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José de Alencar

Date Born.:

Writer, Politician

José de Alencar

Article available in: PT-BR

Last update: 14/02/2017

By: Semira Adler Vainsencher - N/I

At the beginning of the 19th century, José Martiniano de Alencar, a priest in the town of Nossa Senhora da Conceição Messejana, was married to his first cousin, Ana Josefina de Alencar. The union of the two cousins, it is worth emphasising, would provide much gossip.

This fact is so true that the 1853 ‘Scripture of Recognition and Profiling of Spurious Sons’, recorded that the priest José Martiniano de Alencar, already being a cleric of Sacred Orders, contracted an illicit and private friendship with Mrs Josefina de Alencar, his cousin in the first degree, and with her has had twelve children up to now [...]

José Martiniano de Alencar was one of the republican revolutionaries of 1817, and even became senator of the Empire and governor of the province of Ceará.

On 1 May 1829, in Alagadiço Novo, a small village near Fortaleza, in the state of Ceará, the firstborn son of that couple – José Martiniano de Alencar – was born with the same name as his father. For the family, his nickname was Cazuza.

José’s early years were spent in his homeland. Still small, and encouraged to read, the boy caught the attention of adults when showing intellectual development higher than his chronological age.

The school where he studied – Januário Mateus Ferreira – as well as the influence from his mother would give the boy the taste for literature. Almost every evening after dinner, Mrs Ana Josefina asked her son to read a book aloud, so she and her friends could listen while they were having tea.

This task was undertaken with such a feeling that one night the women present burst into tears. At that time, Father Carlos Augusto Peixoto de Alencar, an old family relative, entered the room. Frightened by their weeping, he asked what misfortune had occurred. Joseph clarified this by showing him the open book: “It was Amanda’s father that died!” Father Carlos could not help himself and laughed out loud.

José Martiniano de Alencar had seven siblings: Leonel, Tristão, Maria Amélia, Bárbara Augusta, Joaquina Carolina, Argentina Adélia and Carlos.

In 1843, at the age of fourteen, José disembarked in São Paulo and went to live in a student hostel on São Bento Street. There, he would academically prepare to take the preparatory exams for Law.

José de Alencar’s presence in class would be almost obscure, since he spent most of his time reading novels, books of philosophy, history, and romantic literature. One of his greatest aspirations was militant journalism, and not the forensic profession.

In 1846, the writer entered the Largo de São Francisco Faculty of Law, completing his bachelor’s degree in 1849. In the city of São Paulo, where he lived for seven years, he would create the weekly magazine Ensaios Literários [Literary Essays] along with some classmates. Here he would publish his first essays.

Moving to Rio de Janeiro, the lawyer-journalist began to work as a chronicler and collaborator at Correio Mercantil, a newspaper in which his chronicles entitled Ao correr da pena [Writing Freely] were published. In 1855, José de Alencar would change jobs, going to manage and lead the editorial of the Diário do Rio de Janeiro newspaper, along with his brother Leonel. In this periodical, he produced, under the pseudonym of Ig., Cartas sobre a Confederação dos Tamoios [Letters on the Confederation of Tamoios], a work of profound literary criticism.

For having disagreed with Dom Pedro II, José de Alencar failed to achieve the great dream he had: to be elected senator. The Emperor would scratch his name off the list of new senators from Ceará. However, his prestige as a bachelor of law and writer, associated with the undeniable tendency to work in the public sphere, made him enter politics in 1861. Four times, it is worth noting, he was elected representative for Ceará, and he was also Minister of Justice of the Itaboraí Cabinet from 1869 to 1870. During this period, he would write works of a political nature.

The first novels by José de Alencar – Cinco minutos (Five Minutes) (1856), Viuvinha (The Little Widow) (1857), and O Guarani (The Guarani) (1857) – were published in the form of serials in the Diário do Rio de Janeiro newspaper. The book O Guarani, in particular, represents the epic of Brazil that had not been written, that is, it is a historical novel about the formation of the Brazilian nationality, which shows the country’s wonderful panel of nature, with its rivers and forests, its history and roots.

Jose de Alencar was 28 years old when he wrote the play O Rio de Janeiro (verse and reverse), a kind of light review. Staged in the theatre on Lavradio street in Rio de Janeiro, this play was warmly received by the public.

Thirty-nine days after the success of that play, the writer launched another one in 4 acts at the Teatro do Ginásio Dramático [Dramatic Gymnasium Theatre] – O demônio familiar [The Familiar Demon] – that was even watched by Dom Pedro II and by the Empress Teresa Cristina.

A few days later, José de Alencar released a third comedy – O Credito [The Credit] – which was staged at the same theatre. Therefore, in less than three months, the author had had three plays staged in theatres.

Besides those, he would also write other works: A noite de São João [St John’s Night], As asas de um anjo [The Wings of an Angel], Dama das camélias [Lady of the Camellias], Mulheres de mármore [Women of Marble] and Mãe [Mother]. The author was famous as a novelist and a playwright, and he was editor-in-chief of the newspaper O Diário do Rio.

In 1859, José de Alencar entered the Public Service, going to work as a counsellor in the Department of Justice Affairs. In the same year, he would be a business consultant to the Imperial Government.

In 1862, the writer published the novel Lucíola. His play O que é o casamento? [What Is Marriage?] would be staged in the theatre that same year. He would write, in 1863, the poems A Valsa [The Waltz] and Os filhos de Tupã [The Sons of Tupan].

Other works by the author were As minas de prata [The Silver Mines], written in 1862, and Diva in 1864. In that year, the writer would marry Georgiana Cochrane and would also publish one of his most celebrated novels – Iracema.

In 1865 he published Cartas políticas de Erasmo [Erasmus’ Political Letters], Novas cartas políticas de Erasmo [Erasmus’ New Political Letters], O juízo de Deus [The Judgment of God], Visão de Jó [Job’s Vision] and O sistema representativo, [The Representative System]. In that same year, Augusto, the first son of José de Alencar, was born, and he would also publish the Cartas de Erasmo [Erasmus’ Letters], which targeted Emperor D. Pedro II.

Years later, on the vocation to be a writer, he would say:

It was only in 1848 that the vein of the novel appeared in me. I had just spent two months in my homeland. This had reminded me of the springs and the very fond memories of childhood, there in the same places where I was born.

In Olinda, where I was studying my third year, and in the old library of the convent of São Bento, reading the chroniclers of the colonial era, the landscapes of my motherland, Ceará, were constantly being painted on the canvas of reminiscences.

José de Alencar was a minister of the Imperial Government in 1868. At the end of 1869, he created the newspaper Dezesseis de Julho [16 July] with his brother Leonel. From 1870 to 1875, the novelist would write many other works: O Gaúcho [The Gaucho] (1870), A pata da gazela [The Gazelle’ Hoof] (1870), Sonhos d’ouro [Dreams of Gold] (1872), Til (1872), Alfarrábio (O garatuja [The Garatuja], O ermitão da Glória [The Hermit of Glória], and A alma de Lázaro [Lazarus’ Soul]) (1872-1873), A Guerra dos Mascates [The War of the Peddlers] (1873), Ubirajara (1874), Senhora [Lady] (1875), O sertanejo [The Backwoodsman] (1875) and O jesuíta [The Jesuit] (1875). Also, under the pseudonym of Um Asno [An Ass], he would publish the pamphlet A corte do leão [The Lion’s Court].

The second son of the writer – Mario – was born in 1872. José de Alencar also had several other children: Elisa, Clarice, Ceci and Adélia.

José de Alencar would face serious health problems in 1875 due to tuberculosis, a disease that had afflicted him for more than two decades. He travelled to London, Paris and Lisbon in an attempt to recover for the illness, but the trip did not achieve the desired goal.

A few months later, back in Brazil, the writer reopened his law firm in Quitanda Street, Rio de Janeiro. As much as everyone sensed the end, the tireless attorney-journalist-writer continued to prolong death: he gave himself over to work in body and soul. He would also found the newspaper O Protesto [The Protest], where he would launch barbs against the Emperor D. Pedro II, the Duke of Caxias and the Baron of Cotegipe.

With a persistent cough, he worked until almost his last hour writing Filhos de Tupã [Sons of Tupan]. A month before his death, José de Alencar confessed that he feared that he would not live long enough to have this work completed, but that he would “go on anyway.”

Already very sick, he would say:

"My life is short. I need to put something together so that my children will be educated without the favour of strangers."

On 12 December 1877, at the age of 48, the illustrious novelist and playwright from Ceará died in the Laranjeiras neighbourhood in Rio de Janeiro.

The sculptor Rodolfo Bernadelli created his death mask, making a copy of his face. This is preserved until today in the Historical Museum. Georgiana requested that the original cast, onto which a few strands of the writer’s beard were glued, be placed inside the coffin and taken to the grave. José de Alencar was buried in the first block of the São Francisco Xavier Cemetery.

In 1893, his last two works were published posthumously: Como e porque sou romancista [How and Why I Am a Novelist] (a kind of confession) and Encarnação [Incarnation].

Jose Martiniano de Alencar did not have to wait for posterity to obtain public recognition. In life, he had already achieved praise and glory. The celebrated writer left a vast opus of novels, plays, novels, chronicles, essays, letters and speeches.

Recife, 22 March 2004.
(Updated on 12 March 2008).
Translated by Peter Leamy, December 2016.

sources consulted

COSTA SOBRINHO, Pedro Vicente; PATRIOTA NETO, Nelson Ferreira (Org.). Vozes do Nordeste. Natal: EDUFRN, 2001.

COUTINHO, Afrânio et al. Conferências comemorativas do centenário da morte de Alencar-1977. Rio de Janeiro: Museu Histórico Nacional, 1981

FREIXIEIRO, Fábio. Alencar: os bastidores e a posteridade. 2. ed. Rio de Janeiro: Museu Histórico Nacional, 1981.

GADELHA, Mona. José de Alencar. Fortaleza: Edições Demócrito Rocha, 2001.

JOSÉ de Alencar [Foto neste texto]. Disponível em: <>. Acesso em: 14 fev. 2017.

MENEZES, Raimundo de. José de Alencar: literato e político. 2. ed. Rio de Janeiro: Livros Técnicos e Científicos, 1977.

VIANA FILHO, Luís. A vida de José de Alencar. Rio de Janeiro: José Olympio; Brasília: Instituto Nacional do Livro, 1979.

how to quote this text

Source: VAINSENCHER, Semira Adler. José de Alencar. Pesquisa Escolar Online, Fundação Joaquim Nabuco, Recife. Disponível em: <>. Acesso em: dia  mês ano. Ex: 6 ago. 2009.