Gilka photographed for the magazine O Malho on the occasion of the election made to find out who was the greatest poet in Brazil, proposed by the vehicle in 1933. Photo: Revista O Malho/Biblioteca Nacional

Women's erotic literature has gained prominence in recent decades with the re-edition of Hilda Hilst's works by Globo publishing house. The movement of women promoting poetry and prose laden with lust gave rise to a series of discussions about women's sexual freedom and machismo in literature. Although many authors are acclaimed for this type of literary creation – such as Hilda herself, Olga Savary and Adélia Prado – it is unusual to find anyone who knows the precursor of this movement that gave women the autonomy to pour out their desires in the lines of a poem or a novel.

It has been a century, in 2016, that Gilka da Costa de Mello Machado – or just Gilka Machado – released his first book, which was printed on December 31, 1915. The astonishment caused by the content that broken crystals brought in the 111 pages was expected. Verses of her had already occupied the pages of newspapers and magazines at the time, and she was a contributor to some vehicles, such as Fon-Fon magazine and Revista da Semana. The reason for the astonishment was the eroticism she used in some of her poems, leaving the society of the time uncomfortable with such boldness. A woman writing verses with sexual content was inadmissible in the sociopolitical context of the Republic of Hermes da Fonseca. Just the hypothesis that Gilka could imagine carnal desire was already condemnable by the sieve of machismo. It was the criticism of Afrânio Peixoto, in 1916, that inaugurated the “hunt for Gilka”, calling her an “immoral matron”. In addition to being a precursor in female erotic literature and denouncing the oppression of women in Brazil, Gilka was an active suffragette, being one of the founders of the Partido Republicano Feminino, founded in 1910 only for Women. She liked to write “Woman” like that, with an M in capital letters, to assert the strength of the female sex. In the party, she held the position of first secretary. In her poems, she also tried to address the situation of the less affluent social classes, making explicit the government's disregard for this.

Born on March 12, 1893, in the city of Rio de Janeiro, she was despised for her literature, but also highly acclaimed by those who sought to understand her. Granddaughter of Francisco Moniz Barreto, a Bahian considered the father of obscene humor in Brazil, Gilka challenged the sexist and racist literary criticism of the time. In a letter sent to her in 1915, Lima Barreto differs from his professional colleagues and declares: “I admired a lot of his inspiration, his complete independence from molds, from the old 'canons', and his truly feminine audacity”. For Mário de Andrade, the “bacchante of the tropics, as she was called by Agripino Griecco, was just a girl. At all times, he addressed her with childish calls, even though they were both born in the same year. This shows that Mario's way of treating Gilka was to belittle her. History takes care to remember that the pioneer of modernism did not do this just out of machismo, but because he did not accept the formal orientation of his literature. Gilkian Symbolist verses had a flirtation with Parnassianism. Years later, she seems to regret publishing, in the State of S. Paulo, that she was an “illustrious poetess, author of the most ardent feminine verses in our language”.

Her pale skin, laden with layers of rice powder, hid her black origin, also a reason for critics to lash out at her. The critic Humberto de Campos – one of Gilka’s defenders along with Osório Duque Estrada and others – reported, in Secret Diary a conversation with the also critic Afrânio Peixoto, in which he told about the meeting he had with Gilka when he was going to deliver him a letter. Peixoto said, with disdain, that he did not imagine that the poet was a “dark mulatto” and made a point of emphasizing that the environment of his house “breathed poverty”.

Gilka is the woman on the left and her husband Rodolfo is the man on the right in the back. Also in the photo are writers Albertina Bertha and Laura da Costa e Silva. Photo: Careta Magazine/National Library

The family was also blamed for the debauchery of that girl who, at the age of 22, strove to free herself from the clutches of society. Her mother's registration as a prostitute in order to work with a radio actress was a laughingstock to belittle her origins, as well as blame her father, a heavy drinker who named her after a German vodka called Gilka. Thus, the poet was put to the test of Hippolyte Taine's method, based on the idea of ​​determinism, in which a person is bound to behave according to their race, their historical moment and the environment in which they live. Therefore, the blame for Gilka's immorality came from the fact that she was black, from her “disturbed” family and from the historical moment in which feminism was effervescent with suffragettes.

Gilka did not let the prejudiced accusations go lightly. And he also refused help from big names. He refused, for example, Olavo Bilac's request to write the preface to broken crystals. When Bilac asked why, Gilka only replied that he wanted to appear to the public without defense. “There was in my being a torrent that it was impossible to stop: the verses flowed, the stanzas cascaded... Complete Poetry, 1978. He condemned his critics directly and indirectly, between the lines of his writing. It was she, according to her censors, who was responsible for the moral depravity of the girls in Rio's society.

In an event in 1934, he plays with the doll called Tupo. Photo: O Malho Magazine/National Library

in the poem With myself, it is possible to recognize this gilkian characteristic, as in the verse “What does it matter the hostile insult of those who do not understand you? / Dance, however, not like the Salomé of the legend, / the lyrical murderer”, where the hostile insult were the opinions of the critics about her and dancing was her writing habit. in the verses of conjecturing, dedicated to Duque Estrada, talks about giving up fighting. “I convinced myself / now that enjoyment is a crime” is how she starts one of the stanzas of the poem, where she talks about laying down arms and surrendering to death. There was a clear reference to the tiredness that overtook her over time, causing her to give up on continuing to rebut the criticism and end up a recluse.

She was the only woman to eventually collaborate in the erotic magazine A Maçã. Extremely sexist, the creation of Humberto de Campos scandalized for bringing spicy content, which placed the woman in a submissive and degrading way. And, alongside Cecília Meireles, she formed the duo of the only women to write for Festa, a magazine launched in 1927 by Tasso da Silveira and Andrade Muricy.


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