Stormy Isles—An Azorean Tale
Stormy Isles—An Azorean Tale
by Vitorino Nemésio
THE LITERARY WORK
A novel set in the Azores, Portugal (mainly in the city of Horta on the island of Faial), between 1917–19; published in Portuguese (as Mau Tempo no Canal) in 1944, in English in 1998.
On a small mid-Atlantic island, Margarida Clark Dulmo, member of a noble yet financially declining family, struggles with the secular fatalism of her culture as she anxiously attempts to overcome it.
Vitorino Nemésio was born in the Azores in 1901 in the town of Praia da Vitória, Terceira Island. While still in high school he spent a few years on a different island, Faial, an experience that would influence his future writing. He later attended the universities of Coimbra and Lisbon on the Portuguese mainland, and spent the better part of his teaching career at the University of Lisbon. The experience of immigrating to the mainland impacted him deeply, exerting a strong influence on his reflection about the Azorean islands, which soon became a constant subject in his conversations, lectures, and writings. Nearly every summer he would make the trip by boat back to the Azores so that he might vacation on his home island of Terceira. He wrote about the islands in short stories (in “Paço do Milhafre” , for example) and in poems (such as “Voyelle Promise,” first written in French in 1938). They became the subject of important articles by him too that reflect upon the concept of “azoreanness,” which means the Azorean worldview, or the Azorean way of life. Nemésio repeated often that for Azoreans, geography is just as important as history. His statement underlines the fact that the formation of the Azorean mentality was due in large part to the geographical location and the physical characteristics of the islands. Nemésio asserted that these were the factors, more than any others, that conditioned the development of a particular dimension of insularity, of isolation and of a kind of social strangulation in the middle of the Atlantic, which, although suffocating, was at the same time profoundly rich from a cultural standpoint. It is in this sociocultural and geographical context that Margarida Clark Dulmo’s story unfolds.
Vitorino Nemésio intended to write a novel that would not be bound to Margarida’s story; he purported to study a sort of underlying collective unconscious in Azorean culture as a distinct social reality forged over five centuries within the larger Portuguese cultural space, but significantly far from the mainland. It is therefore necessary to know something of the Azorean history to which he, both implicitly and explicitly, refers throughout the novel. The translator of Nemésio’s novel, Francisco Cota Fagundes, confirms this when he writes in the introduction of that work that “the history of the Azores as a whole constitutes the subject matter of Stormy Isles” (Cota Fagundes in Nemésio, Stormy Isles, p. xix).
Portugal’s discovery of the sea route to India took nearly 80 years. It was a cautious yet intrepid process of exploration, first of the Atlantic Ocean, then of the lands that surround it, then of its many islands. Soon after the discovery of the first islands, Madeira and Porto Santo, which together form an archipelago, there appeared to the west another archipelago—the nine Azorean islands, also discovered little by little over a few decades due to the great distances between them. The first of these nine islands appears to have been discovered between 1427 and 1432.
Very early, the Portuguese realized the importance of these islands. As they returned from their South Atlantic excursions, they discovered that the ocean currents and the trade winds would push their ships to the northwest, practically forcing them to call on the Azores. Since Terceira has a natural, safe harbor that is both large and deep, it immediately became the principal port where the Portuguese caravels would anchor. After a long voyage by way of the socalled rota do largo (the wide route), which took them far from the African coast, the sailors would inevitably require water, food, and, above all, fresh fruit, since they could only store salted foods in their holds—salting being the only available meat-preserving process that could withstand the torrid heat of the tropics. The sailors would refresh themselves and their supplies, then lift anchor and head from Terceira to Lisbon, which took another three weeks.
Such difficulties were anticipated by Henry the Navigator, leader of these maritime expeditions, when he commanded that the Azores be settled shortly after they were discovered. Since they were uninhabited islands and covered with thick vegetation, Henry sent animals (cattle, pigs, chickens, rabbits) so that they might become acclimatized and reproduce in a manner that would provide sustenance for the population that would be sent over a few years later. Almost all settlers came from the Portuguese mainland. It is difficult to ascertain what motivated them to move. It could not have been easy to convince people to leave terra firma (firm land, what the mainland was often called) and relocate to small, far-off lands seemingly lost somewhere in the middle of the ocean with little to offer besides frequent storms and, as the settlers would soon find out, volcanoes and earthquakes. (Because of their volcanic origins, the islands are at the center of periodic seismic activity. Volcanoes commonly erupt underwater and prolonged earthquakes wreak havoc on the islands, so the potential for tragedy coexists with spectacular natural beauty.) On the plus side, the settlement was set up according to a truly impressive plan that was altogether rational, orderly, and intended to help achieve Henry’s farreaching goals.
Among the first settlers on the archipelago were Flemish refugees, who had fled from the fighting that at the time had begun in Flanders (now part Belgium, part The Netherlands). The group established themselves on the westernmost of the Azorean islands, namely on the island of Faial, where there is still today a village called Vale dos Flamengos (Valley of the Flemish). It is difficult to know exactly how many settled there, but some historians estimate the number to have been about 2,000. The name of the main settlement on Faial, the city of Horta, is derived from its Flemish founder, Jos van Huertere. Many other names also derived from Flemish families are still part of Azorean onomastics and toponymy today, such as Dutra, Silveira, Brum, and Terra.
In the sixteenth century, Angra, positioned on the southern coast of Terceira along the famous route to India, became the greatest Atlantic port, a sort of way station. However, by the end of that century, Portugal lost its independence to Spain for 60 years (according to dynastical norms, Philip II of Spain, married to a daughter of the king of Portugal, had the rights to the Portuguese throne if the Portuguese monarch were to die without a direct heir). During the reign of Philip II (1580–98) and his successors, Angra continued to play an important role in linking Spanish America and Spain. Philip II ordered that a fortress be built in Angra, and the Azores became a center for control of the Atlantic. The islands proved especially instrumental in defense against the growing number of corsairs, or pirate ships, from northern Europe.
Aside from their function as a fortress of sorts, during the fifteenth and sixteenth centuries, the islands experienced a period of intense commercial and agricultural activity (their volcanic soil was highly fertile and proved well suited for growing fruits and grains). However, when this period ended, the Azorean population was left more or less abandoned in the middle of the Atlantic for a time. Greenland lay to the north, North America to the west, Europe to the east, and Antarctica (then known only as the Glacial Antarctic Ocean) to the south.
Discovered in 1500 by Portuguese explorer Pedro Álvares Cabral, Brazil failed to capture Portugal’s interest until many years later. But by the end of the seventeenth century, it had become the center of attention. The mining of gold in Minas Gerais and the production of sugarcane required a great deal of manual labor and attracted many adventurers. Portugal intensified its maritime traffic with Brazil, and the Azores returned to their natural function as a way station. Many Azoreans took advantage of the opportunity and immigrated to that immense colony of the Portuguese Empire.
From the end of the 1700s through the beginning of the 1800s, the whaling industry was developed in North America. Boats from New England ventured out to the South Atlantic Ocean and from there to the Pacific Ocean. Now the whalers found it necessary to use the Azores as a support base. Loaded with supplies, mail, and sometimes with the wives of the captains and crews, whaling ships would travel from Boston to Horta. The ships often needed additional manual labor and frequently recruited sailors among the local population. In his classic novel Moby-Dick, Herman Melville mentions these islanders:
No small number of these whaling seamen belong to the Azores, where the outward bound Nantucket whalers frequently touch to augment their crews from the hardy peasants of those rocky shores. … How it is, there is no telling, but Islanders seem to make the best whalemen.
(Melville, Moby-Dick, p. 108)
The islands gained such importance that it even became necessary to establish an American consulate in Horta.
The port of Horta soon became a mandatory port-of-call for ships of all types from America headed to Europe, whether manned by lone sailors or by large crews whose vessels were in need of repair. The city of Horta thus became a cosmopolitan center where many foreigners settled, especially Americans, English, and French. Later, at the turn of the twentieth century, the city played yet another international role. It became necessary to run the first telegraph wire from the United States to Europe through the Azores. Horta was the city chosen for that purpose. Western Union’s presence animated the little city on several fronts: economically, culturally, and socially. In the meantime its port continued to see daily increases in the number of ships that anchored there, significantly invigorating the local economy and facilitating the forming of a local bourgeoisie.
Early-twentieth-century Azorean society
At the end of World War I, the Azores were a conservative society with a population firmly divided into socially stratified classes. The elite, a small number of aristocrats and bourgeoisie, formed a closed social circle. The upper class owned land and tried to keep it in the family, mostly through intermarriage. Family interests prevailed over and above everything else. Even though the glorious past of tremendous wealth had somehow faded a bit, the family name (“the honor of the family”) and traditional lifestyle were still fervently maintained. According to tradition, no person of pedigree should have to work. Idleness was in fact a virtue. Parties centered around piano playing, and balls filled many an evening.
The middle class showed more heterogeneity, since it consisted of small landowners, merchants, public officers, and state employees. Very few of them had the chance to rise in the social scale, since it was already congested at the top. In Stormy Isles, the Garcia family tries to climb the social ladder. The novel shows the reactions they elicit from the defenders of the status quo, the wealthier Clark Dulmos.
All social classes were profoundly patriarchal. Upper- and middle-class women were supposed to stay home, keeping themselves entertained during the day and often entertaining guests in the evening. Having a professional career was taboo for a woman; that would mean that their husband was not wealthy enough to support her. The novel’s protagonist Margarida expresses this quite plainly. Under pressure to marry André Barreto in order to help her family recover financially, she explodes,
In a land where everything is inheritances and business, what can a girl be worth? It’s the dresses, the ball, the birthday, a festival that one attends.… If they don’t have anything to talk about, why not be a topic of conversation for them? … Much more than this is owed by a child to “her progenitors” (isn’t that what they call them?). Even more so if one is a “mere female.… The mere females are supposed to remain quietly at home, sitting on the floor by the window.” I have already received first Communion; I have had my Confirmation … we are approaching orange blossom season [wedding season].
(Nemésio, Stormy Isles, p. 157)
Margarida (Clark-Dulmo) is a well-to-do member of Horta society, born into a family that was the result of the union of descendents of the first settlers and nineteenth-century English merchants. At 20 years of age, she is pretty, vivacious, sharp, a model of feminine aspirations, and cream of the crop of her generation and circle of friends. She shows an awareness of her social status but also a willingness to forego some of the entitlements of her class and a rejection of certain conventions of her social milieu. Not sharing her family’s idolatry of family ancestors and its aversion to manual labor, Margarida makes regular contact with workers, something natural and easy for her. She also participates in sports that are normally reserved for men, like tennis, horseback riding, and sailing. Above all, she seems willing to defy family tradition by ignoring the discriminating preferences of her family in matchmaking. She is determined to be the one to choose her own future husband despite the fact that her family, though of noble lineage, is in serious economic decline and in need of the financial revitalization that their daughter might bring them through marriage.
Against her family’s wishes, Margarida begins a romantic relationship with João Garcia, a young middle-class man, a parvenu, or social climber, whom in the end she finds to be tepid. Although he studied law at Coimbra he is very attached to the social norms of his time, and possesses little initiative. He did not even display youthful zeal during his college years in Lisbon, far from his family and the social trappings of the island. Bereft of even one redeeming spark and incapable of adventurous overtures, João Garcia does not inspire any enthusiasm in Margarida. She finds nothing attractive about him; even the fact of being in favorable economic circumstances because he is the son of the rising bourgeoisie is lost on Margarida, for she has a romantic and “higher” vision of life. She is a young dreamer with a great desire for freedom and adventure, someone who cannot even define her own aspirations but who knows they go beyond the mere materialistic as well as the sociocultural conventionalisms espoused by her society and especially her family. The more she gets to know him, the more João Garcia impresses her as a man of very weak character, deprived of spontaneity, a man led by rational thinking rather than his heart.
In the little social tapestry in which these characters are woven, there are really no truly dramatic occurrences. The narrator introduces Margarida’s personality by way of various small incidents and the intricacies of her daily life, as well as her aversion to family norms and aspirations.
A DEEP RELIGIOSITY
As a people, isolated in the middle of the Atlantic Ocean, the Azoreans were subject to the furies of the elements and often powerless to receive aid from outsiders. As a result, solidarity and common sharing of possessions, as well as tribulations, became mainstays, if not essential components, of Azorean society. Also the Azoreans habitually turned to God for relief, developing through the centuries a religiousness that created deep roots in the society’s collective unconscious. The Festival of the Holy Ghost is the most widely celebrated on the islands. Though it probably originated on the Portuguese mainland, the festival developed during tragic moments of life on the archipelago, when the people, anxious to placate divine wrath, promised to hold yearly celebrations for the Holy Ghost. Stormy Isles devotes a chapter to the Holy Ghost Feast, capturing the continuing importance of the holiday not only to Azorean folk tradition but also to present-day life: “The Holy Ghost celebrations fill springtime with a fantastic excitement”. (Stormy Isles, p. 194). The celebration was a lower-class event; the upper classes never involved themselves in it. By taking interest in the feast, the novel’s Margarida signifies her desire to break with upper-class norms and mingle with the general population.
Little by little, the novel spins its tale, painting a picture of the suffocating atmosphere in which Margarida lives and in which a gossipy social system thrives. Jumping from one small incident to the next (with the exception of natural disasters, nothing really spectacular ever happens on the small island), the narrator slowly reveals the complexity of the novel’s characters. Perhaps this is why Francisco Cota Fagundes, the translator of this novel, affirms in his introduction that Vitorino Nemésio “is eminently a storyteller” and that the “title Stormy Isles: An Azorean Tale fails on one count: the novel is not a tale; it is a series of tales within a much larger tale, a seemingly endless Chinese-box-of-tales that go on being spun within a fictive world that might be described as a spawning ground for tellers of tales” (Cota Fagundes in Stormy Isles, p. xxv). Drawn from the novel are two examples of a seemingly endless set of possibilities:
“Margarida opened the book to a yellowed page with effaced print. It was a single issue of the Azorean Archives. It contained a series of documents, relative to the sixteenth century, on earthquakes and volcanic eruptions: an excerpt from Gaspar Frutuoso on the Vila Franca quake, the passage from Garcia de Resende’s Miscellany on the same catastrophe, and finally, the ‘Ballad Written on the Occasion of the Suffering and Damages Brought About by the 1522 Earthquake in Vila Franca do Campo”’ (Stormy Isles, pp. 334–35). The novel proceeds to feature a Margarida interested in reading that folk poem.
The other example comes from the chapter “An Embroidered Tablecloth,” which brings up a little-known Azorean connection in the life of Portuguese writer Almeida Garrett (see Travels in My Homeland , also in WLAIT 5: Spanish and Portuguese Literatures and Their Times). The niece of a priest brings sweet ring-bread and vintage Pico wine to two characters in the novel:
“‘Sweet-scented Pico,’ in the words of our great poet Almeida Garrett. Did you know that his father was from Fayal? [the Azorean island]” André showed a tepid interest in that historical note. “Well, he was.… And the poet, who was raised in Terceira, where he wrote some of his early poetry, actually preached a sermon at Santa Cruz Cathedral in Graciosa.”
(Stormy Isles, p. 280)
Margarida’s life unfolds within a closed circle that she attempts to break, albeit blindly, for she does not even know for certain what she is aiming for, only that her convictions differ from the “prospects” offered to her.
A second possible match for Margarida is one Roberto Clark, her half-uncle, since he was an illegitimate child, who lives in London. For Margarida’s father, Clark is a pleasing prospect due to what he would bring the family financially. Margarida feels torn about the matter: on the one hand, she detests her father’s pragmatism; on the other, the idea of going off to London, in other words, the prospect of finally leaving the island for good, tantalizes her, especially as she grows increasingly aware of her uncle’s appealing, sometimes even romantic personality, which elicits dreams from her and provides her with savory moments of freedom. The possibility of marrying him disappears, however, when Roberto dies.
Now in search of a different path, as the result of a wild yet unconscious impulse, Margarida embarks on an adventure that is somewhat daring for a woman of her time (and obviously symbolic in the author’s mind). She sets sail on a whaling ship that by chance brings her to the island of São Jorge. Different from Faial and Pico, where property was more evenly distributed and society exhibited a certain regard for equity, Sao Jorge was an almost feudal island on which the Baron of Urzelina owned the greater part of the land and wrought a kind of medieval submissiveness out of the island’s people.
The Azorean Archipelago is made up of nine islands which together total 868 square miles spread out over nearly a third of a meridian, and positioned nearly 800 miles off the coast of Portugal and 2,000 miles from the United States. Stormy Isles takes place on four islands of the central group, especially on Faial. There are episodes which take place on Pico, the island across from Faial, and on Sao Jorge, which is behind Pico. At the end of the novel there is one episode that occurs on the island of Terceira.
As the result of her adventure, Margarida finds herself once again caught in the web of insular society, a web from which it seems she cannot really ever escape. She develops an amorous relationship with a young man, André Barreto, the baron’s son, who displays a well-to-do, refined social behavior but lacks even a spark of adventurous spirit. At the end of the novel, the two get married. Their union is obviously not a joyous event for Margarida. After the death of her real love, her half-uncle Roberto, she succumbs to family pressures, apparently losing her drive to break free of the social web into which she was born. In the end, Margarida allows herself to be entangled by events, her mind wandering elsewhere, as if she does not live in this world anymore.
A woman’s life in “lost islands.”
The difficulty in summarizing the plot of this novel lies in the peculiar style of a narrator who prefers to construct a kind of “Azorean quilt” in which insular history and geography not only make up the background behind which Margarida’s individual history is played out, but at the same time form important strands in a complex web that molds and conditions the subconscious of the protagonist and other characters in Stormy Isles. The weight of the past and of these islands’ geographical conditions (as the novel insistently reminds us) are factors of fundamental importance for understanding the Azorean people, their horizons of possibilities and expectations, and their attitudes and the steps they take towards their future. Margarida is an island volcanic “geyser” with an intense and molten interior. However, at the peak of her eruption, she is not able to transcend the geographical and societal limits that surround her, no matter how high and far she attempts to do so.
Modern minds find it difficult to accept that an author like Nemésio, who had so much respect for women and defended their right for equality, would let his heroine be entangled in the web of a society that destroys such dreams. But her fate in the novel becomes subordinate to his higher purpose, that of capturing the world-view of 1920s Azorean society, where it was theoretically possible but scarcely plausible to go much further than Margarida does.
Mainland Portugal had suffered a big shake-up in 1910, when the Republicans managed to overthrow the monarchy. Significant changes began occurring in the country, but mostly in Lisbon, although some mid-size cities experienced upheavals. In the Azores, the geographical distance from these events and the isolation from the world at large allowed the old patriarchal society, under heavy influence of the Church, to prolong the status quo, particularly on a small island like Faial. This old order kept tenacious hold of the people, despite the presence of foreigners. As far as their morals were concerned, they remained just that—foreigners—people not to be imitated by the locals.
Sources and literary context
Well-informed critics on Nemésio’s biography believe that the author fictionalized in Stormy Isles a relationship between himself and the woman who appears to have been the love of his life. It all happened on his home island of Terceira. Taking advantage of his experience as a student in the city of Horta and of his knowledge of the cosmopolitan nature
THE TENTH ISLAND
Margarida is the direct descendent of a figure of almost mythic proportions: captain Fernão Dulmo who, according to tradition, discovered an island to the north of Terceira: the alleged tenth Azorean island. This island, which was never really discovered, plays an important symbolic role in Stormy Isles, representing something sought but never found. In popular Azorean myth, stories of the sudden appearance and disappearance of islands are very common. Fifteenth-century sailors sought Antillia, or the island of the Seven Cities, an island that appeared on old maps. Although this island was never found, in the search for it, others were discovered. Furthermore, underwater volcanic eruptions caused small islands to appear in the middle of the sea, though they did not last long. One of these islands, Sabrina, sank shortly after an English sailor planted the British flag on its soil.
The most recent of these volcanic islands appeared as the result of the Capelinhos volcano, just off the coast of Faial in 1957–58. This tenth island, then called “Espirito Santo” (Holy Ghost), ended up attaching itself to the land while part of it was submerged. Today all that is left of it is a peninsula attached to the island of Faial. The novel thus takes advantage of one more element of Azorean history, symbolically transforming it. Margarida never is able to find the freedom she so dearly desires, the island of happiness that occupies her dreams and that she so ardently seeks in her youth.
of that city as well, he thought it better to change his story from Angra to Horta, adapting it to an environment that was socioeconomically and culturally similar to his home. Horta provided him with a continual sensation of archipelago, given the proximity of the nearby islands of Pico, whose inhabitants Nemésio so admired for both their vigorous, adventurous whalers and their profound sense of dignity.
Various critics have pointed out the similarity in attributes between Margarida of Stormy Isles and her creator, a highly cultured and liberal man engaged in a quest for the freedom of the spirit. Vitorino Nemésio was an artist who, though he possessed a deep understanding of the literary tendencies and esthetics prevalent during his time, always felt like a fish out of the literary waters. Highly informed about not only literature (which was his area of specialty) but also about sciences, philosophy, ethnography, and history, he talked about everything when teaching his university classes. He showed an aversion to particular literary schools of thought, participating in literary circles as an outsider of sorts. His works resembled those of the Presença movement, which favored novels with a psychological bent. However, with the passage of time, Presença began to lose its readership due to the hegemony then exercised by another movement known in Portugal as Neo-realism, for all intents and purposes, a somewhat modified version of socialist realism.
Curiously, 30 years after the publication of Stormy Isles, Vitorino Nemésio had an affair with an aristocrat who, interestingly enough, was named Margarida and whose life was considered scandalous for the conservative environment of São Miguel island. Vitorino Nemésio collaborated with Margarida Victória in the writing of her autobiography. Ironically they were breaking through societal barriers at the time. Portugal had just ended a long dictatorship of nearly 50 years and the Azores were entering a new, more open phase of Portuguese history.
Azorean society between World Wars
As noted, Azorean society saw little change after the advent of the Republic. Mainland Portugal experienced 18 years of turmoil, but very little of this turmoil reached the islands, beyond a few, isolated incidents. In 1928 a conservative movement charted the course that Portugal would follow for the next few decades. Allied with the Catholic Church, it regained control of the country, imposed order, suppressed dissidents, and reinforced the power of the old socioeconomic groups. Even though divorce had been made legal after the Republican revolution and was revoked only in 1940, the Church had never allowed it. Since practically every marriage had taken place within the Church, the temporary liberalization was of little consequence. Also of little consequence was the right of some women to vote (gained in 1931, specifically by those women with university degrees or secondary schooling). Given the fact that Portugal had become a one-party dictatorship, elections were essentially meaningless in any case.
During World War II Portugal’s dictator António Salazar opted for neutrality, and the country did not enter the conflict. However, at the end of the war, shortly before Stormy Isles’s publication, Portugal ceded to the Allies a stretch of land in Lajes, on the isle of Terceira, a couple of miles from Nemésio’s home, for the construction of a military base, which remains today an important strategic location for the North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO).
The Azoreans had no say in the matter of building this base, nor in any other matter regarding their destiny. All attempts on the part of the islanders to gain some political control over themselves—there was a movement towards regional autonomy initiated at the end of the nineteenth century—were completely suppressed. Portugal maintained the Azores through the years as a quiet, tamed backyard of the mainland, a sort of Museum of Time and Tradition, until the revolutionary overthrow of Salazar’s dictatorship in 1974. Only after this pivotal event would significant social and political change transpire in the Azores.
When Nemésio published Stormy Isles, the Portuguese literary scene was already completely controlled by authors who were either sympathizers of leftist ideologies or directly or indirectly linked to the Communist Party (which in the Portuguese dictatorship of the day was, of course, clandestine). For some time the forefront of the Neo-realist movement had featured authors such as Alves Redol and Soeiro Pereira Gomes. A little before the publication of Stormy Isles, these authors were joined by Manuel da Fonseca, Fernando Namora, and Carlos de Oliveira. Therefore, when Vitorino Nemésio’s novel appeared, it was received by the Portuguese literary intelligentsia as something completely marginal vis-á-vis the dominant political preoccupations, especially since its story occurred on a remote Azorean island of which most of the mainland Portuguese hardly knew anything at the time. Further encouraging critics to dismiss the novel was the fact that it was focused on the problems of an aristocratic woman who, despite her ruptures with many inherited conventions, did not condemn the class to which she belonged. Rather, she revealed a bourgeois concern with individual freedom with no thought given to the social conditions of the poor in her society. It is obvious that such a work would not be acclaimed by the dominant critics of the day.
João Gaspar Simões, a highly respected critic at the time, was almost the only one to voice praise for this novel. But Simões was one of the contributors of Presença, which was slowly losing ground in the battle between the two above-mentioned Portuguese intellectual camps. Later, David Mourão-Ferreira, also a highly respected independent voice, became the novel’s great defender. Mourão-Ferreira slowly gained the support of a group of Nemésio’s admirers, which grew after the fall of the dictatorship and the Neo-realists’ loss of their ideological hegemony.
Extra-literary factors were paramount in Portuguese society’s receptiveness to the novel. A small but growing intellectual class had distanced itself from the Salazar regime by identifying with the strategies of the leftist forces. In such a context, personalities like Nemésio, a “political spectator,” as he is called by the critic Heraldo da Silva, could hardly avoid being marginalized by the dominating intelligentsia (Silva, p. 206). Moreover, the “women’s question,” not part of the left’s agenda, within a small insular society to which Portugal had not attributed much importance since the fifteenth-century discoveries, had small chance of attracting much attention, perhaps almost no chance without an advocate such as Nemésio, who spoke incessantly of the islands and of their culture, seeking to draw them to national attention by way of his novel and other writings.
—Onésimo T. Almeida
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