Philosopher or Dog?

Philosopher or Dog?



The Pequod Review:

Published in Portuguese in 1891 as Quincas Borba, this satirical novel has a playfulness similar to Epitaph of a Small Winner, but to lesser effect. The book is the mock-heroic story of Rubiao, a young student who inherits from a mad philosopher both his fortune and his dog (whom he believes is carrying on the philosopher’s life). As before, Machado uses a surreal and irreverent tone to explore deeper themes of human nature, religion, and philosophy.

His prose is just great fun throughout:

Chapter 112

Here is where I should like to have given this book the method of so many others – old, all of them in which the contents of the chapter was summarized; such as “Concerning how this or that happened.” That’s the way Bernardim Ribiero is and other glorious books. As for those foreign languages without going back to Cervantes and Rabelais, Fielding and Smollett suffice, many of whose chapters are read only because of the summary. Pick up Tom Jones, Book IV, Chapter I, and read this title: “Containing five pages of paper.” It is clear, simple, it deceives no one; there are five pages, no more; he who does not wish to read, does not; he who wishes to read, does, and it is for the latter that the author concludes obsequiously, “And now, without further preface, let us go on to the following chapter”

Chapter 113

If such were the method of this book, here is a title that would explain everything: “How Rubiao, Pleased with the Emendation Made in the Article, Composed and Pondered over So Many Phrases that in the End He Wrote All the Books that He Had Ever Read.”

There will probably be some reader for whom this will not be enough. Doubtless he will want a complete analysis of our friend’s mental operation, without realizing that not even Fielding’s five pages of paper will suffice for that. There is an abyss between the first phrase of which Rubiao was co-author and authorship of all the works he had read. The hardest part, to be sure, was to progress from the phrase to the first book – from then on it went rapidly. No matter; even so, an analysis would be long and tiresome. It’s better, then, to leave it like this: for a few minutes Rubiao looked upon himself as the author of many another’s work.

Chapter 114

On the other hand, I don’t know if all of the next chapter could be contained in a title.

Chapter 115


Recommended, especially if you enjoyed Machado’s earlier masterpiece, Epitaph of a Small Winner.