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Memórias Póstumas de Brás Cubas, Machado de Assis

Contributed by Tereza Bettinardi on Aug 31st, 2018. Artwork published in .
    Memórias Póstumas de Brás Cubas, Machado de Assis 1
    Nino Andrés. License: All Rights Reserved.

    Memórias Póstumas de Brás Cubas, often subtitled as the Epitaph of a Small Winner, is a novel by the Brazilian writer Machado de Assis. Published in 1881, the novel is narrated by the dead protagonist Brás Cubas, a wealthy nineteenth-century Brazilian who examines—in 160 short chapters—his own life story from beyond the grave, noting his mistakes and failed romances filled with philosophical digressions and exuberant insights.

    Susan Sontag wrote this novel is “probably one of those thrillingly original, radically skeptical books that will always impress readers with the force of private discovery.” It is considered the first romance of the realist movement in Brazil.

    The process of designing this book began in April 2017 paying a visit to two different cemeteries in São Paulo. I remember during that same week I read an interesting article by Paul Barnes about English vernacular type [several photos of gravestones in the Southwest of England] on the occasion of Chiswick release.

    The illustrations were made using Heloisa Etelvina’s collection of type ornaments. Since her Fine Art studies in Belo Horizonte (BR), Heloisa collects typographic ornaments and combines it with different print techniques: woodcut, linocut, etc.

    The titles are set in several typefaces from amazing Ellmer Stefan’s The Pyte Foundry. The rest of the text is set with Chiswick Text from Commercial Type.

    On the spine: TPF Dosage, Houdini, Errata, Plumb A, Cuneiform, Nihilist.
    Nino Andrés. License: All Rights Reserved.

    On the spine: TPF Dosage, Houdini, Errata, Plumb A, Cuneiform, Nihilist.

    On the spine: TPF Dosage, Houdini, Errata, Plumb A, Cuneiform, Nihilist.
    Nino Andrés. License: All Rights Reserved.

    The half-title combines Dosage, Houdini, and Errata.

    On the spine: TPF Dosage, Houdini, Errata, Plumb A, Cuneiform, Nihilist.
    License: All Rights Reserved.

    Title page featuring Plumb A, Dosage, Cuneiform, Nihilist, and Errata. In the first two lines, Pyte’s confident accents were tamed down.

    Memórias Póstumas de Brás Cubas, Machado de Assis 5
    Nino Andrés. License: All Rights Reserved.
    Memórias Póstumas de Brás Cubas, Machado de Assis 6
    Nino Andrés. License: All Rights Reserved.
    Memórias Póstumas de Brás Cubas, Machado de Assis 7
    Nino Andrés. License: All Rights Reserved.
    On the spine: TPF Dosage, Houdini, Errata, Plumb A, Cuneiform, Nihilist.
    Nino Andrés. License: All Rights Reserved.

    Chiswick and TPF Routine B.

    On the spine: TPF Dosage, Houdini, Errata, Plumb A, Cuneiform, Nihilist.
    Nino Andrés. License: All Rights Reserved.

    Chapter heading in TPF Moloch.

    Memórias Póstumas de Brás Cubas, Machado de Assis 10
    Nino Andrés. License: All Rights Reserved.
    On the spine: TPF Dosage, Houdini, Errata, Plumb A, Cuneiform, Nihilist.
    Nino Andrés. License: All Rights Reserved.

    Moloch and Mortar for headings. The swashy numerals are included in Chiswick as titling alternates.

    Memórias Póstumas de Brás Cubas, Machado de Assis 12
    Nino Andrés. License: All Rights Reserved.
    On the spine: TPF Dosage, Houdini, Errata, Plumb A, Cuneiform, Nihilist.
    Nino Andrés. License: All Rights Reserved.

    TPF Nihilist.

    On the spine: TPF Dosage, Houdini, Errata, Plumb A, Cuneiform, Nihilist.
    Nino Andrés. License: All Rights Reserved.

    TPF Flounce and Moloch.

    On the spine: TPF Dosage, Houdini, Errata, Plumb A, Cuneiform, Nihilist.
    Nino Andrés. License: All Rights Reserved.

    Moloch and Nihilist.

    Memórias Póstumas de Brás Cubas, Machado de Assis 16
    Nino Andrés. License: All Rights Reserved.
    Memórias Póstumas de Brás Cubas, Machado de Assis 17
    Photo: Tereza Bettinardi. License: All Rights Reserved.
    Memórias Póstumas de Brás Cubas, Machado de Assis 18
    Photo: Tereza Bettinardi. License: All Rights Reserved.
    Memórias Póstumas de Brás Cubas, Machado de Assis 19
    Photo: Tereza Bettinardi. License: All Rights Reserved.
    Memórias Póstumas de Brás Cubas, Machado de Assis 20
    Photo: Tereza Bettinardi. License: All Rights Reserved.
    Memórias Póstumas de Brás Cubas, Machado de Assis 21
    Photo: Tereza Bettinardi. License: All Rights Reserved.
    Memórias Póstumas de Brás Cubas, Machado de Assis 22
    Photo: Tereza Bettinardi. License: All Rights Reserved.
    On the spine: TPF Dosage, Houdini, Errata, Plumb A, Cuneiform, Nihilist.
    Photo: Tereza Bettinardi. License: All Rights Reserved.

    TPF Plumb A.

    On the spine: TPF Dosage, Houdini, Errata, Plumb A, Cuneiform, Nihilist.
    Photo: Tereza Bettinardi. License: All Rights Reserved.

    TPF Overdose.

    Memórias Póstumas de Brás Cubas, Machado de Assis 25
    Photo: Tereza Bettinardi. License: All Rights Reserved.

    6 Comments on “Memórias Póstumas de Brás Cubas, Machado de Assis”

    1. Thiago says:
      Aug 31st, 2018  11:49 am

      I don’t think I buy that it’s inspired by tomb inscriptions. I don’t really see this kind of contrast on those.

      I don’t think it fits the book, but it sure is cool to look at.

    2. Sep 4th, 2018  10:10 am

      Tereza didn’t claim her typography directly references gravestone lettering. One can seek inspiration on cemeteries for a book subtitled as “epitaph” without emulating one’s findings one-to-one, no? Having said that, Chiswick definitely takes cues from gravestone lettering (among other sources), and the variety of letterforms on English cemeteries is huge, see the images in the linked article. The same is true for other places, too — here’s a random sample from Chicago.

      Graceland Cemetery Lettering

      I don’t know about cemeteries in São Paolo, but among the first hits in a Flickr search was this gate, with bold slab-serif caps that are not too different in feeling from some of the chosen Pyte faces.

      Cemitério Municipal.

      I don’t think it fits the book

      Why not? I’d love to hear your reasons.

    3. Thiago says:
      Sep 4th, 2018  8:30 pm

      Well, note how none of your pictures have high contrast letters, which is what I was focusing on, since many of the prominent fonts here have that. The linked article has some impressively engraved gravestones, however, which do have some contrast, but I have never seen anything like that in real life. Have you?

      I don’t think it fits the book because the book’s writing style seems to me opposite to something that extravagant, except insofar as Cubas repeatedly tries to flatter the reader. I don’t reckon someone would think of this design with the book freshly in mind.

      Something as "messy" and colorful as this cover and endpapers also seems disconnected from the aesthetics of the author’s literary movement. I understand how the individual elements are all period appropriate—there’s woodcuts, and type ornaments, and letters which allegedly are similar to period tombstones—but they’re all “remixed” in a way that clearly isn’t.

      Anyway, I don’t blame the designer. I don’t know what this edition was made for, but the text being royalty-free was probably a major reason for choosing it. A more contemporary text would be more fitting to the design but also cost more to acquire. And, of course, she can do what she wants.

    4. Sep 4th, 2018  10:06 pm

      Hey Florian, that’s true. I remember I read this article by Paul Barnes about the same time I was designing this book. I am about to write about the process [in portuguese, hopefully very soon] but for while I post here some pictures from my research on cemeteries in São Paulo and Portugal.

    5. Sep 6th, 2018  9:31 am

      Thanks, Thiago, I see. Contrast is such an ambiguous term in typography — I had assumed you were talking about contrast of size and weight (like very bold, compact caps vs. a rather delicate text face). For high stroke contrast: I don’t know how common that is on Brazilian gravestones. I guess the more ones looks, the more variety one will discover. The caps on the Almeida stone that Tereza posted have some (modest) reverse contrast. These stones from a Berlin cemetery show a 19th century Fat Face, but over the decades, the weather has eaten away some material. With the hairlines missing, the letters now look almost like a sans-serif stencil, in the vein of Futura Black — contrast amount: extreme.

      geboren / gestorben
      1878.

      I can’t read Portuguese and don’t know the book and its history, and hence can’t speak to the appropriateness. In general, there’s a lot to be said in favor of typographic choices that correspond to the time and place of the text’s origin or its setting. On the other hand, I often enjoy been surprised by an unexpected take. And I definitely don’t mind a contemporary approach. If it’s somehow rooted in (local) history or the topic, all the better. Anyway, thanks for elaborating!

    6. Sep 6th, 2018  9:38 am

      Thank you for posting these pictures, Tereza. That bifurcated “Candida” is quite something.

      I’m looking forward to read your process notes — hooray for automatic translation services!

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