'You killed my character!' Clarice Lispector said angrily to the nurse who stopped her from marching out of hospital the day before she died of ovarian cancer, aged 57, in 1977. The Brazilian writer and her characters had always been close, and it seems that self and creation had finally merged in her mind. Others had already made the connection. After she left her husband in 1959, he poured out his regrets to her in a letter that addressed her as both of the women in her first novel - the untamed, amoral Joana and the placid, domestic Lídia - while casting himself as the dumb man in between: 'I rejected Joana because her world frightened me, instead of reaching out to her. I accepted, too much, the role of Otávio ... Forgive me, my darling, for ... not knowing how to convince Joana that she and Lídia were, and are, the same person in Clarice.' That novel, Near to the Wild Heart, had shocked Brazil's timid literary world in 1943. It wasn't so much the classic dichotomy of freedom v. social bondage, here figured as freedom v. marriage, as the ecstatic modernity and vitality of Lispector's writing that impressed and appalled her contemporaries.
LRB 8 April 2010 | PDF Download