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Fernando Pessoa and Nineteenth-Century Anglo-American Literature.

Fernando Pessoa and Nineteenth-Century Anglo-American Literature. By GEORGE MONTEIRO. (Studies in Romance Language, 46) Lexington: University Press of Kentucky. 2000. xxvi + 182 pp. $24.95. ISBN: 0-8131-2182-5.

Fernando Pessoa has occupied a unique place in the poetic canon of the twentieth century. The simultaneous wonder and difficulty of any consideration of Pessoa's career lies in tracing the distinct personalities of his many writerly personae, or 'heteronyms'. Monteiro begins Fernando Pessoa and Nineteenth-Century Anglo-American Literature with a chronology and introduction that are equally useful for placing the emergence of the major heteronyms in the context of the poet's life. This is followed by a broad review, from the published essays and poems down to the minutiae of Pessoa's marginalia, of Pessoa's productive engagement with the work of English and American poets.

Long undervalued by scholars of English and American modernism, Pessoa's place in and relevance to this tradition become apparent in Monteiro's analysis of the poet's struggles with several giants of the Victorian and Anglo-American Romantic eras. Monteiro thus completes the work of his The Presence of Pessoa (Lexington: University Press of Kentucky, 1998), in which he examined Pessoa's own influence on subsequent Anglo-American literary tradition. Throughout his text, Monteiro is at his best when framing influence in terms of Pessoa's reimagination of inherited themes or ways of seeing. And even when he departs from this method, to explore Pessoa's interests in terms of literary borrowing, the resulting portrait of a mind at work suggests a number of points of entry for further analysis.

Among the most illuminating are Monteiro's comments on the significance, in Pessoa's poetic universe, of relatively minor poets. His examination of the indirect influence of English Romantic William Lisle Bowles on the sonnets of Pessoa's Alvaro de Campos persona is both convincing and imaginative. It forms the foundation of his ultimate assertion of de Campos's anxious recapitulation of a Wordsworthian romantic stance from within an industrial landscape. Especially convincing is his later argument that Pessoa's heteronym Alberto Caeiro engages in a dismissive dialogue with the English poet Alice Meynell, adopting an opposition that mirrors Ruskin's to the 'pathetic fallacy'.

Monteiro's fourth chapter, 'Drama in Character: Robert Browning', is of the most interest to those who would seek to understand the debt to Anglo-American tradition not only of the poems themselves but of the very idea of creating a cadre of distinct narrative identities to which to ascribe them. Here, Monteiro addresses Pessoa's universe of narrative personae in a way that establishes even the emergence of this otherwise unique literary impulse in terms of a reaction to a major poetic precursor. In this case, it is in the dramatic verse of Victorian Robert Browning that, Monteiro claims, we can find 'the immediate predecessors for Pessoa's heteronymic creations' (p. 59). Monteiro characterizes Pessoa's achievement as a realization of Browning's 'Action in Character'. That is, he has authored a cast of character-poets, each coming into being by virtue of a peculiar style and set of 'concerns' (p. 62) that constitute the dramatic space for his own performance.

To have traced the intertextual relationships between the canonical texts of the Anglo-American poetic tradition and Pessoa's many personae (or heteronyms) is no small feat. Monteiro expansively accounts for the influence on Pessoa and his heteronyms of such diverse literary forces as Whitman, Ruskin, Alice Meynell, Hawthorne, and Poe. His text stands as both a thorough articulation of the many avenues of entry such study might follow and as a blueprint for future scholars who would continue this work.


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Author:March, Thomas
Publication:Yearbook of English Studies
Article Type:Book Review
Date:Jan 1, 2004
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