Fernando Pessoa is one of the most iconic names in Portuguese literature. All over Lisbon we can find many depictions of him wearing his legendary black fedora hat and somewhat rounded glasses. While some tourists are not familiar with the writer and thus pass by the tributes to his genius obliviously, others make sure to visit ‘Casa Fernando Pessoa’ and to take pictures near his statues. Born in 1888, he was a modernist writer who came up with the concept of ‘heteronyms’ – different voices with their own biographies and writing styles. He also served as inspiration for various artists, including painters and other renowned authors. José Saramago and Sophia de Mello Breyner Andresen are among those he inspired.
In O Ano da Morte de Ricardo Reis (The Year of the Death of Ricardo Reis) by José Saramago, Fernando Pessoa’s influence is palpable. The main character in this novel is inspired by one of Pessoa’s many heteronyms, the doctor and poet Ricardo Reis. After many years living in Brazil, he returns to Lisbon in 1936, following the death of his friend Fernando Pessoa. He finds a country living under a recent fascist regime.
The reference to Pessoa in O Homem Duplicado (The Double) also by Saramago is much subtler. This is a book about a man who discovers that there is a person completely identical to him, while watching a film. Throughout the book, he has many conversations with his common sense. In one of those interactions there is a witty allusion to Fernando Pessoa, although his name is not directly stated.
“Já o outro também não quis a vulgaridade plebeia do pseudónimo, chamou-lhe heterónimo.”
“There was that other fellow who disliked the plebeian vulgarity of pseudonyms so much that he called them heteronyms.”
Sophia de Mello Breyner Andresen also didn’t shy away from mentioning Pessoa in her poems. In her collection O Nome das Coisas, for example, there are two poems whose titles immediately reveal the influence of Fernando Pessoa in her work. In ‘Cíclades (Evocando Fernando Pessoa)’, a connection is established between the Cyclades islands and Pessoa. That is particularly relevant since the work of the heteronym Ricardo Reis was influenced by the Ancient Greek civilisation, as was Sophia’s. The admiration Sophia had for his work may have also had limitative consequences. In ‘Fernando Pessoa ou Poeta em Lisboa’, the shadow of Pessoa is compared to an indication of both luck and misfortune.
Another poetry collection which reveals Sophia’s reverence for Pessoa is Livro Sexto. In the poem blatantly titled ‘Fernando Pessoa’, he is compared to a god with many names and four faces, maybe in a reference to himself and his three most famous heteronyms (Alberto Caeiro, Álvaro de Campos and Ricardo Reis).
Have you read books by any of these authors? Tell me in the comments!