Biography of Florbela Espanca..

By Jasmin Hus

Florbela Espaca, one of Portugal’s most known and loved Poets, was born on December 8th, 1894 in Vila Viçosa, a small town in the Alentejo region under the name Flor Bela de Alma da Conceição Espanca. She was born as the daughter of Antónia da Conceição Lobo, a house maid. Her father, João Marya Espanca, was married to Mariana do Carmo Toscano. But because she wasn’t able to give birth to children, João Espanca had an illegitimate affair with Florbela’s mother, who was working for them. Because of this reason, Florbela and her brother Apeles (who was born three years later) were baptized as children of an “unknown” father. Only eighteen years after Florbela’s death her father finally acknowledged her.

Already at the age of nine she wrote her first poetic compositions, among them the sonnet “A Vida e a Morte” (Life and Death), which she dedicated to her brother Apeles. Four years later she wrote the short story “Mamã!”, and then only one year later her mother died at the age of 29.

Her first marriage to Alberto Moutinho, a classmate of her, was celebrated on her 19th birthday. At that time she was studying at the College Masculino André de Gouveia in Évora, where she graduated with a literature degree in 1917. After that, she enrolled at the law school of the University of Lisbon, being beneath the first women to do so.

After a miscarriage in the year 1919 Florbela began to show the first serious symptoms of emotional illness. In the very same year she published her first book “Livro de Mágoas (The Book of Sorrows), containing sonnets which “passes to others the pain through its words.” One year later, after she divorced her first husband (which exposed her to significant social prejudice) she married António Guimarães. But also this marriage held not long, in fact only one year. Because of a second miscarriage her husband divorced her, and according to some people, António Guimarães hit Florbela during their marriage as well. But still this divorce affected her deeply. During that time she published the work “Livro de Soror Saudade (Sister Saudade's Book).

In 1925 she married the doctor who treated her for a long time, Mário Lage, and her life maybe would have improved, but only little after her brother died in an airplane accident. Some people even believe that he committed suicide, but this way or the other Florbela was deeply affected and was therefore inspired to write “As Máscaras do Destino” (The Masks of Destiny).

Her mindset towards life did not improve, and so she twice attempted suicide in October and November 1936. Because she was diagnosed with a pulmonary edema, an illness which causes water retention in the lungs and can lead to not being able to breathe anymore, she finally lost all her hope to live. She died on her 36th birthday on 8th December 1936. Due to her unstable health and her mental condition the actual cause of her death is not entirely clear. These conditions and her numerous difficulties in life shaped her love, erotic and feminine writings. Her life, although she was only 36 years old when she died, was restless and full of sufferings. But she was able to put her feelings into words, created poetry of the highest quality and became a famous Portuguese poet.

I dream I am the chosen Poet,
Who knows all there is to know on Earth,
The one whose inspiration’s pure and perfect,
And captures infinity in a verse!
I dream a verse of mine has all the brightness
To light the whole world!  And it will please
Even those who long and die of sadness!
And even wise, unhappy souls it will appease.

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