|Camilo Castelo Branco
Writer and novelist
(...)"Whatever the place allocated to the overwhelming and critical novelist in the Portuguese literature, no one can judge the cult of Camilo a mere temporary
enthusiasm. Some find it odd that this cult be even stronger than the cult of Camões, and others may cite other powerful personalities of our literature, who rival
for his glory, such as Herculano and Antero. Fair as those comments may be, we cannot diminish the impressing greatness and emotion that derive from the work
and life of Camilo."
(In Preface to the Catálogo de obras antigas e modernas, Livraria João d'Araujo Moraes, 1924.)
Camilo Castelo Branco was born in Lisbon, in Rua da Rosa, Parish of Mártires, on 16th March 1825, of a rural aristocratic family. Camilo was the second child of Manuel Joaquim Botelho Castelo Branco (1778-1835), single, and Jacinta Rosa do Espírito Santo Ferreira (1799-1827), his servant. He was registered as the son of an unknown mother, obviously due to her belonging to a poor family. He was baptized at the local church, in the Parish of Mártires, on 14th April 1825. His godfather was Dr. José Camilo Ferreira Botelho, from Vila Real, and his godmother was Our Lady of the Conception.
In 1826 the family moved to Rua da Oliveira, in the same city. On 6th February 1827, at the early age of 2, Camilo's mother died, and was taken care of by his father, together with his sister Carolina, in 1829. He began attending primary school in Lisbon, in 1830. His family then moved to Vila Real, where his father was appointed director of the post office. The three relatives returned to the capital in 1831, after Manuel Joaquim was dismissed accused of fraud. When he died, on 22nd December 1835, the 2 children were taken care of by their father's sister, D. Rita Emília da Veiga Castelo Branco. In 1836 they moved to Vila Real.
In 1839, when his sister married Francisco José de Azevedo and went to live with him at his brother's house, Father António de Azevedo, priest in the Parish of Vilarinho de Samardã, Camilo went with them. In this rural setting, which would largely influence his literary works, the Father provided him with a religious education, together with the study of the Portuguese classics, as well as basic knowledge of Latin and French.
However, his religious calling would soon fade away. On 18th August 1841, aged only 16, Camilo married Joaquina Pereira de França, in São Salvador, and settled in Friúme, Ribeira de Pena. In 1842 we started his studies with Father Manuel da Lixa, in Granja Velha, in order to prepare for University.
On 25th August 1843 Rosa Pereira de França Castelo Branco, daughter of Camilo and Joaquina, was born. That year, the young man settled in Porto for the first time, in a house in Rua Escura, in the historic and iconic Sé neighbourhood. He left his aunt Rita, his wife and his newborn in Trás-os-Montes. In October, he enrolled in the 1st year of Anatomy of the Medical-Surgical School, and then in Chemistry, at the Polytechnic Academy. In 1844 he attended the first year of the course of Medicine, and one year later he re-enrolled in the Medical School, but was failed for little attendance, as he would rather attend bohemian places than classes. He then starting attending the "abadessados" or the "outeiros de abadessados". These were poetry events that took place in Covent patios for three days and three nights, in which the poets glossed on a motto provided by the female monks, who, in turn, gave them sweets and spirit wine. He then published his first works of poetry.
When he managed to take the remaining of his inheritance, he returned to Vila Real. He there fell in love with his cousin Patrícia Emília do Carmo Barros, and ran away with her to Porto. In October 1846 he spent 11 days in prison, at the Cadeia da Relação (from 12 to 23 October), accused of stealing 20,000 "cruzados" from João Pinto da Cunha, Patrícia's father and his aunt's lover. He started a new career as a journalist during this agitated period (the country was going through a civil war, the Patuleia), and continued writing. When he was set free, he returned to Vila Real and maintained his relationship with his cousin Patrícia Emília. Upon the death of his wife, Joaquina Pereira, he returned to Porto, in 1847. However, his work as a journalist of the Nacional and the Periódico dos Pobres brought along enmities and unexpected dangers that forced him to hide, first in Covas do Douro, in his sister's house, and then in Folgosa. He then left towards Porto in 1848.
Upon his return, he stayed at the Hotel Francês, in Rua da Fábrica, and started attending the trendy cafés, theatres and balls of the time. He was then part of the "Leões" group, the habitués of the café Guichard. Camilo was no longer the once poor student, but rather an elegant, reputable journalist and a writer dedicated to controversial writing and storytelling. However, his fame also brought along enmities and unpleasant situations, mainly among the personalities of the Porto elite depicted in his works. That year his daughter Rosa died and his daughter Bernardina Amélia was born of his relationship with Patrícia Emília. The child was abandoned in the "Roda dos Expostos", then temporarily raised in Samardã and, finally, handed to the nun Isabel Cândida Vaz Mourão, of the Covent São Bento de Ave-maria, Camilo's lover.
In 1850 he spent some time in the Portuguese capital, where he wrote his first novel, Anátema, first published in the literary newspaper A Semana; the following year, this work, which Camilo declared to have been written at the age of 22, and which might be considered a complex and horror novel, was published in Porto. From then onwards, he started living from his writings. That year he took part in the controversial debate between Herculano and some priests regarding the Ourique miracle and fell in love with the writer Ana Augusta Plácido, engaged to Manuel Pinheiro Alves, although he remained romantically attached to the nun, whom he had met in an "abadessado" in the São Bento de Ave-maria monastery - a monastery that had been raised in honour of the abbess D. Delfina de Andrade. During this stage of his life, imbued of a surprising religious ardour that was supposedly inspired by the example of Dr. Câmara Sinval - a lecturer of the Medical School who, at an old age, was ordered and started working as a prayer in S. Filipe de Nery -, he considered choosing a religious career. To that purpose, he enrolled in the classes of Theology, Dogma and Moral at the the Diocesan Seminar, which was then located in the Episcopal Palace, and requested minor orders, in 1852, while he founded 2 religious newspapers: O Cristianismo (1852) and A Cruz (1853).
In 1856, he was appointed literary director of A Verdade. He then started losing his sight, which would mark his life and, probably, accelerate his death. In 1857, he settled in Viana do Castelo, where he worked as a journalist of the newspaper A Aurora do Lima. But he was not alone. Ana Plácido, Pinheiro Alves' wife, kept him company, as she followed him with the excuse of keeping company to a sister. This love affair would soon be known to the general public, and negatively impact Camilo's career as a journalist. Maybe for that reason, his career suffered a change: the following year, the writer was involved in the publishing of the newspaper O Mundo Elegante. Still in 1858, he was elected partner of the Royal Academy of Sciences, upon the proposal of Alexandre Herculano, whom he admired, in spite of the controversy.
In 1859, Camilo and Ana Plácido went to Lisbon. Nevertheless, life was not easy for the 2 lovers, who, actually, were 2 fugitives travelling over the country and fighting against the lack of resources. On 11th August Manuel Plácido (1859-1877) was born of the couple; however, we would be legally registered as son of Pinheiro Alves. In 1860, the betrayed husband sued them for adultery, and they were sent to prison in Porto, at the Cadeia da Relação. Ana Plácido was arrested on 6th June 1860 and Camilo, who had been hiding in Entre-Douro-e-Minho, handed himself to the authorities on 1st October. In prison he actually had access to some comfort, and, most of all, was not exclusively confined to a cell: Camilo received the visit of D. Pedro V twice and wrote, in a record time of 15 days his most read and popular novel, Amor de Perdição.
In October 1861, Ana and Camilo were tried and acquitted upon the influence of Dr. José Maria Teixeira de Queiroz, Eça's father, a Court Counsellor who visited the writer several times and helped him prepare his defence strategy in this complex legal case. Camilo always referred to him as "our honoured Queiroz" or the "benevolent Queiroz", a fact that, however, did not prevent him from entering a controversial debate with his son, some years later.
In 1862 the couple went to live in Lisbon, where his son Jorge Camilo Plácido de Castelo-Branco was born, in 1863 (26th June). That year Pinheiro Alves died and his legal “son”, Manuel Plácido, inherited the house in São Miguel de Ceide, Famalicão. This is the house where the family went to live in 1864, and where on 15th September the couple's third child, Nuno Plácido de Castelo-Branco, was born. Jorge became an alcoholic and Nuno had a lecherous behaviour during his youth. Camilo was going through a time of intense labour; he wrote incessantly and gained public awareness.
However, the house in Famalicão did not keep Camilo away from Porto. He spent several periods of time in this city, and continued to go to libraries and theatres. He went to the beach in Leça da Palmeira and Foz, and, finally, he made his relationship with Ana Plácido official: he married her in Porto on 9th March 1868. He lived in Rua de Santa Catarina and continued travelling to Lisbon with his family (where he was in 1869) and Coimbra (where he was in 1875), on the grounds that he needed to grant the education of his children.
Ana Plácido also revealed a faithful companion of the letters. In 1868, Camilo founded and directed, with her, A Gazeta Literária do Porto. In 1872, he received D. Pedro II, the Emperor of Brazil, in his home in Rua de São Lázaro, in Porto, and burnt the novel A Infanta Capelista. In 1873, he travelled between Braga, Porto, Póvoa de Varzim and Lisbon. In 1878, his sight got worse and he was hurt in a train accident when he was travelling between São Romão and Ermesinde.
The 80s were troubled for this volatile personality. In 1881 he participated in the abduction of an orphan girl to marry her to his son Nuno (1881), with whom he had a hard relationship and whom he expelled from home (1882), during a time when his sight was getting even worse. In 1883, he auctioned his personal library, in Lisbon, because he was short of money, and started a controversial debate with the lecturer of Coimbra, Avelino César Calisto (who had criticised his writings on Marquês de Pombal), and José Maria Rodrigues (who stood for the lecturer), in the so-called "Questão da Sebenta"; he considered that "loads of ignorance, hypocrisy and disloyalty spurted from there". This was one more controversial debate in the list of at least 36 that are known. Some of these discussions resulted in threats to his physical integrity. And since these were very regular, he bought a revolver for personal protection. Ironically and tragically, he used it 7 years later to commit suicide. In the meantime, on 27th June 1885, after 15 years of waiting, the King awarded him the title of Visconde de Correia Botelho. Two years later, he travelled again to take care of his health, which was getting worse every day.
In 1889, upon the initiative of João de Deus, Camilo was paid homage in Lisbon, on his birthday, by a group of intellectuals (artists, writers and students). That year he received the visit, once again, of D. Pedro II, the former Emperor of Brazil.
On 1st June 1890, he has the last appointment with the oculist, Dr. Edmundo Magalhães Machado, who annihilated his last hope to cure his blindness. He committed suicide, as he had previously threatened, with a shot over his right year. He was buried where he had chosen: in the Lapa cemetery, in Porto, in the tomb of his friend Freitas Fortuna.
He left us with an exceptional, multifaceted, controversial and sad collection of works - the most extensive and varied of the Portuguese language. It includes 132 titles, ranging from drama, poetry, novel, story, short story, journalism, controversial writings, essays (biographic and historical), literary criticism, translation and epistolography. His work reflects his intense life path, the places where he has been (in particular, Porto), and the taste of his audience: the romanticism and ultra-romanticism of his early career and the realism and naturalism of his late one - stylistic features that he used mainly to prove his detractors that he could handle them better than the naturalist-realists themselves, as well as to meet the demands of his publishers.
His greatness, however, is clearer in the passion stories and as an urban storyteller, although he does not leave behind the rural themes, to which he attached a special sense of humanity and an intense psychological scent, which inspired great personalities of the Portuguese literature (such as Abel Botelho and Aquilino Ribeiro).
(Universidade Digital / Gestão de Informação, 2008)