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the Complete Review
the complete review - fiction

To the Capital

José Maria de Eça de Queirós

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To purchase To the Capital

Title: To the Capital
Author: José Maria de Eça de Queirós
Genre: Novel
Written: (1925)
Length: 293 pages
Original in: Portuguese
Availability: To the Capital - US
To the Capital - UK
La Capitale - France
  • Portuguese title: A Capital
  • Translated by John Vetch (1995)
  • First published posthumously in 1925

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Our Assessment:

B : decent tale of small-time poetic ambition and big-time disappointment

See our review for fuller assessment.

  • "Once again the intervention of José Maria de Eça de Queirós the younger resulted in what the editor of A Capital tactfully refers to as "some highly debatable criteria". In this case not one but several autograph versions of the novel are involved, bearing over 10,000 corrections by the author and in certain cases rendered almost illegible through inadequate conservation since their arrival in the National Library." - Jonathan Keates, Times Literary Supplement (17/10/1997)

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The complete review's Review:

       To the Capital is the story of Artur Corvelo, a young man from the Portuguese provinces with literary ambitions. He is sent to the university in Coimbra, but spends most of his time in more literary circles, dreaming of becoming a poet (and failing badly in his first efforts). First his mother, then his father die, and after failing his detested courses he finally finds himself only "left with eight milreis and a venereal disease".
       He winds up even deeper in the provinces, with some aunts in Oliveira de Azemeis. It is here, at the local train station, the novel begins (looping back to fill in the background), with Artur waiting for his Godfather, whose train is on the way to Lisbon but will stop here briefly. The train comes, but the Godfather isn't on it. Artur dreams of Lisbon -- the intellectual capital where he is sure his gifts will be appreciated and will flourish -- but even the possibility of a brief brush with someone headed for Lisbon seems out of reach.
       Artur is, to put mildly, a fish out of water in Oliveira de Azemeis. He is doted on, and life made as easy as possible, but he wants to break free of this small town, dreaming only of literary fame (which he believes he can only achieve in Lisbon. He immerses himself in the occasional ambitious literary project, but every poetry submission meets with failure (and needless to say he doesn't take criticism well -- or constructively).
       Finally, opportunity arises: his Godfather dies, leaving him enough money to set out for Lisbon and try to establish himself. Artur's unrealistic expectations ("it was from French novels that he reconstructed Lisbon society") might lead one to expect quick disappointment, but he is largely blinded by ambition and stumbles bravely onwards for a while.
       Things don't go well, of course: there's well-meaning but misguided advice, and he's also taken adbvantage of. He makes a bit of a name for himself, but his expectations ride on a volume of poetry (Enamels and Jewels) and a play (with the unpromising title of Loves of a Poet). He publishes the poems, but the impact is less than resounding; the play ultimately goes unproduced. Eventually, of course, he must slink back to the provinces.
       To the Capital is an entertaining account of Artur's blind ambition, and of small-time literary life all over Portugal. Eça's approach is genial and warm. Almost all of his characters are misguided in their own (sometimes very peculiar) ways, but it makes for a nice mix of engaging characters. The canvas occasionally gets crowded, and the story advances somewhat fitfully -- presumably because the posthumously published book was cobbled together from Eça's notes and papers. Still, it's a decent novel, enjoyable if not truly gripping.

       Note that To the Capital was first published posthumously, in an edition cobbled together by Eça's son, José Maria d'Eça de Queirós. While Vetch's translation is based on that 1925 edition, it does incorporate some of the changes of the new scholarly edition published in the 1990s. (See, also, Jonathan Keates' comments above.)

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José Maria de Eça de Queirós: Other books by Eça de Queiróz under review: Other books of interest under review:

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About the Author:

       Portuguese author José Maria de Eça de Queirós lived 1845 to 1900.

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