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This article is taken from PN Review 264, Volume 48 Number 4, March - April 2022.

A Parochial Pessoa Colin Bramwell
Fernando Pessoa described himself as ‘a drama divided into people, instead of acts.’ Richard Zenith’s recent biography thus begins with Pessoa’s major dramatis personae: no less than forty-eight fictional authors. The majority of these characters were bit parts, but others were more prolific, establishing themselves in their creator’s psyche. These lingering presences became Pessoa’s ‘heteronyms’ – a coinage that implies a far greater degree of separation between real-life author and nom de plume than is usually supposed. This game of inventing fictional authors appears to have been established in the poet’s childhood. Pessoa was born in Lisbon, but spent his formative years at a British public school in Durban, where he began sending his poetry to local newspapers under the name of Charles Robert Anon (a later English heteronym was named Alexander Search.) After his schooling was over, he returned to his city of birth, and never left. He didn’t have to. At least two of his heteronyms were quite well-travelled.

Pessoa’s five major heteronyms are Bernardo Soares (author of The Book of Disquiet), and the four poets represented here: Alberto Caeiro, Ricardo Reis, Álvaro de Campos, and ‘Fernando Pessoa’. All write in Portuguese, all exist in the same extended universe, and all, with the exception of Caeiro, are prolific, though it is Caeiro who provides a philosophical underpinning for the rest. His doctrine holds that there is no such thing as hidden meaning in the observable world: each thing is only what it is, and nothing else beyond. In Disquiet, we come across an account of Caeiro’s effect on ...


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