Forgotten Book: The Mystery of the Sintra Road (1870), by Eca de Queiroz and Ramalho Ortigão


The Mystery of the Sintra Road (original title: O Mistério da Estrada de Sintra) is considered the first detective story in Portuguese. The novel was written in 1870 by José Maria Eça de Queiroz in collaboration with Ramalho Ortigão and published first by instalments in ‘Diário de Notícias’, a Lisbon newspaper, between 24 and 27 September 1870. At the time many people believed it was a true story, as it happened in 1938 with the radio broadcast of The War of the Worlds by Orson Welles.

Two friends were kidnapped on the road to Sintra by three masked men and taken to a mysterious house. In the house there is a corpse. The usual questions arise: Who was he? How did he died? Was it a natural death or a murder? Who was the perpetrator or the instigator of the crime?

The two friends are the two narrators, Eça de Queiroz and Ramalho Ortigão, whose story was published in the form of letters to the editor recounting what happened to them.

CARTA AO EDITOR D’O Mysterio da Estrada de Cintra

“Ha quatorze annos, n’uma noite de verão no Passeio Publico, em frente de duas chavenas de café, penetrados pela tristeza da grande cidade que em torno de nós cabeceava de somno ao som de um soluçante pot-pourri dos Dois Foscaris, deliberámos reagir sobre nós mesmos e acordar tudo aquilo a berros, n’um romance tremendo, businado á baixa das alturas do Diario de Noticias.”

“Para esse fim, sem plano, sem methodo, sem escola, sem documentos, sem estylo, recolhidos á simples «torre de crystal da Imaginação», desfechámos a improvisar este livro, um em Leiria, outro em Lisboa, cada um de nós com com uma resma de papel, a sua alegria e a sua audacia.”

“Parece que Lisboa effectivamente despertou, pella sympathia ou pela curiosidade, pois que tendo lido na larga tiragem do Diario de Noticias o Mysterio da Estrada de Cintra, o comprou ainda n’uma edição em livro; e hoje manda-nos V. as provas de uma terceira edição, perguntando-nos o que pensamos da obra escripta n’esses velhos tempos, que recordamos com saudade…”

In 2007 O Mistério da Estrada de Sintra was made into a film.

At Fantastic Fiction you can see the bibliography of Eça de Queiroz available in English. El Crimen del Padre Amaro (2002), a film directed by Carlos Carrera is a free adaptation of another one of Eça de Queiroz books The Sin of Father Amaro aka The Crime of Father Amaro (1875).

Advertisements

7 thoughts on “Forgotten Book: The Mystery of the Sintra Road (1870), by Eca de Queiroz and Ramalho Ortigão

  1. José Ignacio.- What an interesting-sounding story. And I have to say that it really appeals to me that this is the first detective story in Portuguese. It doesn’t sound easy to find, but it sounds like an interesting mystery.

    1. Margot I forgot to add, and this might interest you, that the story was written among the two writers as letters to the editor. Each one answering to the previous one without a former draft and gradually the story unfolds.

  2. Thanks for a really interesting post. Do you know if the writers were influenced by translations of English, Spanish or French detective fiction, or was this a completely new idea in Portuguese?

    1. I’m afraid I don’t know, but it wouldn’t surprise me. Eca de Queiroz was pretty well informed for his time. According to Wikipedia he travelled to Egypt for the opening of the Suez Canal which inspired several of his works, including “The Mystery of the Sintra Road”

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.