A Brazilian "Pilgrim's Progress"

Alexandre de Gusmão wrote the earliest fiction known to have been written in Brazil. The Newberry, in a joint acquisition with Loyola University Chicago, has added a first edition to the collection, making it available to the public in the Newberry’s reading room and digitally at Archive.org.

Gusmão first arrived with his family in Brazil as a teenager in 1644. He would live there for the next 80 years (until his death in 1724), becoming a renowned Jesuit priest and teacher in the Portuguese colony. Most importantly for world literature, Gusmão is the author of Historia do Predestinado Peregrino e Seu Irmao Precito... (The History of the Pilgrim Predestinado and His Brother Precito), first published across the Atlantic in Lisbon in 1682.

The book tells the story of two brothers on a journey from Egypt. One of the brothers, Predestinado (“Predestined”), is bound for Jerusalem; the other, Precito (“Reprobate”), for Babylon. As this very brief synopsis indicates, the book bears a resemblance to its better-known near-contemporary, John Bunyan’s Pilgrim’s Progress, first published in 1678. However, it’s unlikely Gusmão read Bunyan’s work; the two allegories appear to have been created independently of each other.

The Newberry’s newly acquired volume is the only known copy of the first edition in the Americas. It joins both the Newberry’s Greenlee Collection on the history of Portugal and Portuguese colonies, and Loyola’s rare book collection for Jesuitica. The Newberry has digitized this copy of Historia do Predestinado Peregrino, along with its copy of the 1685 edition published in Évora, Portugal, to make these very rare texts available to researchers in Brazil, Portugal, and around the world.

The availability of the physical book in Chicago, along with the digitized version online, will give the public unprecedented accessibility to this important, rare text. It offers potential insights into colonial Brazil, the pedagogical strategies of seventeenth-century Jesuits, the developing narrative structures and genre conventions of prose fiction, and allegorical thought. This acquisition should provide fertile ground for future research.

By Will Hansen, Director of Reader Services and Curator of Americana