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In review, the cultural whirl of São Paulo

Study shows the relationship between the media and daily life in old São Paulo

In whirling São Paulo, the electric light took over the streets. Women shortened their hair and their skirts, the trams speeded life up. New night habits: the bar, the restaurant, the lit-up department stores. São Paulo at the beginning of the 20th century was living its belle époque , with a right to almost all the glamour of Paris. And there is more too: it was the city where a hitherto incipient industry in Brazil was developed: the editorial production of magazines.

In Revistas em Revista: Imprensa e Práticas Culturais em Tempos de República, São Paulo (1890-1922) [Magazines in review: Press and Cultural Practices in Republican Times, São Paulo (1890 – 1922)], historian Ana Luiza Martins presents an extensive documentary and iconographical survey about these publications, which amounted to over 200 titles between 1890 and 1922. The study, drawn up as a thesis for a doctorate defended at the Department of History of the University of São Paulo (USP), has just been published as a book, an illustrated and carefully prepared publication made, with the support of FAPESP, by Edusp and Imprensa Oficial (591 pages, R$ 50).

The book has a preface by bibliophile José Mindlin and has comments on the inside cover by historian Maria Luiza Tucci Carneiro. It based on documents from several archives, among which those of the Historical and Geographical Institute of São Paulo and of the Institute of Brazilian Studies at USP, as well as from private libraries, such as the library of José Mindlin himself. It includes analyses that make it possible to understand in what way these magazines helped towards the formation of a reading public, at the same time as, an unprecedented fact, they provided the drive for a new economic and marketing reality in the urban centers.

Belated press
“The magazines had a very important role in Brazil, at the turn of the 20th century, because of the very history of the press in the country”, Ana Luiza explains. “It was a belated press, if compared with the press existing in the Latin American countries colonized by Spain, which knew the printing press back in the 16th century”. The first official printing done on Brazilian soil only happened after the arrival of D. João VI in Rio de Janeiro in 1808, a fact that raised the city to be the capital of the Portuguese Empire. “Before the Empire, any activity that could result in the publication of a periodical would be submitted to extremely rigorous censorship, particularly in the time that the Inquisition was under way in the Colony”, she says.

A second curious moment of the national press was when, in spite of having arisen in Rio de Janeiro, it found in São Paulo the stage for its great development. “It arose tardily, but in a period of great and important changes”, observes Professor Maria Luiza Tucci. These transformations took place mainly in the territory of São Paulo, under the auspices of the coffee barons, who cultivated the red earth in the hinterland and placed their bets on the modernity of the capital city.

What, then, did these publications cover, which were responsible for the birth and growth of a real printing industry in what was then the land of drizzle? “A little bit of everything”, says Maria Luiza. The more popular ones includes the women’s magazines, those on sports, the religious ones, those that dealt with education, and – amazingly – magazines on farming. “It so happens that these publications arose at the beginning of the Republic, when the most progressive groups were fighting for better education – we cannot forget that the country had a slave-owning legacy and was therefore predominantly illiterate”, explains the researcher. The period was also marked by the strengthening of public schooling, with the foundation of, for example, the Caetano de Campos and Rodrigues Alves groups of schools.

“The magazines served to widen the reading public, and it was important to talk about subjects valued by the government, such as, for example, agriculture, in first place, and education, right afterwards”, the historian continued. Although they were segmented, they were not monothematic, so that it was possible, for example, to find literary pieces in a magazine that dealt with subjects connected with the land and to crops.

“A great example was the magazine Chácaras e Quintais (Farms and Yards), in which the writer Júlia Lopes de Almeida burgeoned, publishing her stories”, says Maria Luiza. “This kind of thing was a two-way street: at the same time that the author was winning her public, her work would help the magazine to find readers amongst the most different groups of society”, she explains. As there were not yet any publishers of books, many authors, and even literary movements came to be known, thanks to periodicals. Niterói , for example, the first known Brazilian magazine, printed in France, gave room for the dissemination of writers from the Romanticist movement.

São Paulo’s religious magazines also betted on a diversity of subjects to attract more readers. Correction: faithful. “They used to publicize art exhibitions. The first exhibition by Benedito Calixto in São Paulo was publicized by a magazine of the Church”, the researcher points out. Periodical publications were the way found by the ecclesiastics to compensate for the falling off in the power of the Church after this institution’s separation from the State, which occurred with the proclamation of the Republic. Then there was the sporting press that followed the fashions brought by the English. In those days, besides tennis, football, a popular event today, was also an exclusively elitist sport.

“Without a doubt, the women’s magazines were the most read ones”, says the author. Various reasons explain this popularity. “In those days, there were more literate women than men in the elite”, says Maria Luiza. “Furthermore, the women’s magazines could go into the home of a family, because even if they included, for example, stories or literary texts, they would never shock girls and ladies, which was something that often happened with the literary magazines”, she goes on. The period under study only goes up to 1922, precisely for that being the year in which Modernism affirmed itself and the modernist magazines showed ruptures of language and propositions, compared to their predecessors.

Graphic beauty
A look through the colored pages of Revistas em Revista allows the reader to delight in the graphic beauty of many of these publications (Sports, Correio Paulistano, A Estação, Vida Moderna). The titles show the creative effort for general affairs (A Rolha [The Cork], O Parafuso [The Screw], A Cigarra [The Cicada], A Farpa [The Barb], A Vespa [The Wasp], Arara [Macaw], O Queixoso [ The Plaintiff] – in opposition to the government, Caras Y Caretas [Faces and Grimaces]) and to talk of São Paulo in different manners (A Garoa , Ilustração Paulista, Correio Paulistano, Vida Paulista, Ilustração de S. Paulo, O Álbum Paulista).

The graphic and editorial efforts were accompanied by the development of advertising. “That was the period in which the idea of a magazine as a business arose. The ones that thrived were about consumption. Literary magazines were known for being short lived, hence the inclusion of literature in other kinds of publication”, says Maria Luiza. Any similarity with nowadays is not a mere coincidence.