A Chapter of Hats by Machado de Assis
translated by John Gledson
Short story, first published 1883, set in Rio de Janeiro
[Mariana, who is discontented with her husband’s choice of hat, is in a dentist’s waiting room]
A young man… got up and greeted her very ceremoniously. It was her first suitor. This first suitor would now be 33…He was of medium height, pale, with a thin, full beard, and wore very tight clothes. In his right hand he had a new top hat, black, grave, presidential, administrative, a hat suited to the person and his ambitions. Mariana... felt oppressed: the presence of a man like this inhibited her, threw her into a state of conflict and confusion. It was all her husband’s fault… Mariana swore she’d have her vengeance…
Dr Vicoso…[said] that as a matter of fact he hadn’t seen her for some years. And he underlined his words with a certain sad, profound look. Then he opened up his box of topics, and pulled out the opera. He’d seen Mariana on the last night, in the fourth or fifth box on the left, wasn’t that right?
‘Yes we were there,’ she murmured, underlining the plural pronoun.
observations: Nothing will come of this encounter, so the lonely hat seems about right. Mariana has had an argument with her husband in the morning, and spends the day seeing the world through its hats – she hears from a friend ‘a lot of stories… about male and female hats, things rather more serious than just a marital tiff.’ And she definitely considers punishing her husband, as above, but in the end…
Machado de Assis is considered Brazil’s greatest writer, and has a charming and unique style, which critics have found difficult to define or describe. His stories are lovely.
Links up with: The Provincial Lady who bought a hat, and the George Eliot heroine who looked like a carte de visite. Strange 19th century hats for men turn up here, and items of adornment used as a weapon between a married couple in this entry. Nancy Mitford’s Fanny and Polly think about hats all the time.
Picture from the George Eastman House collection of cartes-de-visites. Yes, you can see the strings if you look closely.