Maria Sarmento da Silveira in Paris, 1912

Maria Olga de Moraes Sarmento da Silveira in Paris, Ilustração Portuguesa (1912)

The intense circulation of texts in Lisbon during the second half of the nineteenth and the beginning of the twentieth century was reinforced by the social meetings taking place at the homes of women writers and attended by men and women intellectuals. These meetings, which contemporaries called assembleias or salões, came to prominence during the first decades of the nineteenth century and continued to influence public dialogue throughout the century. Portuguese women of letters saw these meetings as means of communication with their male counterparts but also as ways of establishing intellectual authority. I have been investigating the case of Maria Olga de Moraes Sarmento da Silveira (1881-1948) whose literary salon in Lisbon was at the centre of attention from 1900 until her self-exile in Paris in 1914. The impact of her salon can be measured through the close study of an underexplored series of interconnections that she developed with other prominent Portuguese writers and editors such as Virgínia Quaresma and Ana de Castro Osório. Moreover, Maria de Sarmento’s salon as a locus of cultural and intellectual exchange attracted attention beyond Portuguese borders. Spanish authors and journalists such as Carmen de Burgos and Concepción Gimeno de Flaquer as well as French male and female poets and intellectuals attended those literary gatherings thus nurturing a transnational network of allegiances and antipathies.

Apart from organizing a salon, Maria de Sarmento also edited the influential periodical Sociedade Futura (Lisbon, 1902-1904) which discussed women’s multiple roles in society. Both her periodical and her salon were far from being mere ‘feminized’ spheres where women isolated themselves in order to express their views in liberty. On the contrary, they both constituted innovative platforms from which Maria de Sarmento attempted to challenge deep-rooted gender conventions and stimulate women’s active involvement in the national as well as the European ideological and political debate of the time. However, her attempts were met with suspicion in the Portuguese capital where allegations of homosexual conduct grew more and more strident. Maria de Sarmento explained that the main reason why she left Portugal behind was her “never-ending conflict with Portuguese conventions and prejudices”.[1] Upon her arrival in the French capital she frequented the salons of Lucie Delarue-Mardrus and Natalie Barney.

The highly cosmopolitan ambiance of Parisian salons encouraged Maria de Sarmento’s integration within the female intellectual circles of the time. She then had the chance to promote the work of her Portuguese friends to a wider and more diverse audience. For instance, due to Maria de Sarmento’s mediation the Portuguese poet Virgínia Victorino became known to the Parisian salon circles. The two women were known to be friends who encouraged and supported one another. From this perspective, cultural transfers facilitated by salon participation brought to light processes of transnational networking. Women who had the opportunity to organize salons or edit their own periodicalseither in France or in Portugal remained open to foreign influences thus paving the way for a fruitful and more diversified public dialogue. Upon her return to Lisbon, Maria de Sarmento maintained her connections with French women of letters and continued to play a key role in the city’s cultural life. Both her periodical and her salon deserve to be remembered as the first concrete signs of intellectual emancipation in Southern Europe.

Christina Bezari


[1] Dee Pryde, “Lésbicas portuguesas no século vinte: Apontamentos para a História”, Revista Crítica de Ciências Sociais, 89 | 2010, pp. 127-139: “O meu eterno conflito com as convenções, com os preconceitos portugueses” (Mémoires, p.235).