Dom Casmurro Chapter 2


Now that I have explained the title I will pass on to writing the book. First, however, let me outline the motives that led me to take up my pen.

I live on my own, with one servant. The house where I live is my own property, and I had it built for a very special reason, which I hesitate to admit, but no matter. One day, many years ago, I had the idea of building in Engenho Novo an exact replica of the house where I was brought up in the old Rua de Matacavalos, having the same design and appearance as the first one, which has now been demolished. The builder and decorator fully understood my instructions, so it is virtually the same two-storeyed house, with three front windows, a veranda at the back and identical bedrooms and other rooms. In the main room the decoration on the ceiling and walls is more or less the same, with here and there huge birds carrying wreaths of small flowers in their beaks. In the four corners of the ceiling are the figures of the seasons, while in the middle of the walls are painted busts of Caesar, Augustus, Nero and Masinissa, with their names written underneath. Why these four personages I do not know. When we moved to the house in Matacavalos that was how it was decorated, a left-over from the previous decade. It was of course fashionable then to add a classical touch and figures of antiquity to American paintings. All the rest is in the same vein. I have a garden with flowers, vegetables, a forest oak, a well and a wash-house. I use old china and old furniture. Now, as then, there is the same contrast between the calm of my interior life and the bustle of life in general.

It is clear that my purpose was to link together the two ends of my life, to re-create my adolescence in my old age. But it proved impossible to reconstruct what then was or what I was myself. In everything, if the face is the same the appearance is different. If it were just that the others had gone, all well and good; a man soon recovers more or less from their loss. But it is I myself who am lacking, and that loss is fatal. It is a poor comparison, but what remains is like the dye you put on your beard and hair, which merely preserves the outward appearance, as they say at autopsies. The internal parts cannot be dyed. A certificate to say I was twenty years old might, like all false documents, fool a stranger but not me. The few friends I have are of recent date; all the others have departed to study geology in heavenly fields. As for women friends, some are of fifteen years’ standing, others of less, and almost all assert their youth, two or three even convincingly. But the language they speak obliges me to consult the dictionary so frequently as to become tiresome.

However, if life has changed, that is not to say it is worse. It is different. In certain aspects my former life appears bare of many charms I thought it had, while it is also true that it has lost many of those thorns that made it irksome. Yet I am not without tender, beguiling memories. To be honest I don’t go out much, and I converse even less. I have few pastimes. Most of my time I spend in my orchard, gardening and reading. I eat well and don’t sleep badly.

But everything palls after a while, and this monotony ended up by wearying me. I needed variety and thought of writing a book. Jurisprudence, philosophy and politics came to mind but were not sufficiently appealing. Then I thought of writing History of the Suburbs, less dull than Father Luis Gonçalves dos Santos’s memoirs of the city. But, though an unassuming work, it would require research into documents and dates, a lengthy and boring process. At that point the busts on the walls spoke up saying that if they hadn’t been able to re-create times past for me I should take up my pen and do so in writing. Perhaps the narration would evoke the illusion, summoning forth those shades, as once happened to the poet, not him of the train, but of Faust: ‘Come ye again, restless shades?’

I was so delighted with this idea that even now my pen trembles in my hand. Yes, Nero, Augustus, Masinissa and you great Caesar, who urge me to write these memoirs, I am grateful for your advice and shall put on paper all my recollections as they come flooding back. In this manner I shall live again what I lived then and turn my hand to a work of greater import. So, then, let us begin with a celebrated November afternoon that I have never forgotten. I have had many others, both better and worse, but that one has never been erased from my memory. Read on, and you will understand what I mean.