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Globalization in the 19th century

Project reveals an intense circulation of cultural goods, especially printed matter, among France, England, Portugal and Brazil

ciculação transatlântica-1_v1Daniel AlmeidaMany decades before the term “globalization” came into widespread use, the literate world of the 19th century frequently ignored national borders, at least in the West.  France was the center from which cultural goods were distributed, and with them, the French language, a symbol of refinement that was in daily use even among the members of the court of the Russian czars.  Presented with a growing market, France exported a thousand tons of books and magazines around 1840 and a number that reached 4.7 million tons in 1890.  Many of those printed items, published in various languages, were later re-exported.  Even when in French they may have been translations produced in various languages, especially German and English, to serve avid readers from among the elites in other countries, including Brazilians in major urban centers.  Materials were printed in France in practically all the known languages because the scale of the enormous French printing industry made it cheaper.  Furthermore, in the case of Brazil, a tax was assessed on imports of blank paper but not on imported books.

This effervescent scenario is reconstituted for us by a FAPESP-funded thematic project entitled A circulação transatlântica dos impressos – A globalização da cultura no século XIX (The transatlantic circulation of printed matter – Globalization of the culture in the 19th century), begun in 2011 and expected to be completed in August 2016.  The coordinators-general are Márcia Abreu, from the Institute of Language Studies at the University of Campinas (IEL-Unicamp) and Jean Yves-Mollier, a Frenchman from the University of Versailles-Saint-Quentin (France).  The purpose of the project is to “familiarize people with the printed matter and ideas that circulated among England, France, Portugal and Brazil.”  The period covered borrows from British historian Hobsbawm (1917-2012) the concept of “a long 19th century”), the initial highlight of which was the French Revolution (1789) and the final milestone the outbreak of World War I (1914).  The starting date of the subjects studied is appropriate because the French Revolution had changed the laws pertaining to the sale of books in France, resulting in a profusion of publications, very often ephemeral, that spread throughout that country and later the world.  The final date selected is a geopolitical milestone that directly affected all the countries that are the focus of the project.  One result of the study is a book entitled The cultural revolution of the nineteenth century: Theatre, the book-trade and reading in the transatlantic world, a collection of articles published in the United Kingdom by I. B. Taurus.  No plans for a Portuguese translation have been made.

During the period studied, printed matter would usually arrive in Brazil an average of 28 days after being introduced in Europe.  Shipments were met by an army of translators who, among other purposes, stood ready to satisfy the growing demand for their publication in the form of serials (folhetins) published in short chapters printed at the bottoms of the front pages of newspapers—a phenomenon not so different from what Brazilians now experience with regard to United States television series.  In a similar development the success of foreign items on the promising market below the Equator stimulated local production.  French publishers and publishers of other European nationalities moved to Portugal and Brazil and successfully established themselves there.

Initially the Brazilian market was contested by French and Portuguese publishers.  The booksellers/publishers who had established themselves in Brazil not only imported and sold books produced in Europe, but also published Brazilian magazines and books that they arranged to be printed in France and Portugal.  “In addition, as time went on they discovered the Portuguese reading public and reversed the direction of the secular flow of the books to such a point that competition from Portuguese works that had been printed in Brazil became a matter of concern in Portugal,” Professor Abreu says.  Concern extended to the phenomenon of counterfeiting of books and magazines, which was nothing more than piracy of cultural products, also common in the contemporary world.  At the time, Portugal had a much smaller population (5.5 million in 1900) than Brazil (18 million) but the illiteracy rate was equivalent (at about 25%), which made the Brazilian market more robust and commercially attractive.

ciculação transatlântica-2_v1Daniel AlmeidaUrbanization
An important trend in the period was the consolidation of the residential structure of cities.  It was also an era when distances were becoming shorter, not only because of the progress of railroads but also because of the invention and dissemination of the steam-powered printing press, mechanization of paper manufacturing, and the advent of the telegraph in the early 19th century, followed by the rotary press, linotype, and photography in the century’s last decades.  “Consumption of culture could no longer be traditional, based only on what was spoken from the church pulpits,” says Tania de Luca, a professor at the History Department of the School of Sciences and Letters of São Paulo State University (Unesp), whose role in the project was to coordinate the study of periodicals.

According to Márcia Abreu, what enabled researchers to evaluate Brazilian participation in the circuit of exchange of cultural products and ideas in an unprecedented fashion was “setting aside the tradition that was centered on the concept of nation” as had been proposed in 2010, one year before the research work began, during a meeting at the University of Versailles coordinated by Jean-Yves Mollier.  The group that joined the project is composed of 40 researchers from 19 research institutions in the four countries that were studied.  The initial nucleus, which includes French historian Roger Chartier, who is fairly well known in Brazil, gathered on an annual basis.  “At that first meeting, some of the papers presented had demonstrated that, as early as the 19th century there had been a desire by the internationally less important countries to become better known in France.  Once we stepped away from the limits of national territories, we began to perceive events and personages who previously had been practically invisible.”

Standing out among those personages was the important figure of the translator, a professional highly sought after in all the countries studied and, as a mediator among them, almost a symbol of the globalization of the culture.  Translators were multitalented professionals who worked in various intellectual activities and were grouped in the general category known as “men of letters.”  “Even in France, a central country, translations accounted for some of what was read,” Abreu remarks.  One emblematic representative of that professional category in Brazil was Salvador de Mendonça (1841-1913), from the state of Rio de Janeiro.  He had been hired by Casa Garnier, the publishing house that had also published his best known novel (Marabá) (1875).  He was also a poet, playwright, critic, journalist, and later consul-general of Brazil in the United States.

What is strange is that a translator like Mendonça, when wearing his critic’s hat, harshly denounced the wide circulation of foreign works in Brazil.  It was an era when national bodies of literature were being built up “as the foundation of nations in formation,” which was what the men of letters aspired to.  Meanwhile, they had to work as translators in order to supplement their income, Abreu observes.  Even Machado de Assis (1839-1908), known as the great 19th century author of novels, was also a critic, columnist, playwright, and translator.  The only Brazilian author from the period under study, who lived solely on literature, for a time, was Aluísio Azevedo (1857-1913), severely criticized by intellectuals who thought he had surrendered to a need to satisfy the popular taste.

The researcher emphasizes that translators had “a lot of freedom to make changes; respect for the original text was not as great as it is today.”  And so, for example, questions arose as to which “versions” of the works by French novelist Émile Zola (1840-1902) were being read in Brazil, where the author enjoyed a lot of prestige.  Similarly, practically all that was known in Brazil about English and German literature during the period had been translated from other translations done into French—which also happened with books sold among the European countries.

“In terms of genre, what was new at the time was the introduction of the folhetins (serialized stories), which took place in the same decade, the 1830s, in both Brazil and France,” Abreu recalls.  Reading was becoming popular and an audience looking for readily available texts with action-packed plots developed.  Most of the novels published as books started out as folhetins, although not all folhetins became books.  Publication in newspapers, which cost little to publishers, served as a test for publication in a more lasting format.  “A story that was well accepted could even quadruple a newspaper’s circulation.”  Since technical limitations dictated that every novel would be released in three or four volumes, publication as a book could begin even before the story came to an end on the pages of newspapers.

ciculação transatlântica-3_v2Daniel AlmeidaInterest in indigenous topics
Another episode that revealed the multiple directions taken by the circulation of 19th century cultural goods, highlighted by Márcia Abreu in the project, is that of poet Tomás Antônio Gonzaga (1744-1810) and his best-known work Marília de Dirceu.  Because of his role in the Inconfidência Mineira, a Minas Gerais conspiracy to establish a republic, Gonzaga found himself banished to Mozambique when, probably without his knowledge, the book was published in Lisbon in 1792 and met with huge public success, resulting in three more editions by 1800.  It was probably that impact in the “metropolis” that persuaded French-Brazilian bookseller Paulo Martin Filho, established in Rio de Janeiro, to republish the book in 1810, enabling copies of the Brazilian edition to circulate once again in the Portuguese market.  In 1825, the poem was translated into French and published as Marilie – Chanta élegiaques de Gonzaga.  Translations into other languages followed, from Italian to Latin.  “One of the interesting things about this story is that no one knows who took the work out of Brazil, since Gonzaga was isolated in a distant country from which he would never return,” says Abreu.

Highly appreciated in Europe was literature on indigenous topics and works that would later be called “regionalist,” represented by Inocência (Innocence) by Visconde de Taunay (1843-1899), translated into several languages.  “The urban novels by José de Alencar (1829-1877) such as Senhora (Madam), set in the Court, were not translated, probably because Europeans thought they were already well known,” says Abreu.  “But his novels O Guarani, Ubirajara, and Iracema made Alencar our biggest success outside Brazil in the 19th century.”

“Contradicting the common impression that Brazil was culturally backward and had no readers, several families of booksellers came from abroad and set up their businesses here,” the researcher says.  Since the 18th century France had been exporting publishers to various parts of the world.  In the second half of that century, 14 of the 17 booksellers in Lisbon were French.  However, until the Portuguese royal family moved to Brazil (1808) every publication in Brazil had to be produced clandestinely.  Thereafter, publishers depended on the initiative or authorization by the Royal Press or, in some cases, use of its print shop on a rental basis.  However, in the Second Empire (1840-1889) publishers received direct help from Emperor Pedro II.  The first Frenchman to arrive in Brazil and go into the publishing and bookselling business was Paulo Martin Filho, whose father, Paul Martin, was in that business in Lisbon.  He became the most important bookseller in Rio de Janeiro in the early 19th century, but actually almost never got to Brazil: fearful of competition, the Portuguese Commercial Registry had tried to prevent authorities from issuing him a passport.

The most important foreign publisher/bookseller in Brazil was Baptiste Louis Garnier (1823-1893), whose brothers were publishers in Paris.  He arrived in Rio de Janeiro in 1844.  “He was the one responsible for setting the standard for Brazilian literature,” says Lúcia Granja, a professor of Brazilian literature and culture at the São José do Rio Preto campus of Unesp, responsible for coordinating the studies about booksellers and publishers within the international cooperation project.  “Garnier published the leading Brazilian authors of the time, fulfilling an important aspiration by the intellectuals of that era,” Granja observes.  It was the French publisher who converted Brazilian authors, Machado de Assis among them, into paid writers.  The bookseller also published the Jornal das Familias (Journal of the Families) printed in France, in which Brazilian intellectuals inveighed against the foreign presence in the country’s literature.  “He made money on translations from the French and published the Brazilians who boosted his reputation,” Granja says.  Garnier also published educational, religious, and specialized textbooks.  “Its output followed the European pattern, releasing every book in two editions at the same time, one cheap, the other lavish.”

Even before that intense circulation of books, magazines and newspapers were already experiencing vigorous and diversified acceptance.  “The press of the 19th century was internationalized at birth, with titles and models that repeated themselves,” says Tania de Luca.  “What was really new in that century was the incorporation of images,” a novelty that would be reflected in publications such as the Revista Ilustrada (Illustrated Review) founded in Rio de Janeiro by the Italian-Brazilian cartoonist Angelo Agostini, which circulated from 1876 to 1898.  It was predominately a periodical of satirical and playful humor: the editorial line defended the Republic and the abolition of slavery in a period when both campaigns were on the agenda.

In those days publications that debated political and philosophical ideas were common.  “Many magazines and newspapers selected and translated texts from other publications, and on a global scale,” Abreu says.  “Causes such as the formation of nation-states and the Republic were the subject of texts that had been translated, reprinted, and assimilated, forming a large community in harmony with the new developments of the era, including scientific novelties.”  The same would occur with magazines devoted to fashion and the female readership that also contained games and charades, as well as news from the world of entertainment.  Some fashion magazines published patterns for dresses designed in Europe and included suggestions for adapting them to the hot climate of the tropics.

A thread that certainly could not be neglected by the publishers and print shops was theater.  “At the time, the texts of plays were a literary genre that circulated in book form,” says Orna Messer Levin, a professor at the IEL-Unicamp, responsible for the theater part of the project.  Brochures, posters, librettos and other by-products of theatrical shows also earned money for publishers.  “Theater was tremendously important for European countries in the 19th century because it was a tool for national affirmation.  Italians published texts in their language but also French plays, and the Portuguese brought works to Brazil that had been translated from French.”

Tours in the Americas
Theatre companies took a businesslike and highly professional approach.  Agents traveled ahead of time to the destination countries to determine the suitability of the theaters for the shows that the companies would present.  To survive in the summer, a season when theaters in Europe were dark, the groups made tours that started in the north of Brazil, came down along the coast, arrived in Uruguay and Argentina, and often continued around the southern tip of the continent, arriving in western South America and later proceeding on to the United States.  In Brazil, they were the primary program for the capital’s elites—companies were getting subsidies from the imperial State until the 1860s.

A favorable review by critics or an extended engagement in Rio de Janeiro earned praise for the show in other countries, even in those where the company originated.  Divas from the European stage, such as the Italian Eleonora Duse and the French Sarah Bernhardt, came to perform in Brazil.  According to Levin, many artists, especially actresses, married and remained in Brazil.  The local theatre benefited from this active environment.  The 19th century was the era of great actors, like João Caetano dos Santos, and assimilations like “burlesque,” satirical-musical productions by Artur de Azevedo (1855-1908) seen as a “response” to the European operettas, an example of a sort of cultural cannibalism that occurred years before the term was coined by the modernists in 1922.

The transatlantic circulation of printed matter: the globalization of culture in the 19th Century (nº 2011/07342-9); Grant Mechanism Regular Research Grant– Thematic Project; Principal Investigator Márcia Azevedo de Abreu; Investment R$ 741,770.00.