Baltasar and Blimunda


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“A romance and an adventure, a rumination on royalty and religion in 18th-century Portugal and a bitterly ironic comment on the uses of power.” —The New York Times

Portugal, 1711. The Portuguese king promises the greedy prelates of the Church an expansive new convent, should they intercede with God to give him an heir. A lonely priest works in maniacal solitude on his Passarola, a heretical flying machine he hopes will allow him to soar far from the madness surrounding him. A young couple, brought together by chance, live out a sweet, if tormented, romance. Meanwhile, amid the fires and horrors of the Inquisition, angry crowds and abused peasants rejoice in spectacles of cruelty, from bullfighting to auto-da-fe; disgraced priests openly flout God’s laws; and chaos reigns over a society on the brink of disaster.
Weaving together multiple storylines to present both breathtaking fiction and incisive commentary, renowned Portuguese writer and winner of the 1998 Nobel Prize in Literature, José Saramago spins an epic and captivating yarn, equal parts historical fiction, political satire, religious criticism, and whimsical romance. Hailed by USA Today as “an unexpected gem,” Baltasar and Blimunda is a captivating literary tour de force, full of magic and adventure, exquisite historical detail, and the power of both human folly and human will.



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Date de parution 16 octobre 1998
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EAN13 9780547537177
Langue English

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Title Page Contents Copyright Dedication Epigraphs BALTASAR AND BLIMUNDA Translator’s Note Publishers’ Note Acknowledgments About the Author
© Editorial Caminho, SARL, Lisboa, 1982 English translation copyright © 1987 by Harcourt, Inc. All rights reserved. No part of this publication may be reproduced or transmitted in any form or by any means, electronic or mechanical, including photocopy, recording, or any information storage and retrieval system, without permission in writing from the publisher. For information about permission to reproduce selections from this book, write to trade.permissions@hmhco.comor to Permissions, Houghton Mifflin Harcourt Publishing Company, 3 Park Avenue, 19th Floor, New York, New York 10016. This is a translation ofMemorial do Convento. The Library of Congress has cataloged the print edition as follows: Saramago, José Baltasar and Blimunda. Translation of: Memorial do convento. I. Title. PQ9281.A66M4613 1987 869.3'42 87-8697 ISBN 0-15-110555-3 ISBN 0-15-600520-4 (pbk.) eISBN 978-0-547-53717-7 v5.0716
In memoriam Giovanni Pontiero
A man was on his way to the gallows when he met ano ther, who asked him: Where are you going, my friend? And the condemned man replied: I’m not going anywhere. They ’re taking me by force. Padre Manuel Velho
João Je sais que je tombe dans l’inexplicable, quand j’a ffirme que la réalité—cette notion si flottante—la connaissanc e la plus exacte possible des êtres est notre point de contac t, et notre voie d’accès aux choses qui dépassent la réalité. Marguerite Yourcenar
DOM JOÃO, THE FIFTH monarch so named on the royal list, will pay a vis it this night to the bedchamber of the Queen, Dona Maria Ana Josefa, who arrived more than two years ago from Austria to provide heirs for the Portuguese crown, and so far has shown no signs of becoming pregnant. Already there are ru mours at court, both within and without the royal palace, that the Queen is barren, an insinuation that is carefully guarded from hostile ears and tongues and confided only to intimates. That anyone should blame the King is unthinkable, first because infertility is an evil that befalls not men but women, who for that very reason are often d isowned and second, because there is material evidence, should such a thing be necessary, in the horde of bastards produced by the royal semen, who populate the kingd om and even at this moment are forming a procession in the square. Moreover, it is not the King but the Queen who spends all her time in prayer, beseeching a child from heaven, for two good reasons. The first reason is that a king, especially a king of Portugal, does not ask for something that he alone can provide, and the second reason is that a woman is essentially a vessel made to be filled, a natural supplicant, whe ther she pleads in novenas or in occasional prayers. But neither the perseverance of the King who, unless there is some canonical or physiological impediment, vigorously p erforms his royal duty twice weekly, nor the patience and humility of the Queen, who, be sides praying, subjects herself to total immobility after her husband’s withdrawal, so that their generative secretions may fertilise undisturbed, hers scant from a lack of in centive and time, and because of her deep moral scruples, the King’s prodigious, as one might expect from a man who is not yet twenty-two years of age, neither the one factor nor the other has succeeded so far in causing Dona Maria Ana’s womb to become swollen. Yet God is almighty. Almost as mighty as God is the replica of the Basilica of St Peter in Rome that the King is building. It is a construction without a ba se or foundation, resting on a table-top, which does not need to be very solid to take the we ight of a model in miniature of the original basilica, the pieces lying scattered, waiting to be inserted by the old method of tongue and groove, and they are handled with the utmost reverence by the four footmen on duty. The chest in which they are stored gives off an odour of incense, and the red velvet cloths in which they are separately wrapped, so that the faces of the statues do not scratch against the capitals of the columns, reflect the light cast by the huge candelabras. The building is almost ready. All the walls have been hinged together, and the columns have been firmly slotted into place under the cornice with the name and title of Paolo V Borghese inscribed in Latin which the King no longer reads, although it always gives him enormous pleasure to o bserve that the ordinal number after the Pope’s name corresponds to the V that com es after his own. In a king, modesty would be a sign of weakness. He starts to p lace the effigies of prophets and saints into the appropriate grooves on top of the w alls and the footman gives a low bow as he removes each statue from its precious velvet wrappings. One by one, he hands the King a statue of some prophet lying face down, or of some saint turned the wrong way around, but no one heeds this unintentional irreverence as the King proceeds to restore the order and solemnity that befits sacred objects and turning them upright, he inserts each vigilant statue into its rightful posi tion. What the statues see from their lofty setting is not St Peter’s Square but the King of Po rtugal and his retinue of footmen. They see the floor of the dais and the screens look ing on to the Royal Chapel, and tomorrow at early Mass, unless they have already be en wrapped up and put back in the chest, the statues will see the King devoutly atten d the Holy Sacrifice of the Mass with his entourage, different nobles from those who are with him at present, for the week is ending and others are due to take their place. Bene ath the dais where we are standing,
there is a second dais, also hidden by screens, but there are no pieces here waiting to be assembled, it is an oratory or a chapel where th e Queen attends Mass privately, yet not even this holy place has been conducive to preg nancy. Now all that remains to be set in position is the dome by Michelangelo, a copy of that remarkable achievement in stone which, becauses of its massive proportions, i s kept in a separate chest and, as the final, and crowning piece, is treated with spec ial care. The footmen make haste to assist the King and, with a resounding clatter, the tenons and mortises are fitted together and the job is finished. If the overwhelmi ng noise that echoes throughout the chapel should penetrate the long corridors and spac ious apartments of the palace into the chamber where the Queen is waiting, she will kn ow that her husband is on his way. Let her wait. The King is still preparing himself b efore retiring for the night. His footmen have helped him to undress and have garbed him in the appropriate ceremonial robes, each garment passing from hand to hand with as much reverence as if they were the relics of holy virgins, and this c eremony is enacted in the presence of other servants and pages, one opens the huge chest, another draws back the curtains, one raises the candle, while another trims the wick , two footmen stand to attention, and two more follow suit, while several others hover in the background with no apparent duties to fulfil. At long last, thanks to their com bined labours, the King is ready, one of the nobles in attendance straightens a last fold, a nother adjusts the embroidered nightshirt, and any moment now, Dom João V will be heading for the Queen’s bedchamber. The vessel is waiting to be filled. Now Dom Nuno da Cunha, the bishop who heads the Inq uisition makes his entrance accompanied by an elderly Franciscan friar. Before he approaches the King to deliver his news, there is an elaborate ritual to be observ ed with reverences and salutations, pauses and retreats, the established protocol when approaching the monarch, and these formalities we shall treat as having been dul y observed, given the urgency of the bishop’s visit and the nervous tremors of the elderly friar. Dom João V and the Inquisitor withdraw to one side, and the latter exp lains, The friar who stands before you is Friar Antony of St Joseph, to whom I have confid ed Your Majesty’s distress at the Queen’s inability to bear you children. I begged of him that he should intercede on Your Majesty’s behalf, so that God may grant you success ion, and he replied that Your Majesty will have children if he so wishes, and the n I asked him what he meant by these obscure words, since it is well known that Yo ur Majesty wishes to have children, and he replied in plain words that if Your Majesty promises to build a convent in the town of Mafra, God will grant you an heir, and afte r delivering this message, Dom Nuno fell silent and bade the friar approach. The King inquired, Is what His Eminence the bishop has just told me true, that if I promise to build a convent in Mafra I shall have he irs to succeed me and the friar replied, It is true, Your Majesty, but only if the convent is entrusted to the Franciscan Order and the King asked him, How do you know these things and Friar Antony replied, I know, although I cannot explain how I came to kno w, for I am only the instrument through which the truth is spoken, Your Majesty nee d only respond with faith, Build the convent and you will soon have offspring, should yo u refuse, it will be up to God to decide. The King dismissed the friar with a gesture and then asked Dom Nuno da Cunha, Is this friar a man of virtue, whereupon the bishop replied, There is no man more virtuous in the Franciscan Order. Reassured th at the pledge requested of him was worthy, Dom João, the fifth monarch by that nam e, raised his voice so that all present might hear him speak, and so that what he h ad to say would be reported throughout the city and the realm the following day , I promise, by my royal word, that I
shall build a Franciscan convent in the town of Mafra if the Queen gives me an heir within a year from this day, and everyone present rejoined, May God heed Your Majesty, although no one knew who or what was to be put to the test, Almighty God Himself, the virtue of Friar Antony, the King’s potency, or the Queen’s questionable fertility. Meanwhile, Dona Maria Ana is conversing with her Po rtuguese chief lady-in-waiting, the Marchioness de Unhão. They have already discuss ed the religious devotions of the day, their visit to the convent of the discalced Ca rmelites of the Immaculate Conception at Cardais, and the novena of St Francis Xavier, wh ich is due to start tomorrow in the parish of St Roch, the conversation one might expec t between a queen and a woman of noble birth, exclamatory and at the same time fearful, as they invoke the names of saints and martyrs, their tones becoming poignant w henever the conversation touches on the trials and sufferings of holy men and women, even if these simply consisted in mortifying the flesh by means of fasting and wearin g hairshirts. The King’s imminent arrival, however, has been announced, and he comes with burning zeal, eager and excited at the thought of this mystical union of hi s carnal duty and the pledge he has just made to Almighty God through the mediation and good offices of Friar Antony of St Joseph. The King enters the Queen’s bedroom accompa nied by two footmen, who start to remove his outer garments, the Marchioness, assi sted by a lady-in-waiting of equal rank who came with the Queen from Austria, doing th e same for the Queen, passing each garment to another noblewoman, the participants in this ritual make quite a gathering, their Royal Highnesses bow solemnly to e ach other, the formalities seem interminable, until finally the footmen depart thro ugh one door and the ladies-in-waiting through another where they will wait in separate an terooms until the act is over and they are summoned to escort the King back to his ap artments which were occupied by the Dowager Queen when the King’s late father was s till alive, and the ladies-in-waiting come to settle Dona Maria Ana under the eiderdown that she also brought from Austria, for she cannot sleep without it, be it summer or winter. This eiderdown is so suffocating, even during the chilly nights of February, that Dom Joáo V finds it impossible to spend the entire night with the Queen, although it was different during the first months of marriage, when the novelty outweighed the considera ble discomfort of waking to find himself bathed in perspiration, his own as well as that of the Queen, who slept with the covers pulled over her head, her body accumulating odours and secretions. Accustomed to a northern climate, Dona Maria Ana ca nnot bear the torrid heat of Lisbon. She covers herself from head to foot with the huge, overstuffed eiderdown, and there she remains, curled up like a mole that has found a boulder in its path and is trying to decide on which side it should continue to burrow its tunnel. The King and Queen are wearing long nightshirts tha t trail on the ground, the King’s has an embroidered hem, while the Queen’s has much more elaborate trimmings, so that not even the tip of her big toe can be seen, for of all the immodesties known to man, this is probably the most audacious. Dom João guides Dona Maria Ana by the hand to the bed, like a gentleman leading his partn er on to the dance floor. Before ascending the steps, each kneels on his or her resp ective side of the bed and says the prescribed prayers, for fear of dying unconfessed d uring sexual intercourse, Dom João V determined that his efforts should bear fruit on this occasion, his hopes redoubled as he trusts in God’s assistance and in his own virile strength, and protesting his faith, he begs the Almighty to give him an heir. As for Dona Maria Ana, one may assume that she is imploring the same divine favour, unless for some reason she enjoys special dispensations under the seal of the confessional.
The King and Queen are now settled in bed. This is the bed that was dispatched from Holland when the Queen arrived from Austria, specia lly ordered by the King, and it cost him seventy-five thousand cruzados, for in Portugal no craftsmen of such excellence are to be found and were they to be found, they wou ld certainly earn less. An untrained eye would find it difficult to tell that this magnificent piece of furniture is made of wood, concealed as it is under ornate drapes woven with g old threads and lavishly embroidered with rosettes, not to mention the overh anging canopy, which resembles a papal baldachin. When the bed was newly installed, there were no bedbugs although once in use, the warmth of human bodies attracted a n infestation, but whether these bedbugs were lurking in the palace apartments or ca me from the city, no one knows. The elaborate curtains and hangings in the Queen’s bedroom made it impractical to smoke them out, so there was no other remedy but to make an offering of fifty réis to St Alexis every year, in the hope that he would rid th e Queen and all of us from this plague and the insufferable itching. On nights when the King visits the Queen, the bedbugs come out at a much later hour because of the heavin g of the mattress, for they are insects who enjoy peace and quiet and prefer to dis cover their victims asleep. In the King’s bed, too, there are yet more bedbugs waiting for their share of blood, for His Majesty’s blood tastes no better or worse than that of the other inhabitants of the city, whether blue or otherwise. Dona Maria Ana extends a moist hand to the King, wh ich, despite having been heated under the covers, soon grows cold in the chi lly atmosphere of the bedchamber and the King, who has already done his duty, and is feeling quite hopeful after a most convincing and skilful performance, gives Dona Mari a Ana a kiss as his Queen and as the future mother of his child, unless Friar Antony of St Joseph has been rash with his promises. It is Dona Maria Ana who tugs the bell-pu ll, whereupon the King’s footmen enter from one side and the Queen’s ladies-in-waiti ng from the other. Various odours hover in the air and one of them is unmistakable fo r without its presence the long-awaited miracle could not possibly take place, and besides, the much-quoted immaculate conception of the Virgin Mary occurred b ut once so that the world might know that Almighty God, when He so chooses, has no need of men, though He cannot dispense with women. Notwithstanding constant reassurances from her confessor, on these occasions Dona Maria Ana is overcome by a sense of guilt. Onc e the King and his retinue have departed, and the ladies-in-waiting, who remain in attendance until she is ready to fall asleep, have withdrawn, the Queen always feels a mo ral obligation to fall to her knees and pray for forgiveness but at her doctors’ insistence she must not stir, lest she disturb the incubation, so she resigns herself to muttering her prayers in bed, the rosary beads slipping ever more slowly through her fingers, unti l finally she falls asleep in the midst of a Hail Mary full of grace, that Mary for whom it was all so easy, blessed be the fruit of thy womb Jesus, while in her own anguished womb she hopes at least for a son, Dear Lord, at least one son. She has never confessed to this involuntary pride because remote and involuntary, so much so that were she to be called to judgment she would truthfully swear that she had always addressed her prayers to the Virgin and her holy womb. These are the meanderings of her subconscious mind like those other dreams no one can explain, that Dona Maria Ana always expe riences when the King comes to her bed, in which she finds herself crossing the Pa lace Square alongside the slaughterhouses, lifting her skirts before her as s he flounders in the slimy mud smelling of men when they relieve themselves, while the ghos t of her brother-in-law, the Infante Dom Francisco, whose former apartments she now occu pies, reappears and dances all