative, a viscountess. His friends are Custodio, the abbe, who is horrified by Carlos' education, the old Vilaca, who has a son of his own, Manuel, the public prosecutor, and the wealthy Silveiras sisters: Ana the spinster and Eugenia the widow with two children, Tereza and Eusebio. Eusebio is the exact opposite of Carlos: an erudite genius. Carlos hates him and subjects him to physical humiliations. The public prosecutor, a wealthy man, has toyed with the idea of marrying the widowed Eugenia for five years. Vilaca brings the news that Maria has been spotted in Paris. She lives with whichever gentleman pays more. There are no news about her daughter. Afonso asks Vilaca to find out about the girl. Vilaca writes back that she died in London. Then Vilaca himself dies and his son Manuel inherits his job.
Carlos decides to study medicine and during his years at the university he becomes a center of attraction, especially after he endorses the socialist thought. His best friend is Joao, a famous atheist, enjoying the status of radical heretic. They indulge in a bohemien lifestyle. Eventually, Carlos graduates and spends one year traveling in Europe. When he returns home, he decides to open a medical studio and laboratory, for which his proud granpa Afonso is willing to pay any amount. However, when the laboratory is ready, Carlos doesn't find the inspiration to work on something. Joao joins him in town and tells him about Craft, a charismatic cosmopolitan intellectual who was considered a lunatic by most people. Joao has also finally started writing the book that his friends have been eagerly been waiting for, a philosophical and autobiographical tome titled "Memoirs of an Atom". While Carlos tends to his first patient (a woman with pneumonia), Joao falls in love with a Jewish girl, Rachel, and writes a chapter of his book about her.
João settles in a magnificent villa outside the capital where he wants to devote himself to a life of culture, and introduces Carlos to his idol Craft. Joao also introduces Damaso, whose uncle Guimaraes is an influential politician in France. Craft and Carlos also see an aristocratic couple that just arrived from Brazil, Castro Gomez and his wife, attended by a black valet. Joao also invites the poet Tomas d'Alencar, who was a good friend of Carlos' father Pedro. The main guest of their dinner is the baron Cohen, Rachel's husband and the director of Portugal's national bank. They discuss the decline of Portugal and Joao provoke his friends by advocating an invasion of Portugal by Spain, the only event that can wake up its letargic population. Then Joao has a big argument with Tomas over a poet, Craveiro, whose sister Ana is a saint (Tomas is a rival of Craveiro). When Carlos is finally alone, he remembers how he learned the truth about his mother: a drunk Joao revealed to him that his mother had run away with the Italian dandy, and later his grandfather Afonso told him that both his mother and his sister were dead.
Carlos quickly loses most of his patients. The other doctors make fun of his scientific theories. Carlos then decides to write a book of medicine. The rich and handsome Damaso becomes Carlos' best friend. Damaso hates Castro Gomes because Castro Gomes snobbed him since his arrival. Joao tells Carlos that the Countess de Gouvarinho is madly in love with him but Carlos is not interested, and he avoids the social events at her house because her husband is a bore. Carlos' secret passion is for Castro Gomes' gorgeous wife. Joao is organizing a masqued ball at the Cohen's house. He befriends the husband but wants to seduce the wife Rachel. Joao is broke: he asks Carlos for money to repay money he owes to Eusebio. Damaso disappears and days later Carlos learns that he is hanging out with the Gomes Castros, despite the fact that he had just swore hatred to the man. Obviously he must be after the gorgeous wife, the same woman desired by Carlos.
Carlos picks up his musician friend Cruges and they travel to the same town. His goal is clearly to see the gorgeous wife again, and this time be introduced by Damaso. Instead he meets Eusebio, who is now a widower, on vacation with his friend Palma and two Spanish women. One of them, Lola, is familiar with an old flame of Carlos, Encarnacion. The old poet Alencar also happens to be there on vacation and is happy to see Cruges, another person whom he has seen grow up. Carlos' trip doesn't achieve the goal: Carlos does not see the woman.
On the other hand, Carlos gets to meet her six-year-old child: Damaso calls him urgently because the child is sick and the parents are out. Carlos meets the French maid Melanie and the English housekeeper Sarah. Damaso is excited because Gomes Castro, the husband, has decided to return to Brazil and leave the wife in Portugal for a few months. Damaso is confident he will easily seduce her. It also turns out that the woman is friend with Damaso's uncle in Paris, Guimaraes. The Gomes Castro are clearly a very cosmopolitan couple.
The masqued ball at baron Cohen's palace turns into a tragedy for Joao: the baron kicks him out of the house, and almost physically kicks him in the butt. Joao, furious, is ready to challenge the baron to duel, but both Carlos and Craft remind him that he, Joao, is the offending party: Joao has seduced the baron's wife Rachel, and the baron's response in finding out is actually moderate. The following day they learn that the baron, to save what he could of appearances, has decided to return to England with his wife but not after beating her ferociously. Joao has no clue how the baron found out about the love affair, since he never exchanged letters with Rachel and they took precautions whenever they visited each other. Joao's reputation is ruined and he has to leave town, but he finds out that he doesn't have money to pay all his debts: Carlos has to advance him money. Damaso shows up upset because Gomes Castro changed his mind and has decided to remain in town. Carlos, who longs to finally meet the woman he loves (the wife of Gomes Castro), is loved by the Countess de Gouvarinho and one night she kisses him. Carlos reluctantly becomes her lover. She is aggressive and jealous, continuously plotting secret encounters and excursions with him.
Joao has become an object of ridicule, and is planning his revenge in the guise of a satirical comedy.
Carlos is looking forward to the horse races because all the aristocracy will attend them and he hopes to see Gomes Castro's wife. One day he sees her enter the building where his friend Cruges lives. She doesn't show up at the races. Eventually, Damaso explains what happened: Gomes Castro has finally decided to leave for Brazil for three months and rented an apartment for his wife, and the apartment happens to be the lower floor of Cruges' house. Carlos is already plotting to be introduced there when the woman makes it even easier for him: she sends him a note asking him to visit her sick housekeeper Sarah. Carlos does not hesitate to make it a routine. Carlos tells Maria Eduarda (he finally learns her name) the story of his life and his ambition to write a book on medicine. Maria Eduarda says very little about her past, just that she lived in Paris. Carlos thus learns that Damaso's uncle Guimaraes is a poor man with no influence on the government, contrary to Damaso's boasts. Damaso is driven out of town by the sudden death of another uncle but eventually learns of Carlos' meetings with Maria Eduarda and is furiously jealous.
Meanwhile, the Cohens have returned from their trip, and Joao has decided to return too, although in incognito because his reputation has been ruined. He attend a dinner with the count and countess Gouvarinho (knowing that she is Carlos' lover) and manages to upset people by defending slavery and anarchism. Damaso, bitter, started spreading the rumor that Carlos is in love with Maria Eduarda, and the countess herself has been informed. Carlos keep visiting Maria Eduarda. One day she asks him if he can advise a house that she could rent for the summer. Carlos immediately offers to purchase Craft's house with his collection of antiquities and give it to Maria Eduarda. Then he confesses his love to her and she reciprocates. She has a secret that would like to tell him but then she keeps it for herself.
Carlos terminates his affair with the countess. Joao learns that Damaso is now courting Rachel at the same time that he is spreading gossip about Carlos and Maria Eduarda. Carlos, furious, threatens him publicly, but Damaso is simply telling the truth.
Joao leaves town, ostensibly because he hates the capital, but then Carlos learns that the Cohens left town and Joao is moving precisely to their destination, Cintra. A friend warns him against Damaso, who is gossiping openly about Carlos' affair with Maria Eduarda. The friend also offers to introduce him to Damaso's uncle, Guimaraes, who has come from Paris to take possession of an inheritance. Carlos decides to travel to Italy with Maria Eduarda while her husband is in Brazil. The problem is that he will not be able to hide his affair anymore from his grandfather Afonso, and this will cause the traditional old-fashioned man a heartbreak.
Joao returns and tells Carlos that Damaso is seen everywhere with Rachel, so Joao is only looking for an excuse to kill Damaso. Maria Eduarda is ever more in love with Carlos. She tells him that he looks like her mother. For the first time she tells him about her mother: she married an Austrian, lived in Paris, had her and another daughter who died still a child. Carlos is surprised by a very unexpected visit: Castro Gomes! Maria Eduarda's husband has returned suddenly and wants to see him. Carlos is ready for a duel. In fact, Castro Gomes has received an anonymous letter (probably written by Damaso) explaining that the whole city knows of his wife's affair with the rich Carlos. Castro Gomes, however, is hardly hurt. He tells Carlos that Maria Eduarda is not his wife, just a woman he paid to travel with him. Because she lived with him, everybody assumed she was his wife. Her last name is MacGren and Rosa is not Castro Gomes' daughter. Carlos is the one who is hurt: he suddenly realizes that she fooled him. Carlos is humiliated by his own gullibility. She lied to him all the time in order for him to believe that she was a respectable wife when in fact she was just looking for a new lover, and was lucky enough to find a rich one like him. Now he realizes that she fell in love with him a bit too easily and quickly. Carlos decides to get rid of Maria Eduarda but also to confront her in person. Her loyal French maid Melanie, who was aware of the whole charade having been with Maria Eduarda since Rosa was born, tells Carlos that Maria Eduarda is truly in love. Then Maria Eduarda says so too, reminding him that one day she mentioned a secret. She wanted to tell him the truth but it was easier to let him believe that she was someone's wife. In reality, she never got married. The Irish father of Rosa died in a war without marrying her and leaving her a poor widow. Carlos is seduced again and asks her to marry him. Maria Eduarda swears that she never enjoyed sex with MacGren and Castro Gomes. Joao advises him not to marry her while Afonso is still alive in order to spare the old man the heartbreak. Carlos himself begins to have doubts: if they have a son, what would he tell his son about his mother? that she went from one man to another? Joao discovers that a magazine is about to publish a ferocious satire of Carlos' affair with Maria Eduarda. Joao makes sure that all copies are destroyed before they can be delivered. The two friends investigate and discover that the writer is Damaso. Not only did he write the piece, but also instructed the printer to deliver a copy to the whole aristocracy of the capital, including the king himself. Furious, Carlos challenges Damaso to a duel but the coward Damaso refuses. He accepts instead of writing a letter in which admits being a drunk and a liar. Carlos is satisfied and doesn't require that the letter be printed. Joao, however, hates Damaso because Damaso is having an affair with Rachel and plans to use the letter to destroy Damaso's reputation in public. Joao delivers the letter to the main evening newspaper that publishes it. A few days later Damaso, his reputation destroyed, leaves for a trip to Italy.
Carlos and Joao are also planning to launch a new magazine, and Afonso is willing to fund it. Meanwhile, the government has resigned and Gouvarinho has been appointed minister of the new one. Damaso's uncle Guimaraes, reputedly close to French statesman Gambetta, is still in town: Carlos tells Joao that he has known Maria Eduarda since she was a child. (Guimaraes' heroes are Proudhon, Garibaldi and the French statesman Leon Gambetta).
At an intellectual party, where the aristocracy listens to the eloquent Rufino e Cruges plays Beethoven, and Alencar recites a poem for democracy that outrages the minister Gouvarinho, Joao is approached by a furious Guimaraes who has read Damaso's humiliating letter in the newspaper and then learned from Damaso that he was forced to sign it by Joao. Guimaraes, however, knows that Damaso is a rascal, and Joao reassures him that he meant no offense to the rest of the family. They become good friends and Guimaraes decides to hand him a coffer that Carlos' mother left to him in Paris. Guimaraes asks Joao to deliver the coffer to Carlos or... his sister! Guimaraes has seen Carlos with his sister Maria, a woman whom Guimaraes has known since she was a child. Guimaraes explains that Carlos' mother became his friend in Paris when she was living with the Italian, Monforte. Monforte was killed two years later in a duel. The girl who died in London was not Carlos' sister Maria but the daughter whom his mother had from the Italian. Carlos' mother never told Maria the truth: Maria was told that she was the daughter of an Austrian nobleman. So Maria did not lie to Carlos about this: she doesn't know that Carlos is her brother. Joao is shocked by the horror of the incest and doesn't know how to break the news to Carlos. Meanwhile, Vilaca politely reminds him that he has to pay a debt to the bank, but Joao doesn't care because his mother is rich.
Joao shares the news with the trusted Vilaca, who is not so much shocked about the incest as worried about the financial implications: Maria is entitled to a share of her dead father's wealth. Together they open the coffer and find a letter handwritten by Carlos' mother in which she confirms that Maria is Pedro's daughter, Carlos' sister. Joao finds the courage to break the news to Carlos. Carlos is obviously devastated but can't resist sleeping one more time with Maria without telling her that they are siblings. In between, Carlos tells his grandfather Afonso the whole story. The news of the incest is bad enough, but Afonso also realizes that Carlos is still sleeping with his sister. Afonso dies of a heartbreak. Carlos now sends Joao to tell Maria the truth and to deliver her mother's letter. Carlos decides to leave for a tour of the world, and Joao enthusiastically joins him, while Maria returns to Paris with her share of the family's fortune and her daughter Rosa.
Joao comes back to Portugal and promises to write a book of his adventures, but Carlos remains in exile for ten years. Finally, he returns and meets his old friends Joao, Alencar, even Damaso, who is now married to a woman who cheats on him. Carlos tells Joao that Maria, now in her forties, is getting married. Carlos finds his old city so depressing, people so lazy and ugly. He has been spoiled by the life of Paris. Carlos and Joao regret that they failed in their lives to achieve their goals. They conclude that it is not even worth trying, that one has to resign himself to whatever happens. It is not worth stressing out, "not for love, nor glory, nor money, nor power". As they walk down the street, they want to catch a tram, and they start "running desperately down the hill".

In "A Illustre Casa de Ramires" (1891) DeQueiroz racconta con uno spiccato senso dell’umorismo, che a tratti rasenta la parodia. La novella che Gonçalo sta scrivendo è un romanzo dentro il romanzo. La personalità di Gonçalo alla fine è un’allegoria per il Portogallo. Gonçalo Ramirez è il discendente di un’antica casata d’eroi che fu protagonista della storia del Portogallo. Vive in solitudine nella Torre che ha ereditato, senza altri stimoli o ambizioni che scrivere un romanzo storico sulla propria casata. Le poche visite sono quelle dell’amico Totò, del sindaco João Gouveia, del cantante Videirinha, della sorella Giacinha e del cognato Josè Barrolo, dell’anziano Sanchez Lucena e della sua bella e giovane moglie Anna, insomma della nobiltà del luogo. L’odiato nemico è Andrè Cavaleiro, uomo potente al centro degli intrighi politici di Lisbona che in gioventù era stato suo amico e si era infatuato della sorella Giacinha, ma che poi si era guadagnato il suo odio imperituro abbandonando la appunto sul più bello. Gonçalo è un uomo pigro e pauroso, che non sa come impiegare il proprio tempo libero. Un giorno comincia ad accarezzare l’idea di diventare deputato, che suscita subito l’entusiasmo dei suoi conoscenti. L’unico problema è d’orgoglio: siccome le elezioni sono pilotate da Cavaleiro, Gonçalo può sperare di diventare deputato soltanto se fa la pace con l’odiato nemico, del qual è decantato da anni il comportamento. Un altro diversivo è rappresentato dalla morte di Sanchez Lucena, che trasforma Anna in una vedova ricca ed appetibile. Alla fine l’ambizione vince e Gonçalo fa la pace con Cavaleiro. In tal modo involontariamente lo riavvicina alla sorella e una notte è testimone di un loro incontro amoroso. Presto le pettegole cominciano a parlare e Barrolo riceve persino una lettera anonima. Gonçalo, per quanto umiliato, è troppo vigliacco perché agisca. Finge di nulla, mostra una lettera anonima alla sorella, la invita a non dar animo a sospetti, e ci mette una pietra sopra. Un’altra brutta notizia gli viene da Totò: cui lui aspirava pare abbia avuto degli amanti, è indegna di un aristocratico come lui. A cambiare la sua vita è un evento quasi casuale: aggredito da due giovinastri, riesce a malmenarli. Improvvisamente diventa un eroe. Solo la sua fama non ha più confini, raggiungendo anche i giornali della capitale, ma Gonçalo si libera della paura che lo ha sempre limitato. Tant’è che rifiuta sdegnato il titolo di marchese offertogli dal re (in realtà un regalo di Cavaleiro al fratello accondiscendente della sua amata) e, benché eletto deputato a furor di popolo, abbandona presto la politica per trasferirsi armi e bagagli in Africa. Anche il suo romanzo è un successo, esaltato persino dall’opposizione come una potente ricostruzione del nobile passato del Portogallo.
"A Capital" (1900) Rimasto orfano, il giovane Arturo, che il padre ambizioso ha voluto avviare alle lettere, si trasferisce dalle zie Riccardina e Sabrina, che conducono un'umile esistenza nel loro paesino. Arturo sogna un avvenire di gloria e si sente sprecato in quell'ambiente, soprattutto quando, per non vivere soltanto alle spalle delle buone zitelle, deve impiegarsi presso il farmacista. Dopo aver tanto sospirato la capitale, un'improvvisa eredità gli rende possibile il viaggio a Lisbona: lasciando le zie nella miseria, parte fiducioso di poter presto diventare poeta e drammaturgo; l'amico e giornalista Melchiorre è uno dei tanti che approfittano della sua vanità e, prospettandogli un luminoso avvenire, gli spillano quattrini. Divorato dall'ambizione, s'introduce nei circoli intellettuali di Lisbona, senza rendersi conto che tutti deridono i suoi sforzi e la sua presunzione.

Spende molto per far pubblicare la sua opera, convinto che sarà un successo: invece nessuno la compra, ed una dedica gli aliena le simpatie dei repubblicani, nei quali gli era sembrato di trovare un rimedio all'ipocrisia dei borghesi. Allora si ritira con Concha, un'amante spagnola, in un albergo più modesto, ma anche Concha dopo un po' si stanca di lui e lo pianta. Rimasto solo e senza denaro, riceve un telegramma che gli annuncia la morte della zia Sabrina; pur commosso ed affranto, si lascia trascinare in un'ultima orgia: quando arriva al paese, la morta è già stata sepolta e non gli resta che piangere sulla propria ingratitudine.


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