The thirteen short stories that make up The Via Crucis of the Body  are astonishing for two reasons.  That they were written  over the course of a single weekend yet suffer from no fatigue of imagination. That Clarice Lispector managed to treat the “dangerous subject” of this collection – sex – specifically commissioned by her publisher Álvaro Pacheco, with boldness and remarkable flair.

”Oh well. Who knows whether this book will add anything to my oeuvre. My oeuvre be damned. I don’t know why people think literature is so important. And as for my good name? Let it be damned too, I have other things to worry about.”
— Clarice Lispector, Day After Day

Born in 1920 to a Jewish family in Western Ukraine, Clarice Lispector was brought to Brazil as an infant when her family were forced to flee the anti-Jewish pogroms of post-World War I. Her mother died when she was nine. While attending law school in Rio de Janeiro, she began publishing journalism and short stories. Her first story The Triumph was published in 1940 when she was nineteen. It was her first novel, Near to the Wild Heart, issued in 1943, that brought her fame. From 1944 she lived abroad for almost two decades with her diplomat husband. In 1959 she left her husband and returned to Brazil with her two sons. Here she remained until her death at fifty-seven from ovarian-cancer.

Clarice Lipector photographed by Claudia Anduja, 1960

Lispector wrote short stories throughout her life, now collected in a single volume Clarice Lispector Complete Stories.  The Via Crucis of the Body first published in 1974,  towards the end of Clarice’s life, is also included in this volume.

  • In The Sound of Footsteps, we meet eighty-one year old Mrs. Cåndida Raposo. “It so happened that for Mrs. Cåndida Raposo the desire for pleasure didn’t go away.” Perplexed about how to deal with this situation, Mrs. Raposo seeks the advice of her gynaecologist.
  • The opening of, But It’s Going to Rain, sets up a relationship, “Maria Angélica De Andrade was sixty, and her lover, Alexandre, was nineteen.” The narrative then proceeds to entangle and unravel the shifting components of this, in a sense, love story.
  • Celsinho in Praça Mauá is a transvestite who “was awfully afraid of growing old and helpless. Especially because an old tranny is a pitiful sight.”
  • A nun in, Better Than to Burn, finds that “whenever the priest touched her mouth while giving her the host she’d had to stop herself from biting the priest’s hand. He noticed, didn’t say a word.” Slowly desperation to leave the convent sets in.

Lispector’s unflinching gaze looks steadily into the souls of characters, caught up or locked into varying modes of silence. Her stories, particularly in The Via Crucis of the Body, give voice to that which often feels unspeakable and confounding. She gets under the surfaces of the self with an artfulness that is striking. She stacks sentences linearly that surprise, shock, baffle, and mesmerise, drawing the reader into an unfurling power.