Originally published as O Ateneu in 1888, The Athenaeum is a classic of Brazilian literature, here translated into English in its entirety for the first time. The first-person narrator, Sergio, looks back to his time at the eponymous boarding school, with its autocratic principal and terrifying student body. Sergio’s account of his humiliating experiences as a student, with its frank discussion of corruption and homoerotic bullying, makes it clear that his school is structured and administered so as to reproduce the class divisions and power structure of the larger Brazilian society.
In its muckraking mode, the novel is in the spirit of Naturalism, imported from France and well-acclimated to Brazil, where it blossomed. At the same time, Pompéia maintains the novel’s credibility as a bildungsroman by portraying the narrator’s psychological development. The novel’s conclusion suggests both a doomed society and its possible redemption, indicative of a moment of upheaval and transition in Brazilian history.