Joaquim Maria Machado de Assis was born poor and epileptic. He was the son of Francisco José Machado de Assis and Leopoldina Machado de Assis, grandson of freed slaves. He was raised in Livramento Hill, Rio de Janeiro. He helped the family as best he could, not having attended school regularly. His instruction came on his own because of his interest in all kinds of reading. Thanks to his talent and enormous willpower, he overcame all these difficulties and became one of the greatest Brazilian writers of all time.
Between the ages of six and fourteen, Machado lost his only sister, his mother and father. At age 16 he was employed as an apprentice in a print shop and published his first verses in the newspaper "A Marmota". In 1860, he was invited by Quintino Bocaiúva to collaborate in the "Diário do Rio de Janeiro". This decade dates to almost all of his theatrical comedies and the book of poems "Chrysalis".
On November 12, 1869, he married Carolina Augusta Xavier de Novais. This marriage took place against the will of the girl's family, since Machado had more problems than fame. This union lasted about 35 years and the couple had no children. Carolina contributed to the intellectual maturity of Machado, revealing to him the Portuguese classics and several authors of English language.
In the 1870s, Machado published the poems "Falenas" and "Americanas"; besides the "Tales Fluminenses" and "Midnight Stories". The public and the critics have consecrated their writer's merits. He published the novels: "Resurrection" (1872); "The Hand and the Glove" (1874); "Helena" (1876); "Iaiá Garcia" (1878). These works are still linked to romantic literature and form the so-called first phase of Machado de Assis.
In 1873, the writer was appointed first official of the Secretary of State of the Ministry of Agriculture, Commerce and Public Works. His bureaucratic career had a very rapid rise since, in 1892, he was already director general of the Ministry of Road. Public employment ensured financial stability, since living in literature at that time was almost impossible, even for good writers.
In the 1880s, Machado de Assis's work underwent a real revolution in terms of style and content, inaugurating Realism in Brazilian literature. The novels "Posthumous Memories of Brás Cubas" (1881); "Quincas Borba" (1891); "Dom Casmurro" (1899) and the short stories "Single Papers" (1882); "Undated Stories" (1884), "Various Stories" (1896) and "Collected Pages" (1899), among others, reveal the author to its fullest. His critical spirit, great irony, pessimism and deep reflection on Brazilian society are his most characteristic marks.
In 1897, Machado founded the Brazilian Academy of Letters, of which he was the first president, reason why the institution also known as house of Machado de Assis. He occupied Chair No. 23, whose patron, José de Alencar, was a friend and admirer.
In 1904, the death of his wife was a severe blow to the writer. After that, he rarely left home and his health got worse from epilepsy. Nervous problems and stuttering further contributed to their isolation. These are his last novels "Esau and Jacob" (1904) and "Memorial de Aires" (1908), which close the realistic cycle begun with "Brás Cubas".
Machado de Assis died in his house on Rua Cosme Velho. Official mourning was decreed in Rio de Janeiro and its burial, accompanied by a crowd, attests to the fame achieved by the author.
Having written in Portuguese, a language of few readers, made the author's international recognition difficult. From the late 20th century, however, his works have been translated into English, French, Spanish and German, arousing worldwide interest. Indeed, it is one of the great names of Realism, which can stand side by side with French Flaubert or Russian Dostoyevsky, just to name two of the greatest authors of the same period in universal literature.