T. S. Eliot and the Premio Camoes: a brief honeymoon and anointment of Portuguese fascist politics.
Unfortunately, Eliot's widow has yet to issue the volume of his letters pertinent to this period. To complicate matters even more, the documents of the Secretariado da Propaganda Nacional (SPN), Salazar's cultural and propaganda services headed by Antonio Ferro (1895-1956), at the Lisbon Torre do Tombo archive are still unavailable for public consultation. Eliot scholars and biographers have recurrently noted his conservative views and his scepticism of democracy and its incapacity to address the problems of his time. They were often left wondering if he leaned more towards Hitler's or Mussolini'spolitical ideologies--but have failed to note that Eliot preferred a third way, a different version of authoritarianism.
While Ezra Pound was notorious for his radio broadcasts of Mussolini's fascist ideology, Eliot preferred a more discreet means such as sitting on the jury for a foreign literary prize. The scarcity of information on this issue coupled with the misleading stereotypes associated with a writer's sitting on a jury for a literary prize -especially if the nature of this prize was mostly ideological than artistic--has left this phase in Eliot's life completely ignored. I hope that the following analysis of this episode may finally help to clarify some of the speculations regarding Eliot's political views.
Trying to frame his stay in Portugal temporally and knowing what were his impressions of Lisbon (or the country), the Portuguese people, their living conditions, and other matters is--to use a cliche--like trying to find a needle in a haystack. While Ackroyd's reference does not tell us exactly when in April Eliot actually started to travel or arrived in Portugal, we do not know when he left either. What we do know for sure is that Eliot was in Lisbon on May 11th and 12th of 1938 since these were the dates when the official ceremonies were held to award the prize to the author of Portugal, Gonzague de Reynold (1880-1970), a Swiss writer. Documented evidence of his stay include pictures of Eliot among the other members of the jury as well as with a few Portuguese politicians taken during the awards ceremony and the banquet that was served. Moreover, Antonio Ferro, the regime's director of culture and propaganda, addressed Eliot (as well as the other members of the jury) during the awards speech to comment briefly on Eliot's work and personality.
Before delving at length into such matters as: the ideologies of both the recipient and work selected for the 1937 Premio Camoes (but awarded in 1938); Antonio Ferro's views on Salazar's fascist politics; and the political views of the other members of the jury, it is worth looking briefly into T. S. Eliot's political and religious views. By contrasting what a few scholars and biographers have written on this issue with the insight we gather from the episode under review, we may better understand why he found Portugal's version of fascism so appealing. Why did Eliot accept Ferro's invitation to participate in this important event and anoint Salazar's regime, which desperately sought international recognition? And why did Ferro deliberately select Eliot if he was not more than aware of Eliot's fascination with Portugal's "benign" version of fascism? The first Premio Camoes was, in essence, another means through which the regime justified its raison d'etre not only to the Portuguese people but to the international community as well. After all, it could always argue that the renowned members of this jury had travelled from so far away to rubber stamp, so to speak, Portugal's political regime.
Eliot's biographer, A. D. Moody, has noted in Thomas Stearns Eliot: Poet that Eliot searched for ways to revive democracy (321) and that Eliot had once stated that "the frame of democracy has been destroyed: how can we, out of the materials at hand, build a new structure in which democracy can live?" ("The Literature of Fascism" 280-90). When writing this essay in 1928, he came to the conclusion that neither Italian Fascism nor Russian Communism were the best political options available--suggesting that he was still searching for a better one. Moody goes on to note that Eliot was not a fascist but he was not really democratic either. "Democracy might be the best system for the temporal realm in which he found himself' but his first and ultimate allegiance, notes Moody, "was to the realm of the eternal and the ideal. He was an absolutist, with the absolutism of the Christian faith, and his conception of the State was 'ultimately theocratic'" (322). The massive unemployment in 1922, Eliot believed, was a sheer indication that even democracy was incapable of resolving the problems in this "temporal realm" (Ackroyd 109). This strong allegiance of State and Church, which Eliot endorsed, was being strengthened under Salazar's leadership--and Eliot noticed it quite well. Salazar's belief in Deus, Patria e Familia, that is, God, Nation, and Family were ideals that appealed to Eliot strongly. In the 1930s, for Eliot, a practising Christian, there was very little to choose between democracy and the dictatorships of Mussolini and the emerging Nazi ideology. To him, Mussolini was not keen on faith and his fascist beliefs were either too atheistic if not altogether pagan. He feared for Western civilization, especially if it "renounce[d] completely its obedience to God" ("The Church's Message to the World" 94; quoted in Moody 325).
In the 1930s, Eliot was deeply involved in the Anglican communion and served on several committees, notably the British section of the World Council of Churches and attended meetings of the Council on the Christian Faith and the Common Life. His radio talk on "The Church's Message to the World," notes Ackroyd, reflected his concerns about the "failure of Western civilization, and in particular the signal inability of liberal democracy to sustain moral or intellectual values which might effectively confront the ideologies of fascism or communism" (242). In the late 1930s, Eliot reflected on the gradual disappearance of Christianity and how this would bring about the collapse of Western civilization. Moreover, the "progress of industrialization was creating an apathetic citizenry" and for him, these were the "kind of people who could only be aroused by despots like Hitler" (Ackroyd 249). Eliot's knowledge of Salazar's alliance with the Portuguese Catholic church (represented by Salazar's close friend, the Cardinal Cerejeira) gathered in Gonzague de Reynold's Portugal and elsewhere were an indication that he was not the only one who was concerned about these matters. Just a few weeks before Eliot travelled to Portugal (Easter of 1938), the Portuguese episcopate exhorted their Catholic congregation to pray for the youth in Portugal. Their requests ranged from their not being seduced by the any type of cult (the State or the leader) to discipline without freedom or even to physical strength, violence and war. In so doing, they obviously had German Nazism and Italian fascism in mind (Cruz 236).
Before even accepting to sit on the jury of this literary prize, Eliot was fascinated with the personality and beliefs of the author of Portugal. Briefly, in addition to writing, Gonzague de Reynold taught at the University of Fribourg since its foundation. He was notorious for his need to command other people and his taste for manipulating them as well. While he minimized the danger posed by Hitler, he often visited Mussolini. Politically identifying with the right wing, Reynold often ridiculed the idealism of the left as well as those who advocated abstract political and ideological systems. Since 1910, he began attending meetings and socializing with individuals who endorsed right wing politics--often ranging from xenophobia to nationalism. Reynold believed in a State keen on authoritarianism. From 1938 to 1945, he often called for a head of State capable of transforming Switzerland into an authoritarian, corporative, and Christian country. In 1941, he wrote a long letter to Salazar, urging him to preside over a Latin federation which would include France, Italy, and both Iberian countries. At first, he realized that the model of authoritarianism he believed in was embodied in the person of Mussolini--and for some time he incessantly praised the virtues of the Italian dictator.Afterwards, he realised that Mussolini's views had left him unfulfilled since Mussolini had expelled Christian belief from his agenda. At the time, the Christian, authoritarian--but not totalitarian--State he envisaged could only be found in Portugal. Since 1935, he regarded Salazar's regime as a beacon and Salazar as the only politician in contemporary Europe capable of bringing about a European regeneration. Reynold's views in Portugal undoubtedly made Eliot realize that he was not the only one in Europe who was actually afraid of atheist politics.
What do we actually gather in Portugal and why did Eliot find its propaganda so appealing? Gonzague de Reynold's interest in Portugal dates back to the time when he befriended N. M. Freire de Andrade, a Portuguese man who talked to him about his country and Salazar's politics. Reynold also spent about a month travelling in Portugal (10 November to 8 December 1935) and his impressions about it date back to this experience. Throughout the book, Reynold praises Salazar's authoritarian regime. To him, Salazar was a savior who, through his perseverance and austere politics, placed Portugal once again on the path of development and international recognition. Reynold maintains that the liberal politics experienced during most of the nineteenth-century in Portugal coupled with the anti-clerical Republican regime, which had toppled the monarchy on 5 October 1910, had both plunged the country in political instability, economic hardship, and laicism. The other major reason why he chose to write about Portugal was that Salazar's Estado Novo (New State), inaugurated in 1926, was a Christian State and that it was radically different from Mussolini's fascist politics, Hitler's Nazi ideology, or even Russia's Bolshevism. By rejecting these regimes, in Portugal Reynold aims at analyzing Salazar's politics and the changes he implemented in Portugal so as to argue that Salazar's government is a case study worthy of international attention--and adoption, as well.
In Portugal, Reynold focuses on the geographical location of Portugal, the influence of the Atlantic, the country's glorious past epitomized in the Age of European Discoveries, as well as the temper and psychological traits of most Portuguese. He also notes the ongoing historical animosity between the Portuguese and the Spaniards due to issues of sovereignty. Much of what he says about Portugal, however, does not come from first-hand experience, but from books he often alludes to. Even though he notes that Portuguese farmers (at the time the leading social class) possessed a nobility of character, he does not establish any connection between their illiteracy or ill-education with their unquestioning ways or how they were easily manipulated--because of their fear of Salazar's political police, the PIDE. Reynold understands the need for a strong leader, Salazar, since he is the only one capable of showing the Portuguese people the path to follow. In his view, they lacked initiative and a sense of direction.
In another section of his book, Reynold shows that he endorses Salazar's mythologies and the fascist adulation of Portugal's heroes from the past. He focuses on the central figures in Portuguese history-Prince Henry, the Navigator; Vasco da Gama; Afonso de Albuquerque; Pedro Alvares Cabral and his discovery of Brazil--so as to stress the regime's attempt to uplift the morale, spur the Portuguese people towards regaining its lost greatness by asserting the importance of its overseas Empire. He then goes on to elaborate on Portuguese art, the monastery of Batalha, and Portugal's major poet of the Renaissance, Luis de Camoes and his epic masterpiece, The Lusiads (1572).
The third part of Portugal reads like fascist propaganda and is precisely the section of the book where Eliot learned more about Salazar's political agenda and ideology. Reynold maintains that the nation's revolution of 26 May 1926 brought a new direction to Portugal and that Salazar established order, financial prosperity, and morality. To him, Salazar was not a dictator because he did not seize power through violent means. He did not choose a political career to satisfy his vanity because Salazar was a professor at the University of Coimbra. In fact, he had been summoned to straighten the nation's finances. Moreover, he viewed his mission as that of a man who wished to redeem Portugal, a sort of Christ figure carrying his cross and wearing a crown of thorns. Reynold notes Salazar's Catholic upbringing and states that even if Salazar admired Mussolini's fascist program, the differences between both--and even Hitler--are astounding (282). He also gives Salazar credit for his attempts at modernizing the country through the expansion of railroads, the greater use of the telephone, the construction of a network of elementary schools, and, most of all, for stabilizing the nation's budget and avoiding the collapse of the State and bankruptcy. He is often compared to a Messiah who recuperated Portugal's international prestige and its glorious past.
A piece of written propaganda, it is understandable why Reynold won the Premio Camoes since Salazar was craving international recognition and acceptance of his politics. In addition, Salazar's alliance with the Catholic Church (embodied in the Cardinal Cerejeira) and his rejection of a lay State allows Reynold to enumerate the three basic pillars sustaining Salazar's regime--God, Nation, and Family (332-33). With a bloody civil war raging through the streets of Spain, Reynold ends his book in apocalyptic terms: The existence of Portugal and its independence thrive on Salazar's politics. Without Salazar, this inevitably meant the end of Portugal (345).
While some of Eliot's fascination with Salazar's ideology derives from his reading of Portugal, Reynold, in turn, acknowledges at the very outset of this work that he had read Antonio Ferro's book, Salazar: O Homem e a Sua Obra (originally a series of interviews of Salazar which Ferro later re-wrote). But who was Ferro? What are his political views? And in what ways was his launching of the Premio Camoes a strategy to advertise Salazar's politics--that is, showcase it as a "benign" regime for the rest of Europe at grips with dictators? Appointed to direct the Secretariado da Propaganda Nacional in 1933, Ferro had always believed in the need for a charismatic leader for Portugal. His interviewing of Mussolini and other dictators further suggests that he believed in an authoritarian State with a strong, active leader.
Currently, the Premio Camoes is jointly awarded by both Portugal and Brazil and it was resumed in 1989 (the recipient was Miguel Torga). While today it is awarded only to lusophone writers who write in Portuguese (laws number43/88 of 30 November 1988 and later revised as law 47/99 of 5 November 1999), the regulations in effect for the 1938 Premio Camoes were radically different. As mentioned earlier, Salazar's regime was seeking international recognition and attention. This explains why a foreigner, Reynold, and his book, Portugal, were chosen to inaugurate this new literary prize. Antonio Ferro's awards speech delivered at the Secretariado da Propaganda Nacional headquarters on 12 May 1938, which Eliot also heard, explains why Camoes's name (at the time, Portugal's most renowned writer) had been chosen for this important prize. Furthermore, Ferro states that this literary prize aimed at honoring those foreign journalists, writers, and intellectuals who wrote about Portugal's resurgence in international circles (Premios Literarios 73-5). In this speech, Ferro downplays Reynold's criticism of the lack of determination of most Portuguese, their melancholy and fatalism, and states that these comments were to be taken as a stimulus for further improvement. Since Salazar had been in power for little more than a decade, it still had many "ruins," too much "carelessness" and "abandonment" left by the Republican regime (1910-1926) to clean up and look into (Premios Literarios 75-8). In Ferro's view, Reynold is, nonetheless, a serious writer who is not interested in the present moment but, instead, someone who writes for posterity. The analysis he made of both the negative and positive aspects in Portuguese society are credible and worthy of respect. Those who criticize Reynold for having written a 350 page book on Portugal when he only spent a month in Portugal, Ferro notes, should not be taken seriously since Reynold had been studying and reading about Portugal in Switzerland for many years (Premios Literarios 78-80).
But why do I view Eliot's acceptance to sit on the jury of this ideological literary prize as a honeymoon and subsequent anointment of Salazar's regime? Without a doubt, the banquet speech Ferro delivered in French the day before (11 May 1938) at the fancy Tavares Restaurant, in Lisbon, to honor the members of the jury is very illustrative of fascist propaganda. Furthermore, the regime later used this event to convince both the Portuguese citizens and foreigners that Salazar's government was respectable and credible since a group of prominent European intellectuals travelled from so far away to attest to it. The implementation of this literary prize, claims Ferro, was motivated by the rising international interest in Portuguese affairs since Portugal had, once again, become a country worthy of attention. The prize would be awarded every other year to the best work focusing on Portugal. To attest to this interest, Ferro notes that Reynold's book had to compete with three additional works, namely: Stefan Zweig's Magalhaes; Sieburg's Novo Portugal; and Lautenzach's Portugal.
After these introductory remarks, Ferro addresses each member of the jury individually. For the purpose of this essay, it is not only worth noting what Ferro says when he addresses Eliot, but to understand Eliot's fascination with Salazar's "benign" and "Christian" regime. Even if Eliot may not have considered himself a fascist, the truth is that he interacted with a group of intellectuals who were either fascists or proto-fascists. As I hope to show, some of them proved to be either authoritarian or dangerous individuals as the following comments and biographical sketches illustrate.
The first member of the jury Ferro addresses is Jacques de Lacretelle (1888-1985), a French writer who knew Portugal quite well since he actually lived in the seaside town of Estoril, in the outskirts of Lisbon, during the first years of World War II. In addition to focusing on a few works, Ferro highlights his clarity of vision and his serenity--aspects which, on the eve of a major international conflict, Salazar strongly endorsed--even if Lacretelle wrote such works as Colere and Journal de Colere. Rage, notes Ferro, is a trait which does not combine well enough with Lacretelle's personality.
The next one is Robert de Traz (1884-1951), a Swiss writer renowned for his writings on national values and who is also singled out for the peacefulness, tranquillity, and silence emanating from the pages of his major fiction, namely Fiancailles, which focuses on the theme of erosion of feelings. Ferro also stresses the ambiance of order, method, tranquillity, and silence in Switzerland, characteristics which have also fostered this man.
When speaking to Eliot, the third member of this jury, Ferro notes the performance of Murder in the Cathedral in a London theatre for two consecutive years and states that Eliot is a "pure poet" who does not "forgive prose-writing." Eliot had become a literary critic so as to criticize the moral degradation in fiction. Eliot, notes Ferro, cannot tolerate "moral degradation, the part of the devil in the world of the spirit." Moreover, Eliot cannot even "acknowledge that a book is well written when it wallows in the mire, when the breath of poetry does not air it out and elevates it" (66; my translation). That is why, notes Ferro, Eliot writes so harshly about D. H. Lawrence's books, which he considers "splendid and extremely badly written. "That is why, notes Ferro, Eliot applies a coup de grace to the author of Lady Chatterley's Lover, a novel where the protagonists regress to a fundamental and repulsive primitivism. A custodian of wholesome values, Ferro has taken note of Eliot's criticism of Lawrence in Eliot's literary criticism. Eliot's fascination with Salazar's politics and values coupled with his abhorrence of the moral laxity pervading Lawrence's fiction make him an eligible candidate to sit on the jury of this literary prize.
Eliot's criticism of Lawrence is well documented and appears profusely in most of his major literary criticism. In an essay titled, "The Idea of a Christian Society" Eliot notes that the
struggle to recover the sense of relation to nature and to God, the recognition that even the most primitive feelings should be part of our heritage, seems to me to be the explanation and justification of the life of D. H. Lawrence, and the excuse for his aberrations.
(Selected Prose of T. S. Eliot 291)
In After Strange Gods, Eliot further notes apropos Lawrence's views on life that Lawrence's "vision was spiritual, but spiritually sick" (35-7). In The Use of Poetry and the Use of Criticism, Eliot once again notes that Lawrence appears among "the great heretics of all times," a category that also includes Wordsworth, Shelley, and Goethe (99-100; also quoted in DeMolina 76; 209). When focusing on the eternal struggle between Good and Evil, Eliot notes that there is a negative moral implication in Lawrence's story, "The Shadow in the Rose Garden." Samuel Hynes further notes in an essay in the DeMolina volume titled, "The Trials of a Christian Critic" that the characters in this story "lack any moral or social sense" (82). Writing from a Victorian moral frame of reference, in After Strange Gods Eliot deplores the violation of class structure in Lady Chatterley's Lover, noting that
Our old acquaintance, the game-keeper, turns up again: the social obsession which makes his well-born--or almost well-born--ladies offer themselves to- or make use of--plebeians springs from the same morbidity which makes other of his female characters bestow their favours upon savages. The author of that book seems to me to have been a very sick man indeed. (60-1)
In After Strange Gods, Eliot also criticizes "the vague hymn-singing pietism which seems to have consoled the miseries of Lawrence's mother, and which does not seem to have provided her with any firm principles by which to scrutinise the conduct of her sons" (39).
What these examples illustrate is that Eliot regretted that such a great writer as Lawrence had wasted so much of his energy on issues which he considered unwholesome--and this is exactly what Antonio Ferro picks up on from his reading of Eliot since morality and wholesome values were very dear to Salazar's regime.
Although Massimo Bontempelli (1878-1960), the fourth member sitting on this jury, could not be present during this event, Ferro introduces him to his guests as the representative of the New Italy, the embodiment of Italian dynamism. Ferro highlights Nostra Dea (Our Goddess), a play performed in 1925, which is said to contain an incisive analysis of modern woman. Bontempelli was also a poet and novelist and was influential in developing and promoting the literary style known as magical realism. He was also the founder of the journal '900, in 1926. James Joyce, Max Jacob, and Rainer Maria Rilke sat on the editorial committee and Virginia Woolf and Blaise Cendrars were among the contributors. During the late 1920s and early 1930s, Bontempelli was an active fascist. He served as a secretary of the fascist writers' union and spent time abroad lecturing on Italian culture and spreading propaganda. In 1938, he refused to accept a university position formerly held by a Jewish professor and was thrown out of the fascist party. After World War II, Bontempelli won a Senate race but the results were voided when his fascist ties were discovered.
The fifth--and last--foreign member composing this international jury was Hanns Johst (1890-1978), a German playwright who, at some time, had also been the President of the German Academy of Writers. Ferro states that Johst was absent due to health reasons and that he was one of Germany's greatest citizens. Johst joined the Nazi party in 1932 and eventually became the Nazi Poet Laureate. He was arrested in 1945 and convicted during the Nuremberg trial of 1946.
Ferro ends his banquet speech, which was widely publicized in the major Portuguese newspapers such as Didrio de Noticias, thanking the Portuguese members--the Minister of Education; Alberto Oliveira, an ambassador and poet; Dr. Agostinho de Campos, a writer and teacher; and Dr. Caeiro da Mata, a man of law and writer--and tells them that the recipient of this prestigious award, Gonzague de Reynold, would be honored the following day, at the S.P.N. headquarters. In this speech, Ferro wished to highlight the prestige and international reputation of each member composing this jury. In addition, each one of them had seen in the author of Portugal a celebration of the New Portugal that was emerging with Salazar, the regime's attempt at re-capturing Portugal's former glory, and wholesome Christian values. By travelling to Lisbon, they were also anointing the regime and Salazar needed this badly. By sanctioning Salazar's regime, the Portuguese dictator could assert its moral superiority compared to those in Italy and Germany. For Eliot, at least, this episode casts new light on his political and ideological views. Whether he later realized that during this brief "honeymoon" he had been in the midst of bad company is an issue we unfortunately do not know.
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|Publication:||Yeats Eliot Review|
|Article Type:||Critical essay|
|Date:||Jun 22, 2009|
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