Home Art & Culture Overlooked No More: Clarice Lispector, Novelist Who Captivated Brazil

Overlooked No More: Clarice Lispector, Novelist Who Captivated Brazil

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Far from Brazil, Lispector fell into obscurity, though she continued to write, producing the linguistically complex novels “O Lustre” (“The Chandelier)” in 1946 and “A Cidade Sitiada” (“The Besieged City”) in 1949.

She and her husband separated in 1959, and she returned to Rio de Janeiro, where she rented an apartment in the chic seaside neighborhood of Leme and took up writing newspaper columns, occasionally under pseudonyms. Helen Palmer, for instance, offered cosmetic and life advice. (Lispector was secretly paid by Pond’s, the American beauty brand, according to Benjamin Moser, whose 2009 biography of Lispector, “Why This World,” spurred a new round of English translations and fascination with her work outside Brazil.)

Lispector soon returned to fame under her own name. Her collection of short stories, “Laços de Familia” (“Family Ties”), published in 1960, was a best seller in Brazil. The 1961 novel “A Maça No Escuro” (“Apple in the Dark”), which was told from the point of view of a man who had just killed his wife, was translated into English by the renowned Gregory Rabassa and published by Alfred A. Knopf in 1967.

Rabassa recalled in a memoir that Lispector “looked like Marlene Dietrich and wrote like Virginia Woolf”— a comment Lispector found sexist, though it was echoed by many of her male critics and admirers.

“I don’t like when they say that I have an affinity with Virginia Woolf,” Lispector wrote in one column, adding that she had encountered Woolf’s work only after her own first novel was published. “I don’t want to forgive her for committing suicide. The terrible duty is to go to the end.”

A burst of creativity followed in her later years, including what is considered her masterpiece, “O Paixao Segundo G.H.” (“The Passion According to G.H.”), published in 1964. In the novel, a nameless woman recounts entering her maid’s empty bedroom, where she finds little more than a mysterious drawing and a single cockroach.

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