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Clarice Lispector - Biography

Clarice Lispector (1920-1977) was a Brazilian novelist and short story writer. Her innovation in fiction brought her international renown. References to her literary work pervade the music and literature of Brazil and Latin America.

Clarice Lispector was born in Chechelnyk, Podolio, Ukraine on the ninth of December 1920. She was the youngest daughter of a Jewish family. They were targeted during pogroms that happened during the political turmoil of the early twentieth century. Clarice Lispector’s older sister Elisa would write about these experiences in her novel No Exilio. After the destruction and instability of Ukraine in the aftermath of World War I and the Russian Civil War, the family fled to Romania.

From Romania, the Lispectors would sail to Brazil in 1922. Clarice Lispector’s mother had family who lived there. She was still very young when her family relocated to Maceió, Alagoas in the northeast of Brazil. On arriving in their new homeland, the children were to receive new names. Lispector’s first name had been Chaya before she was renamed Clarice. Her mother health deteriorated prompting a move to the larger community of Recife, Pernambuco. Lispector’s mother, finally, passed away in 1930.

Clarice Lispector was educated at the Colégio Hebreo-Idisch-Brasileiro. The school offered normal educational sources in addition to offering Hebrew and Yiddish language courses. The Ginásio Pernambucano admitted Lispector in 1932. This institution was the most academically respected in the region. In 1933, Clarice Lispector encountered Hermann Hesse’s Steppenwolf. This novel convinced Clarice Lispector that she was meant to write.

In 1935, the remainder of Clarice Lispector’s immediate family moved to Rio de Janeiro. Her father hoped that by moving to the capital he would have more business opportunities. She would enter the Law School of the University of Brazil in 1937. During this period of education, Lispector would publish pieces of journalism for Agência Nacional and A Noite. She also wrote short fiction. Her first piece of short fiction,"Triunfo", was published by the journal Pan in 1940. This same year, Clarice Lispector’s father would die from complications from a medical procedure.

Clarice Lispector published her Perto do Coração Selvagem in 1943 when she was the tender age of twenty-three. This novel recounts the inner life of Joana. The style of this book was very innovative. The next year she was awarded the Graça Aranha Prize for the best first novel. Many felt she had given Brazillian literature a unique voice in the larger context of Portuguese literature. Her examination of the internal lives of her characters was reminiscent of the style of Virginia Woolf and James Joyce.

In 1944, Clarice Lispector married Maury Gurgel Valente, a young Brazillian diplomat. To complete the legal obligations for the marriage, Clarice Lispector was required to become nationalized. Valente moved the couple to Belem in northern Brazil. He worked with foreign nationals who were using Brazil as a base of operations for the military actions of World War II.

In 1944, the couple traveled to Naples, Italy for Valente’s work. He was stationed at the Brazilian Consulate. This city was the center of operations for the Brazilian soldiers who were fighting against the Nazis. For the next fifteen years, Clarice Lispector traveled throughout the United States and America. While in Italy, Lispector became acquainted with Giuseppe Ungaretti. The Italian poet would translate excerpts of her first novel. Giorgio de Chirico painted her portrait. But perhaps her most significant action was that she finished the O Lustre.

In 1946, Clarice Lispector and her husband would move to Bern, Switzerland after a short trip to Brazil. Clarice Lispector found life in Switzerland suffocatingly boring. Over the course of their residence in Switzerland, her boredom deteriorated into depression. Despite her melancholy, Clarice Lispector was able to compose her third novel A cidade sitiada. In 1948, Clarice Lispector gave birth to Pedro Gurgel Valente.

In A cidade sitiada or The Besieged City Clarice Lispector recounts the story of Lucrécia Neves as her life relates to the growth of São Geraldo. Lispector utilizes metaphors of sight as a unifying trope. In contrast to her normal glowing reviews, her third novel was unloved.

In 1949, Clarice Lispector and her family returned to Brazil. They lived in Rio de Janeiro for a year before moving to Torquay, Devon. Her husband was appointed a delegate to the General Agreement of Tariffs and Trade. The family remained in England for most of 1951. However while in London, Clarice Lispector had a miscarriage, prompting a return to Brazil.

Clarice Lispector’s Alguns contos was published in 1952 when she had returned to Rio de Janeiro. The Ministry of Education and Health was the organ through which this slim bolume was published. She would later use much of this material for her novel Laços de família published 1961. Lispector began to write for a newspaper Comício. For this newspaper she wrote under the name Teresa Quadros.

During the fall of 1952, Clarice Lispector and her family relocated once again. This time the family moved to the capital of the United States, Washington D.C. The family would remain in this city for seven years. During this time she became an intimate friend with Erico Verissimo, another Brazillian writer. The Rio de Janeiro journal Senhor published many of Lispector’s pieces of short fiction during this period.

Life as a diplomat’s wife made Clarice Lispector miserable. The years away from her family made her feel increasingly lonely. In 1959, Lispector with her children returned to Brazil. She wrote her most influential novels including The Passion According to G.H. as well as Family Ties (or Laços de família).

After returning to Brazil, Clarice Lispector faced economic hardships. She strove to get a publisher interested in Family Ties. The book incorporated much of the short fiction that Clarice Lispector had written before 1960. Many view this work as one of the quintessential Brazilian short fiction.

A paixão segundo G.H or The Passion According to G.H. has become one of the most famous books of Clarice Lispector’s career. The book is viewed by many to represent her finest and most groundbreaking work. In this work, Clarice Lispector recounts the story of a wealthy woman who has a transcendental experience after confronting a cockroach.

In 1966, Clarice Lispector was injured. She had taken a pill to help her sleep. When she passed out, Lispector was still holding a lit cigarette. The burn was so severe that doctors considered complete amputation of her hand. For the next eleven years, Clarice Lispector wrote despite her pain.

In 1967, Clarice Lispector released O Mistério do coelho pensante translated into English as The Mystery of the Thinking Rabbit. This was her first attempt at writing a book for children. She also returned to writing newspapers columns. This time she wrote for Jornal do Brasil. Many of these publications were gathered into a collection after her death called A Descoberta do mundo or The Discovery of the World.

The following year, Clarice Lispector took part in the protests against the military rule of Brazil. She continued writing both fiction and pieces of journalism. She started conducting interviews for the magazine Manchete. In the years that followed, she began to paint. She also translated the works of Edgar Allan Poe and Oscar Wilde.

The First World Congress of Sorcery in Bogota invited Clarice Lispector to attend in 1975. A translation of her story “The Egg and the Hen" was read at the convention. This story was chosen for its mixture of occult and spiritual elements.

In 1977, Clarice Lispector published A Hora da estrela or The Hour of the Star. This novel examines poverty and power relationships in Brazil. This was also the year that Clarice Lispector succumbed to ovarian cancer.

Clarice Lispector was a Brazilian writer. (December 10, 1920 – December 9, 1977)