Teolinda Gersão

Biography

Teolinda Gersão was born in Coimbra, Portugal, in 1940 and studied German, Romance and English Studies in Coimbra, Tübingen and Berlin. She worked as an Assistant Lecturer at Berlin’s Technical University and lectured in German Literature and Comparative Studies at Lisbon’s New University. Since 1995 she has dedicated herself exclusively to writing. Her time in Berlin, as well as the two years she spent living in São Paulo and a stay in Mozambique’s capital Maputo (then Lourenço Marques), greatly influenced the writer and feature in some of her work: ‘Encontro no S-Bahn’ [Encounter on the S-Bahn] (Berlin); some text excerpts from Os Guarda-Chuvas Cinitilantes [The Glittering Umbrellas] (São Paulo); A Árvore das Palavras [The Word Tree] (set in Lourenço Marques/Maputo) and ‘A Mulher Que Prendeu a Chuva’ [The Woman Who Stole the Rain] (set in Lisbon, juxtaposing European and African cultures). Teolinda Gersão represented Portugal at the 1997 book fair in Frankfurt and was the writer-in- residence at the University of Berkeley, California, in 2004.

Gersão sees herself mainly as a novelist, and certainly the early part of her career as a writer is dominated by the genre. Her first novel O Silêncio [Silence] was published in 1981 to great critical acclaim and won the Prémio de Ficção do Pen Club that year. The silence of O Silêncio is founded in a patriarchal system that denied women a voice in public, in marriage, and as writers. The novel’s heroine Lídia tries to break the silence imposed on her by a male-dominated society through acts of resistance (the most controversial is the implied abortion in the closing sections of the novel), just as a whole new generation of Portuguese women writers (Teolinda Gersão amongst them) were trying to break the male hold over literary production in the 1980s. Gersão declares in an interview with the Frankfurter Rundschau in 1987 that censorship under the Salazar regime was one of the main impediments to the publication of her texts, but it is not simply the political silencing that many of her novels thematise. Most of her heroines, like Lídia, resist the impositions of male hegemony, demanding a new language and a new society that would grant women the same rights as men.

After the publication of her second novel Paisagem com Mulher e Mar ao Fundo [Landscape with Woman and Sea], which depicts Hortense’s reckoning and coming to terms with the trauma of Salazar’s dictatorship after the Carnation Revolution on 25 April 1974, and a children’s book História do Homem na Gaiola e do Pássaro Encarnado [The Story of the Man in the Bird Cage and the Red Bird] (1982), Gersão turned to the more experimental fiction of Os Guarda-Chuvas Cintilantes [The Glittering Umbrellas] (1984). The text could be described as an ‘anti-diary’ that features short excerpts of dialogue between human protagonists and talking animals as well as stories of metamorphosis, such as that of the woman who turns into a fox, later published first in English translation as ‘The Red Fox Fur Coat’ (2004) in the Threepenny Review and then included as a short story in Portuguese as ‘Um Casaco de Raposa Vermelha’ in the collection A Mulher Que Prendeu a Chuva in 2007.

Three more novels followed, O Cavalo do Sol [The Sun Horse] (1989), A Casa da Cabeça de Cavalo [The House of the Horse’s Head] (1995) and A Árvore das Palavras [The Word Tree] (1997). O Cavalo do Sol and A Árvore das Palavras describe the coming-of-age of Vitória and Gita, who free themselves from the constrictions of a bourgeois marriage (Vitória) and the conventions of a white European upbringing (Gita). While for Vitória it is a tempestuous love affair that allows her to break free from conventions, it is the African sensuality, expressed in the mothering of her ‘othermother’ Lóia that sets Gita on a path to adulthood that is incompatible with her European roots. In A Casa da Cabeça de Cavalo, Gersão returns to the aristocratic family home in which O Cavalo do Sol was set. While O Cavalo do Sol depicts Portuguese society at the turn of the 20th century, A Casa da Cabeça de Cavalo delves further into the past, recounting events from the early and mid-19th century. In this novel Gersão’s astute criticism of societal conventions takes a wider sweep than merely critiquing political and ideological realities. A Casa da Cabeça de Cavalo questions our understanding of (male) historicity and the importance of the written word against the (female) oral traditions of storytelling and memorising in the ghostly voices of her characters, who from ‘the first plane of death’ see the past and its events in a timeliness outside time and being. This provides an ‘outside’ view of historical developments and bears an urgent message of change to future generations.

A focus on short fiction and translation marks Gersão's work between 2000 and 2010. Her novellas Os Teclados [The Clavier] (1999) and Os Anjos [Angels] (2000) already mark a turning towards shorter forms of fiction, and led in 2002 to the publication of her first volume of short stories: Histórias de Ver e Andar [Stories of Seeing and Walking]. In an interview with the Portuguese cultural magazine Jornal de Letras in 2011, Gersão concedes that ‘short stories are, for me, a destination, contrary to what happens with most writers who see it as a point of departure’ (Nunes, 2011: 9). The collaboration with British translator Margaret Jull Costa has made her short stories available to an English-speaking audience and many of them – ‘The Old Lady’, ‘The Letter’, ‘Grandmother and Grandson Against Wind and Sand’, ‘The Red Fox Fur Coat’, ‘The Reader’, ‘Encounter on the S-Bahn’, ‘The Umbrella’, ‘The Woman Who Stole the Rain’, ‘Four Children, Two Dogs and Some Birds’, and ‘The Mimosas’ – were published in cultural magazines (The Threepenny Review, Hayden’s Ferry Review and Strange Harbours) or internet fora dedicated to translated literatures (such as WordsWithoutBorders). The online publication of ‘The Woman Who Stole the Rain’, especially, created wide interest in the author in the blogosphere. Meanwhile, ‘The Red Fox Fur Coat’ was performed on stage (Symphony Space Theatre, NY, 2005) and in radio broadcasts (BBC and New York Public Radio, 2008). Robert Shapard and James Thomas included ‘The Red Fox Fur Coat’ in their anthology New Sudden Fiction that brings together texts and authors from around the world who experiment with short-short fictions, so-called ‘suddens’. In 2010 The Word Tree was published in its English translation by Margaret Jull Costa and in 2016 Jull Costa’s latest translation of Gersão’s novels, The City of Ulysses, will reach the English-speaking market.

After 2010 Gersão’s focus returned to the novel with the publication of A Cidade de Ulysses [The City of Ulysses] (2011), As Águas Livres [Free Flowing Waters] (2013) and Passagens [Passings] (2014). A Cidade de Ulysses and As Águas Livres are, to a certain extent, a return to her earlier novelistic oeuvre. After the republication of Os Guarda-chuvas Cintilantes, subtitled as Cadernos I, in 2014, As Águas Livres, Cadernos II, takes up the experimental tone of the anti-diary of 1984, featuring short texts and dialogues, as well as ‘short-short stories’. In A Cidade de Ulysses it is the thematic approach that brings together the written word and visual art to evoke echoes of first novel O Silêncio. The novel is told in the voice of Paulo, who returns to Lisbon to organise an exhibition of his work in the Gulbenkian Museum, but it is the voice of his ex-lover, the painter Cecília, that echoes Lídia’s struggle for a relationship that grants equality to both partners. Then as now, both heroines cannot find a resolution and leave, as the dominance of their partners makes the new life inside them an impossibility, though Cecília does not end her pregnancy. Passagens is dedicated to themes of old age and death: Ana guides the memorising of her own life through a ‘death in life’, which simulates Alzheimer’s disease, making for a painful reading of realities that are so often negated in contemporary society.

Compiled by Suzan Bozkurt (Manchester) 

Bibliography

O Silêncio (Lisbon: Livraria Bertrand, 1981)

Paisagem Com Mulher e Mar Ao Fundo (Lisbon: O Jornal, 1982)

Histórias do Homem na Gaiola e do Pássaro Encarnado (Lisbon: Livraria Bertrand, 1982)

Os Gurada-chuvas Cintilantes (Lisbon: Dom Quixote, 1984)

O Cavalo de Sol (Lisbon: Dom Quixote, 1989)

A Casa da Cabeça de Cavalo (Lisbon: Dom Quixote, 1995)

A Árvore das Palavras (Lisbon: Dom Quixote, 1997)

Os Teclados (Lisbon: Dom Quixote, 1999)

Os Anjos (Lisbon: Dom Quixote, 2000)

Histórias de Ver e Andar (Lisbon: Dom Quixote, 2002)

O Mensageiro e Outras Histórias com Anjos (Lisbon: Dom Quixote, 2003)

A Mulher Que Prendeu a Chuva (Oporto: Sextante Editora, 2007)

A Cidade de Ulisses (Oporto: Sextante Editora, 2011)

Os Teclados & Três Histórias com Anjos (Oporto: Sextante Editora, 2012)

As Águas Livres –Cadernos II (Oporto: Sextante Editora, 2013)

Passagens (Oporto: Sextante Editora, 2014)

English Translations

‘The Red Fox Fur Coat’ [Translation of an untitled story in Os Guarda-chuvas Cintilantes by Margaret Jull Costa] (The Threepenny Review 97, Spring 2004)

‘Grandmother and Grandson Against Wind and Sand’ [Translation of ‘Avó e Neto Contra Vento e Areia’ by Margaret Jull Costa] (The Threepenny Review 107, Fall 2006)

‘The Woman Who Stole the Rain’ [Translation of ‘A Mulher Que Prendeu a Chuva’ by Margaret Jull Costa], 2007, available online at http://www.wordswithoutborders.org/article/the-woman-who-stole-the-rain

‘The Reader’ [Translation of ‘O Leitor’ by Margaret Jull Costa] (The Threepenny Review 113, Spring 2008)

The Word Tree [Translation of A Árvore das Palavras by Margaret Jull Costa] (Sawtry: Dedalus, 2010)

‘The Letter’ [Translation of ‘As Cartas Deitadas’ by Margaret Jull Costa] (The Threepenny Review 120, Winter 2010)

‘The Angels’ [Translation of ‘Os Anjos’ by Margaret Jull Costa] (The Reading Room 8, 2010)

‘Encounter on the S-Bahn’ [Translation of ‘Encontro no S-Bahn’ by Margaret Jull Costa] (The Threepenny Review 126, Summer 2011)

‘Four Children, Two Dogs and Some Birds’ [Translation of ‘Quatro Crianças, Dois Cães e Pássaros’ by Margaret Jull Costa] (Strange Harbours 15, Autumn 2011)

‘Mimosas’ [Translation of ‘Mimosas’ by Margaret Jull Costa] (Hayden’s Ferry Review 52, Spring/Summer, 2013)

‘The Umbrella’ [Translation of an untitled story in Os Guarda-chuvas Cintilantes by Margaret Jull Costa] (The Threepenny Review 137, Spring 2014)

The City of Ulysses [Translation of A Cidade de Ulisses by Margaret Jull Costa] (Illinois: Dalkey Archives, 2016)

Compiled by Suzan Bozkurt (Manchester)

 

Criticism

Bozkurt, Suzan: The Dichotomy of Love and Death in the Fictional Work of Teolinda Gersão ([Master’s Thesis], University of Birmingham, 2011)

Dias, Maria Heloísa Martins: A Presença de Elementos Míticos na Narrativa de Teolinda Gersão (n.d., available online at http://hottopos.com/notand7/heloisa.htm

—: O Pacto Primordial entre Mulher e Escrita na Obra Ficcional de Teolinda Gersão, ([PhD Thesis], São Paulo, 1992)

Fátima Marinho, Maria de, and Rita, Annabela: Teolinda Gersão: Retratos Provisórios (Lisbon: Roma Editora, 2006)

Gomes dos Santos: ‘A Poética Ambivalente de A Casa da Cabeça de Cavalo: tão longe/ tão perto do “coração selvagem da escrita”’ in O Romance Português pós-25 de Abril edited by Petar Petrov (Lisbon: Roma Editora, 2005, pp. 209-225)

Goulart Almeida, Sandra Regina: Writing from the Place of the Other: The Poetic Discourse of Transgression in the Works of Virginia Woolf, Clarice Lispector and Teolinda Gersão ([PhD Thesis], University of North Carolina, Chapel Hill/North Carolina, 1994)

Hasebrink, Gisa: ‘Aufbrüche von Frauen und Künstlern in den Fiktionalen Welten von Teolinda Gersão’ in Die Schwestern der Mariana Alcoforado edited by Elfriede Engelmayer and Renate Heß (Berlin: Tranvía, 1993, pp. 103-119)

Horta, Maria Teresa: ‘O Silêncio de Teolinda Gersão’ (Mulheres, August 1981, pp. 76-77)

—: ‘A Palavra da Mulher’ (Mulheres, July 1982, p. 12)

Kinna: The Woman Who Stole the Rain by Teolinda Gersão’ (Kinna Reads, blog, 2011, available online at http://kinnareads.wordpress.com/2011/08/22/the-woman-who-stole-the-rain-by-teolinda-gersao/ 

Machado, Alvaro: ‘Leituras e Sobrevivências Intertextuais: Clarice Lispector e Teolinda Gersão’ (Terceira Margem: Revista de Estudos Brasileiro, 2004, pp. 43-46)

Magalhães, Isabel Allegro de: ‘Teolinda Gersão: O Tempo de O Silêncio/ O Tempo de Paisagem com Mulher e Mar Ao Fundo’ in O Tempo das Mulheres (Lisbon: A Casa do Moeda, 1987, pp. 389-420)

Mendes, Maria dos Prazeres: ‘A Metaleitura da Voz Feminina: Clarice Lispector e Teolinda Gersão’ (Via Atlântica, March 1997, pp 100-107)

Oliveira, Maria Lúcia Wiltshire de: ‘Destinos e Desejos Femininos em O Silêncio de Teolinda Gersão’ in Gênero e Representação nas Literaturas de Portugal e Africa edited by Constância Lima Duarte and Marli Fantini Scarpatti (Belo Horizonte: Universidade Federal de Minas Gerais, 2002, pp. 129-135)

Ornelas, José: ‘Subversão da Topografia Cultural do Patriacardo em Cavalo de Sol de Teolinda Gersão’ (Discursos 5, October 1993, pp. 115-134)

Owen, Hilary: ‘Through the Looking-Glass of History in Teolinda Gersão’s Paisagem com Mulher e Mar Ao Fundo’ in Portuguese Women’s Writing: Reincarnations of a Revolution (Lampeter: Mellen Press, 2000, pp. 41-57)

Pedrosa, Inês: ‘Continuar a Ler Dentro do Túnel’ (O Expresso, 28 September 2002, p.10)

Prado Coelho, Eduardo: ‘A Seda do Lenço’ in A Mecânica dos Fluidos (Lisbon: Casa de Moeda, 1984, pp. 92-99)

—: ‘Os Degraus da Morte’ (Público, 15 June 1996, p. 12)

Reis, Carlos: ‘Teolinda Gersão: Andar, Viver e Contar’ (Jornal de Letras, 19 March 2003, pp. 22-23)

Schurig, Dorothea: ‘Teolinda Gersão und ihre Romane O Silêncio und Paisagem com Mulher e Mar Ao Fundo’ in Portugiesische Romane der Gegenwart: Interpretationen edited by Rainer Hess (Frankfurt/M.: Vervuert Verlag, 1992, pp. 172-184)

Tavares, Maria Teresa: A Casa da Cabeça de Cavalo de Teolinda Gersão –escrever histórias, reescrever a História como forma de estar na História, ([Master’s Thesis], University of Oporto, 2000)

Compiled by Suzan Bozkurt (Manchester)

 

Interviews

Alves Clara Ferreira: ‘Teolinda Gersão:’Não gosto dessa conversa de escrita feminina…’ (Jornal de Letras 34, 1982, p. 8)

Gersão, Teolinda: ‘Entrevista Booktailors’, 23 October 2012, available online at http://blogtailors.com/6267342.html

Marques, Carlos Vaz: ‘Teolinda Gersão no Ciclo do Cavalo’ (Jornal de Letras 28 November 1989, p. 16)

Nunes, Maria Leonor: ‘Teolinda Gersão: temos que repensar o mundo’ (Jornal de Letras, 9 March 2011, pp. 9-11)

Pedrosa, Inês: ‘Teolinda Gersão: Interessa-me captar o inconsciente em relâmpagos’ (Jornal de Letras, 26 June 1984, p. 4)

Rodrigues da Silva, Manuel: ‘Teolinda Gersão: Quem conta um conto…’ (Jornal de Letras, 2 October 2002, pp. 10-11)

—: ‘Teolinda Gersão: Contos do nosso mal-estar’ (Jornal de Letras, 13 March 2007, pp. 12-14)

Xavier, Leonor: ‘Perto de nós’ (Máxima, December 2008, pp. 175-176)

Compiled by Suzan Bozkurt (Manchester)