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Erotica in the work of Mário de Andrade

Aspect of the modernist's work remains taboo and rarely studied, say experts

1930 photograph of the writer from São Paulo, who associated with the conservative elite and often faced prejudice

Benedito Junqueira Duarte / Brazilian National Library

The excerpt to the left is from the short story “Frederico Paciência,” written over the course of almost two decades by the modernist author Mário de Andrade (1893–1945) and first published in the book Contos novos (“New stories”; Livraria Martins Editora, 1947). Narrated in first person, it tells the story of the friendship between two teenagers of the same sex. “It is a homoerotic tale recognized as at least partially autobiographical. Juca, the narrator, sees himself as weak and ugly but has great admiration for the ‘scandalous solarity’ of his friend Frederico,” says Eliane Robert Moraes, a professor of Brazilian literature from the Department of Classical and Vernacular Literature at the School of Philosophy, Languages and Literature, and Human Sciences at the University of São Paulo (FFLCH-USP).

He lay down, exaggerating his fatigue, taking pleasure in obeying. I sat on the edge of the bed, as if to take care of him, and looked at my friend. His face was lit by the afternoon sunlight shining through the window. He was so beautiful, I looked at him with great reverence. He moved slowly, like a boy, reaffirming his intent. […] His red lips parting slowly, his speech deliberately weary. I stared at him. Frederico Paciência noticed and suddenly stopped talking to stare back at me. I realized he had fallen silent and I knew why, but I was unable to react, unable to take my eyes off his beautiful mouth. When our eyes finally met, I was almost scared because Frederico Paciência was looking at me the same way I was looking at him, with longing eyes that completely betrayed his feelings.

“Frederico Paciência” is one of the stories chosen by Moraes for the compilation O corpo desvelado – Contos eróticos brasileiros (1922-2022) (The body revealed: Brazilian erotic stories), recently published by CEPE. The collection comprises 60 Brazilian authors from the last 100 years who at some point ventured into literary erotica. The story is also included in Seleta erótica/Mario de Andrade (Erotic selection), another compilation organized by Moraes and released this year by Ubu. The book is divided into eight sections and results from research carried out by the erotic literature specialist during a sabbatical at USP’s Institute of Advanced Studies (IEA) in 2021.

It covers poems, correspondence, excerpts from canonical works such as O turista aprendiz (The apprentice tourist)—completed in 1943 but only published in 1976—and unfinished texts such as the novel Café (Coffee), published by Nova Fronteira in 2015. It also includes works the modernist collected during research into popular culture, such as the song Corujinha, from the book As melodias do boi e outras peças (Cattle melodies and other tunes; Itatiaia, 2006). “Alongside names like Hilda Hilst [1930–2004], Mário is one of the Brazilian authors who was most interested in sex, but this aspect of his work is still surrounded by taboo and has rarely been studied,” says Moraes.

“One of the reasons this aspect has remained unexamined is that critics found it difficult to deal with his homosexuality, which was hidden until 2015,” explains André Botelho, a sociologist from the Federal University of Rio de Janeiro (UFRJ) who studies the Macunaíma author. That was the year that the Casa de Rui Barbosa Foundation shared a previously unpublished letter from the modernist to the poet Manuel Bandeira (1886–1968) in which the author himself made direct references to his homosexuality. Mário de Andrade addressed the topic with great caution: in “Frederico Paciência,” for example, he uses ambiguous expressions such as “close friends,” “curious desires,” and “surprising instincts” to describe the relationship between the two characters. This level of care was not limited to homoerotic aspects. In Seleta erótica, Moraes chose an excerpt from the first edition of Macunaíma (1928) that was later censored by the author himself, in which the writer describes sexual positions invented by the protagonist and his partner, Ci. “Because of this passage, the book Macunaíma was deemed indecent and was forbidden to read for some time,” says the expert.

Mário de Andrade, 1932 / Photo by Gilda de Moraes RochaThe literary journal Dom Casmurro frequently labeled Mário a ‘sub-Wilde half-breed’Mário de Andrade, 1932 / Photo by Gilda de Moraes Rocha

“Mário rubbed shoulders with the conservative elite and faced prejudice not only because of the suspicions surrounding his sexuality, but also because he was mulatto—to use terms of the time—and less wealthy than his modernist colleagues, such as Oswald de Andrade [1890–1954],” points out Botelho. The scholar believes the author was subject to a kind of cleansing from the 1940s onward by critics who covered up themes such as homosexuality. “His ambiguities and contradictions were erased so that he could be monumentalized as an official symbol of Brazilian cultural modernity,” he says.

According to Botelho, the field of sexuality and eroticism is an inviting field of study that can shed light on other aspects of Mário de Andrade’s work. “The erotic issue is the foundation of his thought process, it is essential to understanding his work as a whole,” claims the sociologist, who together with Maurício Hoelz wrote Modernismo como movimento cultural: Mário de Andrade, um aprendizado (Modernism as a cultural movement: Mário de Andrade, an apprenticeship) recently published by Vozes. “Through eroticism, we can see new angles in Mário’s relationships with recurring elements in his work, such as music and dance.”

São Paulo–based researcher César Braga-Pinto reviewed the literature on Mário de Andrade, especially regarding his poetry, by names such as Roger Bastide (1898–1974), Antonio Candido (1918–2017), and João Luiz Lafetá (1946–1996) in a chapter of his book Modernismos 1922-2022 (Modernisms 1922–2022), released by Companhia das Letras this year, writing: “In general, criticism has approached the ‘x’ of sexuality in/of Andrade’s work from a homophobic standpoint, sometimes with caution, sometimes with embarrassment, sometimes with dissimulation and frequently through gestures of disqualification or obliteration [ …] emptying and distortion are two of the main critical movements in response to Mário’s ‘secret.’”

In an interview with Pesquisa FAPESP, Braga-Pinto, who is a professor of Brazilian and comparative literature at Northwestern University, USA, explained his reasons for referring to structural homophobia in the book. “I am not calling the critics homophobic. I am drawing attention to the fact that homophobia is ingrained in Brazilian society, which leads to homosexuality being seen—in varying degrees—as an illness, a moral deviation, or an issue to be avoided,” he says. “Mário de Andrade’s life and work inevitably overlap in the critical reception. The fact that critics avoided the topic of sexuality certainly hindered the analysis of his work, but the recent obsession with bringing him out of the closet is also problematic.”

The researcher helped compile the two volumes of Dissidências de gênero e sexualidade na literatura brasileira (Dissenting gender and sexuality in Brazilian literature), published by Devires last year, including work by various authors from between 1842 and 1930. It features two texts by Mário de Andrade. One is the story “Nizia Figueira, sua criada,” in which, according to Braga-Pinto, the affection between two women borders on erotic. The other is the poem “Cabo Machado” (1926), in which the modernist says:

Cabo Machado is a very handsome young man./ It’s as if the dawn were walking in front of me./ His crimson mouth opens in a perpetual smile/ And the golden sun lights up his teeth/ Sealed with an oriental luxury.

One method Braga-Pinto likes to use to reflect on the relationship between sexuality and Mário de Andrade’s work is to think of the author outside the modernist context. “It is interesting to observe how he compares to other homosexual writers who were his contemporaries, such as Oscar Wilde [1854–1900] and his translator, João do Rio [1881–1921], from Rio de Janeiro,” he states, adding: “In the 1930s, the literary journal Dom Casmurro frequently labeled Mário a ‘sub-Wilde half-breed.’ In one homophobic attack, Oswald [de Andrade] said that Mário was very much ‘like Oscar Wilde from behind.’”

The rupture between Mário de Andrade and Oswald de Andrade, it should be said, was caused by homophobic texts published in Revista de Antropofagia in 1929, according to James Green, a historian at Brown University, USA, in the book Além do Carnaval: A homossexualidade masculina no Brasil do século XX (Beyond Carnival: Male homosexuality in twentieth century Brazil; Editora UNESP, 2000). In a periodical edited by Oswald de Andrade and Oswaldo Costa, Mário was called “Miss São Paulo,” “Miss Macunaíma,” and “Dona Maria.” In his correspondence, Mário wrote that the attitude of his “former friend” hurt. In a 1929 letter to painter Tarsila do Amaral (1886–1973), who was married to Oswald at the time, he wrote: “I assure you […] that the accusations, insults, and mockery do not interest me in the slightest. I’ve suffered them all many times and it has never affected me […]. But I cannot ignore that it was all written with the assistance of someone I considered a friend. That is what I find so cruel, Tarsila, and despite my enormous pride, I do not currently have the strength to deny that I am devastated by the experience. I know we were all victims of a storm that passed. But it passed. A large tree fell to the ground and no other tree can grow in its place. It’s impossible.”

An accent of his own
Compilation of Mário de Andrade’s reflections on the written and spoken word in Brazil

“Fiori de la Pá/ Geni transférdi güide nôs pigórdi/ Geni trâns! Feligüinórdi/ Geny!…” Mário de Andrade’s first poem, penned when he was just a teenager, was written in a language he himself invented. “The sexual content is hidden within a murky and barely intelligible textual fabric,” while the male and female genders are muddled, says Moraes in Seleta erótica. Mário himself wrote: “In ‘Geni trâns!…’ I was possessed by an inconceivable ecstasy. I raised my voice, paused, and suffered.” This quote is from A gramatiquinha da fala brasileira (The grammar of Brazilian speech), a book recently released by the Alexandre de Gusmão Foundation (FUNAG) and the Guimarães Rosa Institute, both linked to Brazil’s Ministry of Foreign Affairs.

The book is based on a manuscript by the author archived at the Brazilian Studies Institute (IEB-USP). “It is not grammar in the academic sense of the term,” points out Aline Novais de Almeida, who coordinated the project. “It is an unfinished study on written and spoken Portuguese in Brazil. For Mário, the so-called grammatical ‘errors’ in relation to European Portuguese reflect the way Brazilians express themselves and should have been integrated into the grammar of Brazilian speech, including as a means of liberation from the country’s colonizers. But his original idea of developing a grammar did not advance and he instead moved towards a more essay-like format, although there are other texts that retain this unfinished aspect.”

Almeida studied the manuscript during her master’s degree at FFLCH-USP. In addition to sketches, the material includes documents such as tickets, letters, newspaper clippings, and even an advertisement for a cabaret in São Paulo. The research was part of a project funded by FAPESP and led by Telê Ancona Lopez. According to Almeida, the first academic study on the manuscript was carried out 40 years ago in a thesis by Edith Pimentel Pinto (1924–1992) of FFLCH-USP’s Department of Philology and the Portuguese Language, which was later used as the basis for the book A gramatiquinha de Mário de Andrade: Texto e contexto (The grammar of Mario de Andrade: Text and context; Livraria Duas Cidades/São Paulo State Culture Department, 1990). “It is a pioneering work in which Pinto attempts to organize these archived documents and cover the gaps left by the author,” Almeida says.

In the newly released version, she takes a different approach. “In my opinion, this is a fragmented work. Mário gathered and consulted this material throughout his life and drew many ideas from it, as can be seen in the article ‘O baile dos pronomes,’ published in O Estado de S. Paulo in 1941.” The researcher chose to use just some of the documents that comprise the manuscript, preferring the “more stable and mature” texts, including two poems, the transcription of a 60-page notebook by the author, and his general ethnographic survey (Folklore survey form – National language). “Mário enjoyed his work with Brazilian speech—it gave him artistic and intellectual satisfaction. Although he did not publish this work, it was his linguistic inventory and supported the stylization of Brazilian speech that he used in his literary and nonliterary texts,” concludes Almeida.

Study of Mário de Andrade’s creative process in manuscripts from his archives, correspondence, marginalia, and critiques (no. 06/54705-1); Grant Mechanism Thematic Project; Principal Investigator Therezinha Apparecida Porto Ancona Lopez (USP); Investment R$394,832.19.