The Joys and Disappointments of a German Governess in Imperial Brazil
262 pages, 6.00 x 9.00 , 23 b&w illustrations, 1 b&w map
Hardcover | 9780268201777 | February 2022
eBook (Web PDF) | 9780268201760 | February 2022
eBook (EPUB) | 9780268201791 | February 2022
- Press Kit
- Author Bio
This complex account by a German governess examines households, families, and slavery in Brazil, and bears witness to how “the world the slaveholders made” would soon collapse.
Ina von Binzer’s letters, published in German in 1887 and translated into English for this book, offer a rare view of three very different elite family households during the twilight years of Brazil’s Second Empire. Her woman’s gaze contrasts markedly with other contributions to the contemporary travel literature on Brazil that were nearly entirely written by men. Although von Binzer covers a multitude of topics—ranging from the management of households and plantations, the behavior of slaves and slaveowners, and the agricultural production of coffee and sugar to examinations of family relations, childrearing, culinary repertoires, and life on the street—the common theme running through her letters is the dawning perception that the world the slaveholders made could not long endure. She delves into the inevitable arrival of abolition as a national issue and a nascent movement—a destiny that her employers could no longer ignore. In recounting her conversations with them, she offers her own insights into their opinions and behaviors that make for a fascinating insider’s view of a world about to disappear. Von Binzer’s letters are prefaced by a valuable historical introduction that surveys the contexts of slavery’s slow demise after 1850 and offers new biographical research on von Binzer and the prominent families who employed her. A map of her travels together with dozens of photographs contemporary with her residence in Brazil provide visual documentation complementary to her letters.
Ina von Binzer (1855–1929) was a German writer who worked as a governess in Brazil from 1881 to 1883. She was the author of several novels, a children’s book, and a number of articles and essays. Her letters have been translated into Brazilian Portuguese as Os meus romanos.
Linda Lewin is professor emerita of history at UC Berkeley and author of the two-volume Surprise Heirs.
Gabriel Trop is associate professor of German in the Department of Germanic and Slavic Languages and Literatures, University of North Carolina, Chapel Hill.
“The German governess Ina von Binzer’s letters provide unparalleled insights into the texture of Brazilian life in the early 1880s, from the condition and lives of slaves to the intimate family and material lives of their owners who employed her. Lewin’s contextualization of these precious primary sources is consummate, moving from archival confirmation of specific details to concise summations of the general context that these missives illuminate.” —Peter M. Beattie, author of The Tribute of Blood
“This book wonderfully compliments a textbook account of nineteenth-century Brazil. The Joys and Disappointments of a German Governess in Imperial Brazil touches on many of the most notable events and paradoxes of the period, including the rise of coffee, waning slavery (that was not, however, weakening quickly enough in the regions where von Binzer visited), monarchical rule, and the start of a new wave of European immigration.” —Ian Read, author of The Hierarchies of Slavery in Santos, Brazil, 1822–1888
"Drawing on the personal letters of Ina von Binzer, Linda Lewin provides today’s scholars with a lens to understand how wealthy families rooted in Brazilian coffee production struggled with the onset of abolition. Lewin’s book integrates powerful photographs, including rare views of slaves, with von Binzer’s letters that, together with Lewin’s succinct, accessible introduction and explicating footnotes, will stimulate and complicate historical debates about slavery in Brazil." —Theresa Alfaro-Velcamp, author of So Far from Allah, So Close to Mexico
"This insider’s view of the final days of slavery in nineteenth-century Brazil captures her employers’ lives and that of their enslaved servants. Expertly edited by Linda Lewin, her letters are a rich primary source for all historians of slavery and the family. Appropriate period photographs accompany the text." —Mary C. Karasch, author of Before Brasília
"This book is a fascinating window into nineteenth-century Brazilian daily life. The reader will enjoy the German governess’s depictions of family relations in this first English translation and will appreciate her take on a society defined by enslavement in all its aspects. Linda Lewin’s introduction weaves both realms, illuminating the inner works of the last slave society in the Americas." —Maria-Aparecida Lopes, author of Rio de Janeiro in the Global Meat Market, c. 1850 to c. 1930
"One cannot finish reading The Joys and Disappointments of a German Governess in Imperial Brazil without gaining insight into the economy, society, and beauty that was Brazil in the 1880s, as well as developing some admiration for this intrepid governess, despite her flaws and prejudices. The translation flows nicely, and Linda Lewin’s excellent introduction sets the stage." —Francie R. Chassen-López, author of From Liberal to Revolutionary Oaxaca