My research over the past three decades has encompassed a wide range of authors, periods and cultural phenomena across the Portuguese-speaking world, albeit with a dominant focus on Portugal. In my doctoral dissertation (Harvard, 1993), I studied the emergence of women’s authorship in twentieth-century Portuguese poetry; a much revised and expanded version of this study was eventually published as O Formato Mulher: A Emergência da Autoria Feminina na Poesia Portuguesa (Angelus Novus, 2009). In parallel with this long-term project, I published several articles on the work of such Portuguese women writers as Florbela Espanca, Sophia de Mello Breyner Andersen, Maria Teresa Horta, and Adília Lopes (among others), as well as on the giant of Brazilian letters, Clarice Lispector. I also wrote about the gendering of Portuguese literary history and criticism, and about the poetics and politics of gender within Portuguese modernism. The latter interest led me to coedit (with Mark Sabine) a collected volume on Portugal’s greatest modern writer, Fernando Pessoa, Embodying Pessoa: Corporeality, Gender, Sexuality (U of Toronto Press, 2007).
Another book-length study I published, The Portuguese Nun: Formation of a National Myth
(Bucknell UP, 2000), analyzed the cultural and literary mythology surrounding the figure of seventeenth-century nun Mariana Alcoforado as the presumed author of the celebrated collection of love letters that originally appeared in 1669 in French under the title of Lettres portugaises (and are known in their many English editions as Portuguese Letters or Letters of a Portuguese Nun). From its first “retranslations” into Portuguese in the early nineteenth century, this slim text has retained its status of a somewhat improbable support for one of Portugal’s most persistently cultivated cultural fictions. My book describes the foundation and development of the myth of Soror Mariana and illuminates its continuing investment in the fabrication, by the country’s cultural elites, of a shared national imagination.
In the last ten years, the main focus of my research has been on excavating the cultural and literary history of LGBTQ subjects and communities in Portugal, particularly in the period, stretching roughly from 1875 to 1940, in which queer identities and same-sex attachments became robustly visible and asserted for the first time in the country’s history. I published articles on poet António Nobre’s queering of nationalist imagination, on the lesbian subject in Portuguese and Iberian modernism, and on Portugal’s first queer novel, among other topics. My first book-length project in this area was a monograph on writer António Botto (1897-1959), O Mundo Gay de António Botto (Sistema Solar/Documenta, 2018), a cultural biography chronicling Botto’s extraordinary creative trajectory and social impact as the first Portuguese (and indeed European) writer to produce and publish in open circulation undisguised first-person homoerotic poetry. I am currently in the early stages of working on my next book project, tentatively entitled Among Women: Cultural Agency, Sociability, and Sexuality on the Margins of Portuguese Modernism, which seeks to examine cultural production and agency by Portuguese women who were active during the period of canonical Portuguese modernism (roughly, 1910-1935) by focusing in particular on structures of collaboration and sociability among them. No less importantly, I seek to foreground how many of these women’s lives and networks were traversed and meaningfully informed by an impulse toward antiheteronormative disidentification, which only in some relatively exceptional cases can be documented as having crystallized into lived lesbianism and did not always imply a wholesale disavowal of heterosexual social structures such as marriage. I won a US Scholar Fulbright fellowship for this project, which enabled me to conduct primary-source research in Portugal in early 2022.