There's No Word for «Saudade»

Perspectives on the Literature and Culture of Portuguese America

by George Monteiro (Author)
©2017 Monographs XII, 218 Pages


There’s No Word for Saudade contains twenty-one essays aimed at a readership interested in cultural and historical materials, including those related to Portuguese America. Significant figures covered include John Dos Passos, Charles Reis Felix, Julian Silva, John Philip Sousa, Mark Twain, Herman Melville, James Merrill, and the Azorean John Francis, businessman, patron, and friend to the fabled Provincetown Players. Concluding essays scrutinize and judge the phenomenon of the Portuguese movie in the 1930s and 1940s, and trace the history of the tricky but persistently present Portuguese concept of saudade.

Table Of Contents

  • Cover
  • Title
  • Copyright
  • About the author(s)/editor(s)
  • About the book
  • This eBook can be cited
  • Contents
  • Preface
  • Chapter 1. Pride and Prejudice
  • Chapter 2. The March King
  • Chapter 3. Poems, Persons, and Things
  • Chapter 4. Fiction Writers
  • Chapter 5. Weld Street Memories
  • Chapter 6. Family Matters
  • Chapter 7. Hostage to Fortune
  • Chapter 8. Provincetown Laureate
  • Chapter 9. Two Roads Diverged
  • Chapter 10. Isolato in Manhattan
  • Chapter 11. Canadian ‘Gees
  • Chapter 12. Life on the Tenth Island
  • Chapter 13. A Passion for Thomas Wolfe
  • Chapter 14. A Ballad about Stonington
  • Chapter 15. The First ‘Gees
  • Chapter 16. Classic Novels in Translation
  • O Primo Basílio
  • Os Fidalgos da Casa Mourisca
  • Appendix
  • Chapter 17. The Provincetown Go-Between
  • Chapter 18. “Old-Country” Movies
  • Chapter 19. Words Beget Dreams
  • Chapter 20. No Word for Saudade
  • Chapter 21. The Shiftless Azoreans
  • Biographical Note
  • Bibliography
  • Series index

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My parents, who emigrated from rural Portugal in the early decades of the twentieth century, were never disdainful of their Portuguese heritage. That, undoubtedly, has much to do with my continuing interest in pursuing the facts and figures of Portuguese-American culture. There is also something else, though. I have spoken Portuguese for as long as I can remember. In fact, my first words, I was told, were spoken in Portuguese, though my English could not have come much later.

Being functionally bilingual (and thus in many ways bicultural) has always been comforting to me, never a cause for embarrassment or difficulty. Yet, to borrow a phrase from the novelist Henry James, it has also been a “complex fate.” For the fact is that Portuguese emigrants, their American-born children, and even their later descendants share, to some extent or other, two countries and sometimes two sets of cultural and family history. If the Portuguese are no different from other national or ethnic groups in this regard, the specifics of those cultural and family histories are their own. Through essays and occasional talks I have tried to say some things about those specifics.

Of course, There’s no Word for Saudade reflects, as it must, my personal mindset of interests, attitudes, and issues. Since I have always chosen to write about those matters that have piqued my interest, I have not tried in any way ← ix | x → to cover the range and scope of Portuguese-American culture, a subject that calls for books different from this one. Thus, it is with the optimistic notion that these essays, written over a period of three decades, may be of interest to those others curious about Portuguese-American writing—especially the “gente da nossa” (“descendants of our people”)—that I welcome the opportunity to gather them here.

Many of the pieces, versions of texts prepared over time to serve different purposes—conference talks, journal and quarterly essays, colloquium presentations, book reviews, or prefaces or introductions solicited by others—deal with novels by John Dos Passos, John Philip Sousa, Frank X. Gaspar, and Julian Silva, verse by the poets Thomas J. Braga, Nancy Vieira Couto, and Olivio A. Lopes, short stories by Laura Bulger and Onésimo Teotónio Almeida, and the autobiographical writings of José Rodrigues Miguéis and Charles Reis Felix. Other pieces look back at the Portuguese movies that I saw as a child, a nineteenth-century novel, published anonymously and long forgotten, that has for its hero a Portuguese sailor living in “California” in the 1500s, American translations of novels by the great Portuguese writers Eça de Queiros and Julio Dinis, an Azorean presence in “The Summer People,” James Merrill’s poem about Stonington, Connecticut, an emigrant’s passion for American fiction, English-language responses to the Portuguese notion of saudade, the emigrant’s pursuit of the American Dream, and an Azorean-American who has a small place in the history of American drama as a friend to the playwright Eugene O’Neill and his contemporaries in Provincetown. The final piece surveys American literary responses to the Portuguese as a people.

I should add that I use emigrant throughout in place of the more commonly used immigrant because I am looking at things from the point of view of the migrants, who sees themselves as emigrating from their native land rather than immigrating, which, of course, is how their hosts in this new land would naturally characterize them.

For consenting to their use in the present volume of pieces previously published in their publications, I wish to thank ABC Clio, Bramble House, the Center for Portuguese Studies and Culture at the University of Massachusetts Dartmouth, Gabinete de Emigração e Apoio ás Comunidades Açorianas, Gávea-Brown Publications, and the University Press of New England, as well as the editors of the journals Gávea-Brown, Laconics, Luso-Brazilian Review, MELUS, Portuguese Literary & Cultural Studies, Portuguese Studies Review and Sewanee Review. I am grateful, too, for permission to examine ← x | xi → and quote material now in the Sheaffer—O’Neill Collection, Shain Library, Connecticut College, New London, Connecticut, and in the Mabel Dodge Luhan Papers, Beinecke Rare Book and Manuscript Library, Yale University, New Haven, Connecticut. My gratitude to Onésimo Teotónio Almeida, who long ago encouraged me to collect my writings on Portuguese-America, and to Brenda Murphy, my wife, who cannot begin to imagine how much I owe her.

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John Dos Passos’ great literary accomplishment is the trilogy of novels on early twentieth-century American life published under the single title U.S.A. Although it does not manifest itself in any appreciable or direct way in his novels and essays, knowledge of his Portuguese heritage—kept from him until his teen-age years—nagged at and embarrassed Dos Passos for many years. In Lisbon in 1919, “journalizing,” as he put it, for a week before going on to Madrid, he served up, for the delectation of a friend, an amused, condescending, and utterly revealing description of the natives and their language. It appears in Townsend Ludington’s Fourteenth Chronicle: Letters and Diaries of John Dos Passos (1973):

[H]ere I sit upon the soil of my ancestors, drinking coffee in solitary grandeur at a small white table on the Avenida da Liberdade. I have been in Lisbon a week, journalizing—The Portuguese, I find, are a good people, somewhat dirty, somewhat thievish, somewhat humble, lacking that superb haughtiness which seems to be the heritage of the Arabs to Spain, but a people full of goodness. […] Their main vice is their language, of which I disapprove entirely. It jibes in no way of my ideas of what a language should be. I utter with a feeling of pain the few sounds I have been able to master in it. They are not a pictorial people, but they have a certain charm, and express their goodness by a mild jollity. I imagine if I stayed long among them I should be taken with a sentimental fondness for them, and weep large republican tears upon ← 1 | 2 → leaving. But that shall not be. Leave for Spain tomorrow. How can you stay in a country where they call your name Dsh Pass-sh. Think of it! My honorable ancestors called themselves Dsh Passs-sh. Do you wonder that I don’t believe in God?

Interestingly, on his voyage over to Europe, he wrote a poem while he was “Off Pico,” in the Azores. Included in A Pushcart at the Curb in 1922, a collection of verse written mostly in Europe and signed from various places, this untitled poem features an epigraph in Portuguese—“Lua cheia esta noit[e]” (Full moon tonight)—but nothing else in the poem relates to Portugal or the Portuguese.

Dos Passos’ vexation over his Portuguese heritage and an assessment of U.S.A., his greatest literary achievement, are the subjects of the paragraphs that follow.


XII, 218
ISBN (Hardcover)
Publication date
2017 (May)
New York, Bern, Berlin, Bruxelles, Frankfurt am Main, Oxford, Wien, 2017. XII, 218 pp.

Biographical notes

George Monteiro (Author)

George Monteiro earned his A.B. and Ph.D. at Brown University, and his A.M. at Columbia University. His faculty appointments include Emeritus Professor of English and Adjunct Professor of Portuguese at Brown University. He received an honorary D.H.L. from the University of Massachusetts Dartmouth, and is a member of the Order of Prince Henry the Navigator with the grade of Commander. He is also a member of Phi Beta Kappa and has authored numerous books on American and Portuguese writers.


Title: There's No Word for «Saudade»
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231 pages