I was twenty-two and felt nature in my every fibre…
The importance of the sudden acquisition and the careful of wielding of real adult responsibilities is also considered in Clarice Lispector’s ‘Interrupted Story’, which, like Shwartz’s ‘In Dreams Begin Responsibilities’, was written when its author was around the same age of her story’s narrator. Here the unnamed narrator finds herself ill-equipped to meet the demands placed on her by her depressed lover. We are told very little about this man other than he is “sad and tall” and constantly complains that his life is “shattered” and amounts to nothing but “a pile of shards”. The narrator struggles to find the words that she thinks her lover would see as an adequate response and instead falls back on platitudes (“for someone who’s read a little and thought quite a lot during nights of insomnia, it’s relatively easy to make up things that sound profound.”) At the same time the narrator is intensely conscious of her youth – luxuriating in its sensuousness, while decrying its inexperience – and realises that her own, autonomous, happiness is under threat:
I had to react. I wanted to see whether the grayness of his words could cloud my twenty-two years and the bright summer afternoon.
The woman believes that her youth and beauty alone will be enough to “save” her lover; that these in themselves are a form of “Truth”; and that if the couple were to marry all their problems will be over. But before she is able to propose she learns that the man has committed suicide.
The story ends with the narrator (now married and looking back at this period in her youth) wondering if any of this – her lover’s suicide, her own pain – “had any meaning”. This ambiguous, elliptical little story does not proportion blame. Rather, it seems to be reflecting on the flawed innocence of youth and the fundamental unknowability of other people’s inner lives.
Dated October 1940, first published posthumously in Beauty and the Beast (A bela e a fera), Nova Fronteira, Rio de Janeiro, 1979, then collected in Complete Stories, New Directions 2015