Dom Casmurro Chapter 58


One Monday, as I was returning to the seminary, I saw a lady fall in the street. My first reaction should have been one of pity or laughter. It was neither, for – and this is what I would like to have written in Latin – the lady had on very clean stockings and did not soil them, and she was wearing silk garters and did not lose them. Several persons ran to assist her, but they were not in time to help her up. She jumped to her feet greatly vexed, dusted her skirts off, thanked them and disappeared down the next street.

‘This craze for imitating the French girls on the Rua do Ouvidor’, said José Dias as he walked along and commented on the incident, ‘is palpably silly. Our young ladies should walk as they have always walked, in a sedate, leisurely way and not with this Frenchified clickety-clack gait …’

I scarcely heard him. The lady’s stockings and garters gleamed white and swam before my eyes, seemed to walk and fall, get up and march off. When we reached the corner I looked down the side street and in the distance saw the unfortunate lady going along at the same pace, clickety-clack …

‘She doesn’t seem to have hurt herself,’ I commented.

‘So much the better for her, but she must have scraped her knees. This racing about is an affectation.’

I believe it was ‘affectation’ that he said. I was still thinking about ‘scraped knees’. From then on, outside the seminary I did not see a woman on the street but that I wished her a fall. Some, I surmised, had on smooth-fitting stockings and snug garters … There may even have been some who did not wear stockings at all. But I saw them with them on … Or … That, too, is possible.

I am interspersing this with ellipses so as to give an impression of my thoughts, which were diffuse and confused. But I am probably not conveying my meaning at all. My head was hot and my step unsteady. My first hour back at the seminary was unbearable. The cassocks had the the look of skirts and reminded me of the lady’s fall. It was no longer one woman I saw fall. All those I had encountered on the street now showed me a glimpse of their blue garters. Yes, they were blue. At night I dreamed of them. A multitude of abominable creatures walked about me, clickety-clack, clickety-clack … Some were fair, some slender, others stout, all agile as the devil. I awoke, I sought to banish them, but no sooner did I get back to sleep than they returned, and taking one another’s hands they wheeled about me in a vast circle of skirts – or in the air they rained down feet and legs upon my head. This went on till dawn. I slept no more. I recited paternosters, Ave Marias and credos. And since this book is the unvarnished truth, I must confess that I had to interrupt more than one prayer to go off in the darkness after a shadowy figure, clickety-clack, clickety-clack … then quickly took up the prayer again, in the middle, as if there had been no interruption; but I am sure I did not continue where I had left off.

When the evil returned later in the morning I tried to conquer it but in a way that would not entirely destroy it. You who are learned in the Scriptures may divine what it was. Even so, since I could not wholly cast out the images from me I resorted to a treaty between my conscience and my imagination. The female visions would henceforth be looked upon as simple incarnations of the vices, and as such to be contemplated – as the best method of tempering the character and strengthening it to face the harsh vicissitudes of life. I did not formulate this in words, nor was it necessary to do so. The pact was made tacitly, with some repugnance, but it was made. And for several days it was I who summoned these visions to fortify myself, and I did not cast them from me until they themselves grew weary and disappeared.