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Saturday, May 25, 2013

PORTRAIT OF PORTUGUESE WOMEN BY FOREIGN TRAVELERS


In one of my recent trips to the library, I found this amazing book, amongst others, and I decided to share with you. Unfortunately I cannot share all of it, but I leave you with some of my favorite parts, which I highlighted. I excuse myself beforehand for my lack of translation abilities.
It seems that most, if not all, of the travelers who visited Portugal, and also Spain, wrote about their delights of observing and describing the national women.
At the end of copying the parts of texts I found most interesting (and I had to limit myself quite a bit), I leave you with some of the conclusions the author of the book came to. It gives a good incite to the period mentality.
*
(Taken from the book “As Mulheres Portuguesas vistas por Viajantes Estrangeiros – século XVIII, XIX, XX”, [Portuguese Women seen by Foreign Travellers], by Ana Vicente, Gótica, Lisboa 2011)

[On the cover of the book] «The Portuguese women are quite kind, spirituous and very vivid. They're not taken as frisky but few occasions are given to them to prove it, because fathers, husbands or even brothers are unusually zealous, exercise on them a endured supervision. They only leave the house to go to church or to do visits.» (César de Saussure, “Letters Written from Lisbon”, 1730)

[Circa 1824] «The woman that is seated with crossed legs holding a spindle in her left hand and shake her brazier with her right hand, is a chestnut roaster. (…) There's nothing special to say about these women apart from the fact that they roast the chestnuts like nobody else in the world(A.P.D.G., “Sketches of Portuguese Life, Manners, Costume and Character”, ilustrated by twenty coloured plates, London, Geo. B. Whittaker, 1826, p 2)

[Seabathing] «I've entered many times the water accompanied by a dozen women, and hold their hands while they dived their heads under water. There are ladies who's gardens go directly to the beach and they get undressed in their summer houses and go into water holding a rope, with one of the ends tied to the door. This type of bathing isn't as healthy as the sudden head immersion; but these ladies won't do it any other way, entering on foot isn't less healthy then the way of a floating bathtub.»(idem, p 166)

Seabathing in the Tagus river by A.P.D.G., "Sketches of portuguese life, manners, costume and character", 1826. Women taking a bath in the river in Lisbon, wearing theirs shifts that have become translucid with the water. A very muscular and what seems to be, at least, a very taned man is pushing one of them onto the boat.

«The peasants, or women, generally of bigger hight then the female inhabitants of the cities; their skin is similar to the men, of a darker color, more healthy, and not so yellow or dull colored. They have beautiful eyes, full of expression. When young, they are very beautiful, and generally they have pleasant faces; but their beauty last shortly.(...)» (idem, pp322-323)

[The peasants like to sing, but sing badly] «The women also tune their voices with effects non better then of their spouses; nothing can be more monotonous then their songs, and nothing more out of tune then their interpretations. However the women don't lack spirit and ability to answer back: a friend of mine seeing a peasant passing by on a donkey, followed by several of these animals, said to her “Goodbye, mother of donkeys!” to which she replied immediately “Goodbye my son!”, with calmness and composure» (idem, pp.330-331)

«The women here use less petticoats, under their dresses, even in winter, and some lower social classes don't wear any, being happy with only a shirt that is covered by the dress. These last ones don't use a night cap and many maintain the old habit of sleeping in the natural state, and consider that during the night wearing clothing isn't healthy and is unnecessary. Both genders adopt this practice. » (Baillie, Marianne, “Lisbon in the years of 1821, 1822 and 1823”, 2nd edition, 2nd vol, London, John Murray, 1825, vol I, p 116)

[Between the regions of Douro and Minho] «The women share with their men the agricultural chores. They work continually the furrows of the earth, the heads covered with a round felt hat, to protect them selves of the harshness of the sun.
Like the men they find in the lively dancing a release of their fatigues (Breton, “L'Éspagne et le Portugal, ou Moeurs, Usages et Costumes des habitans de ces Royaumes”, 6 tomes, Paris, A. Nerveu, 1815, tome VI, p 35)

City of Coimbra, Thomas St. Clair. You can see the big felt hats that the peasants are wearing.

 
[1816] «In front of my house lives a very beautiful woman whose manners don't lack elegance. I didn't deny myself the pleasure of observing her. I saw her a few days ago with her head resting on the knees of her chamber maid that was taking her lice. Goodbye pleasure! The hygiene is inseparable of the grace and beauty. I've seen many people of the folk occupied in this repugnant task. But thought it was exaggerated what they would tell me about this people’s habit which is (…) the ladies sitting in great voluptuousness when they scratch or pick their heads.» (Tollerane, Louis-François de, “Notes Dominicales prises pendant un voyage en Portugal et au Brésil en 1816, 1817 et 1818”, coment. Par Léon Bourdon, 3 tomes, paris, PUF, 1971, tome 1, pp 75-76)

Street scenes by A.P.D.G. in "Sketches of portuguese life, manners, costume and character", 1826. You can see an old lady taking the lice off of the heaqd of a young woman on the balcony and a soldier eating the roasted chestnuts he just bought from the chestnuts seller.

«Approaching Porto, the vivaciousness of the national character became more evident: the women had the pleasure of mocking and giving a quick answers and sometimes they would take their dares to an inconvenient level, giving me wrong road directions. However, goodness will always win, and they always told me about the mistake they got me into after I gave the first steps into the wrong direction. (...)The beautiful necklaces and earrings made of gold, worn by the women of lower classes, surprised me a lot, until I found out that they invest all of their money in acquiring these ornaments» (“Portugal and Gallicia”, [Henry George Herbert, 3rd Earl of Carnarvon], 2nd vol., 2nd edition, London, John Murray, 1837, vol I, pp 56-57)

«The Portuguese are one of the more hairiest races of Europe. This southern sun puts beards on fifteen year old boys and mustaches on many ladies (who's voices are thicken for taking snuff) in such a way that the only apparent sexual distinction is the skirt.»(Hughes, Terence Mahon, “Revelations of Portugal, and narrative of an overland journey to Lisbon, at the close of 1846”, 2nd vol, London, Henry Colburn, 1847, vol II, p 365)

«The inferiority of the look of the women of Lisbon can be given to the fact that they live exclusively inside the houses, being deterred of doing healthy exercises, breathing not very healthy smells from the streets under their balconies, careless in the quality of the food they ingest and very deficient in what is necessary to their houses and cuisine. (...)» (idem, vol II, p 369)

Woman selling fruit, A.P.D.G., "Sketches of portuguese life, manners, costume and character", 1826. A woman is indoors buying fruit, two beggars are lice ticking and there's a religious procession hapening and a lady on the balcony praying while it passes. Other details: there's a parrot on the window, something very fashionable to have and the house is being belssed by 2 religious icons.

According to the author, most of the documents found are written by men. Many of them travel to Portugal for individual reasons, others because of their profession, others because of the war, others because of health issues (Portugal was famous for it's weather) and others just because they're looking for something new and “exotic”. Some travel with wife an family, others alone. But what all of these have in common is that they were travelers who wrote and not traveling writers. Some of them were Beckford, Byron, Southy and Hans Christian Andersen.
Portugal wasn't part of the Romantic Literature route and those who visited Portugal came here for different and heterogeneous purposes. Although the Portuguese landscape (specially Sintra) gave them a “romantic” perspective of Portugal.
The difference between travelers who wrote about their travels and other type of writers is the lack of objectivity. They come with a set of baggage which with they analyze and compare what they see according to what they already know. What they see is rarely of a learning experience and more of critic and denial. Although what all of them seem to agree upon is the division between the city and the countryside and North and South. William Beckford wrote: «Only the peasants are excellent.»
The general opinion was of a country that didn't deserved to be European, all wild and almost barbaric and »that needed a positive influence of a more advanced civilization».
A traveling guide of mid 19th century (author unknown) wrote the following about Portugal:
«The tourist (…) should be prepared for the worst of lodgings, the worst of foods, extreme tiredness, and not expect a lot about the level of architecture, ecclesiology or fine arts. But for those who seek landscapes, specially the artist, no other country in Europe has so many attractions and beauties uncovered» (Handbook for Travelers in Portugal, John Murray, 1855)
Still today (year 2000) an internet search associates Portugal still to Spain, to the Moorish traditions and the sunny, warm waters and fishing region that is Algarve.

River scenes, A.P.D.G., "Sketches of portuguese life, manners, costume and character",1826. Dock workers are helping women into the boat to travel to the other side of the river. If it is in Lisbon and if I'm not mistaken, these boats are called "faluas".

1 comment:

Jonathan Hopkins said...

Lice and moustaches. Those were definitely written by men, and not gentlemen, either!

Nice post :)