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Vieira, Estela. Interiors and Narrative: The Spatial Poetics of Machado de Assis, Eça de Queirós, and Leopoldo Alas. Lewisburg: Bucknell UP, 2013

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Vieira, Estela. Interiors and Narrative: The Spatial Poetics of Machado de Assis, Eça de Queirós, and Leopoldo Alas. Lewisburg: Bucknell UP, 2013
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    Brújula Volume 10 •  Spring 2015 Travesía Crítica  __________________________  Estela Vieira’s Analysis of Space in Nineteenth -Century  Luso-Hispanic Novel Rafael Climent-Espino Baylor University Vieira, Estela. Interiors and Narrative :  The Spatial Poetics of Machado de Assis, Eça de Queirós, and Leopoldo Alas . Lewisburg: Bucknell UP, 2013. 261 pp. Estela Vieira’s book analyzes the interior spaces of three masterpieces of the Luso-Hispanic novel of the second half of the 19th century: La Regenta  (1884) by Leopoldo Alas (Clarín), The Maias  (1888) by Eça de Queirós, and Quincas Borba  (1891) by Joaquim Maria Machado de Assis. The volume is structured in five sections: a very well documented and illuminating introduction (“Interiors and Narrative”), three main sections of analysis corresponding to the book’s core (“Furnishing the novel”, “Interiors and  Travesía Crítica   Climent • Estela Vieira’s Analysis of Space in Nineteenth -Century Luso-Hispanic Novel   2   Brújula   • Volume 10 • 2015   I nteriority”, and “The Discourse of Interiors”), and an epilogue (“From Volatire’s Garden to Galdós’s Room”). This study deals with the literary production of Spain, Portugal and Brazil in 19th century. Vieira’s introduction is subdivided into two main parts: “The Novel’s Sense of Interior” (2) and “The Novelist’s Sense of Interior” (14). In the first one, speaking on Clarín’s, Queirós’ and Machado’s work, Vieira argues that “the interior space has a rhetorical function and with significant consequences for the development of narrative and of ideas in general. These three authors collect, appraise, and include furnishings, object d’art, windows, doors (…) and foremost for fictional purposes” (3). She justifies the book’s corpus by showing why these three novels represent a culminating moment of three literary traditions, and highlights the importance of studying them in conjunction with one another. For Vieira, Clarín, Queirós and Machado develop a similar rhetoric of space in these novels. By furnishing the interior spaces of their fictions, they pave “the way for major conceptual, ontological, and discursive changes” (4) and “examine the workings of their societies’ inherent contradictions” (5). Studies on material culture related to space issues are one of the points of departure of this book since, according to Vieira’s view, interior spaces, rooms and its furnishings express in one way or another the personality of the characters. She concludes this section by asserting that “literally furnishing the nove l, authors and artists  Travesía Crítica   Climent • Estela Vieira’s Analysis of Space in Nineteenth -Century Luso-Hispanic Novel   3   Brújula   • Volume 10 • 2015   can create spaces where memory and history coincide with the modern search for an inner life” (14). In the second part of the introduction, The Novelist’s Sense of the Interior  , Vieira supports the idea that “Machado, Eça and Clarín  reflect on the interior as a site where the individual crisis of self-definition takes place inseparably from its unique historical and cultural constellations, which are present in the materials, furnishings, and architectural design of our interior spac es” (16). This section provides interesting biographical information to show that these writers established important bonds with their own private spaces. This is a relevant fact because their characters operate in a similar way within fiction. Providing biographical information and even pictures, Estela Vieira links the actual interior spaces of Machado (17) Eça (22) and Clarín (27) with their fiction to show how those interiors act as a point of departure to create a symbolic and rhetoric style, and a semiotic language of objects for the development of both, the story and the interiority of the characters. Part One, “Furnishing the Novel” (39), is devoted to the analysis of furniture, decorative objects and environments within the three fictions, emphasiz ing that “the novels also intend to convey through their representation of interiors the contradiction and complexities of their historical contexts and characters” (39). In Vieira’s view, the interior spaces are epitomes of history and metaphysical concer ns. This part is also divided into three sections: “The  Travesía Crítica   Climent • Estela Vieira’s Analysis of Space in Nineteenth -Century Luso-Hispanic Novel   4   Brújula   • Volume 10 • 2015   Threshold: The Ins and Out of Quincas Borba ” (41), “Movables and Immovables: The Legend of The Maias ” (58), and “The Corners of the World: Inside La Regenta ” (75). In the first part Vieira studies how “Machado de Assis’s Quincas Borba  creates a threshold and opposing tension between interiors and exteriors which explores how the self and the mind struggle with an existence marked by enslavement” (41). It points out h ow the interior spaces and objects of this novel are much more than symbols, and how the interior architecture not only functions as an allegory of Brazilian modernization but also as a framework for the novel’s underlying questions. This section also expl ores the tensions between antithetical spaces: interior spaces and their margins “to discern some of his characters most intimate experiences and explore a number of his society’s most pressing contradictions” (43). It is worth noting Vieira’s decision to link the peripheral location, essential in Machado’s characters, with Homer’s Odysseus and Penelope. In the fiction of both of these authors, the idea of having a clear center is absent, which in turn makes the characters’ quest for one seem futile. This strategic configuration of center and periphery allows Machado to ask questions regarding the cultural dependence between Europe and America. Vieira’s analysis makes, through Quincas Borba  interior and peripheral spaces, an intelligent connection between national histories and individual identity stories.  Travesía Crítica   Climent • Estela Vieira’s Analysis of Space in Nineteenth -Century Luso-Hispanic Novel   5   Brújula   • Volume 10 • 2015   The second section, “Movables and Immovables: The Legend of The  Maias ”, details how Eça de Queirós furnishes his novel to give voice to the socio -political concerns of his time. Estela Vieira shows how Eça ’s abundant descriptions have symbolic functions and formal purposes, for her “Portuguese society, history, and characters can be best read and written via the art of space: its fixtures, tones, and design” (59). Vieira offers her readers an interesting analysis on the tension between mobility and stagnation within The Maias , making this juxtaposition a central axis of her reading. The tragic story of the Maia family is the history of Portugal’s colonial period. This parallelism opens the door to the possib ility of interpreting this novel as “a narration on how colonization destroys both the colonizer and the colonized” (74). According to her argument, Vieira states that “associating immobility and progress is also a metaphor that speaks to the author’s own political engagement and disillusionment with Portugal’s status quo and future promise” (219). It is pointed out that furnishings and houses are essential elements in the novel to organize the tension between movement and immobility, and to define the novel as a historical and social critique. In the last section, “The Corners of the World: Inside La Regenta ”, Vieira discovers how this novel also connects interior spaces with Spain’s colonial history. Curiously, these three novels speak of the consequences of their countries’ colonial past. Vieira asserts that in La Regenta  there is a continuous
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