Goncalo Ramires, last heir to the most noble house of Portugal, is writing a book on his ancestors in the hope some of the glory will rub off on him. In counter-pointing Goncalo's cowardice with the valor of his ancestors, Queiroz (1845-1900) was identifying him with Portugal itself. Queiroz has been called the Dickens of Portugal.
Written in the very late 19th century the book centres around Goncalo Mendes Ramires the last descendant of perhaps the oldest and most noble family in Portugal living in and off the last relics of this once great family estates. Goncalo clings to many of the chivalric norms of the past but in reality is effete and his life aimless lacking any real influence. He is encouraged by an old university acquaintance to write a book describing his ancient forefathers bravery in an effort to be noticed in a country where patronage is still seen as important.However, when an untimely death occurs, Goncalo is given an opening into politics and perhaps real authority he abandons many of his previous scruples to grasp this opportunity culminating in a outbreak of violence with a local bully and piece of self-realisation. He is actually popular and well liked by his neighbours. Thus Goncalo comes to represent Portugal itself. A country which in many ways is living off its past with its colonies in Africa etc but although generally well liked has little real influence on the world stage. Personally I have no real experience of life in Portugal but feel that this analogy could also count for many of the old world empires, Britain, France, Spain, Italy etc.
I initially found the book rather dull and slow and some of the names a little difficult to get a handle on but it is worth persevering with. The prose is beautiful and there is a very subtle touch of irony running throughout. This is an author of real quality and I feel that he should be much more well read than he is. I will certainly keep an eye out for some of his other works.