Clarice Lispector

When Clarice Lispector debuted her first novel, Near to the Wild Heart, in 1943 in Brazil, she was only 23 years old, a law student and a part-time journalist at the respected middle-class newspaper ‘A Noite’. Near to the Wild Heart was unlike anything published in Brazil before.

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Clarice LispectorIt interweaves the raw thoughts of the protagonist, Joana, using imagery so vivid only the rarest imagination could think it up:“She was traversed by long whole muscles. Thoughts ran down these polished ropes until they quivered there, in her ankles, where the flesh was as soft as a chickens.” The novel became one of the most talked about literary debuts in Brazil’s history and catapulted Lispector into the spotlight where she was compared to foreign titans in introspective, offbeat literature such as James Joyce, Faust, Gide and Kafka.

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But Clarice Lispector was something else, uninfluenced by foreign and domestic writers, and would go on to publish some of the most exhilarating literature that has been written in the Portuguese language.

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On top of her bewildering talent there rose a myth of Clarice Lispector that has been endlessly mulled over and dissected. Because of her roots in a family of Ukrainian refugees who had fled the horrific pogroms of the 1920s she retained an aura of ‘the other’ about her—or at least critics and readers trying to analyse her writing would often associate this heritage with the uniqueness of her work, despite the fact that she was born and grew up in the Jewish neighbourhood of Recife.

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After the loss of her mother at the age of nine she developed a close relationship with her father that shaped much of her personality growing up, but sadly he too passed away when Clarice was only 20 years old. A loss that can be found buried in the narrative of Near to the Wild Heart.

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Critics often wonder how much of Lispector’s early tragedies impacted on her style of writing. But it would be foolish to try and dissect something that is so elusive and personal, her writing is a gift in itself and would have developed toward expression with or without a tainted childhood.

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Following the publication of her first novel Clarice was married to a diplomat and spent the majority of her twenties and thirties accompanying him abroad to Europe and the United States whilst raising her two children.

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She continued to write but she became evermore unhappy with her role as a diplomats wife away from home and eventually returned to Rio de Janeiro in 1959 with her two children where she began a prolific period of writing, including the publication of the novella The Passion According to G.H. in 1964—a book set entirely within the confines of the maid’s small bedroom in a large house where the mistress has ventured alone one afternoon and suddenly falls into a sort of reverie that deepens into a stream of introspective narrative culminating in her biting into a live cockroach.

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Clarice Lispector

In 1966 after falling asleep with a lit cigarette, Lispector was horrifically burned in a fire that followed, her right hand was so badly damaged that doctors seriously considered amputation. The wounds from the fire meant that she could no longer write with ease and was forced to rely on dictation for the rest of her life.

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Yet some consider her work post-accident as her most triumphant; The Stream of Life, A Breath of Light and The Hour of the Star are all beautiful and strong examples of her writing that emit a more reflective tone than previous work. When The Hour of the Star was published in 1977 Clarice Lispector was only 57 years old but was already facing down the dark tunnel of inoperable advanced ovarian cancer. She died on December 11, 1957 in Rio de Janeiro in the company of her best friend Olga Berelli.

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