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Saturday, August 29, 2015

*****Dona Flor and Her Two Husbands, A Moral and Amorous Tale by Jorge Amado

  • Dona Flor and Her Two Husbands, A Moral and Amorous Tale by Jorge Amado 
    • Brazilian Literature 
    • Originally published in Portuguese in 1966. First published in English in 1969. 
    • Jorge Amado: 1912-2001, Brazilian
    • Jorge draws on Afro-Brazilian Folklore and rituals. 
      • candomble: a syncretic religion practiced in Bahia; a combination of West African religions and Catholicism.  
        • syncretism: combining several distinct religions and practices in union. Syncretism is to religion what eclecticism is to art. 
Jorge Amado's earlier life as a communist militant who won the Stalin Peace Prize and edited a literary supplement for the Nazi political newspaper, Meio-Dia, threw me off balance. I learned of these associations after I had already read and enjoyed Dona Flor. For whatever reason(s), he did leave the communist party and all its political associations in 1954, when he was 42. Still, the Stalin and Nazi connections do not sit comfortably with me.  On the flip-side, in his earlier works, Amado wrote critically of landowners cruelty towards plantation workers, such as he had experienced as a boy on his cocoa farm. Given his beliefs, it would be hard to imagine Amado fully understood what drove the Nazi party. Regarding communism, he may have been caught up in the lofty ideals that were never practiced.  Whatever the details, I will discuss this book with unbiased eyes since I did like it and do not know the specifics of his connections. Whatever they are, innocent or not, they do not change the quality of Amado's writing.

Salvador, Bahia - Brazil, 1940's

The entire story is told with a mix of folklore, realism, comedy and magical realism - an eclectic blending. 

Dona Flor's internal conflict: passion vs. stability, a dissolute life vs an honorable one. This could also be seen as a conflict between the social classes - the poor vs. the rich. Vadinho represents the dissolute life filled with passion and penury, Dr. Teodoro symbolizes a life of honor, stability and financial security, but void of passion. 

Characters - Amado has a gift for developing characters . They are full-bodied and three-dimensional, complete with individual affectations and unique personalities. There are so many characters,  I have limited my list to the central three. The novel revolves around their lives, despite how far and wide Amado's characters are cast. 
  • Dona Flor: protagonist 
  • Vadinho- central character and Dona Flor's first husband who dies young from his dissolute habits and returns as a ghost on Dona Flor's and Dr. Teodoro's first wedding anniversary. During their marriage, Dona Flor experienced a life of angst because it was extremely unstable.  Vadinho  did not work, only gambled; Dona Flor worked to keep them financially afloat; and Vadinho was infidel, he was a womanizer who loved whores and loose women and stayed out late or did not come home at all. This life kept Dona Flor in a constant state of anxiety with intermittent  moments of happiness played out in the couples bedroom. Despite all of this, Dona Flor was and is passionately in love with Vadinho.
  • Dr. Teodoro - a local pharmacist and Dona Flor's second husband, he provides Dona Flor with a worry-free stable life of love, financial security and total fidelity, yet it is void of passion. Everything they do is pre-planned and measured, including sex (observed on Wednesday's &  2x's on Saturday's). Dona Flor becomes friends and/or associates of her husband's numerous elite and educated friends, providing her with a new world of classical music (via her husbands band), boring lectures on medicine and scheduled nights at the movies. Life is good, in a quietly boring way.
  • Other characters: I am adding a few addition character descriptions to illustrate the breadth and range of Amado's skill at characterization.
    • Dona Rozilda - Dona Flor's meddling mother, a virago and wannabe social climber via her children.
      • A termagant with a tongue like a knife. 
      • When she was not tormenting someone, she felt empty and frustrated. 
    • Eduardo - nicknamed the Prince of the Widows or Our Lord of Calvary; a swindler and thief who tricks widows into either leading him to their money and jewels (to steal) or by giving them to him outright. This he does in cahoots with his current lover, Lu.  Meaning, she knows what he does for a living, and only cares to the extent that it makes her envious of the women he woos, so to speak, in order to rob her blind.
      • To his jealous Lu, Can't you understand that it is a business, a financial enterprise, nothing more. I couldn't care less about the widow's tail, my little jackass, it is her money and whatever jewelry she may have.
      • Sugar, today I storm the fortress, enter the living-room, and before you can say scat I'll be in bed with the widow.
Quotes and Notes
  • Amado is a master at depicting passion with poetic lucidity, a theme which permeates this novel. Here, it is portrayed via Dona Flor :
    • “Prone on the iron bed, Dona Flor shuddered. That night the gall turned to honey, once more pain became supreme pleasure; never had she been a mare so in heat covered by her potent stallion, such an eager bitch, a slave submitting to her own debauchery, a woman pursuing all the paths of desire, fields of flowers and sweetness, forests of damp shadows and forbidden ways, to their final conclusion. A night to enter the narrowest, most tightly closed doors, a night to surrender the last bastion of her modesty, Glory hallelujah! When gall is turned into honey and suffering is strange, exquisite, divine pleasure, a night to give and to receive.”
  • Gossip - the demeaning quality of gossip for both the giver and receiver suffuses Amado's novel, blending minimized humanity with comedy.
    • "Who is going to take the trouble to bear good tidings For that there is no hurry or impatience. Nobody goes running into the street for that. Only when there is bad news. To carry that there is no shortage of messengers; there are those who are willing to make the greatest sacrifices, give up their work, interrupt their rest, sacrificing themselves completely. To bring bad news - what a delightful treat!"
    • "And is there anything in the world as splendid and exciting, any display comparable to the suffering of others?" 
  • Amado's ability to capture a scene is only second to actually being there, such is the quality of his visual and emotional language. Whether describing a home's interior, a town's main thorough-fair, or the beauty of the moonlight on the water, he is a master.
    • The full moon creased the dark, thick water of the sea, as black as oil, the water of the gulf in quiet gentleness...An inland sea, gently calm, listless, still, with a gently breeze blowing between the jackfruit and breadfruit trees. A sea of repose and peace. 
    • Not the ocean-sea, beyond the bar, fierce and dangerous, with waves and underwater currents, deceptive tides, the open sea where the winds blow free, wild tempests-detouring on the way to the little houses of assignation in Itapoa, where love bursts out in hallelujah. A sea of boundless violence; not this sweet scent of jasmine, but of high tide, the bold smell of sargassum, of algae and oysters, of salt. 
    •  On Dona Flor's birthday, Vadinho allows Flor to visit the Palace, one of his higher-end playgrounds where he gambles and whores, a place he deems unfit for his wife. Her perception of this forbidden territory captures her experience wonderfully:
      • Dona Flor moved silently, contrite, like one who has penetrated a secret temple, forbidden to the uninitiated. At last she had managed to reach and enter the mysterious territory where Vadinho was millionaire and beggar, king and slave. She knew she had barely touched upon this nocturnal realm, the mere fringe of this sea of darkness...Along these paths Vadinho moved completely at ease; Dona Flor, before the roulette wheel, gingerly touched the hem of this world. 
  •  Dona Flor's internal conflict between passion and stability, penury and financial stability are central to the novel's theme. Can you have both, or must you sacrifice one for the other?
    • Happiness leaves no history. A happy life is not the subject for a novel.
    • Dona Flor, in a letter to her sister Rosalia on the eve of the first anniversary of her marriage to the druggist said she had nothing of importance to tell her; such was the balanced and boring life she was living with the pharmacist. Letters to her sister when married to Vadinho were filled with stories of angst, whoring and penury - stories for a novel.
    • When something of substance happens it is nearly always unpleasant. 
    • Happiness is pretty boring, hard to take-in a word, a pain in the neck. 
    • When Vadinho returns in ghost form, Dona Flor's life is turned upside down. She was obsessed with the idea of being a virtuous wife, but could not avoid her love and passionate feelings for Vadinho. Flor considers with angst: Who ever heard of a wife with two husbands? Why is everybody two different people? Why is it necessary to be torn between two loves? Why does the heart hold at the same time two emotions contradictory and opposed?
    • Vadinho response to Dona Flor's struggle: I am the husband of poor Dona Flor, the one who comes to stir up your longing and provoke your desire, hidden in the depths of your being, your modesty.  He (Dr. Teodoro) is the husband of Madame Dona Flor, who protects your virtue, your honor, your respect among people. He is your outward face, I your inner, the lover whom you don't know how and can't bear to evade. We are your two husbands, your two faces, your yes and no. To be happy you need both of us....Now you are Dona Flor, complete, as you should be.
    • Amado expands on a parallel concept, one that is being played out alongside Dona Flor's story - gambling. Gamblers always wish for a windfall, until their wish is granted, as it is when the ghost of Vadinho appears in support of his friends. 
      • That was winning, not gambling. The emotion of gambling is the not knowing, the risk, the fury at losing, the joy of guessing the right number, winning and losing... What he did not want was that miraculous good luck, profit without amusement, struggle, pleasure. Human nature is like that.
        • It is similar to Dona Flor's experience. Her two husbands signified two extremes- struggle vs. bland contentment. With Dr. Teodoro, she did not have to win her husband's attentions, struggle for money, overcome jealousies such as she experienced with Vadinho's infidelities and time spent gambling. Yet Vadinho had love with passion. He made Dona Flor feel to the depth of her being. With Dr. Teodoro, everything was measured and planned, even sex. Dona Flor needed stability and a sense of propriety, but only to an extent.
        • Amado provides Dona Flor with an unusual solution. Why choose between two husbands when she can have both. This way she can live with both honor and passion. Through the vehicle of magical realism she can live with Dr. Teodoro and the apparition of Vadinho; each one providing her with the necessary ingredients for a fully balanced life. 
        • Is Amado stating reality with stability is void of magic? Do we all possess these dual parts within our conscious or semi-conscious selves - a combination and desire for the naughty and the nice? I think so. Yet these terms are relative and specific to each one of us. My naughty may be another persons nice and vice versa. But that starts a whole other discussion.
Amado has created an alluring story - a must read!

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