When in 1916, Mario de Sa-Carneiro committed suicide in Paris at the age of 26, he left behind him an extraordinary body of work, which dealt obsessively with the problems of identity, madness and solitude. Lucio's Confession is the first of his novels to be translated into English. A brilliant and remarkable short novel of great eroticism and enigmatic beauty Lucio's Confession is set in the fin de siecle artist circles of Paris and Lisbon. It deals with the friendship of two young Portuguese poets, Lucio and Ricardo de Loureiro, and their search for identity through love. When the bachelor Ricardo returns to Lisbon, to everyone's surprise he is accompanied by a wife. She, Marta, seems the perfect partner, and establishes an immediate rapport with his close friend Lucio on the latter's return from Paris. Soon they become lovers. Despite the passionate nature of their relationship, Lucio suspects that Marta is sharing her favours with Ricardo's other close friends. Something is not quite right. Where did this mysterious woman meet Ricardo, and, indeed who is she? Why does she never speak of her past and why is Ricardo conniving at her infidelity? Lucio's attempts to unravel this mystery have tragic and terrible consequences.
Lucio is a struggling artist in Paris in 1895 when he meets the poet Ricardo de Loureiro. Their friendship quickly turns into a secret obsession for the timid Lucio, who admires the lively Ricardo. Trouble steps in when Ricardo, who seemed unable to ever devote himself to a married life, suddenly introduces his wife to Lucio. This changes everything between the two, but Lucio believes things can still be the way they were before.
This all seems very banal until the facts in the novel start contradicting themselves and the protagonist starts running out of explanations for the inconsistencies. Slowly it becomes obvious we’ll never know the whole story, and we’re drawn into a world of fantasy and madness for a fascinating ride through a shattered mind.
This prose nightmare was written in 1914, just two years before the author committed suicide in Paris.
In “Lucio's Confession” by Mário de Sá-Carneiro, Margaret Jull Costa (translator)
From the street, two floors below my hotel window in a dreary urban business park slash hotel district, I heard desperate, blood chilling cries for help. I rushed to the window, expecting to see the victim of a hit and run car accident lying bloodied at the curb-side but instead, I saw a young man with a tear stained face wearing only a long sleeved, open-cuffed shirt walking this way and then that, each time with purpose, until the moment he changed his mind. Shouting, pleading with his hands outstretched. For a heartbreaking moment, I thought he looked like a guy I knew from work. It was early morning and there was no-one on the street to hear his shouting; I guessed he’d been up all night. For some reason, I felt I understood his problem; he should be in a field somewhere herding cattle for the morning milking or chopping wood for winter but instead, he’s been dumped in this incomprehensible, concrete and steel alien landscape, except that it isn’t alien … we made it, we imposed it on the poor bastard and it just doesn’t make sense. Before I had time to decide whether or not I should go outside and see if he was OK, a police car turned up and scooped him away.
I was reminded of this incident by reading “Lucio’s Confession” by Mário de Sá-Carneiro. They speak to me of the same kind of lost soul drowning in the same kind of fin-de-siècle urban nightmare – not at all of a celebration of life or of happiness or even of anything particularly specific to men or women. Coveting another woman’s wife is one of those symptoms for which people can be sectioned instantly. Are we so different from the protagonist Lucio? Our supposed lucidity is reliable, especially in a world where it is not impossible, for example, to fall in love with an image on the computer, and often before this virtual reality, we fantasize about being another person, and let the fantasies dominate? The novel left me very strong impressions; it seemed to me to be within a dream and at the same time within a reality that denies itself, re-creating it. Madness? Not sure. Maybe it’s just the way we see Art depicting Life.
I agree with Mário de Sá-Carneiro. This is not art, it is a symptom.
Mário de Sá-Carneiro killed himself in 1916.
Coda: “Like Pessoa, Sá-Carneiro had a horror of madness and abnormality in general, the reason, perhaps, why the whole of his work was a concerted effort to exorcise those demons.” Yes, we all know about the influence Sá-Carneiro had on the Pessoa’s Heteronimity. The letters between those two is something everyone interested on these matters should read.
By Eugénio Lisboa in the introduction to “Lucio's Confession” by Mário de Sá-Carneiro, Margaret Jull Costa (translator)