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THE YELLOW SOFA by Eça de Queirós


by Eça de Queirós

Pub Date: Nov. 29th, 1996
ISBN: 0-8112-1399-0
Publisher: New Directions

A compact and vivid short novel, unpublished during his lifetime and previously untranslated into English, by the great Portuguese de Queir¢s (18431900) whose essential kinship with Balzac and Flaubert was not recognized until long after his death. An introductory note written in 1925 by the author's son reasons that this lean tale of marital infidelity and thwarted vengeance (it was discovered in a trunk filled with his father's manuscripts) was probably composed between 1877 and 1889 and was intended to form part of de Queir¢s's planned multivolume ``Scenes from Portuguese Life.'' It's the story of Godofredo Alves, a fat, balding businessman who is nevertheless ``something of a romantic'' and whose passions are raised to melodramatic extremes when, upon returning home unexpectedly, he finds his wife in the arms of his business partner. Godofredo plunges into a kaleidoscope of emotions, ranging from suicidal outrage to a chastened acceptance of others', and his own, frailty and foolishness. It's hard to say whether de Queir¢s considered the novella finished when he put it aside, and whether the complacent sense of peace that descends on Godofredo evinces no more than his own romantic myopia. What is certain is that de Queir¢s, one of the underappreciated masters of 19th-century realism, creates an amazing density of character and context in just a few bold strokes. An enormity of information about his protagonist's earlier life, overemotional temperament, and passive suggestibility is conveyed with imperturbable economy. Better still, as Godofredo's passions begin to cool, the very rhythm of the sentences slows and seems to ``breathe,'' as it were, more evenly, as if matching the altered pace of the man's bruised but slowly healing feelings. And in the closing half-dozen pages, we feel the weight of change and growth as they work their way through several inextricably entangled and mutually dependent lives. A slight work given depth and resonance by the indisputable presence of literary genius.