Lins Do Rego, José (1901–1957)

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Lins Do Rego, José (1901–1957)

José Lins Do Rego (b. 3 June 1901; d. 12 September 1957), Brazilian writer. Author of numerous volumes of speeches, personal and travel memoirs, and children's literature, Lins do Rego is known principally as a novelist, most notably for the six volumes of the Sugarcane Cycle. Critics have traditionally included him in a group referred to as the Northeastern Generation of 1930, a half dozen novelists whose fiction came to dominate the Brazilian literary scene during the 1930s and 1940s. Indeed, he and another member of the group, Jorge Amado, took turns writing many of the best-sellers at the time, and both had a sufficiently high profile to merit the attentions, generally unfavorable, of the government of Getúlio Vargas. He was also affiliated with the Region-Tradition movement founded in 1926 by Brazilian sociologist Gilberto Freyre, at least in the sense that his novels seemed to be the most faithful to the tenets of the regionalist movement.

Lins do Rego was born into the rural aristocracy and thus had a unique insider's perspective on the society he depicted in his works. He was born on his grandfather's plantation in Paraíba, was raised by his maiden aunts after his mother's death when he was only eight months old, and attended both a boarding school and law school in Recife. Each of these episodes is the theme of one of the novels of the cycle. A common criticism of his work as a novelist, in fact, is that he was more of a memorialist than a creator, but this perceived shortcoming is an advantage from the perspective of social history, for his novels provide perhaps the most complete, and certainly the most readable, portrait of the rural Brazilian society of the period. Lins do Rego is regarded as one of the masters of the "sociological novel," a rather vague category referring to his portrayal of characters who are at once affecting and convincing.

Freyre's notion of regionalism, detailed in his Manifesto regionalista de 1926, grew out of his opposition to the modernists of Rio de Janeiro and São Paulo, whom he considered too citified, too cosmopolitan, and too European to qualify as spokesmen for a still essentially rural Brazil. Today the manifesto sounds almost quirky, with its praise for regional cuisine and such things as palm thatch roofing, but it was at the time as much at the center of intellectual debate as the political question of left versus right, a matter rendered nearly moot by the Vargas coup of 1930 and utterly so by the declaration of the Estado Novo in 1937.

The modernists became urbane vanguardists, and the regionalists of the Generation of 1930 defined themselves as chroniclers of that "other," more real Brazil with its mansions and shanties, a Brazil in which the heritage of a colonial past lay just beneath the surface. Regionalism versus modernism was at the center of intellectual ferment of the period, although in hindsight it is clear that both groups were attempting, by quite different avenues, to accomplish the same end—to create a literature that could be clearly identified as truly Brazilian. The unstated agenda, and the factor that made Lins do Rego such an important writer of the time, was that the regionalists were consciously writing social documents, a posture that whether intentional or not, made the creation of art a secondary part of the exercise. There is no doubt that the public preferred such artlessness, but it is a factor that inhibits such documents from translating well into subsequent decades. From a historical perspective, however, this unadorned memorialism has its positive value, because the appeal of these works at the time of their publication was based in large degree on the fact that the Brazilian reading public recognized the characters and scenes and stories, which meant that their fidelity to the realities of Brazilian society was the key to their success.

It is not clear why the Vargas government regarded such writing as a threat to its well-being, but perhaps the very accuracy of the social portrayals made the government edgy. There is also some suspicion that Lins do Rego's works were targeted simply as a matter of guilt by association, because he was associated in the minds of many with other members of the generation who were in fact also members of the illegal Communist Party and whose works often made these sympathies more than evident. But the clearest sentiment evident in his works themselves is probably nostalgia, hardly a subversive quality.

The Sugarcane Cycle is largely a chronological account of the life of Carlos de Melo, who, like Lins do Rego, is the scion of a wealthy planter family. The first novel, Menino de Engenho (1932), deals with the early years of the timid and lonely young man, and the second, Doidinho (1933), continues with his trials at boarding school. Bangüê (1934) chronicles the years spent in Recife in law school, and O Molegue Ricardo (1935) tells the similar story of the black childhood companion of Carlos, who moves to the city and becomes involved in a union movement. Usina (1936) recounts the death of Ricardo and the transformation of the Santa Rosa plantation from the old labor-intensive plantation system into a modern, mechanized (and dehumanized) factory.

The final novel, not originally included in the cycle by its author, is also universally regarded as his best—Fogo Morto (1943). This volume, a tripartite narrative centering on three very different people, contains not only the best-drawn characters but also the fullest insights into a society on the verge of decadent collapse. The first central character is a saddle maker who lives on the plantation of Seu Lula, the second character, a member of the hereditary aristocracy who is the central character of the second part of the novel. The final segment features the third character, a local eccentric and his manic and misdirected exploits. Although each character is from a different social stratum and each has his own foibles and strengths, the narrative is in essence the story of a social system in which the fabric seems to be unraveling, where all assumptions about outcomes are thwarted. Lins do Rego also wrote fiction about other uniquely Brazilian and mostly rural issues, such as messianic movements and banditry, but his best works remain those most closely drawn from his own experiences. It is certainly this latter body of work that assures his place as one of the most important Brazilian writers of the century.

See alsoLiterature: Brazil; Modernism, Brazil; Regionalism.


José Aderaldo Castelo, José Lins do Rego: Modernismo e regionalismo (1961).

Bobby J. Chamberlain, "José Lins do Rego," in Latin American Writers, vol. 2, edited by Carlos Solé and Maria Isabel Abreu (1989), pp. 909-913.

Eduardo F. Coutinho and Ângela Bezerra de Castro, José Lins do Rego (1990).

Fred P. Ellison, Brazil's New Novel: Four Northeastern Masters (1954), pp. 45-79.

Claude L. Hulet, Brazilian Literature, vol. 3 (1975), pp. 271-272.

Wilson Martins, The Modernist Idea (1975), pp. 285-288.

Fogo Morto Borzoi Anthology of Latin American Literature, vol. 1 translated by Susan Hertelendy (1977), pp. 446-458.

Álvaro Lins, Otto Maria Carpeaux, and Franklin Thompson, José Lins do Rego (1952).

João Pacheco, O mundo que José Lins do Rego Fingiu (1958).

Plantation Boy, translated by Emmi Baum (1966).

Pureza: A Brazilian Novel, translated by Lucie Marion (1948).

Additional Bibliography

Antunes, Fatima M. R. Ferreira. "Com brasileiro, não há quem possa!": Futebol e identidade nacional em José Lins do Rego, Mário Filho e Nelson Rodrigues. São Paulo: Editora UNESP, 2004.

Russotto, Márgara. Arcaísmo y modernidad en José Lins do Rego: Doidinho y la formación del narrador. Caracas: Fondo Editorial Tropikos, 1990.

Trigo, Luciano. Engenho e memória: O nordeste do açúcar na ficção de José Lins do Rego. Rio de Janeiro: Academia Brasileira de Letras: Topbooks, 2002.

                                        Jon S. Vincent