[Diego Rivera: Day of the Dead (1924)]
Graham and the Historians
Robert Bontine Cunninghame Graham (1852-1936)
[Sir John Lavery, 1893]
History never repeats itself. The historians repeat each other. There is a wide difference.
– Oscar Wilde (Ellmann, 1987, p.102)
El hombre era alto y tan flaco que parecía siempre de perfil. Su piel era oscura, sus huesos prominentes y sus ojos ardían con fuego perpetuo. Calzaba sandalias de pastor y la tunica morada que le caía sobre el cuerpo recordaba el hábito de esos misioneros que, de cuando en cuando, visitaban los pueblos del sertón bautizando muchedumbres de niños y casando a las parejas amancebadas. Era imposible saber su edad, su procedencia, su historia, pero algo había en su facha tranquila, en sus costumbres frugales, en su imperturbable seriedad, aun antes de que diera consejos, atraía a las gentes. (Vargas Llosa, 1981, p.15)
[‘The man was tall and so thin he seemed to be always in profile. He was dark-skinned and raw-boned, and his eyes burned with perpetual fire. He wore shepherd’s sandals and the dark purple tunic draped over his body called to mind the cassocks of those missionaries who every so often visited the villages of the backlands, baptizing hordes of children and marrying men and women who were cohabiting. It was impossible to learn what his age, his background, his life story were, but there was something about his quiet manner, his frugal habits, his imperturbable gravity that attracted people even before he offered counsel.’ (Vargas Llosa, 1984, p.3)]
‘The man’ is Antonio Vicente Mendes Maciel – better known as Antonio Conselheiro (Anthony the Counsellor) – and the ‘backlands’ region in question is the Sertão in the arid North-east of Brazil. Compare, however, with this rather sympathetic description with the following passage from R. B. Cunninghame Graham’s biography of the same person A Brazilian Mystic (1920):
he was an unconscious Montanist, or perhaps a Carpocratian, preserved miraculously, just as a mammoth is occasionally found preserved in ice, in the Siberian wilds. Nature, it would appear, is indestructible, preserving prehistoric forms and follies intact for us to wonder at, to imitate and copy, and to perpetuate, so that no form of man’s ineptitude shall ever perish, or be rendered unavailable for fools to promulgate. (Cunninghame Graham, 1920, p.84)
He was, in other words, a mystic – with beliefs like some of the ‘Gnostic sects in Asia Minor in the first and second centuries’ (Cunninghame Graham, 1920, p.3). Sufficient cause therefore, apparently, for an eruption of Voltairean scorn on Graham’s part.
As if this were not enough, let us look at yet another reading of him – this time from Euclides da Cunha’s Os Sertões (1902), the standard account:
A species of great man gone wrong, Antonio Conselheiro in his sorrowing mysticism brought together all those errors and superstitions which go to form the coefficient of reduction of our nationality. (da Cunha, 1944, p.140)
Which, then, are we to accept? Antonio Conselheiro as the itinerant preacher whose ‘quiet manner ... attracted people even before he offered counsel’; as a mammoth frozen in ice, whose mere existence proves the indestructibility of every ‘form of man’s ineptitude’; or as a kind of quintessence of all the bad features of Brazilian nationality? From the point of view of this study, it will probably be found more profitable to leave aside the question of disinterested historical validity, and ask ourselves rather what we can learn about these three authors from the form of their remarks.
In her article ‘Santos and Cangaçeiros: Inscription without Discourse in Os Sertões and La guerra del fin del mundo’, Sara Castro-Klarén notes:
For the first time this master storyteller [Mario Vargas Llosa] is attempting to get a direct grip on the history of Latin America, and he finds that in order to write historical novels one must have a theory of history. (Castro-Klarén, 1986, p.382)
Her own argument hinges on the failure of either Euclides da Cunha or Vargas Llosa (let alone Cunninghame Graham, whom she mentions only in passing) to succeed in providing a field of discourse for the ‘mystic’ at the heart of the Canudos campaign, Antonio Conselheiro. In order to make sense of these and subsequent remarks, however, it will be necessary to provide some summary of the conflict in question – since even the most resolute historicizer is to some extent bound by the shape of the events he reports.
Antonio Conselheiro first began to attract attention in the late 1870s, when a traveller in the Sertão reported his influence thus:
Accompanied by a couple of women followers, he lives by reciting beads and litanies, by preaching, and by giving counsel to the multitudes that come to hear him when the local Church authorities permit it. Appealing to their religious sentiments, he draws them after him in throngs and moves them at his will. He gives evidence of being an intelligent man, but an uncultivated one. (da Cunha, 1944, p.130)
All that was known of him then was that he was the offspring of a family, the Maciels, which had been devastated by one of the Corsican-style vendettas endemic to the region; and that he had spent ten years in the wilderness after having the course of his life as a book-keeper disrupted by his wife’s adulteries (the immediate casue of his flight was the attack he made on one of her seducer’s cousins). The staples of backlands life – revenge and betrayal – thus surrounded his life ‘in the world’. Ever since his return, however, he had done nothing but good – travelling through the backlands (at first alone but later with a group of followers), repairing churches and cemeteries, and giving ‘counsels’ to the poor.
In 1893, in a small town called (rather appropriately) Bom Conselho, Antonio Conselheiro was shown some notices recently posted by municipal officials throughout the region. These notices concerned the collection of taxes, and the organisation of a census for this purpose. Giving voice to the suspicions of those who surrounded him, he at once declared that this was a plot on the part of the forces of the Republic (which had succeeded the Empire in 1889) to reintroduce slavery (abolished by Emperor Dom Pedro II in 1888) and begin the persecution of true believers throughout Brazil. He tore the notices down. ‘Then,’ (as Euclides da Cunha puts it) ‘realising the gravity of his offense, he left town, taking the Monte Santo Road, to the north’ (1944, p.142).
What da Cunha refers to as his ‘hegira’ (1944, p.142) came to an end when he reached the small settlement of Canudos and established there his own Civitas Dei, the ‘mud-walled Troy of the jagunços’ (1944, p.143). The Government in the South were too concerned with squashing dissension at home to notice events in the traditionally neglected North-east, so Canudos was quite a thriving town when it next attracted attention – in 1896, when the chief magistrate of the Joazeiro district telegraphed the Governor of Bahía, asking for protection against the jagunços, who were threatening to take revenge on a local merchant who had cheated them.
There were, all in all, four military expeditions against Canudos. The first consisted of 100 troops, and was routed before it even reached the town. The second was larger, 560 men, but it too was defeated in a series of battles in January 1897. The third comprised an entire regiment, under the command of the war hero Moreira Cesar, but he and most of his force were killed in a frontal assault on Canudos in March. The fourth and final expedition was in two columns, each of 2,000 men – nevertheless, it took them from June until September, with periodic heavy reinforcements, to capture the town. Da Cunha again summarises:
Canudos did not surrender. The only case of its kind in history, it held out to the last man. Conquered inch by inch, in the literal meaning of the words, it fell on October 5, toward dusk – when its last defenders fell, dying, every man of them. There were only four of them left: an old man, two other full-grown men, and a child, facing a furiously raging army of five thousand soldiers. (da Cunha, 1944, p. 475)
It is this defence which Samuel Putnam, in an interesting aside to his 1944 translation, compared to the ‘contemporary epic of Stalingrad’ (1944, p.v).
Antonio Conselheiro was already dead. He had collapsed and died of dysentery on September the 22nd. The victorious forces of the Republic tortured his closest disciple, ‘Pious Anthony’ (who had been captured a few days before) until he showed them the site of the grave. The corpse was first disinterred, then photographed, and finally decapitated so that it could be examined for signs of ‘crime and madness’ (da Cunha, 1944, p.476) by the phrenologists in the capital. Antonio Beatinho, like all the other male prisoners, had his throat slit on the spot.
The purpose of this chapter is to discuss three different ‘readings’ of the man, Antonio Conselheiro, and the war of which he was the effective cause. We have already seen something of the inevitable change of focus required simply by the historical circumstances of our three authors – not to mention their ‘theories of history’. All of them see Antonio Conselheiro as in some way exemplary – but of different things. For the Brazilian eye-witness da Cunha, he exemplifies the degeneracy and barbarism of his ‘uncivilised’ contemporaries (though he combines this with a certain admiration, not unlike Sarmiento’s attitude towards the gauchos). For Mario Vargas Llosa, he represents the challenge to reconstitute ‘La vision de los vencidos [que] es totalmente desconocida, en primer lugar porque no hubo entre ellos ningún testigo que llegase a escribirla’ [The vision of the conquered which goes entirely unrecognised, in the first place because there were no witnesses among them who were able to write it down], but also ‘porque lo que sobre todo se conoce objetivamente es la historia official’ [because all we tend to know for certain is the official version]. As for Cunninghame Graham, his position as an outsider ought to qualify him to see the event in wider terms – but in fact, paradoxically (as we shall see), it is the European who is most resolutely ‘South American’ in his interpretation.
This part of our study ought, therefore, to be a test-case for both the chronological and generic distinctions introduced in the last two chapters, On the one hand we have a ‘synchronic section’ focused on Cunninghame Graham’s book, published in 1920, which takes Euclides da Cunha’s account (1901) and Mario Vargas Llosa’s novel (1981) as the two poles of its ‘strategic location’.Its ‘strategic formation’ (‘how each work obeys the constraints of its particular [generic] function’, to quote from Chapter Two above), must consequently be defined before we can examine the particualr version of ‘South America’ which it provides.
I shall therefore close this first, expository section with another quotation from Cunninghame Graham which, when compared with da Cunha’s description, demonstrates the diverse ways in which one can interpret even so simple an event as the finding of a body:
His face was calm, his body almost mere skin and bones, worn out with fasting and with the death of his illusions, but his soul unconquerable.
... Some of the faithful had placed some withered flowers upon his breast. His body lay upon a ragged piece of matting, and both his eyes were full of sand. (Cunninghame Graham, 1920, pp. 233 & 238)
(a) Euclides da Cunha
Euclides da Cunha, the author of the first comprehensive account of the Canudos campaign, himself accompanied the fourth expedition as a reporter for the Estado de São Paulo. He was thirty years old at the time, and had already tried several careers – the army, journalism, and civil engineering – all of which contributed to the form of Os Sertões, which took him five years to write. As Putnam puts it:
From 1898 to 1902 he was engaged, simultaneously, in building a bridge and in writing his masterpiece, and the two were completed at one and the same time. Directing the work of construction by day, at night he labored on the curious, rough-hewn architecture of his prose. (da Cunha, 1944, p.xvii)
The nature of the book is perhaps best conveyed by saying that it is a combination of genres. As a working journalist, da Cunha was of course interested in giving his readers an action-packed but 'factual’ account of the events of the campaign – and this he provides in the eight chapters of Part II: 'The Rebellion'.
As a scientist (he had studied at both a Polytechnic and a Liberal Arts College, and was a trained engineer), he was interested in accounting for the causes of this rebellion from the ground (literally) up. In Part I of his book: 'The Backlands', he devotes 50 pages to an account of the geology, soil types, climate. and vegetation of the Sertão, and then goes on to anatomize its inhabitants in a further 120 pages. Beginning with general reflections on the race 'problem' (i.e. miscegenation) in Brazil. he goes on to describe the particular mixtures of races to be found in the Backlands (Negro and Indian producing the cafuso; Negro and White producing the mulatto; and Indian and White producing the curiboca, or mameluco – also used as a generic term for all people of mixed blood (da Cunha, 1944, p.52)). This leads him to speculate on the 'reflection of environment in history’ (da Cunha, 1944, p.62) – with reference to the first settlers in the area, the Portuguese, then the Jesuits, the Mulattoes, and finally their descendants, the jagunços. We are given an epitome of the culture of the Sertanejo, or Backlander – his prowess on horseback (even more impressive. because of the rougher conditions of the bush-clad Sertão, than that of Sarmiento's gauchos to the South), his ability as an improviser and bard, his sufferings in times of drought, and finally his religious extremism. Da Cunha concludes as follows:
The man of the backlands, as may be seen from the sketch we have given of him, more than any other, stands in a functional relation to the earth. He is a variable, dependent on the play of the elements. Out of a consciousness of his own weakness in warding off those elements is born the strong and constant impulse to fall back upon the miraculous, representing the inferior mental state of the backward individual who feels himself the ward of divinity. (da Cunha, 1944, p.112)
This quotation should be enough to give some flavour of da Cunha's scientific reductionism. The 'impulse to fall back on the miraculous' naturally must come from an 'inferior mental state' – how else is it to be accounted for in a world which is rapidly succumbing to the analytical force of nineteenth century Determinism? Da Cunha's racial theories, too, are offensive to a post-colonial reader (though they actually represent a softening of the extreme positions of savants such as Lombroso or Gumplowicz (da Cunha, 1944, pp.84-88)).
Other genres which intluenced da Cunha include the novel (the book has been described as 'a great document, which, though not a novel, reads like fiction' (da Cunha, 1944, p.v) – a somewhat disingenuous tribute), an aspect discernible in passages such as the Dostoyevskian analysis of the character of Colonel Moreira Cesar in the fifth chapter:
All the strange things that he had done in the course of his incoherent life were now seen to be warning symptoms, which could point to but one unmistakable diagnosis. (da Cunha, 1944, p.233)
Da Cunha had been a lyric poet in his youth, and this undoubtedly helped him in shaping the 'epic' of Os Sertões. As Samuel Putnam remarks, the experience of reading da Cunha 'is comparable in quality to that of the European of the last century listening for the first time to Walt Whitman's "barbaric yawp.''' The comparison', he goes on to say, 'is a particularly valid one on the side of form and style’ (da Cunha, 1944, p.viii). As a former lieutenant in the army, he also feels himself to be an authority on strategy and tactics, and does not hesitate to castigate the shortcomings of the senior officers who commanded the various expeditions.
Finally, da Cunha was a philosopher of some distinction, and in fact lectured on logic at the Pedro II Institute in the last year of his life (1909). This aspect can be noted not only in his lofty view of history and causality – the rather Schopenhauer-like tone of his caustic remarks about the 'vision' of the overall commander of the expedition, Marshall Bittencourt, who talked 'as if this world were one huge barracks and History merely a variation on a sergeant's records’ (da Cunha, 1944, p.395); but also in his ability to distance himself from the passions of the moment and see things from the perspective of his opponents:
what had they [the soldiers] achieved by ten months of fighting and one hundred days of incessant cannonading; of what profit to them those heaps of ruins ... that clutter of broken images, fallen altars, shattered saints – and all this beneath a bright and tranquil sky which seemingly was quite unconcerned with it all, as they pursued their flaming ideal of absolutely extinguishing a form of religious belief that was deeply rooted and which brought consolation to their fellow-beings? (da Cunha, 1944, p.464)
Given this multiplicity of personae, it is scarcely surprising to find so much of a contrast here to his earlier remarks on the 'inferior mental state of the backward individual who feels himself the ward of divinity'. He himself made the admission (replying to one of his critics) that 'in this mortal leap – 616 minus 70 equals 546 pages – one might expect to meet with a few seeming discrepancies’ (da Cunha, 1944, p.481); but the fact of the matter is that these 'seeming discrepancies' in his work – his wildly divergent attitudes to the army and the jagunços depending on which 'character' (scientist, soldier, poet or journalist) he is speaking in – are part and parcel of the method of composition he has chosen to adopt. That this choice was a deliberate one can be deduced both from his own remarks, and from the extraordinary care with which it is constructed – each section being told in the way which most closely echoes the events being recounted. There is a section of quoted diary at one point (pp.369-72), for instance, to give the impression of the 'alarums and excursions' which accompanied that whole period of the siege; and a lengthy passage (reminiscent of Crane's Red Badge of Courage (1895)) in the same chapter which chronicles the anabasis of the wounded soldiers from Canudos to Monte Santo.
Castro-Klarén has stated that:
Modernity in the nineteenth century in Latin America was synonymous with science. The ultimate model for the Latin American pensador and novelist was the scientist, and scientific (or pseudo-scientific) observation dominated the discourse of those subjects who [sic] pretended to knowledge. The arrogance of science, tempered after World War I, is transformed into the relativity of a human science and of this the favourite posture of the Latin American pensador becomes the anthropological stance. (Castro-Klarén, 1986, p.383)
Euclides da Cunha died too soon to experience World War I, but the Canudos campaign might be seen as an equally traumatic event in his life – even if not in those of his readers. His work, therefore, seems to be influenced equally by the 'scientific (or pseudo-scientific)' stance affected by nineteenth-century 'pensadors' and the 'anthropological' position characteristic of his successors. Seen as a 'novelistic' account, the narrative is too clogged with detail and intellectual excursuses. As a scientific treatise, it must be seen as flawed by the contradictions of tone and attitude which constitute much of its interest as a human document. If one were to seek one description that reconciles these eccentricities of form and content – and justifies da Cunha's quoting Taine's dictum about the honest narrator who wants to 'sentir en barbare, parmi les barbares, et, parmi les anciens, en ancien’ (1944, p.xxx) [feel like a barbarian among the barbarians, and an ancient among the ancients (my translation)] – one might do worse than an 'anthropological history’.
[Euclides da Cunha (1866-1909)]
(b) R. B. Cunninghame Graham
A short introduction to the man is still, perhaps, required. In Chesterton’s famous remark about him, ‘Nothing could prevent Balfour being Prime Minister or MacDonald being a Prime Minister, but Cunninghame Graham achieved the adventure of being Cunninghame Graham’ (Tschiffely, 1937, p.189). Even now, Robert Bontine Cunninghame Graham is a figure who inspires either enthusiasm or exasperation – never apathy. To an admirer who described him as a poet and a gaucho, he replied, ‘more gaucho than poet’ (Walker, 1978, p.4), and this was an essential part of his legend. As George Bernard Shaw put it, in the preface to his play based on Graham’s Moroccan adventures, Captain Brassbound’s Conversion (1900):
His tales of adventure have the true Cervantes touch of the man who has been there – so refreshingly different from the scenes imagined by bloody-minded clerks who escape from their servitude into literature ... He is, I understand, a Spanish hidalgo ... He is, I know, a Scottish laird. How he contrives to be the two things at the same time is no more intelligible to me than the fact that everything that has ever happened to him seems to have happened in Paraguay or Texas instead of in Spain or Scotland. (Watts & Davies, 1979, p.133)
At their best, his writings combine these two qualities of poet and man of action in a manner which contrives to illuminate both; unfortunately, this is by no means all of the time. He himself confessed, in the preface to the last collection of his sketches: ‘But still I might have finished all those sentences; not broken off to moralize right in the middle of the tale; split less infinitives, and remembered those rules of grammar that I have disregarded, as freely as a democratic leader tramps on the rights of the poor taxables who put him into power’ (Tschiffely, 1936, p.xvi) (thus repeating the very fault for which he is apologizing). A certain rationale for the interplay between the two roles has been suggested by his biographers, Cedric Watts and Laurence Davies:
The point that should be made is this: Robert’s South American exploits [in the 1870s and 1880s] stocked his brain with remembered situations and remembered sensations for the rest of his life. The memories stay relatively constant; what changes is their significance ... what comes through is sometimes the absurdity, sometimes the savagery, sometimes the boredom and discomfort of events (1979, p.32).
Cunninghame Graham’s opinions – whether on politics (radical); imperialism (anti-); or literature (he championed both Hudson and Conrad before it was fashionable to do so) – are, in short, always worth taking seriously, but they are not consistent either internally or chronologically. To some extent this is because the essence of his philosophy was to be free and unpredictable – but it had the unfortunate side-effect of allowing him to lapse into reactionary and even (occasionally) racist attitudes in his later writings.
The later Graham depends more on literary stock-responses; often, where formerly his religious scepticism had been prominent, there is now a recurrent indulgence in religiose reverie (Watts & Davies, 1979, p.282).
The truth of this statement by Watts and Davies can be illustrated by a simple comparison of the two passages from A Brazilian Mystic already quoted in Section I above. In the first, a certain ‘Voltairean scorn’ is apparent (as I noted at the time). In the second, a kind of sentimental transformation has taken place – the brutal scene of decapitation and disfigurement from Os Sertões has been replaced by what Watts and Davies, in their discussion of the book, call ‘Graham’s gentler, more elegiac and plangent version’ (1979, p.278). To examine the consequences of these mutually contradictory views of the same set of events, it will be necessary to go deeper into the genesis of this, in their judgement ‘certainly the best of Graham’s historical biographies’ (1979, p.275).
Graham had, as was mentioned above, travelled extensively in Brazil, Argentina, Mexico and the South-west of the United States, so it was quite natural that Theodore Roosevelt should write him the letter quoted in the preface to A Brazilian Mystic:
‘What you and Hudson have done for South America, many have done for our frontiersmen in Texas, Arizona, and New mexico. Others have written of the Mexican frontiersmen, and written well about them. No one, as far as I know,’ so he said, ‘has touched the subject of the frontiersmen of Brazil. Why don’t you do it? for you have been there, know them, and speak their lingo. The field is open to you.’ (Cunninghame Graham, 1920, p.vii).
Graham caps off this extract from the letter with an anecdote about his last visit to Brazil during the war, when he first found out about the story of Canudos, in order to justify choosing it as just such an illustration of the character of life in the backlands.
Cunninghame Graham’s declared intention as the historian of Antonio Conselheiro and Canudos – first, to interpret the character of the region to his own countrymen (hence his quoting the Trossachs ‘as an equivalent’ for Sertão, ‘for it is said to mean a broken land of hillocks’ (Barroso, 1924, p.6)); and, second, to include it in the generalized vendetta against human folly and self-deception (either the folly of ‘progress’, as in the sketch of that name, or the folly of fanaticism: the Counsellor and his followers) which he had been waging since he first entered politics as a radical M.P. in 1886 – is thus somewhat compromised from the first. Theodore Roosevelt was, after all, the very man who engineered the Panamanian ‘revolution’ of 1903, which brought about its independence from Colombia (and, incidentally, safeguarded American rights in the canal zone). As Joseph Conrad, then in the midst of planning Nostromo, wrote to Graham at the time, ‘à propos what do you think of the Yankee Conquistadores in Panama? Pretty, isn’t it?’ (Watts, 1969, p.149). Graham’s fiercely polemical stance (expressed in anti-imperialist sketches like ‘Niggers’ (1897)) had been somewhat softened by America’s intervention in the First World War – significantly, it was while buying horses for the British army in France that he first heard about Canudos – but one cannot help feeling that this confusion of stances has something to do with an ideological incoherence at the heart of the work itself.
Presumably the letter and the anecdote did indeed provide Graham’s motivation for undertaking the project, but they combine to give a false impression of the genesis of his book. Graham has compounded this by attempting throughout to imply that he is relying on a number of source books, rather than directly on Euclides da Cunha’s Os Sertões. Again, this is probably true as far as it goes – and Graham did have genuine experience of the region to draw on – but a close comparison of the two texts reveals again and again his dependence on the earlier book not simply for the historical details mentioned, but even for apparently ‘spontaneous’ opinions about Antonio Conselheiro’s kinship with the first century Gnostics, and the racial implications of the conflict. Graham’s history re-orders the material into a biography, rather than a history of the campaign, but the main result of this is merely to force him to pad out his actual information with many more-or-less irrelevant descriptive passages.
This (deliberately veiled) dependence on da Cunha also has unfortunate consequences for the book’s ideological tone. If he had written it before the war – at the time of ‘Progress’ (1905), for example – one omight have expected him to be far less willing to the scientific fatalism propounded by Os Sertões. In this early work he expresses sympathy (or, at any rate, contempot for their adversaries) with the illiterate villagers of Tomochic, victims of a similar siege, from a ‘free-thinking’ but essentially humanist standpoint:
It seemed like insolence, in men without a uniform, without an officer who had gone through a military school, and ignorant of tactics as they were, to keep in check a force three times as numerous as their own, all duly uniformed, and officered by men who had commissions stamped and signed by the chief magistrate of Mexico.
… Shame, patriotism, duty, or what not spurred the general to declare that the town must be taken by assault. He might as well have waited until thirst and hunger did their work; but, not unnaturally, a solider thinks his first duty is to fight, and in this case a red flag fluttering at the top of a tall pine stung him to fury, for nothing moves a reasonable man so much as a new flag. (Walker, 1986, p.81)
In keeping with the ‘stock-responses’ already mentioned as a characteristic of his later writing, a certain amount of lip-service is paid to this attitude even in A Brazilian Mystic:
‘our Brazilian mothers,’ our ‘great and glorious land,’ and freedom, themes which with little variation re-occur in every speech in South America, brought forth the usual cheers … All this [‘reign of progress and peace’], of course, as is the case in all such speeches and on such occasions, was to be brought about by blood, for blood is the baptismal water by which peace is ensured. (Cunninghame Graham, 1920, p.157)
The onus of his sympathy has, however, ceased to be wholly with the beleaguered villagers, whom he describes as ‘misguided sectaries’, and as a ‘pack of wolves’ face to face with ‘a submarine, charged with torpedoes and with mines’ (Cunninghame Graham, 1920, pp.173 & 205).
One passage which illustrates very clearly the complicated processes at work in Cunninghame Graham’s writing at this time runs as follows:
In the days of Antonio Conselheiro, the challenge of the Semitico-Asiatic hordes had not been sounded, and the security of life and property, with European marriage, all seemed as firmly rooted as the foundations of the world. (Cunninghame Graham, 1920, 175)
What at the time of ‘Niggers’ – with its Swiftian explanation that ‘Niggers who have no cannons have no rights. Their land is ours, their cattle and their fields, their houses ours; their arms, their poor utensils, and everything they have; their women, too, are ours to use as concubines, to beat, exchange, to barter off for gunpowder or gin, ours to infect with syphilis, leave with child, outrage, torment, and make by contact with the vilest of our vile, more vile than beasts’ (Watts & Davies, 1979, p.163) – would have ben purely ironic, is still faintly ironic. The ‘Semitico-Asiatic hordes’ can no longer be taken simply as a bogey-man threatening the Established Order, as in ‘the days of Antonio Conselheiro’ – an age of innocence. Now, when Graham repeats Euclides da Cunha’s table of the various cross-breeds encountered in the Sertão, he is careful to specify that ‘The Cafuz, known in the Spanish republics as the Zambo [’the result of interbreeding between the negro and the Indian’] is the lowest of the three types’ (1920, pp.11-12), and concludes magisterially that the Sertanejo’s ‘tinge of negro blood ... may perchance have given him whatever qualities the African can claim’ (p.17).
To conclude, then, the mixture of roles and qualities which we employed to characterize da Cunha’s writing have their parallel in a certain duplicity at the heart of Graham’s project. His preface makes it clear that he wishes to provide an accurate account of the Backlands, based on his own experience and reading – but the experience is fifty years out of date, and the reading consists (for all intents and purposes) of one book, Os Sertões. What in da Cunha is the logical conclusion of certain Determinist theories pushed to their breaking point becomes even more questionable in Cunninghame Graham as a result of this undeclared dependence. One thus finds passages like the ones in ‘Progress’, quoted above, associated with others expressing the purest reaction. The only unifying factor is, in fact, fatalism – or rather, ‘the great book of human folly which so many take for fate’ (1920, p.191), in Cunninghame Graham’s own words.
A Brazilian Mystic, then, is another generic hybrid – lke Darwin’s Journal of Researches. Its ‘theory of history’ – the juxtaposition of events very far in the past (the Canudos campaign itself, as well as Graham’s own travels in the region twenty years before that) with an up-to-the-minute dramatised commentary – means that it adheres neither to the anthropological perspective of Os Sertões nor the fictional subversiveness of La guerra del fin del mundo. There is a certain vividness in Graham’s evocations of the Backlands life known by him in the past – this description of a tyical house, for example: “Two or three negro slaves and a dozen yellow dogs were certain to be lounging near the front door, or just outside the fence. To complete the Oriental air, you might have stayed a week within the house and never seen the women (Cunninghame Graham, 1920, p.51) – but his attempts to ‘novelise’ the conflict itself end up sounding forced, like Shaw’s ‘scenes imagined by bloody-minded clerks’. This, for example, as a description of the first all-out assault on Canudos:
It was the moment for a man of spirit to curse a little, to pray a little, to talk of honour and of home, of sweethearts and of wives; to strike some, half in anger, half playfully with the flat of his sword, to encourage falterers with a brave word, to curb the headstrong, and by example, bring back courage into their hearts and order to the ranks. (Cunninghame Graham, 1920, p.186)
‘If only I’d been there’ is an unfortunate subtext to glimpse in the history of such a campaign.
In short, then, the essence of Graham's literary method, as described by Watts and Davies above ('The memories stay relatively constant; what changes is their significance'), is severely compromised in this case by 1/ his dependence on an already strongly ideologized 'history' of the campaign; and 2/ his lack of any other relevant first-hand information. The fact that Graham's own 'histories' are by no means representative of the ideals of the form ('too dependent on documentary source-material ... to be popularizations, yet too selective and quirky to be scholarly studies (Watts & Davies, 1979, p.206)), does not, however, disqualify them for our purposes. On the contrary, isolating the version of 'South America' presented by a work such as A Brazilian Mystic is made more specific by its individuality of genre as well as treatment.
[Mario Vargas Llosa (1936- )]
(c) Mario Vargas Llosa
Rather than attempting to define the last of our authors – the novelist Mario Vargas Llosa – in the same way as the first two, I have decided to look at a single representative datum or piece of evidence mentioned in all three accounts, and to compare the diverse significances they elicit from it.
Euclides da Cunha states that Antonio Conselheiro 'predicted the following misfortunes for various successive years':
In 1896 a thousand flocks shall run from the seacoast to the backlands; and then the backlands will turn into seacoast and the seacoast into backlands.
In 1897 there will be much pasturage and few trails, and one shepherd and one flock only.
In 1898 there will be many hats and few heads.
In 1899 the waters shall turn to blood, and the planet shall appear in the east with the sun's ray, the bough shall find itself on the earth, and the earth some place shall find itself in heaven.
There shall be a great rain of stars, and that will be the end of the world. In 1900 the lights shall be put out. God says in the Gospel: I have a flock which is out of this sheepfold, and the flock .must be united that there may be one shepherd and one flock only! (da Cunha, 1944, p.135)
This prophecy, striking enough in itself, was found (according to da Cunha) 'written down in numerous small notebooks ... in Canudos'. He goes on to compare it with the 'extravagant millenarianism' of the followers of Montanus and to supplement it with various 'mad ravings … of the racial messiah':
when nation falls out with nation, Brazil with Brazil, England with England, Prussia with Prussia, then shall Dom Sebastião with all his army arise from the waves of the sea. (da Cunha, 1944, p.136)
Let us see, by contrast, what Cunninghame Graham makes of the prophecy, For a start, he edits it quite severely:
'In 1896,' he said, 'a multitude shall come up from the shore to the Sertão. The Sertão shall then become a sea-beach and the shore become Sertão,. In 1898 there shall be many hats and a great scarcity of heads. In 1899 the waters shall be all changed to blood and a planet shall appear in the East ... a great fall of stars shall bring about the destruction of the world. In 1900 all lights shall be extinguished. God says in his Holy Gospel "I will have but one field and one shepherd ... for I have but a single flock."’ (Cunninghame Graham, 1920, pp.85-86) [all ellipses in the original]
Minor differences of wording between the two quotations can be explained by the fact that Graham is following the Portuguese original – thus his 'Sertão' instead of 'backlands' – but the sense remains much the same. Samuel Putnam, the translator, comments in a footnote that 'it is obvious that the preacher is at times inspired by the mere sound of words (echolalia)’ (da Cunha, 1944, p.135) – and gives an example from the Portuguese to confirm this ('muito pasto e pouco rasto'). It is presumably this that Graham is trying to echo with the consonances and assonances of 'The Sertão shall then become a sea-beach and the shore become Sertão'. The pseudo-Biblical resonance of 'there shall be many hats and a great scarcity of heads' is also rather more powerful than Putnam's 'there will be many hats and few heads'.
The main points to be made about Graham's use of this quotation are, then: 1/ its immediate context; and 2/ the artful way in which it has been compressed from da Cunha's original. Let us take the second of these first. He has, of course, left out a good deal of his prototype – the 'shepherd' and his flocks have become simply 'a multitude', and the entry for 1897 has been suppressed altogether (thus taking away a little of the Psalm-like parallelism of the original). The way it is printed, however – in a single paragraph instead of as a series of entries from an almanac – makes it seem more consciously literary. The original is, one must admit, rather confused and self-contradictory (the lights go out after the world has been destroyed), leading one to suppose that it is supposed to be read as a few ramblings extracted from a larger body of doctrine. Graham's version makes the contradictions seem intentional. Light, after all, is the first thing to be created in Genesis; why should it not be the last to be destroyed? Whether or not he is bringing out some feature that da Cunha has suppressed is difficult to ascertain –
but one has to admit that the overall effect of their versions is different.
As far as the context is concerned, it is apparent that Graham regards Antonio Conselheiro as more interesting in his own right than da Cunha does. In Os Sertões, the prophecy comes as the highlight of the section entitled 'Antonio Conselheiro, Striking Example of Atavism' – that is, as part of a case-study, intended to illustrate larger points about the 'degeneration' of the races in the backlands. Only enough detail is provided to allow us to assess the 'representativeness' of this example of religious fervour gone wrong. In A Brazilian Mystic, on the other hand, the very structure of Graham's book – a biography of Antonio Conselheiro – makes the 'mystic' into a more considerable figure. He is, to be sure, representative of various regressive types of mysticism (as in the passage quoted at the beginning of this chapter), but that does not prevent him from being an interesting man. The prophecy, therefore, is intended to have a literary effect as a composition in Graham – whereas in da Cunha it is seen simply as proof of the 'absurd conceptions preached by this apostle’ (da Cunha, 1944, p.135).
Graham, despite himself, cannot help admiring the jagunços:
When all is said, it is impossible not to sympathise to some extent with the misguided sectaries, for all they wanted was to live the life they had been accustomed to, and sing their litanies. (Cunninghame Graham, 1920, p.173)
Similar statements of regret at the pointlessness of the slaughter in da Cunha have a significantly different effect, as his primary concern is to present the campaign as a scientific object lesson. It may be for this reason that Graham allows himself to 'tidy up' the prophecy. He has no interest in emphasizing the deluded nature of Antonio Conselheiro's thought processes (though he does follow da Cunha's diagnosis); his concern being rather to present us with a striking piece of free verse – to please as well as instruct.
Finally, let us look at yet another employment of this prophecy, in Vargas Llosa's La guerra del fin del mundo:
Alguna vez alguien – pero rara vez porque su seriedad, su voz cavernosa o su sabiduría los intimidaba – lo interrumpía para despejar una duda. ¿Terminaría el siglo? ¿Llegaría el mundo a 1900? Él contestaba sin mirar, con una seguridad tranquila y, a menudo, con enigmas. En 1900 se apagarían las luces y lloverían estrellas. Pero, antes, ocurrirían hechos extraordinarios … En 1896 un millar de rebaños correrían de la playa hacia el sertón y el mar se volvería sertón y el sertón mar. En 1897 el desierto se cubriría de pasto, pastores y rebaños se mezclarían y a partir de entonces habría un solo rebaño y un solo pastor. En 1898 aumentarían los sombreros y disminuirían las cabezas y en 1899 los rios se tornarían rojos y un planeta nuevo cruzaría el espacio. (Vargas Llosa, 1981, p. 17)
['Occasionally someone interrupted him – though this occurred rarely, since his gravity, his cavernous voice, or his wisdom intimidated them – in order to dispel a doubt. Was the world about to end? Would it last till 1900? He would answer immediately, with no need to reflect, with quiet assurance. and very often with enigmatic prophecies. In 1900 the sources of light would be extinguished and stars would rain down. But, before that, extraordinary things would happen … In 1896 countless flocks would flee inland from the seacoast and the sea would turn into the backlands and the backlands turn into the sea. In 1897 the desert would be covered with grass, shepherds and flocks would intermingle, and from that date on there would be but a single flock and a single shepherd. In 1898 hats would increase in size and heads grow smaller, and in 1899 the rivers would turn red and a new planet would circle through space.’ (Vargas Llosa, 1984, p.5)]
If Graham compressed and edited the prophecy he read in da Cunha for rhetorical effect, in order to exploit its biblical resonances, Mario Vargas LIosa has preserved its oddities and merely tidied a few loose ends. The prophecy for 1897, for example (omitted altogether in Graham) has here acquired the middle stage 'pastores y rebaños se mezclarían' [shepherds and flocks would intermingle] in order to get from da Cunha's 'much pasturage and few trails' to his 'one shepherd and one flock only'. Vargas LIosa has, it is true, left off the rather incoherent ending of the prophecy for 1899 (which one feels da Cunha sees as sure proof of 'degeneracy'): 'the bough shall find itself on the earth, and the earth some place shall find itself in heaven'. Even here, however, he cannot be faulted for faithfulness, as the fact that he has broken the prophecy up into two parts – with the predictions for 1900 off by themselves – means that this passage would have come in between the two. It could therefore be described as 'unreported' rather than simply left out.
There are other cunning tricks of tone in this passage which one would like to look at in detail, but I shall confine myself here to specifying two. The first is the way in which the passage is intercut with views of the reverence and awe displayed by 'the Counselor's' audience: 'su seriedad, su voz cavernosa o su sabiduría los intimidaba' [his gravity, his cavernous voice, or his wisdom intimidated them]. Or (the sentence I left out in quoting the passage):
Un silencio seguía a su voz, en el que se oía crepitar las fogatas y el bordoneo de los insectos que les llamas devoraban, mientras los lugareños, conteniendo la respiración, esforzaban de antemano la memoria para recordar el futuro. (Vargas Llosa, 1981, p.17)
['A silence ensued after he had spoken, in which the crackling of open fires could be heard, and the buzzing of insects that the flames devoured, as the villagers, holding their breath, strained their memories before the fact in order to be certain to remember the future.' (Vargas Llosa, 1981, p.5)]
By an adroit use of third person narration, Vargas Llosa has put us here in the position of the listening villagers – as far beneath, and as puzzled by this enigmatic figure as they are. Da Cunha and Graham have to patronize Antonio Conselheiro in order to speak of him favourably, but here we are reminded that a more appropriate stance for us would be to look up, 'conteniendo la respiración'. Vargas Llosa does this, what is more, without tempering the tone of the prophet's message. True, he contextualizes it – making it a response to someone's question, thus making the Counselor seem a more impressive intellectual presence – but this is surely much less of a liberty to take than some of Graham's stylistic devices – such as the lengthy 'reconstruction' of a typical pilgrim's journey to Canudos, or his account of what would be 'certain' to be found in a representative backlands house (Cunninghame Graham, 1920, pp.216-18 & 50-51).
The second point I should like to make about this passage is based on a line in Helen Lane's English translation, from which I have quoted in my footnotes. Vargas Llosa, following da Cunha's 'In 1898 there will be many hats and few heads', writes 'En 1898 aumentarían los sombreros y disminuirían las cabezas', Lane translates this as 'hats would increase in size and heads grow smaller'. Obviously this is a misunderstanding of the phrase, which means that a lot of people would have lost their heads (= lives) by 1898 (rather an accurate prediction, in retrospect). The significant thing about it, though, is that the Spanish could be understood either way. It is only because we have other textual analogues that it can be stated authoritatively that Lane's version is incorrect. What is more, the fact that Lane could translate it in this way implies that this prophecy could be taken (in Vargas Llosa's version) as being at least partly nonsensical – there is, after all, no immediate significance to the statement that hats will get bigger and heads smaller. So, in a sense, Vargas Llosa has succeeded in literally preserving the 'enigmatic’ [Lanes’s translation of ‘con enigmas’] quality of the original statements – both as recorded in da Cunha, and as they (presumably) were in reality – curious words, susceptible both to misinterpretation and faulty transmission.
Vargas Llosa's imposition of the form of an historical novel on his material, then, can be seen to be an asset rather than a drawback to his mirroring of events as they may have been. Far from imposing his own viewpoint upon them (the traditional role of the writer of fiction), his version can be seen to preserve more of the ambiguity of this particular text than the doctrinaire historicism of da Cunha, or the 'common sense' of Cunninghame Graham.
I quoted above Castro-Klarén's statement that 'to write historical novels one must have a theory of history', but she seems to feel that the failure fully to 'articulate' the speech of Antonio Conselheiro is a feature of all three of our texts. This discussion of the different 'versions' of the same prophetic text contained in Os Sertões, A Brazilian Mystic, and La guerra del fin del mundo, should give some support to my conviction that she is wrong – at any rate, in the case of Vargas Llosa. The reason why the prophecy comes so early in his book is, I suspect, primarily structural: the book is called 'The War of the End of the World', and he therefore wants to introduce as soon as possible the sense in which he means that title – not as a fanciful novel about the Apocalypse, but a novel set at a particular moment in the past. He therefore has one of his villagers ask the Counselor (as yet unnamed) '¿Terminaria el siglo?' [Was the world about to end?]. The form of the reply tells us all he wants us, at this moment, to know – the era we are concerned with (the late nineteenth century); the sort of people the story concerns (vaqueros [cowboys] and peones [peasants]); and, since everything before this point has been 'timeless', the survival of such wandering preachers (more appropriate to first-century Galilee, where one might, at first, imagine oneself to be) into such an era in the backlands of Brazil. He has, in other words, made in a few paragraphs most of the points that took da Cunha 120 and Graham 50 pages: the 'atavistic' resemblance to first century mystics, the ambiguity (yet power) of his prophetic utterances, and the susceptibility of the people of the back lands to an Apocalyptic sense of doom.
The point I am making is not that the historical novel is better suited to such subjects than da Cunha's history-cum-treatise or Graham's 'padded' biography (Errol Lincoln Uys' disappointing vignette of the Canudos campaign in his recent novel Brazil (1986) is sufficient disproof of that) – but simply that, since the historian of such events is forced to shape his narrative according to his or her prejudices and the information at his or her disposal, the fatal disingenuousness implied by Graham's references to his 'many sources' or da Cunha's pretence of 'Scientific' objectivity in fact detracts from the accuracy of the picture they present. A novelist like Vargas Llosa may therefore, paradoxically, attain a greater precision as a reporter and chronicler of events simply because his cards are laid on the table to start with. 'The truest poetry', once again, 'is the most feigning’ [As You Like It, III, 3, 16-17] (Shakespeare, 1986, p.722).
[Flávio de Barros: Guerra de Canudos (1897)]
Conclusion – Ideas of South America
Having examined the implications of some of the textualizing strategies adopted by our three historians of Canudos, it remains to discuss the 'South American' nature of the campaign itself – why (to return to the quotation at the beginning of the chapter) it, or the errors it exemplified, were regarded by da Cunha as 'the coefficient of reduction of our nationality'. In order to do this, I will be concentrating principally on the 'sense of an ending' provided by each of the authors in question.
Let us begin, then, with Euclides da Cunha. After a laconic account of Canudos' failure to surrender (quoted above), he goes on to describe the disinterring of the 'Counselor's Corpse', and ends with 'Two Lines':
The trouble is that we do not have today a Maudsley for acts of madness and crimes on the part of nations ... (da Cunha, 1944, p.476)
The reference to 'Maudsley' is to a celebrated phrenologist (1944, p.120), recalled here because Antonio Conselheiro's skull was said to have 'Standing out in bold relief ... the essential lines of crime and madness’ (1944, p.476). It is rather an odd note to leave us on. The reference is obscure (having to be footnoted by its own author), and the significance a little doubtful. Does he mean that his work is to be this 'Maudsley'? Or that such a gauge is impossible and not even to be thought of? The bitterness of his tone would seem to imply that he regards the findings of these 'skull-readers' as contemptible pseudo-science – but he nowhere actually informs us of his attitude towards phrenology (held in high esteem in Brazil long after it had been abandoned by the rest of the world). It is. in any case, a fatalistic and disillusioned – almost, one might say, exhausted conclusion.
Cunninghame Graham, on the other hand, ends with an extraordinary evocation of the after-lives of some of the combatants:
some of them possibly still are living ['in the impenetrable forests'l, waiting for the millennium and for the prophet's second coming upon earth. Let them live on, and watch the humming-birds as they hang poised above the flowers, the lizards basking in the sun, listen to the mysterious noises that at night in the tropics rise from the woods, inhale the scent of the dank vegetation, and till their crops of mandioca and of maize. That is the true millennium, did they but know it, and each man makes or mars it for himself, as long as health gives him the power to drink it in, and to enjoy. (Cunninghame Graham, 1920, pp.234-35)
The actual last lines of Graham's account are in the passage quoted above, describing the 'withered flowers' found on the prophet's breast – but the tone of his conclusion is represented better here, One cannot help feeling that this set-piece nature description is a rather inadequate post-mortem on the lives of Antonio Conselheiro and his followers. Graham's evident sentimentality – what Watts and Davies call his 'recurrent indulgence in religiose reverie' – should not however be allowed to hide the larger strategy behind this and other such pieces of 'prose-poetry' in his book.
Let us look more closely at the actual imagery he employs. They are living in 'the impenetrable forests', watching 'humming-birds ... hang poised above ... flowers' and 'lizards basking in the sun', and listening to 'the mysterious noises that at night in the tropics rise from the woods'. All of these are images from the topos of the locus amoenus (as described in Curtius' European Literature and the Latin Middle Ages), but they also represent a curious reversion to the 'Earthly Paradise' (or 'true millenium') myths described in Chapter One. Indeed, this surrender to the clichés surrounding the name of 'South America' in European tradition becomes increasingly apparent as Graham's text advances.
On one occasion a complaint was brought to him that a Jagunço in an excess of pious fervour had seduced a girl of tender years. He answered, 'She has but followed the common destiny of all, and passed beneath the tree of good and evil like the rest.' (Cunninghame Graham, 1920, p.112)
Graham hastens to condemn this judgement of the 'Counselor', but he is careful to frame it. nevertheless, in the language of Genesis and the 'tree of good and evil'. His half-fascination, half-revulsion for the ‘jagunços' (so like that displayed by him towards the gauchos – as in the passage from Tschiffely's Don Roberto (1937) quoted, again, in Chapter One) also makes use of scientific, Darwinian imagery, but one feels that this too is being used in a 'mythological' sense – as if the universal qualities of death and rebirth familiar everywhere were in some sense especially appropriate to the South American landscape:
This struggle for existence among plants and trees presents its counterpart amongst mankind. The climate sees to it that only those most fitted to resist it arrive at manhood, and the rude life they subsequently lead has forged a race as hard as the Castilians, the Turk, the Scythians of old, or as the Mexicans. (Cunninghame Graham, 1920, p.17)
Having thus read Graham's ending in the 'mythological' terms already familiar to us, let us go on to examine the conclusion of Mario Vargas Llosa's book. La guerra del fin del mundo, it might be argued, has many endings – to match its many narrative streams – and these are perhaps better dealt with in summary than in quotation. The actual ending comes as the culmination of an argument between a local Bahían Colonel and the gaucho lieutenant Maranhão who has been acting as unofficial executioner (by decapitation) of the prisoners. After the Colonel has humiliated the lieutenant by slapping his face and urinating on him, one of the woman prisoners (who has observed this act of revenge) catches hold of him and gives him the answer to the question he has been asking: where is João Abade, the military commander of the rebels?
– ¿se escapó entonces?
La viejecita vuelve a negar, cercada por los ojos de las prisioneras.
– Lo subieron al cielo unos arcángeles – dice, chasqueando la lengua –. Yo los vi. (Vargas Llosa, 1981, p.531)
['''He got away, then?" The little old woman shakes her head again. encircled by the eyes of the women prisoners. "Archangels took him up to heaven," she says, clacking her tongue. "I saw them,''' (568)]
One could see this as Vargas Llosa's determination not to end in despair, but rather with a sense of victory of some sort – however equivocal. The main characters of the novel have already been dealt with, in the fashion of a nineteenth-century novel: the 'nearsighted journalist' (who one feels is some kind of analogue – though not a precise one – to Euclides da Cunha, one of the dedicatees of Vargas Llosa's book) has found happiness with Jurema, whom he met in Canudos; 'Galileo Gall', the Scottish revolutionary and phrenologist (it is perhaps too neat to see him as suggested in part by R. B, Cunninghame Graham) has died precisely because of his abuse of love, with the 'fatalidad femenina’ (Vargas Llosa, 1981, p.475) [fateful femininity] Jurema; and, finally, the Baron de Canabrava, the éminence grise of Bahían politics, has succeeded in making love again, thus restoring his wife and himself to the spiritual harmony they had lost in the siege. It sounds a wild farrago, but it all builds up to the single unified (avowedly authorial) conclusion to be drawn from the tale. As he himself has said, this is something new in his work:
Obligadamente, por el tipo de problema que viven los distintos personajes he tenido que pensar en ciertas ideas generales, cosa que nunca he hecho cuando escribo una novela, porque es una clase de reflexión que es más bien un obstáculo, porque una novel a es un mundo fundamentalmente concreto, para mi al menos (Castro-Klarén, 1986, p.382).
['Because of the type of problem faced by the various characters. I have had to think in terms of generalized concepts – something which I have never done before while writing a novel, because it is a kind of thinking which tends to create obstacles, a novel being (for me, at any rate) a fundamentally concrete world of experience' (my translation).]
What this conclusion is defies simple expression – but it seems, essentially, to set against the 'world-historical' cataclysm of Canudos the human values and human scale of the lives and mutual affections of the various characters. In essence, then, it is an attempt to draw from the particularities of the Canudos campaign 'ciertas ideas generales'.
In my own conclusion I would like to point out that only Graham's version of the events surrounding Canudos could be said to tie into the generalized set of literary topoi associated with South America. His original starting-point – the letter from President Roosevelt inviting him to introduce European readers to the life lived in the back lands of Brazil – has been only too faithfully followed; and, as Watts and Davies remark, 'da Cunha toils to build his epic, while Graham is content to hustle together an engagingly dramatic life-story’ (1979, p.278) –. a kind of South American travelogue with historical elements. Thus the frequent digressions into purple prose descriptive of nature or the Brazilian lifestyle – praise of 'tropic vegetation, with the groves of palms and of bamboos fringing the bank' (Cunninghame Graham, 1920, p.14) alternating with 'reconstructions' of Antonio Conselheiro's early life:
Imagination pictures him, dressed in drill trousers and an alpaca coat, seated absorbed with the small details of a village store, his recreations a walk round the plaza in the evening, or a rare visit, on a pacing mule, to a country neighbour a league or two away. (Cunninghame Graham, 1920, p.62)
The 'pacing mule' sums up his method particularly well. In fact, one comes to feel that these digressions are perceived by him as being more central to his purpose than the narrative of the siege. He characterizes Antonio Conselheiro's ten years in the wilderness, for example, by remarking that 'Nature in Brazil is so tremendous, not cut in squares and utterly subdued and tamed as here in Europe; it is so overpowering in its strength that it reduces man to the proportions of an ant, busy, but futile in his enterprises against her immensity’ (Cunninghame Graham, 1920, p.67). This may perhaps be true in general, but surely not of the man who, in 1897, succeeded in convulsing an entire nation.
When one compares Graham with our two South American authors, one finds (not surprisingly) their intentions to be very different. Euclides da Cunha set out, it is true, to characterize an entire region of his nation – but the immensity of this task was sufficient to daunt him without adding the burden of a general 'Anatomy' of South America (indeed the sole use of the latter term in Os Sertões comes when he mentions the Buenos Aires paper 'that perhaps carries most weight of any in South America’ (da Cunha, 1944, p.384) – meaning, presumably, to distinguish it from 'Spanish' or 'Latin' America). Mario Vargas Llosa, as a Peruvian, is forced to relocate himself to some extent in order to write a book set in Brazil – but the tone (already noted in our analysis of his employment of the 'prophecy') of events that might have happened anywhere and which are universally significant. despite their specifically regional (Brazilian, even Sertanejo – rather than 'South American') trappings, is sustained throughout. The move from the particular to the universal here seems to be confined to the Latin Americans – while the attempt to restrict all significance to a regional level is an attribute of the European historian.
This is, one must admit, largely a matter of degree. Nevertheless, it remains my contention that not only is Cunninghame Graham's the only one of the three accounts that mentions 'South America' as if that were what he was characterizing in this book (and in his historical works generally), but also that only his can be shown to contain any of the paraphernalia of romantic stereotypes and myth that have traditionally been employed to represent such regions in European literature. The pressure of facts connected with Canudos itself, and that of the various roles in which the three of them write, may do a good deal to obscure such 'hidden agendas' in their work – but the comparison should at least have made it clear that. while all three mythologize a 'mundo concreto' in their own image, only Graham is prepared to associate that construct specifically with South America. As Vargas Llosa puts it (and it is perhaps a fitting epigraph for our tale):
– ¿Se da cuenta? – dijo el periodista miope, respirando como si acabara de realizar un esfuerzo enorme –. Canudos no es una historia, sino un árbol de historias. (Vargas Llosa, 1981, p.433)
['''Don't you see'?" the nearsighted journalist said, breathing as though he were exhausted from some tremendous physical effort. "Canudos isn't a story: it's a tree of stories.'" (Vargas Llosa, 1984, p.459).
[Mario Vargas Llosa: La guerra del fin del mundo (1981)]
1. The ‘name of jagunço’, which came to be the generic term for a follower of Antonio Conselheiro, is defined by da Cunha as ‘the name which up to then had been reserved for rowdies at the fair, bullies on election day, and the pillagers of cities’ (1944, p.148).
2. From Vargas Llosa’s 1979 interview with José Miguel Oviedo, ‘La historia de la historia: conversación en Lima’, quoted in Castro-Klarén (1986, p.382) – the English translation is mine.
3. His newspaper articles from Canudos have been collected in Euclides da Cunha. Canudos: Diario de uma expedição. Ed. Gilberto Freyre. Documentos brasileiros. 16 (Rio de Janeiro. 1939). I highlight the word 'factual' because of the tendency of journalistic prose to give lavish circumstantial detail of dates and names in order to establish the authority of the account as a whole and downplay any (inevitable) bias in its reporting.
4. The 'diagnosis' in question is, appropriately, epilepsy: ‘It may accordingly be said, without any exaggeration, that a crime or a rare burst of heroism is often but the mechanical equivalent of an attack.' (da Cunha, 1944, p.233).
5. The reference is to the page numbers in the first Brazilian edition.
6. 'this book, which originally set out to be a history of the Canudos Campaign, subsequently lost its timeliness when ... its publication was deferred. We have accordingly given it another form ....’ (da Cunha, 1944, p.xxix.).
7. The nearest precedent in Latin America is Sarmiento's Facundo, of which José Pablo Feinmann has commented:
¿Es una novela, un ensayo histórico, sociológico, filosófico, es una bibliografía, un panfleto político? Es todo esto. Y lo es porque es la expresión totalizadora de una práctica politica diferenciada. Es la construcción de una verdad. (Castro-Klarén, 1986, p.369)
['Is it a novel or an essay? – if an essay, is it historical, sociological or philosophical? – is it a bibliography? or a political pamphlet? It is all of these. This is because it is the complete expression of a flexible and pragmatic politics. It constructs its own truth. (my translation)].
8. In Shaw’s words: ‘He handles the other lethal weapons as familiarly as the pen: medieval sword and modern mauser are to him as umbrellas and kodaks are to me.’ (Watts & Davies, 1979, p.133).
9. He remarked of W. H. Hudson: ‘Nothing was more intolerable to [him] than a Utopia, as it must ever be to all artistic minds. Rather the freedom of the wilds, than a society, where there is no folly, sorrow or no crime.’ (Watts & Davies, 1979, p.267).
10. Watts and Davies record a lapse into what they call ‘uncharacteristic anti-Semitism’ in a 1920 letter, precisely contemporaneous with A Brazilian Mystic, to the Scottish Home Rule Society: ‘Graham says that though he has “of course no idea of imputing complicity in murder to the Jews as a race”, he believes that “these murders [of Black and Tans in Ireland] are instigated chiefly & certainly paid for by the band of international Jews, grouped around their fellow Jew, Mr. ‘De’ Valera in New York”.’ (1979, p.250).
11. ‘I listened to the story [from ‘my friend Braceras’], and,when we landed at the capital, bought books about it, bought more in Santos, and as I read and mused upon the tale, the letter from the President came back into my mind.’ (Cunninghame Graham, 1920, pp.ix-x).
12. ‘Dom Sebastião' is the Portuguese equivalent of King Arthur, a historical figure identified with the leader of the forces of good in the 'last battle' of Armageddon. The jagunços expected him to intervene in the siege of Canudos.
[Carlos Ferreira & Rodrigo Rosa: Os Sertões (2008)]
- Barroso, Gustavo. Mapirunga. Trans. R. B. Cunninghame Graham. London: Heinemann, 1924.
- Castro-Klarén, Sara. ‘Santos and Cangaçeiros: Inscription without Discourse in Os Sertões and La guerra del fin del mundo’. Modern Language Notes, 101 (1986), 366-88.
- Cunninghame Graham, R. B. A Brazilian Mystic: Being the Life and Miracles of Antonio Conselheiro. London: Heinemann,1920.
- Curtius, Ernst R. European Literature and the Latin Middle Ages. Trans. Willard R. Trask. London: Routledge & Kegan Paul, 1979.
- da Cunha, Euclides. Rebellion in the Backlands (Os Sertões). 1902. Trans. Samuel Putnam. Chicago & London: University of Chicago Press, 1944.
- Ellmann, Richard. Oscar Wilde. London: Hamish Hamilton, 1987.
- Shakespeare, William. The Complete Works. Ed. Stanley Wells and Gary Taylor. Oxford: Clarendon Press, 1986.
- Tschiffely, A. F., ed. Rodeo: A Collection of the Tales and Sketches of R. B. Cunninghame Graham. London: Heinemann, 1936.
- Tschiffely, A. F. Don Roberto: Being the Account of the Life and Works of R. B. Cunninghame Graham, 1852-1936. London: Heinemann, 1937.
- Uys, Errol Lincoln. Brazil. London & Sydney, 1987.
- Vargas Llosa, Mario. La guerra del fin del mundo. Barcelona: Seix Barral, 1981.
- Walker, John, ed. The South American Sketches of R. B. Cunninghame Graham. Norman: University of Oklahoma Press, 1978.
- Walker, John, ed. The North American Sketches of R. B. Cunninghame Graham. Edinburgh: Scottish Academic Press, 1986.
- Watts, C. T. ed. Joseph Conrad’s Letters to R. B. Cunninghame Graham. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1969.
- Watts, Cedric, & Laurence Davies. Cunninghame Graham: A Critical Biography. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1979.
Vargas Llosa, Mario. The War of the End of the World. 1981. Trans. Helen R. Lane. London: Faber and Faber, 1984.
[W. H. Hudson: Green Mansions (1904)]