In This Article Expand or collapse the "in this article" section Machado de Assis

  • Introduction
  • General Overviews
  • Bibliographies
  • Editions in Portuguese
  • Biographies
  • Translations into English
  • Short Stories
  • Poetry
  • Newspaper Writing
  • Drama
  • Essays

Latin American Studies Machado de Assis
Paul B. Dixon
  • LAST REVIEWED: 05 May 2017
  • LAST MODIFIED: 24 July 2013
  • DOI: 10.1093/obo/9780199766581-0139


The Brazilian author Joaquim Maria Machado de Assis (b. 1839–d. 1908) is the towering figure of Latin American letters in the late 19th and early 20th centuries. Generally called “Machado de Assis” or, simply, “Machado,” he is clearly the most studied author in Brazil. Machado is primarily recognized as a novelist and a short story writer, but he practiced nearly all the traditional genres to at least some extent. Scholars of a cultural, historical, or ideological bent have found fruitful opportunities to show that Machado was engaged in the political and social issues of his day, and they are motivated to contest early accusations of absenteeism. Scholars attuned to more formal and literary qualities have plenty of material, for Machado’s self-referential prose is permeated with metaphor and other poetic figures and abounds in subtle echoes and symmetries. Comparativists are at home with Machado because his writing is rich with allusions to many canonical authors and classical texts—most notably, Shakespeare, the Bible, Cervantes, and the digressive narrators of the 18th and early 19th centuries, such as Laurence Sterne. The person behind the texts has held an enduring fascination through the years, partly because very little solid biographical information is available about the man. Machado’s poor beginnings, and the fact that he was almost entirely self-taught, have helped make him the embodiment of a myth of upward social mobility: from pauper to president of the Brazilian Academy of Letters. Machado’s mixed ancestry (his mother was Portuguese and his father was a descendant of African slaves) has prompted continual debate about the degree to which he identified with this underprivileged class. His appointments to prestigious administrative positions in both the monarchy and the republic have prompted questions about his political leanings. Machado himself did little to shed light on these matters. He never wrote an autobiography. In his fiction, he created obtrusive and often ambiguous narrators, who, in effect, steal the show from their implied author. Even his newspaper columns are not unequivocally attributable to the voice of the real Machado de Assis. It has seemed urgent to discover the true mind behind such an elaborate play of nuanced voices, the authentic philosophical foundation underlying such a house of ironic mirrors. It is almost surely an urge that will never be satisfied.

General Overviews

In Portuguese, Teixeira 1987 is the more methodically organized overview of Machado’s work, while Moisés 2001 is the more original in its insights. In English, Fitz 1989 gives adequate attention to all aspects of Machado’s work and to points of comparison for readers less familiar with Brazilian literature. Daniel 2012 provides a new perspective on Machado’s complicated racial views, while Duarte 2007 is a survey of Machado’s texts dealing with race and slavery.

  • Daniel, G. Reginald. Machado de Assis: Multiracial Identity and the Brazilian Novelist. University Park: Pennsylvania State University Press, 2012.

    Relates Machado’s mixed ancestry to his sense of duality and ambiguity. Posits an ideal mind-set of “racelessness.”

  • Duarte, Eduardo de Assis. Machado de Assis, afro-descendente: Escritos de caramujo (antologia). Rio de Janeiro, Brazil: Pallas, 2007.

    Compiles and comments on texts from all genres in which Machado mentions issues of race or slavery. Characterizes Machado as an oblique and cautious identifier with blacks.

  • Fitz, Earl E. Machado de Assis. Boston: Twayne, 1989.

    Treats Machado’s most important production in several genres. Emphasizes the author’s technical sophistication.

  • Moisés, Massaud. Machado de Assis: Ficção e utopia. São Paulo, Brazil: Cultrix, 2001.

    A collection of essays about short stories, novels, and newspaper columns.

  • Teixeira, Ivan. Apresentação de Machado de Assis. São Paulo, Brazil: Martins Fontes, 1987.

    A systematic overview of the author’s major production. Presents the conventional wisdom on Machado in Brazil.

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