The Iberian Peninsula country of Portugal has experienced a rich history that saw its influence spread to South America and even parts of Africa and Asia. Its South American colony, Brazil, blossomed into one of the largest countries in the world, cementing Portuguese as a major world language. The country has also given rise to a number of influential literary figures who altered the face of the contemporary literary landscape. Here are a few of Portugal’s best literary figures from history.
1. Almeida Garrett
João Baptista da Silva Leitão de Almeida Garrett, who largely went by the pen name Almeida Garrett, was born in Porto in 1799. He is considered one of the greatest figures of Portuguese Romanticism, experiencing a tumultuous life that involved fleeing the second French invasion as a child. He published his first work, O Retrato de Vénus, in 1818, which was seen as “materialist, atheist, and immoral.” He pioneered Portuguese Romanticist literature in 1825.
2. Fernando Pessoa
Fernando António Nogueira Pessoa, born in Lisbon in 1888, was a prolific Portuguese writer and philosopher who has been described as one of the most important literary figures of the 20th century. He wrote prolifically both under his own name and around 75 other pseudonyms, which he used to explore different, sometimes unpopular or extreme, views. As a child, Pessoa attended a Roman Catholic grammar school that allowed him to become proficient in English and develop an appreciation for English literature.
3. José Maria de Eça de Queirós
Eça de Queirós, one of Portugal’s greatest realist writers, ranked alongside the likes of Leo Tolstoy, was born in Póvoa de Varzim, Portugal, in 1845 as the illegitimate child of unmarried parents. He attended the University of Coimbra at just 16 to study law, which is where he began his literary career. He spent much of his career in England, even though he wrote of his abhorrence for the nation. Nonetheless, he believed that England was the “foremost thinking nation,” which kept him grounded on English soil.
4. Camilo Castelo Branco
Camilo Castelo Branco produced over 260 books throughout his prolific writing career, which is generally contrasted with realist writer Eça de Queirós. Branco, born out of wedlock in 1825 Lisbon, was considered a Romanticist writer but put his own spin on the style by including sarcasm, bitterness, and dark humor. He grew up in near-poverty and was a distracted and undisciplined student. Nonetheless, he developed a love for literature in his teenage years.
5. José Saramago
José Saramago was an influential Portuguese writer who won the Nobel Prize in Literature in 1998. He was born in 1922 to a peasant family in Portugal’s Ribatejo Province. He grew up poor and was forced into technical school when his parents couldn’t afford to keep him in grammar school. Saramago believed in anarcho-communism and routinely criticized the Catholic Church in his work, leading to outrage and censorship by the Portuguese government at the time.