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Lusophone Paris

French publishers released hundreds of books in Portuguese in the French capital during the 19th century

Examples of Portuguese translations of books published in Paris: Machado de Assis, José de Alencar and other authors were also published in France

Reproduction / Google BooksExamples of Portuguese translations of books published in Paris: Machado de Assis, José de Alencar and other authors were also published in FranceReproduction / Google Books

In the early 19th century, the Lusophone world was in a spin. Under pressure from Napoleon, the House of Braganza retreated to the colony in 1808. In Brazil, opportunities for independence arose in 1822 and Portugal was plunged into internal disputes that dragged on into the 19th century. In the midst of this endlessly shifting scenario, a leading group of booksellers, publishers and authors found Paris to be a promising environment for publishing and circulating printed works in Portuguese. Major editions by Almeida Garrett, José de Alencar and Machado de Assis would come alive on the presses of the French capital—rather than Lisbon or Rio de Janeiro. “Paris had a major role in producing works in Portuguese,” says Paulo Motta Oliveira, an associate professor in the Department of Classical and Vernacular Languages at the University of São Paulo. Estimates indicate that, in the first half of the century, 519 titles in Portuguese were published in Paris. Among these were translations and unpublished writings, including 104 novels, according to a pioneering survey conducted by researcher Victor Ramos in the 1970s. Other studies indicate that some 300,000 copies of books in Portuguese were printed in Paris in the first half of the 19th century.

The volumes that have survived over the years can be found today in the National Library of France, where Paulo Motta has just completed his research. “They are poor-quality books that have survived only because their pages were still attached,” he notes. Some of this rich repertoire—the novels in Portuguese published in Paris between 1800 and 1900—was the subject of a study conducted as part of the project entitled Recovering a forgotten Portuguese nineteenth-century collection: novels published in France, funded by FAPESP.

Most of the publications issued in France were inexpensive printings, although in the early 1870s French publishing houses began to circulate higher-quality illustrated children’s books in Portuguese in hard-cover editions. The reading public most likely included Portuguese and Brazilian immigrants in Paris, many of whom had fled political turmoil, as well as readers in Portugal and Brazil, to where many of the titles were exported. A few rare copies can be found today in the National Library of Portugal and the National Library Foundation of Rio de Janeiro. “The fictional stories in Portuguese produced in France crossed the Atlantic and even managed to get to remote corners of Brazil,” writes Motta, who has identified 13 titles published in Paris in official records in the state of Goiás.

Isabel, or Os desterrados de Siberia

Reproduction / Google BooksIsabel, or Os desterrados de SiberiaReproduction / Google Books

Publishers, booksellers and authors
The market scenario in Paris consisted of a number of private entrepreneurs. According to Motta, some of the publishing initiatives were characterized by instability and an experimental bent. By 1829, the four publishing houses that dominated the market were Barrois, Bobée, J. Tastu and J. Smith, having published 16 novels, including Voltaire’s Zadig, or the Book of Fate translated by Filinto Elísio, a leading Portuguese writer, in addition to Montesquieu’s The Temple of Gnide and Rousseau’s The Whimsical Queen. In the following decade, these publishers ceased to operate in that market. “Perhaps they realized the market for novels in Portuguese wasn’t so promising after all,” Motta observes. In the 1840s, the contenders for the market were two large publishing houses, Pillet and Aillaud, which were responsible for most of the novels in Portuguese published in Paris until 1836. Aillaud was founded by Jean-Pierre Aillaud, one of Paris’ largest investors in the production of Lusophone works.

The Brazilian authors were published mainly through Baptiste-Louis Garnier, who set up a bookshop in Rio de Janeiro and published works by the country’s principal 19th-century writers such as Machado de Assis, Joaquim Manuel de Macedo and José de Alencar. The books were published in Rio but printed in Paris. Garnier’s relationship with Machado de Assis would last more than two decades, and the bookseller was responsible for the first editions of The Posthumous Memoirs of Brás Cubas (1881) and Quincas Borba (1891). Those books were printed in Paris but were not published there.

Guilherme Tell, or A Suissa libertada

Reproduction / Google BooksGuilherme Tell, or A Suissa libertadaReproduction / Google Books

“I have focused my research on the books in Portuguese published in France. They complement what was published in Portugal—and perhaps in Brazil. Up to the 1840s, there is clearly an attempt to publish the most diverse works, in many cases republishing translations that had already come out in Portugal or Rio,” the researcher says. In the 1840s, publishing begins to specialize. According to Motta, the authors most published in Portugal up to 1850—Alexandre Dumas and Eugênio Sue—are practically ignored by Parisian publishing houses. But seven books by Walter Scott, a major writer seldom translated until that time, were translated in Paris. “Everything seems to indicate that the publishers were trying to occupy niches not yet explored by Portuguese—and probably Brazilian—translations, with some hits and some misses,” he observes.

Although some of the publishing initiatives have failed to prosper and  are now limited to obscure editions, they held great importance throughout the 19th century, and they offer us a clearer understanding of the intricate network that produced and circulated novels in Portuguese during that period, when Paris played a secondary but important role. Paulo Motta continues his research in pursuit of a better understanding of the role played by each of the Parisian publishing houses and booksellers in the Lusophone literary landscape. He is also compiling a dictionary with entries on the books, authors, translators and publishing houses of the period, which is slated for publication in late 2015.

Rescuing a forgotten Portuguese nineteenth-century collection: novels published in France (No. 2012/20334-8); Grant mechanism Scholarships abroad – Regular; Principal investigator Paulo Motta Oliveira; Investment R$95,483.61 (FAPESP).