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Maria Câmara Bormann’s Lésbia: The Creation of the Woman Writer in Brazil


Open University



This article focuses on the first Künstlerroman to be published in Brazil by a female writer, Maria Benedita Câmara Bormann (1853 – 1895). This work, Lésbia, was first published in folhetim (serial) form in 1884, in the final decade of monarchical Empire in Brazil, and published as a bound novel in 1890, one year after the advent of the First Republic, a period which lasted until 1930. Reissued by Editora Mulheres in 1998, Lésbia is a landmark text rediscovered and published by national groups dedicated to the recovery, publication and revisionary study of prose and poetic texts of female authorship written and published throughout the long nineteenth century. The aim of the article, therefore, is to build on this body of work which is intended to challenge long-standing dogmas and tenets concerning Brazilian literary historiography and the role of women authors in the formation and development of Brazilian literature. To this end, I first contextualise the novel by considering several related questions, including the context of the reading public which had developed in Brazil during the era of Empire and the First Republic, and the publishing culture which made the publication of a work of fiction by a woman writer possible. I then go on to provide an overview of the themes of the novel, the eclectic range of the influences and affiliations which inform these themes, and the fundamental ways in which the subversion of these influences differ from adaptations of the European literary canon by Bormann’s male contemporaries. I will conclude with a closer analysis of the language of the novel, which, in its stylistic revisions and experimentation, anticipates the linguistic and literary experiments attributed to the revolutionary poetics of the modernist literary aesthetic in the early twentieth century: these poetics expressed both the repudiation of neo-colonial and cultural dependence in Brazilian letters, and the transition towards modernity which finally came to fruition in the 1920s and beyond.

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