Hot Best Seller

Pessoa: A Biography

Availability: Ready to download

Nearly a century after his wrenching death, the Portuguese poet Fernando Pessoa (1888–1935) remains one of our most enigmatic writers. Believing he could do “more in dreams than Napoleon,” yet haunted by the specter of hereditary madness, Pessoa invented dozens of alter egos, or “heteronyms,” under whose names he wrote in Portuguese, English, and French. Unsurprisingly, th Nearly a century after his wrenching death, the Portuguese poet Fernando Pessoa (1888–1935) remains one of our most enigmatic writers. Believing he could do “more in dreams than Napoleon,” yet haunted by the specter of hereditary madness, Pessoa invented dozens of alter egos, or “heteronyms,” under whose names he wrote in Portuguese, English, and French. Unsurprisingly, this “most multifarious of writers” (Guardian) has long eluded a definitive biographer—but in renowned translator and Pessoa scholar Richard Zenith, he has met his match. Relatively unknown in his lifetime, Pessoa was all but destined for literary oblivion when the arc of his afterlife bent, suddenly and improbably, toward greatness, with the discovery of some 25,000 unpublished papers left in a large, wooden trunk. Drawing on this vast archive of sources as well as on unpublished family letters, and skillfully setting the poet’s life against the nationalist currents of twentieth-century European history, Zenith at last reveals the true depths of Pessoa’s teeming imagination and literary genius. Much as Nobel laureate José Saramago brought a single heteronym to life in The Year of the Death of Ricardo Reis, Zenith traces the backstories of virtually all of Pessoa’s imagined personalities, demonstrating how they were projections, spin-offs, or metamorphoses of Pessoa himself. A solitary man who had only one, ultimately platonic love affair, Pessoa used his and his heteronyms’ writings to explore questions of sexuality, to obsessively search after spiritual truth, and to try to chart a way forward for a benighted and politically agitated Portugal. Although he preferred the world of his mind, Pessoa was nonetheless a man of the places he inhabited, including not only Lisbon but also turn-of-the-century Durban, South Africa, where he spent nine years as a child. Zenith re-creates the drama of Pessoa’s adolescence—when the first heteronyms emerged—and his bumbling attempts to survive as a translator and publisher. Zenith introduces us, too, to Pessoa’s bohemian circle of friends, and to Ophelia Quieroz, with whom he exchanged numerous love letters. Pessoa reveals in equal force the poet’s unwavering commitment to defending homosexual writers whose books had been banned, as well as his courageous opposition to Salazar, the Portuguese dictator, toward the end of his life. In stunning, magisterial prose, Zenith contextualizes Pessoa’s posthumous literary achievements—especially his most renowned work, The Book of Disquiet. A modern literary masterpiece, Pessoa simultaneously immortalizes the life of a literary maestro and confirms the enduring power of Pessoa’s work to speak prophetically to the disconnectedness of our modern world.


Compare

Nearly a century after his wrenching death, the Portuguese poet Fernando Pessoa (1888–1935) remains one of our most enigmatic writers. Believing he could do “more in dreams than Napoleon,” yet haunted by the specter of hereditary madness, Pessoa invented dozens of alter egos, or “heteronyms,” under whose names he wrote in Portuguese, English, and French. Unsurprisingly, th Nearly a century after his wrenching death, the Portuguese poet Fernando Pessoa (1888–1935) remains one of our most enigmatic writers. Believing he could do “more in dreams than Napoleon,” yet haunted by the specter of hereditary madness, Pessoa invented dozens of alter egos, or “heteronyms,” under whose names he wrote in Portuguese, English, and French. Unsurprisingly, this “most multifarious of writers” (Guardian) has long eluded a definitive biographer—but in renowned translator and Pessoa scholar Richard Zenith, he has met his match. Relatively unknown in his lifetime, Pessoa was all but destined for literary oblivion when the arc of his afterlife bent, suddenly and improbably, toward greatness, with the discovery of some 25,000 unpublished papers left in a large, wooden trunk. Drawing on this vast archive of sources as well as on unpublished family letters, and skillfully setting the poet’s life against the nationalist currents of twentieth-century European history, Zenith at last reveals the true depths of Pessoa’s teeming imagination and literary genius. Much as Nobel laureate José Saramago brought a single heteronym to life in The Year of the Death of Ricardo Reis, Zenith traces the backstories of virtually all of Pessoa’s imagined personalities, demonstrating how they were projections, spin-offs, or metamorphoses of Pessoa himself. A solitary man who had only one, ultimately platonic love affair, Pessoa used his and his heteronyms’ writings to explore questions of sexuality, to obsessively search after spiritual truth, and to try to chart a way forward for a benighted and politically agitated Portugal. Although he preferred the world of his mind, Pessoa was nonetheless a man of the places he inhabited, including not only Lisbon but also turn-of-the-century Durban, South Africa, where he spent nine years as a child. Zenith re-creates the drama of Pessoa’s adolescence—when the first heteronyms emerged—and his bumbling attempts to survive as a translator and publisher. Zenith introduces us, too, to Pessoa’s bohemian circle of friends, and to Ophelia Quieroz, with whom he exchanged numerous love letters. Pessoa reveals in equal force the poet’s unwavering commitment to defending homosexual writers whose books had been banned, as well as his courageous opposition to Salazar, the Portuguese dictator, toward the end of his life. In stunning, magisterial prose, Zenith contextualizes Pessoa’s posthumous literary achievements—especially his most renowned work, The Book of Disquiet. A modern literary masterpiece, Pessoa simultaneously immortalizes the life of a literary maestro and confirms the enduring power of Pessoa’s work to speak prophetically to the disconnectedness of our modern world.

51 review for Pessoa: A Biography

  1. 4 out of 5

    jeremy

    pessoa could not imagine that his literary dispersion, which faithfully mirrors our ontological instability and the absence of intrinsic unity in the world we inhabit, would make him required reading by the time the next century arrived. richard zenith's biography of the enigmatic portuguese modernist master is mammoth in ambition, scope, and accomplishment. pessoa is a relentlessly engrossing work of the life and times of the heteronymic poet and prose writer. meticulously researched (the bo pessoa could not imagine that his literary dispersion, which faithfully mirrors our ontological instability and the absence of intrinsic unity in the world we inhabit, would make him required reading by the time the next century arrived. richard zenith's biography of the enigmatic portuguese modernist master is mammoth in ambition, scope, and accomplishment. pessoa is a relentlessly engrossing work of the life and times of the heteronymic poet and prose writer. meticulously researched (the book took some 12-13 years to complete) and definitively comprehensive, zenith's biography is itself a work of art (and it must be noted that zenith's erudition and absolutely exquisite vocabulary make every page a delight to read). whether recounting pessoa's early life, myriad literary plans (most of which never came to fruition), curious temperament and personality, sociopolitical milieu, chronic debt, attraction to mysticism and his ongoing "quest for esoteric truth," excessive drinking, "monosexuality," political leanings — to say nothing of his contextual and critical take on his heteronyms and the writer(s)'s prodigious output — zenith's masterwork is the portrait of an artist as an "absolute individualist." some eight and a half decades after his passing, pessoa refracts its subject's resplendent genius in scintillating detail.pessoa's writings were, by and large, provisional visual representations of his soul. in fact, he never stopped showing us who he was or was trying to be. his poems and prose pieces were him, his own person, or the bits and pieces of the person, or pessoa, who did not exist as such. his sexual life? his spiritual life? they may be found in his writing, and nowhere else but his writing. there is no secret pessoa for the biographer to reveal.

  2. 4 out of 5

    Steve Donoghue

    On one level, Fernando Pessoa is an even less likely subject for a biography - much less a thousand-page biography - than most writers, which gives you a good idea of the challenge here, since most writers are mighty turgid beings. But Richard Zenith is not only one of the world's foremost Pessoa scholars but also, like his subject, deeply enamored of storytelling. So despite the fact that Pessoa spent a great, great deal of his life nibbling and scribbling (and drinking) in one little room, thi On one level, Fernando Pessoa is an even less likely subject for a biography - much less a thousand-page biography - than most writers, which gives you a good idea of the challenge here, since most writers are mighty turgid beings. But Richard Zenith is not only one of the world's foremost Pessoa scholars but also, like his subject, deeply enamored of storytelling. So despite the fact that Pessoa spent a great, great deal of his life nibbling and scribbling (and drinking) in one little room, this big book is quietly but intensely entertaining. My full review is here: https://openlettersreview.com/posts/p...

  3. 5 out of 5

    James Murphy

    I've been reading Fernando Pessoa for many years. I've owned several collections of his poetry and at one time owned 2 different translations of the fragmentary autobiography considered his masterpiece, The Book of Disquiet. So I was eager for Richard Zenith's huge biography of him. It disappointed me. Not the quality of the biography itself because it's clearly a thorough, balanced portrait of the man and his work. The book is probably much more than I need (or want) to know about Pessoa. As fi I've been reading Fernando Pessoa for many years. I've owned several collections of his poetry and at one time owned 2 different translations of the fragmentary autobiography considered his masterpiece, The Book of Disquiet. So I was eager for Richard Zenith's huge biography of him. It disappointed me. Not the quality of the biography itself because it's clearly a thorough, balanced portrait of the man and his work. The book is probably much more than I need (or want) to know about Pessoa. As fine as Zenith's book is, he was unable to make him interesting to me. The portrait Zenith painted of the man away from his poetry showed Pessoa without the professional skills or will to become more than he was, a modestly-published but greatly-admired poet. Too private, too shy, too inept at publishing and other business ventures, Zenith has little character to work with and yet, so complete is his research, he makes an enormous book out of him. Even his eccentricities, like his dependence on horoscopes and his interest in the spiritual realm or his use of the many famous heteronyms, the many shards of personality attributed as authors of the writings (a useful description of 47 of them precede the biography itself), once fully-analyzed, become colorless and...well, unusual rather than thought-provoking. Another problem is the comprehensive descriptions of early 20th century Portuguese arts and politics. Most of us aren't steeped in things Portuguese, anyway, once we veer away from Jose Saramago or Antonio Lobo Antunes. So I had trouble relating to the in-depth news of the arts scene and artists around Pessoa. For all the above reasons and more, I didn't get much out of my reading. As biography it's an achievement. I found its subject less interesting than I could have known. Lately I've been rereading Virginia Woolf's Diaries and recently came to August 1922 when she was reading James Joyce's Ulysses and being disappointed by it for a variety of reasons. I think that one of her comments probably reflects my reception of Zenith's biography of Pessoa: "...so no doubt I have scamped the virtue of it more than is fair."

  4. 4 out of 5

    Myles

    THE Pessoa book by THE Pessoa guy. Just found that I preferred the biographer to his subject. Zenith is a thoughtful, obsessive, and playful writer. Pessoa is all of those things too, but he’s also a disorganized closet-case with his head in clouds and some objectionable opinions on minorities. Makes an interesting poet, not a thousand pages of biography, which explains why maybe a third of this book is (really interesting) historical context on Portuguese colonialism, the rise of fascism in Eur THE Pessoa book by THE Pessoa guy. Just found that I preferred the biographer to his subject. Zenith is a thoughtful, obsessive, and playful writer. Pessoa is all of those things too, but he’s also a disorganized closet-case with his head in clouds and some objectionable opinions on minorities. Makes an interesting poet, not a thousand pages of biography, which explains why maybe a third of this book is (really interesting) historical context on Portuguese colonialism, the rise of fascism in Europe, and a class history of Lisbon— somewhere I now need to visit.

  5. 4 out of 5

    Matthew Inard

    "For Pessoa as for Campos, who in this case served as his creator’s faithful spokesman, the self’s true emotions cannot be intelligibly known, much less expressed, and the self is unreliable, its reality forever fluid, contingent on its changing relations with the surrounding environment. Self-knowledge, or individuality, is, therefore, a matter of attitude, of acting. The great artist, or great anything, is a great pretender." This is a masterpiece of a biography about a writer who always seems "For Pessoa as for Campos, who in this case served as his creator’s faithful spokesman, the self’s true emotions cannot be intelligibly known, much less expressed, and the self is unreliable, its reality forever fluid, contingent on its changing relations with the surrounding environment. Self-knowledge, or individuality, is, therefore, a matter of attitude, of acting. The great artist, or great anything, is a great pretender." This is a masterpiece of a biography about a writer who always seems to elude the reader of his true self, despite this fact, Richard Zenith gives an extremely comprehensive look at not just Pessoa's life and mind frame but his social clique and the early 20th-century history of Portugal. No matter how much detail and insight Zenith the reader might struggle to understand Pessoa as a person. He was a writer that can't be explained as simply shy and introverted but as one hesitant to share the full extent of his imaginative and intellectual life. From a young age, he made heteronyms, these fictional personalities based on the many selves of Pessoa, he read the works of Milton, Percy Shelley, and Shakespeare in the original because of his education of the English language in South Africa. He had many languages at his disposal, an active and imaginative mind to become extremely famous in his lifetime like T.S Eliot and James Joyce but Pessoa was a silent genius in a way. Yes, he did publish some poems but most of his works remained unpublished during his lifetime. He shared his limited but active social with many modernist writers at the same time. Many people encouraged him to publish but he often refused at times or failed to acquire a publisher. Even when one of his works gain recognition in 1934 many critics found him too cerebral and unemotive, mystical due to his interest in astrology and religious cults. He often failed to complete works of fiction and poetry, he refused to have set work hours(he did translations and business letters for a living), get himself in serious debt but didn't he seem panicked at that fact and was never intimate with most of his friends. In my aim to understand one of my favorite modernist writers,I have come back full circle with a sense that yes I understand him a bit more but he remains alien. His obsession with mystical pracitices, his disregard for ordinary people, and his unwillingness to be practical in most areas of life. In a way, he was all too human, desperate for meaning in a meaningless world, a world becoming secular by the moment, his interest was also shared by WB Yeats and Rilke in his search for religious meaning. I connect to him for I privilege the life of the mind as one of the most things a civilized society can protect if there is no time or money for the life of the mind there is no real freedom, I think he would have agreed with me on that point. I share his love for literature and philosophy, with writers like Percy Shelley and Milton's fascination with language and meaning. The best of writers you have to feel this connection that you both care about the important things of life, a common culture exists among many dead/alive writers and their readers. I hope to reread Pessoa's works(the ones I have access to) and see his works in a new light.

  6. 4 out of 5

    Philip Clark

    Richard Zenith has given us the ultimate biography of this extraordinary poet. In this vast (1000+ pages) book, Zenith provides not only insights into the development of the poet, but also he delves deeply, with intelligent and incisive research, into the historical, personal, sexual, and creative forces of the Portuguese writing and art community that inspired the poet. For anyone not familiar with Pessoa's work, I would recommend 'The Book of Disquiet' to begin. But this biography is so beauti Richard Zenith has given us the ultimate biography of this extraordinary poet. In this vast (1000+ pages) book, Zenith provides not only insights into the development of the poet, but also he delves deeply, with intelligent and incisive research, into the historical, personal, sexual, and creative forces of the Portuguese writing and art community that inspired the poet. For anyone not familiar with Pessoa's work, I would recommend 'The Book of Disquiet' to begin. But this biography is so beautifully and compellingly written, that I'd suggest it be by your side as you read Pessoa. It creates a standard that will be hard to match. But more important, it is the ultimate tribute to the poet, in all his strength and fragility; his quirks and desires. I actually felt I was in Pessoa's world. Every page keeps every successive page turning. Remarkable.

  7. 4 out of 5

    Conor Flynn

    A review composed of quotes from the book... Pessoa was a volcanic writer, and when the words started flowing, he used whatever sort of paper was close to hand….All of which he deposited in the large wooden trunk, his legacy to the world. But as we read the work, it almost seems that Fernando Pessoa, and even we ourselves, are variations on this invented self, who expresses with uncanny precision our unuttered feelings of disquiet and existential unsettledness, speaking not only to us but also for A review composed of quotes from the book... Pessoa was a volcanic writer, and when the words started flowing, he used whatever sort of paper was close to hand….All of which he deposited in the large wooden trunk, his legacy to the world. But as we read the work, it almost seems that Fernando Pessoa, and even we ourselves, are variations on this invented self, who expresses with uncanny precision our unuttered feelings of disquiet and existential unsettledness, speaking not only to us but also for us. “The only way to be in agreement with life is to disagree with ourselves,” observes Bernardo Soares, who refuses to adapt to the world. Pessoa, like his semiheteronym, was an abundance of qualities that did not cohere and would not settle into just one soul. “The active life has always struck me as the least comfortable of suicides,” he wrote. He remarks on his instinctive hatred “for decisive acts, for definite thoughts.” He is actively, militantly passive. Dreaming is not a vice that hinders him from accomplishing his goals; dreaming is what he lives for, and he organizes his existence accordingly. He wrote “Nature is parts without a whole” , yet he often berated himself for being unable to create whole works of literature. Pessoa could not imagine that his literary dispersion, which faithfully mirrors our ontological instability and the absence of intrinsic unity in the world we inhabit, would make him required reading by the time the next century arrived. His universe of disconnected parts prefigured our own worldview, with developments in history, science, and philosophy having disabused us of whatever harmonious wholes we once cherished. His fashioning of the heteronyms may be construed as a religious act, as his way of paying homage to God, by realizing his divine potential as a co-creator, made in God’s likeness and image. One day he copied out, on a sheet of paper tossed into the trunk and not discovered by researchers until the present millennium, a single verse from the ninth chapter of St. Paul’s First Epistle to the Corinthians: “I became all things to all men, that I might save all.” But what he imagined, envisioned, and projected was uniquely vast and varied. “Be plural like the universe!” he imperatively wrote on a slip of paper found in the trunk in the 1960s. "Ever since I was a child, I’ve felt the need to enlarge the world with fictitious personalities—dreams of mine that were carefully crafted, envisaged with photographic clarity, and fathomed to the depths of their souls. When I was just five years old, an isolated child and quite content to be isolated, I already enjoyed the company of certain characters from my dreams, including a Captain Thibeaut, the Chevalier de Pas, and various others whom I’ve forgotten, and whose forgetting—like my imperfect memory of the two I just named—is one of my life’s great regrets." "And instead of ending with my childhood, this tendency expanded in my adolescence, taking firmer root with each passing year, until it became my natural way of being. Today I have no personality: I have divided all my humanness among the various authors whom I’ve served as literary executor. Today I am the meeting-place of a small humanity that belongs only to me…." More at quotes at http://weltanschuuang.blogspot.com/20...

  8. 5 out of 5

    Eugene

  9. 4 out of 5

    Stanton

  10. 5 out of 5

    Tim Daniels

  11. 4 out of 5

    Seth Phillips

  12. 5 out of 5

    Jenovia

  13. 5 out of 5

    Jeff

  14. 5 out of 5

    Kate

  15. 4 out of 5

    Matt

  16. 5 out of 5

    Marshapenny65

  17. 5 out of 5

    Tatiana

  18. 4 out of 5

    Alissa

  19. 4 out of 5

    Alastair Woods

  20. 5 out of 5

    Robert Chang

  21. 4 out of 5

    Pete

  22. 4 out of 5

    Nick

  23. 5 out of 5

    Michael

  24. 5 out of 5

    nick

  25. 5 out of 5

    O.C.

  26. 5 out of 5

    Melon109

  27. 4 out of 5

    Fiza Pathan

  28. 4 out of 5

    Sheldon

  29. 5 out of 5

    Richard

  30. 5 out of 5

    Rhah

  31. 4 out of 5

    Το Άθχημο γατί του θενιόρ Γκουαναμίρου

  32. 4 out of 5

    iane

  33. 5 out of 5

    Rajat Ubhaykar

  34. 4 out of 5

    Jude

  35. 5 out of 5

    Agnese

  36. 4 out of 5

    Matthew Birt

  37. 5 out of 5

    Major Percy Smythe

  38. 5 out of 5

    Pegasus

  39. 4 out of 5

    Micielle

  40. 5 out of 5

    Frederick Rotzien

  41. 4 out of 5

    Sam

  42. 5 out of 5

    Denise

  43. 4 out of 5

    Deborah Gerhart

  44. 4 out of 5

    Kye Cantey

  45. 5 out of 5

    Nancy Adams

  46. 4 out of 5

    Wendy Phung

  47. 4 out of 5

    Christine E

  48. 5 out of 5

    Lydia Wallace

  49. 4 out of 5

    Dayna

  50. 4 out of 5

    David

  51. 4 out of 5

    Bailey S.

Add a review

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

Loading...