George Monteiro’s series of critical essays investigating Elizabeth Bishop’s work during and outside of her time living in Brazil is geared toward readers already familiar with Bishop. Divided into two sections, “Brazil” and “Elsewhere,” Monteiro’s essays range from a few pages that briefly analyze a single poem or event to larger works that encompass multiple poems, collected letters and correspondence, and Bishop’s biography. Astonishingly comprehensive, Elizabeth Bishop in Brazil and After manages a thorough undertaking of situating Bishop’s life to her work through careful close readings and archival research in order for the already well-equipped Bishop reader to better understand her work.
Many essays focus on the relationships Bishop sustained throughout her lifetime, both romantically and professionally. Although a considerable amount has already been written on her involvement with Brazilian native Lota de Macedo Soares and their time spent living together in Rio, Monteiro does not solely remain with biography. Rather, he investigates Lota’s influence on Bishop’s writing. An essay titled “The Brazil Book” tracks Bishop’s and Lota’s separate corrections and annotations in Bishop’s edition of the Brazil book for Life’s World Library Series. In the collection’s first essay, “The Unwritten Elegy,” Monteiro investigates Bishop’s collection of poems Questions of Travel, claiming that
. . . read as a book made public, to be sure, but openly dedicated to Lota, Questions of Travel becomes one more of the singular gifts given to illustrate and reaffirm the personal truth of the lines she quotes from Camões: “Giving you what I have and what I may, / The more I give you, the more I owe you.”
Further essays also discuss Lota’s influence on individual poems as well.
Translation, both of Brazilian poets by Bishop and of Bishop by Brazilian poets, remains important to understand Bishop’s literary life in Rio. In “A Tale of Jam and Jelly,” Monteiro pieces together Bishop’s correspondence with Manuel Bandeira, a Brazilian poet, as well her letters to Marianne Moore about the poet, reflecting how “Bishop’s judgments had followed her changing taste in modern poetry.” Additionally, other essays examine the use of Brazilian words and events in Bishop’s poems, tracing how and why she decided to utilize these experiences from Brazil in her work.
Remaining firmly in the realm of literary criticism, Elizabeth Bishop in Brazil and After invites the reader to delve into Bishop’s biography while paying close attention to both her written work and the relationships she forged throughout her lifetime. Touching on nearly every aspect of Bishop’s life—from her interactions with Ezra Pound and her exchanges with Marianne Moore to her sometimes tense friendship with Robert Lowell—while remaining rooted in its central theme of Brazil, this collection of critical essays builds off one another, creating a logical progression that readers can follow with ease. While dense, these essays are rich in content.