Dom Casmurro Chapter 31


Capitu preferred anything to the seminary. Instead of being downcast at the thought of a long separation, should the idea of going to Europe be approved, she seemed content. And when I told her of my dream of imperial intervention, she said, ‘No, Bentinho, let’s not bother the Emperor. For the time being let’s rely on José Dias’s promise. When did he say he would speak to your mother?’

‘He didn’t mention any day. He just promised he would see, that he would speak as soon as he could and that I should pray for God’s help.’

Capitu required me to repeat every one of his answers and to describe the changes in his manner and even his pirouette, which I had done no more than mention to her. She wanted to know the tone of his voice. Attentive to the most minute detail, she mentally sifted my account of the events and the conversation. One might say that everything I told her was checked, indexed and recorded in her memory. This picture of her is perhaps better than the other one, but a perfect one does not exist. Capitu was Capitu, in other words a unique person, more of a woman than I was a man. If I haven’t already said so, I do so now. And if I have, the observation can remain. There are some concepts which need to be instilled into the mind of the reader by dint of repetition.

She was also curious by nature. The objects of her curiosity would fill a chapter. They were of every variety, explicable and inexplicable, useful and useless, some serious, others frivolous; she wanted to know everything. At the college where, from the age of seven, she had learned reading, writing, arithmetic, French, doctrine and needlework, she had not, for example, been taught to make lace, and for this reason she wanted Cousin Justina to teach her how. If she didn’t study Latin with Father Cabral it was because the priest, after making fun of her, said that Latin was not a language for little girls. Capitu told me one day that that excuse had kindled in her the desire to learn it. In compensation she wanted to study English with an old teacher who was a friend of her father’s and partnered him in games of solo, but this, too, fell through. Uncle Cosme taught her backgammon.

‘Come and let me give you a good drubbing, Capitu,’ he would say to her.

Capitu would obey, playing skilfully and attentively, though perhaps not with great enthusiasm. One day I found her sketching with a pencil; she was just putting the finishing touches to a drawing and asked me to wait and say whether it was a good likeness. It was my father, copied from the painting my mother kept in the living-room and which I still have with me. It was not perfect: on the contrary, the eyes were bulging and the hair was just small coils piled one on top of the other. But since she knew nothing even of the rudiments of drawing, and had sketched it from memory in a matter of minutes, I considered it a most praiseworthy effort. Make allowance for my age and my personal feelings. Even so, I believe she could easily have learned painting as she later did music. She was already admiring the piano in our house, a useless piece of junk only kept for sentimental reasons. She read our novels and browsed through our books of engravings, wanting to know all about the ruins, the people, the landscapes, all the names, stories and places. José Dias, proud of his erudition, explained these to her, exaggerating no more than when giving an account of his homoeopathic cures.

One day Capitu wanted to know who the figures were on the walls of our living-room.

José Dias told her briefly, but when he came to Caesar he elaborated with exclamations and quotations in Latin. ‘Caesar! Julius Caesar! A great man! Tu quoque, Brute?’

Capitu was not impressed by Caesar’s portrait, but his deeds, which José Dias cited, drew from her expressions of admiration. She remained gazing at him for a long time. Such an all-powerful man. A man capable of doing anything. A man who could give a lady a pearl worth six million sesterces.

‘How much was a sesterce worth?’

José Dias, not having at his fingertips the value of the sesterce, replied enthusiastically, ‘He’s the greatest man in history.’

Caesar’s pearl set Capitu’s eyes sparkling. Then it was that she asked my mother why she no longer wore the jewels in the portrait. She was referring to the one in the living-room, which showed her with my father. In it she was wearing a heavy necklace, a tiara and earrings.

‘The jewels are widows, like me, Capitu.’

‘When did you wear those?’

‘It was during the coronation festivities.’

‘Oh! Tell me about the coronation festivities.’

She already knew what her parents had told her, but naturally she was aware that they knew little more than what had gone on in the streets. She wanted to hear what took place in the galleries of the Imperial Chapel and in the ballrooms. She had been born long after those famous events. Having heard people speak several times of the Emperor’s Majority, she one day insisted on knowing what that meant and, when they told her, declared that the Emperor had been perfectly right to assume the throne at the age of fifteen. Everything aroused Capitu’s curiosity – antique furniture, old decorations, customs, news from Itaguai, my mother’s childhood and youth, a saying here, a remembrance there, a proverb somewhere else …