“Is it possible you could be dreaming of some romantic love which is almost impossible? I tell you that you are doing wrong, that it is better, much better, to content oneself with reality, if it isn’t as fascinating as daydreaming, it possesses at least the advantage of existing.” – Machado de Assis, The Hand and the Glove
I must have requested this book about the same time I requested de Assis’ Helena, but it only just arrived. This is his second book, still from his “romantic” period of writing. In the forward he describes this book thusly:
“What follows is a few pages which the reader will consume in one swallow if they entice his curiosity, or if he has some hour left over which he absolutely cannot employ in anything more beautiful or more useful.”- Forward of 1874
I think that fairly sums it up. It is a triangle of men around another near perfect heroine. The different aspects of love are slightly explored, but de Assis is mocking in his narration. There is always a long distance between the reader and the story. He often address the “reader” directly, and sometimes only the female or male reader. But we are all very removed from this relatively passionless tale.
“I shall simply mention that he thought on three occasions of dying.” (67)
The men, mostly unbeknown to them, only feel what I call love, as it differs from Love. You can love someone and never feel Love, I think most people don’t in fact because it requires all the elements- emotional, intellectual and physical communion to be in place. That’s True Love, if it actually exists. In this book only our heroine is aware of these truths. The men are often convinced of their own feelings, which lack one quality or the other, but it’s easy to pretend I suppose. People want to feel themselves in love.
Actually, the thing I liked most about the book were the footnotes. It was, of course, originally written in Portuguese and I enjoyed reading about some of the more untranslatable terms. Albert I. Bagby, Jr. translated my copy and I thought he did a wonderful job of balancing the need to translate with the need to preserve intent, and the brief but informative footnotes reflect that.
My favorite, which is cleverly explained in text was saleta de trabalho, “an elegant euphemism which literally means ‘a room for conversation interspersed with crochet.'” I love that. He also makes a note of clarifying his translation of “companion.” The Baroness’s companion in Portuguese would have been called Dama de companhia or Lady in Waiting. When I work for some of my more queenly clients I refer to myself as a lady in waiting, so I found the precedent highly amusing, but for the slight taint of judgment inferred on the Barroness, I might even argue that Bagby could have kept it instead of using the word “companion.”
Interestingly, I have begun reading The Awakening and have had to stop looking at the footnotes for the very reason that I enjoyed the footnotes in de Assis’s book- if a book is written in English I really do not want to be told what the author’s intent is. Either I get it or I don’t. I like to save the explanations for the finish if necessary.
There are some old-fashioned-y terms, but I’d rather not know exactly what a quadroon* is if it means having to read someone else’s idea of the writer’s intent. That is for me to discover thank you very much.
The Hand and the Glove is a short little tale of that all elusive perfect match, the heart will not be tricked – maybe one glove is only really meant for one hand.
“Once they understand eachother it is difficult for two hearts to hide.” (91)
* a person with one black grandparent and three white grandparents – is it necessary for me to point out the significance that this distinction might suggest about the society in which it is used? I don’t think so.