Maria Gabriela Llansol
Portuguese writer who eschewed the literary conventions of her country
Thursday May 15, 2008
The Portuguese writer Maria Gabriela Llansol, who has died of cancer aged 76, wrote prolifically (27 titles since 1962) and won many literary awards in her home country, including the illustrious APE best novel prize in 1990 and 2007. Yet she was an isolated figure in Portugese literature, partly because she lived abroad for many years but mostly because her idiosyncratic, highly creative texts reached beyond conventional "figurative" writing.
She was born in Lisbon, where her bibliophile father was chief accountant at a paper factory and her doting mother a housewife. She graduated with a degree in law from Lisbon University in 1955 and two years later obtained a degree in educational sciences. She then ran a nursery school before publishing her first short stories in 1962, inspired by her interaction with children.
In 1965 she and her husband Augusto Joaquim moved to Belgium, in voluntary exile from the repressive regime of António de Oliveira Salazar. The couple became part of a cooperative that ran an experimental school, and also made and sold furniture and food. While living in the hamlet of Herbais, Llansol immersed herself in literature, philosophy and theology, particularly the social history of Europe and medieval mystic poets.
The experience of educating children from a variety of backgrounds and nationalities - some with problems such as autism or Down's syndrome - influenced her work considerably. So did the perspective afforded by living and working in a foreign language, in an isolated community far from home.
In the mid-1980s she moved back to Portugal, to the historic hilltop town of Sintra, and from then on published almost one book a year, largely ignored by the general public but gradually gathering a loyal, diverse group of readers, including academics and even the current president of the European commission, José Manuel Barroso, who has called her writing "intense and sublime".
Llansol found the conventions of traditional literature too restrictive and the subject matter available to novelists exhausted. She was not interested in describing reality, but rather in using language as an organic, living process. Writing, for her, was reality. In her diary Um Falcão no Punho (A Falcon on the Wrist, 1985), she wrote: "Literature does not exist. When you are writing, the only thing you need to know is which reality you are entering and whether or not there is a suitable technique that can open up the way to others."
In particular, her narrators function almost as a medium, or channel, for a series of fluctuating identities and voices or visitors (figures) who inhabit her consciousness and engage in discussion among themselves. Llansol's text also creates spaces where conjecture and counterfactual accounts operate freely - granting a glimpse of an alternative reality. She created iconoclastic, anti-nationalist texts that deflated mythical figures and representations of the past. She stressed Europe's evolution through the growth of free will, free thought and flourishing artistic and scientific developments. Instead of following other writers from her country and describing the glories of the Portuguese discoveries of the 14th and 15th centuries, she focused on the contemporaneous social and religious disturbances between princes and peasants in central Europe.
Llansol's writing absorbed qualities and concepts from the eclectic collection of historical figures that inhabit her work. This took in the likes of the medieval mystic, philosopher and theologian Meister Eckhart, Thomas Müntzer from the 16th-century peasants' war in Germany, through Bach and Spinoza, to Emily Dickinson. She set out her philosophy and practice of writing in the O Livro das Comunidades (The Book of Communities, 1977).
After the death of her husband in 2004, she published two books, one of which, Amigo e Amiga (He and She, 2006), won the APE prize. She was always conscious that her writing would need time to become accepted, saying in The Lord of Herbais (2001): "I live what I have written (and what I have yet to write), as posthumous work. Its longevity will outlive mine. It will have to exist by itself."
Llansol was also an accomplished translator of French poetry, including Baudelaire, Apollinaire and Rimbaud, and a few of her works have been translated into Spanish and French.
She leaves a cat, and hundreds of handwritten notebooks and diaries.
· Maria Gabriela Llansol, writer, born November 24 1931; died March 3 2008