Tomaz de Figueiredo has passed on to posterity just as he spent his life: undervalued and ignored. He was born in Braga on the 6th of July 1902, although he left his heart in Arcos de Valdevez. 120 years were not enough for his pioneering work to attract attentive readers. For decades after his death, the heirs let the books disappear from the market. After 1974, connotations with the Estado Novo threw him with other irredeemable people into the septic tank of history. Worse, the university has not yet de-hypnotized itself from Eduardo Lourenço’s biased essay that postulates the genesis of a “New Literature” in 1953, implying that there is only scum behind. Ironically, the so-called genesis work, the sibyl, was chosen by Tomaz from among 34 original manuscripts in a competition. She told José Régio that the rest of the jury leaned towards a neo-realist novel, but “I put my foot down to get the award the sibylbecause if I didn’t hit him, then…” It was just a minor act in a career that already estimated twenty years dedicated to adapting Portuguese fiction to the spirit of Tomaz.
Individualists averse to the shackles of groups, the two dominant literary movements challenged them from an early age. The neorealists, who haughtily neglected the artistic form in favor of the political message, were reprimanded because they conceived the human being as an empty shell: “Novels are destined to reveal souls, to study and dissect them, until when use poetic processes,” he said. He had more affinities with the magazine’s artistic proposals presence, founded by Régio and Branquinho da Fonseca, with whom he became friends when he was studying law in Coimbra, where they discussed the primacy of individual psychology over social analysis. But he thought Régio incapable of imbuing poetry with prose. The poet Edmundo Bettencourt said that Tomaz was the first dissident of the presence; but praise aside, he didn’t dissent who decided never to belong.
In 1934, he made his debut with short stories in the antipodes of the anti-modernist vogue that kept fiction paralyzed in naturalism. The novel reported social upheavals and propagandized party programs from the outside, ignoring the inexhaustible machine of horrors of the mind that intrigued recent thinkers like Bergson and Freud.
Conscience amazed Tomaz by giving meaning to nonsense. For him, there was no distinction between mind and matter, the inert was porous and penetrable. In the short story “A Boneca”, a child esteems a rag doll as if it were a daughter: “So small, I already suffered from imaginations, and I saw in her a child.” But the doll falls into embers and Luisinha (“my daughter!”) jumps in to save her: “And there was nothing more on the hardened earth floor than a live ball of smoke.” In this tale of touching contention, Luisinha paradoxically dies because she “lent a soul” to what was not living. Tomaz found the infinitely varied ways in which the imaginative faculty seizes masters fascinating and disturbing. In “The Crime”, some students out of boredom convince a healthy classmate that he has a nasal disease; he is so anxious to discover what ailment it is, that in the end he is dying of cancer of the nose, as if by the will of the imagination the body had developed a disease to appease it. In another tale, a fakir reveals to a superstitious man the exact time of death; in the last minute of his life, not resisting the anguish of waiting, he takes a revolver: “And wielding the pistol he had prepared to face death, he went through his head with two bullets…”, fulfilling the prophecy he believed in. Another slave of imagination breaks his friendship with a friend because he is betrayed by him in a dream: “I know it was a dream. But who tells you that dreams aren’t the only telepathically explainable way of knowing the innermost propensities of others?”
The conflict between the individual and his own imagination worried him more than the condition of society. Surrounded by realists focusing on current social issues and squeezing the last proteins out of the putrefying Eça, Tomaz demarcated himself with fantastic, ambiguous, grotesque nightmares, half-opening an anti-rationalist world ruled by omens, prophecies, dreams, superstitions, suicides, madness.
This macabre repertoire expunged him from Wolf’s Lair (1947), debut in the novel. The promotional belt succinctly read: “A different book.” Unlike most braces, it wasn’t hyperbole. Always reinventing himself, instead of superimposing the fantastic on the day-to-day, he bathed it in a poetic halo. Using style to intensify the vividness of everyday life, perhaps he could transfigure it to the point of reappearing fresh and beautiful to the desensitized eye of the reader. As he explained in an article:
“I see a ‘novel’ in which the experience of past attempts is taken advantage of: imagination and observation linked: the rare, the unexpected, but not for that reason illogical, beaten on the anvil of analysis. Such unique cases often offer life, which even intuitively and unconsciously are used to call romance. And poetry will weave it together, make it authentic, even though the poetic novel is still green for comic book lovers.”
The quotation marks in “novel” indicate that he did not intend to imitate the processes of the mandarins of good taste. There was still nothing like The Burrow: Tomaz called it “static” because nothing happens in the present; there are only random memoirs of Diogo Coutinho, holed up in his father’s mansion. It is not Proust’s lost time, but the “lost good”, embedded in the surrounding objects and whose presence awakens the fondest memories, in a frenetic kaleidoscope of abruptly mixed times.
For that reason, there is no plot. Instead of telling a story from A to Z, with resolution, The Burrow it just ends. Neither presenters nor neos eliminated the temporal linearity that was the hallmark of the 19th century novel, but Tomaz wanted to prove the viability of a captivating anti-narrative without the chain of adventures and twists, sustaining the reader’s enchantment through the emotional charge of the digressions:
“Only! Alone, but accompanied by ghosts, surging at every moment from the cracks of memory, friends or just picturesque, canceling out time. Stop, time! Time had stopped!
Ghosts, some, who also hurt him, for the physical impossibility of talking to them with the listener, of being able to ask them for forgiveness for certain injustices, for certain boyish levities.”
He was also the first to resent the hindrance that orthodox punctuation causes to a singular artistic vision. Because Diogo hardly interacts with others in the present, the dialogues are what Tomaz called “reminiscences thought of in the present”, so they are woven into the prose:
“And still, as in his father’s time, sometimes from the window he would discover a row of partridges, all wet, necks high and tails down to the ground, like the tips of umbrellas, dripping. (These are in here is to save them, you heard!, to create and to hear them sing! I love hearing them so much!)”
In the previous hundred years of the Portuguese novel, no one had broken the sacrosanct grammatical rules. The reviewer of News Diary he was stupefied: “I thought it was an impossible feat to extract the dialogue from the novel, without making it lose its blood, without leaving it for dead. He deceived me”.
the poetry of play it is bittersweet: underneath the ecstasy runs an ironic criticism of Diogo for having abandoned the present to surround himself with ghosts. Even Diogo predicts that this obsession will make him look like a cloistered relative with a reputation for being crazy: “It was possible, yes, very possible that later on they would compare him to poor Sebastião das Pereiras, who remembered to swear that there too at Wolf’s Lair souls from the other world walked.” For Tomaz, the individual’s struggle is not with society but with the mind, sometimes a paradise, sometimes a prison. The few scholars have insisted on attaching Diogo to his creator, as if he were a disguised autobiography, despite Tomaz having preferred the dynamism of Lisbon to the peacefulness of the province. To this day, no one has noticed the curious similarities between The Burrow and Apparitionby Vergilio Ferreira.
Tomaz never found a satisfying formula for fiction. In 1950, blind node took a favorite theme from the presentist novel, the intellectual maturation of a child, for a study of a soul whose ability to feel joy is slowly and minutely destroyed by the clash with the world: “Not that you would change for anyone, despite everything. I just wanted to be who I was. But there were so many who had no blackness in their souls…” However, Tomaz suggests that João Bravo, like Diogo, is the main cause of his unhappiness: “The worst thing is that he had to resolve himself, that there was no other remedy. And that’s why imagination, his worst enemy since he was little, perhaps painted everything blacker than it would actually be…” In João’s self-destruction in response to a suffocating world, he recalls another novel by Vergílio that would come out four years later, the more optimistic Submerged morning.
Although an attentive reader of Eça’s, in love with his poetic style, Tomaz’s anti-realist inclination made him break several rules of a well-written novel. Procession of the Dead (1954) anticipated Saramago and Mário de Carvalho in recovering the nosy narrator who comments on the ongoing fiction:
“The unraveling of this very true and well-known story takes such a course that the narrator now gives him a chance to stick his nose in it, violating the canons of objectivity and following.
Don’t know what it is! The style behind the subject, the calamus after the style, giving rise to a procadent succession of obsolete manners and sayings, and terms that the reader may no longer be.”
This technique, once used by Garrett and Camilo, was prohibited since the time of Eça and the naturalists, because the mandarins of good taste dictated that a novel must be the objective account of reality, without comments or external value judgments. Tomaz loved prohibitions because he lived off the words of a French thinker, Ernest Hello: “The process of success lies in following with others; the process of glory, in going contrary to others.”
Dom Tanas de Fins (1962) heralds the vogue of the 1980s historical novel, which instead of retelling the official version, questions sources and offers counter-narratives from silenced and marginal voices. One of the many pleasures of this book is catching the deliberate chronological contradictions of a panegyrist who twists the truth to flatter a scoundrel.
From the 1960s onwards, fiction began to free itself from diktats artists that Tomaz had rebelled against 30 years earlier. When he died in 1970, he had a work that heralded the themes, techniques, forms and freedom of contemporary fiction. In the sibyl he will have sensed an ally and perhaps a sign that he had not worked in vain, that the change was finally under way. In the following decades, the novel became more introspective, non-linear, fragmented, also more poetic, open to the explorations of Agustina, Ruben A., Vergílio Ferreira, Lobo Antunes and Saramago. If alive, Tomaz would be happy to see that now everyone makes his “different book”.