Compare and contrast the”202″ and the country estate in Eça de Queiroz’s “The City and the Mountains”.How do they help to convey the challenges that Modernity poses to Portuguesesociety? The novel, “The City and the Mountains”, is one of Eça de Queiroz’s later novels, written in the later years of hislife whilst living in Paris. In the 19th century, Paris was one of the world’sleading cities in terms of wealth and technology, and was experiencing an era ofgreat economic and social growth. The central character is Jacinto, and the events are narrated by Jacinto’s close friend JoséFernandes, commonly known as ZéFernandes. Jacinto is a wealthy fullyindulged Portuguese man who lives in his luxurious mansion at 202 Av. desChamps-Elysees in Paris.
His main and all consuming interests relate totechnology and information, and his wealth enables him to obsessively indulgein his belief that absolute knowledge and absolute power will result inabsolute happiness.1Eventually his material pursuits lead him to mistrust this formula, as he failsto achieve the satisfaction and happiness he had anticipated, becomingdepressed and disinterested in city life. Meanwhile, Portugal, withagriculture and small scale industry still prevailing, remained somewhatdetached from the wealth and sophistication of Paris. The novel has a verysimple structure, with a strong focus on equal coverage: firstly, of the “202”and the period in Paris, and secondly, of the period at the country estate inPortugal.When Jacinto returns home to Portugal and to his country estate inTormes, he experiences a “spiritual rebirth”2 and his life perspectives change, enabling him toappreciate the simplicities of Portuguese life. When comparing the above twoplaces in the novel, the author presents a strong life contrast in almost everyaspect, and generally presents Portugal in a positive light and Paris in a negativeone.
Through the actions and experiences of Jacinto,the reader can see people, colour, smells, and food, amongst other factors,used as tools by Eça de Queiroz tohighlight differences between the chaotic city of Paris and the peacefulmountains of Portugal, and more specifically the “202” mansion and the countryestate. In this essay I am going to look at each of these differences, and showhow they illustrate the challenges that modernity posed to Portuguese societyduring that period. The contrast between the city ofParis and the mountains of Portugal is made clear by descriptions of thecharacters and outlook of people who live there. The Parisian population is,more often than not, depicted as being gloomy and sickly-looking, and trappedin their monotonous routines. People in the city are deemed to lack identityand individuality, merely existing, being described as “sheep treading the sametrack, bleating the same bleat, their snouts in the dust through which theytroop, always stepping in the footsteps of others.”3 Thisimage contrasts dramatically with that of the inhabitants of the Portuguesemountains. These people are described as being independent, happy, healthy andattractive.
Zé Fernandes notes thatthese characteristics become apparent in Jacinto’snature and even physical appearance once he has left Paris and acclimatises tothe life and culture of Portugal. Whilst living in Paris, Jacinto becomes overwhelmed by the vastness and repetitiveness ofthe city,4resulting in him rarely going outside, seeking the comforts of modernity andcivilisation from his own home, in which he relies on his luxurious elevator totake him between his two floors.5Zé Fernandes notes that Jacinto’s eyes “no longer sparkled withtheir old vivacity.”6 Through this lifestyle we seehim become weak and frail, aging significantly with his hair thinning and hisskin wrinkling. However, as soon as he returns to the mountains of Portugal, heis able to find fulfilment and satisfaction in simple living, and his youthfulappearance returns to him, with ZéFernandes comparing him to a plant taken from a dark corner and put infresh air where it can bud and blossom.7 By theend of the novel we see Jacintohappily married with two healthy children of his own. Through this contrast itis made clear to us that life is not only more enjoyable in the countryside ofPortugal, but also healthier and better for you both physically andmentally. We can see that modernity andindulgence in materialism does not bring happiness, as people like Jacinto at the start of the book perhapsbelieve.
Eça de Queiroz uses contrasting visual descriptionswhen presenting Paris and Portugal to the reader. In “The City and the Mountains”, and in particular the “202” and thecountry estate, the use of colour in the novel has a big effect on the way thetwo places are shown. A series of greys dominates the impersonal city layout ofParis with emphasis on its masses of grey houses and grey streets.
This showsParis in a negative, pessimistic light, and one which appears cold and hard.This image is in stark contrast to the brilliant white houses and colourfulgardens in the countryside of native Portugal. The focus on weather conditionscontributes to such contrasts, with Paris commonly cloudy and wet, and withPortugal dominated by bright sun and blue skies. Jacinto and Zé experienceconstant rain through their journey from the “202” mansion in Paris to thecountry estate in Tormes. This rain lasts through France and Spain, onlyclearing as they arrive at the Portuguese border. It is here where the cloudsclear, revealing the clear blue skies and the shining Portuguese sun.
8The bad weather and darkness appears to be spreading from Paris, representingthe ever increasing influences of modernity on the rest of Europe; it threatensto spread to Portugal which is, as yet, mostly untouched and is still able toenjoy the happiness harvested from the simplicity of rural life. These visual contrasts are also seen in the “202” mansionand the country estate. Jacinto’slibrary in the “202” is very big and well organised yet rigid and impersonal,and in this regard much like the structure of the streets of Paris and itshouses. The countless number of rare, specialised tools and equipment, togetherwith the 30,000 books filling the cold and dark library, created a suffocatingenvironment. The sheer quantity of material prevented Jacinto from ever being able to take full advantage of histreasure, and left him constantly chasing his impossible dreams of academicperfection.
The library is described in the book as a “shadowy temple” with”dark laurel green” dominating all parts of the house such as Jacinto’s study.9In the country estate however, everything is much simpler with rooms havingbright whitewashed walls and tables covered in simple linen cloth creating awarm and welcoming environment.10The huge library in the “202” is also replaced with a simple “reading room”in the country estate in Tormes.11Zé Fernandes, towards the start of the novel, andafter a seven year period without seeing Jacinto,revisits 202 Av.
des Champs-Elysees to see him, and notes that, “duringthose seven years, nothing had changed in the nature of the garden of No. 202!”12 This image serves to emphasise the themeof rigidity and the suffocating nature of the city, as even a garden, a placeof nature, has had the freedom and life removed from it by the modernity of thecity. In contrast, the countryside in Portugal introduces Jacinto to the unique beauty of everything nature has to offer: “Iwould never find in nature an ugly or repeated shape! No two leaves of ivy, asregards colour or form, were ever the same! In the City, on the other hand, eachhouse slavishly repeats the other houses… Sameness, that’s what’s so dreadfulabout Cities!”13 Jacinto mentions the chestnut tree he has passed daily for the pastthree weeks, and notes that every time he sees it, it looks different. Hefurther stresses that the tree is a great “conversationalist” giving him newideas and thoughts, each time he passes it.
14By means of these contrasts, Eçapresents the countryside as more stimulating than the city, suggesting thatlife is purer and freer away from the technology and modernity that dominateand control Paris and Jacinto’sluxurious 202 Av. des Champs-Elysees. The smells and cleanliness of Parisand Portugal are also contrasted. In the comforts of his luxurious home inParis, Jacinto is afraid to drink thetap water, due to the risks of contamination from the city’s water systems. Inhis house he has many jugs of different types of water prepared in differentways, but he says he is yet to find one that satisfies him.15 Citycontamination is further evident in the pollution dominating the air which thusmakes breathing in Paris all the moreunpleasant, and is one of the factors keeping Jacinto indoors, particularly in the period building up to hisreturn to Portugal. In the mountains of Portugal, Jacinto’s water struggles are put behind him and he takes greatdelight in the mountain streams from which he can safely drink and enjoy forits purity and fresh taste. Indeed, one of the first things Jacinto notices when he arrives inPortugal is that his native country smells nicer than Paris due to its cleanerair.
16 Thecontrast between the contamination and purity in Paris and Portugal representsthe respective presence and absence of modernity, which has imposed itself onlife in Paris resulting in a more toxic atmosphere literally as well asfiguratively, potentially threatening wellbeing of mankind. The image ofcontamination spreading into the air and water gives the worrying impressionthat this contamination will spread to Tormes and the Portuguese countryside,imposing modernity and development which will have negative effects on thehappiness and quality of life there. Another major contrast between thetwo places is seen in food. The food chosen and available in Paris, and that inthe mountains of Portugal are seen in the novel to be very different, as is Jacinto’s attitude and appetite towardsit.
Back In Paris, in the opening chapters of the book, luxurious and exoticdishes are seen to be on a menu in the dining hall of Jacinto’s mansion for his friends that night.17 Zé asks why the iced oranges on Jacinto’s menu are served in ether, towhich Jacinto replies, “It’s a newthing. Apparently the ether develops and brings out the soul of the fruit.”18 Zéalso asks him whether some of the other dishes on the menu taste good, but Jacinto shrugs and admits he has not hadan appetite for food in a long time.19Previously the people of Paris were highlighted as “sheep treading the same track,bleating the same bleat..
.”20 whichis quite fitting of Jacinto whoadmits not to be passionate about such dishes but feels compelled to follow theParisian food trends of the time. It is clear he has no knowledge orunderstanding about the effects of ether on iced oranges, yet blindly followsthe fashion. When first returning to Portugal,he is served much simpler traditional meals, and he approaches them with eyes”dimmed by pessimism” whilst taking a “timid forkful.”21 This is representative of the feeling ofsuperiority that the city has over a rural way of life, already looking down onothers without knowing what they are all about.
This ignorance and judgementresults in great surprise when Jacintorealises that the countryside has actually out-smarted Paris by producing foodfar nicer and more nutritious than anything he experienced in the city. Thelocal food and the wine of Tormes is so good, Jacinto finally gets his appetite back, with Zé noting that he “really did seem to be satisfying an ancienthunger and a long nostalgia for such abundance.”22 It is clear that by means of hisbook, “The City and the Mountains”, Eça de Queiroz shows a disapproval ofmodernity and life in Paris, and promotes rural life as illustrated in themountains of Portugal. The way Jacintobursts into Portugal, enthusiastically forcing his ideas upon others, such ashis methods to eradicate poverty, is representative of modernity and urban lifetrying to force its change upon others.23Through the actions of Jacinto,Eça is sadly warning Portugal of theinevitable spread of modernity which will eventually devalue its way of life.When we look at Paris and the “202”,and see the sorry state of Jacintobefore he returned to Portugal, it is clear that this kind of development wouldbe a step backwards in the high quality of life and happiness that a rural lifein the mountains has to offer. At the time of writing this novel, Eça de Queiroz was in the later stagesof his life and living in Paris, having travelled across the world and seenmany different places in his lifetime.24 Inprevious works, Eça had traditionallybeen very critical of Portuguese society but in his later works such as “The City and the Mountains” and “The Illustrious House of Ramires” heseems to have changed his mind.
Itappears that he was getting tired and worn out by city life hence furtherenforcing his appreciation of his homeland of Portugal and the simplisticlifestyle that prevails. Some say that Eçastill holds these critical views in “TheCity and the Mountains” but displays them more subtly with Jacinto who represents modernity beingable to improve to some extent the quality of life for others on the countryestate.25However, the most significant change we see in the novel is the change in thecharacter of Jacinto who becomesrejuvenated in the mountains of Portugal after deeply suffering in Paris in aworld of modernity.
Through the changes in Jacinto’scharacter and the contrasts between the “202” and the country estate, it isclear that the novel “The City and theMountains” is a warning to Portugal of the spread of modernity across thecountry. 1 Eça de Queiroz, The City and the Mountains, trans.Margaret Jull Costa (United Kingdom:Dedalus Ltd, 2008), p. 19. 2 Peggy Sharp Valadares, The City in Five Major Novels of Eça de Queiroz (Ph.D.
TheUniversity of New Mexico, 1981), p. 212. 3 Eça de Queiroz, p.
87. 4 David G. Frier, Who Wrote the rules? Consumers andconsumption in Eça’s A cidade e as serras and Saramago’s A caverna (Luso-Brazilian Review, Volume 51, 2014)
29.7 Peggy Sharp Valadares, p. 247-248 8 Ibid., p. 243.
9 Eça de Queiroz, p. 28 10 Ibid., p. 153. 11 Ibid.
, p. 155. 12 Ibid.
, p. 27.13 Ibid.
, p. 157. 14 Ibid., pp. 157-58. 15 Ibid., p. 35 16 Peggy Sharp Valadares, p.
242.17 Eça de Queiroz, pp. 33-6. 18 Ibid., p. 36 19 Ibid., p. 36.
20 Ibid., p. 87. 21 Ibid., p. 141. 22Ibid.
, p. 142. 23Peggy Sharp Valadares, p.
251. 24Stephen Parkinson, Claudia Pazos Alonso and T.F.Earle, A Companion to PortugueseLiterature (United Kingdom: Tamesis Books, 2013), p. 131.25Timothy Brown Jr.
Pessimism in the Novels of Eça de Queiroz: All’s Well That Ends Well? (KentuckyRomance Quarterly, Published online: 2010), p. 344.https://doi.org/10.1080/03648664.1974.9928066