Dom Casmurro Chapter 80


Let’s come to the chapter. My mother was a God-fearing woman; you already know that, and you also know about her religious habits and the simple faith that inspired them. Nor are you unaware that my entering the priesthood was the subject of a promise made when I was conceived. All has been related in its due place. Moreover, you know that in order to give greater force to her obligation she confided her project and the reasons for it to members of her family. This promise, made with ardour and accepted with compassion, she stowed away joyfully in the depths of her heart. I think there was a savour of her joy in the milk with which she suckled me. It is possible that, had he lived, my father would have changed her plans and, since he had a vocation for politics, directed me towards that field, even though the two careers were not and are not incompatible: more than one priest has opted for party strife and the government of men. But my father died without knowing, leaving my mother, with her contract, as the sole debtor.

One of Franklin’s aphorisms is that for the man who has to pay at Easter, Lent is too short. Our Lent was no longer than others, and my mother, though she had me taught Latin and doctrine, began to postpone my entry to the seminary. It is what in commercial language is called renewing a promissory note. The creditor, being a multimillionaire, did not depend on that sum in order to eat and agreed to postpone the payment without so much as increasing the rate of interest. One day, however, a member of the family, who had endorsed the promissory note, spoke of the necessity of making a final settlement: this is in one of the first chapters. My mother agreed, and I was sent to São José.

Now, in that same chapter she shed some tears and dried them without giving any explanation, so that none of those present, neither Uncle Cosme, nor Cousin Justina, nor José Dias, was able to understand, and I, hidden behind the door, understood no more than they did. If we consider the matter carefully, and despite the distance in time, we realize that the tears were in anticipation of the sadness of our parting – though (and this is the main point) they could equally well mean she repented of her promise. A devout Catholic, she was aware that promises are made to be kept; the question is whether it is wise and convenient to keep them all, and naturally she preferred the negative answer. Why should God punish her, denying her a second child? The divine will might be that I should live without the necessity of dedicating me to God ab ovo. Such reasoning came late in the day: it should have come the day I was conceived. In any case it was an obvious conclusion, but it did not suffice to change matters: the promise was kept, and I went to the seminary.

The tiniest lapse in her steadfastness might have resolved the issue in my favour, but faith was there on guard with its wide, ingenuous eyes. Had she been able, my mother would have changed her promise, sacrificing a portion of her years to keep me with her, out of the Church, married and a father. That at least is what I presume, as I also presume she rejected the idea as being disloyal. This was my constant impression during our day-to-day life.

It happened that the pain of my absence was tempered by the presence of Capitu, who soon became indispensable to her. Little by little she convinced herself that the girl could bring me happiness. Then came the hope (which I aim to emphasize) that our love would lead me to reject the seminary, refusing to remain there for love of God or the Devil – this was the secret hope that began to take shape in my mother’s heart. In this case it was I who would break the contract, leaving her free from blame. She would keep me but not through any act of hers. It was as if, having been given the money to pay a debt, the messenger instead of delivering it had kept it for himself. In ordinary life the misdeeds of a third party do not acquit the contracting party, but the advantage of doing business with heaven is that the intention is of the same value as money.

You must have experienced conflicts similar to this, and if you are a religious person you will at some time have attempted to reconcile heaven and earth by identical or analogous means. Heaven and earth end up being reconciled; they are almost twin brothers, heaven having been made on the second day and earth on the third. Like Abraham, my mother took her son to the mountain, together with wood, fire and the knife. And she bound Isaac on top of the wood, seized the knife and raised it in the air. And at the moment of bringing it down she heard the voice of an angel commanding her in the name of the Lord: ‘Lay not thine hand upon the lad, neither do thou anything unto him: for now I know that thou fearest God.’ Such must have been my mother’s secret hope.

Capitu was naturally the angel of the Scriptures. The truth is that by this time my mother could not bear to be separated from her, and her growing affection revealed itself in unexpected ways. Capitu came to be the flower that brightened the house, the morning sun, the cool of the evening, the moon at night, staying there hour after hour, listening to her, talking and singing. My mother searched her heart, gazed into her eyes, and my name between them was like the password to a future life.