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This report is taken from PN Review 260, Volume 47 Number 6, July - August 2021.

Black Orpheus at Oxford
A Footnote
Andrew McNeillie
Hoping to have the honour of taking the two year academic course in a British University, offered by the British Council to the candidate selected by His Majesty’s Ambassador… I would like to state that I am particularly interested in taking a general course in Literature, along with a complete course of the English language, for a better technical understanding of these studies, and mainly for the purpose of criticism and to be more capable of interpreting the monuments of human culture.

So opened the statement to the British Council of Vinicius de Moraes (preserved in the National Archives at Kew), writing some time in 1938, from Rua das Acacias 31, Gávea, a residential neighbourhood in Rio de Janeiro. At this point, the graduate in Legal and Social Studies and author of two collections of poems – O Caminho para a Distância (‘Path into the Distance’) 1933, and Forma e Exegese (‘Form and Exegesis’) of 1935 – was employed by the Brazilian Ministry of Education and Health as a film censor.

A job in censorship is surely a far cry from anything we might nowadays tend to associate with the author of Black Orpheus, the champion of the Brazilian underclass, the lyricist and libidinous love poet par excellence of Bossa Nova, the notorious alcoholic and Don Juan. But in the 1930s de Moraes was profoundly conservative, his symbolist poetry formal and preoccupied with Catholic mysticism, sexual sin and salvation.

As an undergraduate, he had befriended far-right Catholics and as a poet associated with the ...

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