Eca de Queiroz (1845-1900) is rightly considered to be Portugal's greatest nineteenth-century novelist. This, his undoubted masterpiece, published in 1888, is a tragi-comedy, offering the reader Eca's characteristic blend of barbed humour, lyricism and sprightly dialogue, as well as a marvellously diverse gallery of characters - absurd, touching, tragic, vain. Carlos is the grandson of Afonso da Maia, the last surviving member of one of Lisbon's wealthiest and most illustrious families. Carlos is good, handsome, clever, eager to contribute something to society, and yet he appears, as he himself puts it, 'to be one of those weak hearts, soft and flaccid, incapable of preserving any true emotion'. Then, one day, walking along Lisbon's grubby streets, he sees a woman who seems to him like a goddess who has just stepped down from the clouds. When he finally meets the beautiful Maria Eduarda, the attraction proves to be as mutual as it is profound. In the plenitude of that love, Carlos seems, in his best friend Ega's words, 'a truly fortunate being', until Fate steps in - in the form of a grizzled, left-wing newspaper hack from Paris - and everything unravels.