The Lisbon Earthquake of November 1, 1755, a destructive and chaotic event, led not only to the physical destruction of the city, but also to the emotional and spiritual desolation of the Portuguese people. As the earthquake hit, there was a spirit of love and worship of God, as the celebrations of All Saints Day lighted up churches across the city and surrounding areas. Then suddenly, the entire city was thrown into a chaotic and panicked state. The traumatic events of that morning not only caused physical damage, but also major confusion and devastation among the people of Lisbon. Many believed that the earthquake was a punishment from God for their sinful behavior. They believed that God had betrayed them by neglecting to warn them of this devastating event. Many felt as though they deserved a warning of the earthquake. If they had a warning of Godís anger, they believed, they would have been able to repent. With a chance to repent, the harm to the city and people of Lisbon would have been avoided.
Just as the people of Lisbon believed that God had betrayed them, the characters in Claire Messudís novels betray themselves and one another by partaking in inappropriate relationships. The protagonists are paralyzed by the comfortable, routine lives they lead, causing them to lose hope for a better life and settle for what they believe they can achieve. These characters all seek human connection in order to compensate for the romance they believe is missing from their lives, but the relationships they form are unhealthy and inappropriate. Danielle Minkoff and Murray Thwaite, characters in Messudís novel The Emperorís Children, become involved in an intimate relationship, leading to their own destruction as well as the destruction of their other relationships. The feelings of guilt and sadness overwhelm both Danielle and Murray Ė Danielle, falling into a depression, considers suicide, and Murray becomes alienated from his family. In this way, the characters betray one another in an unsuccessful attempt to find fulfillment.
Major Works Consulted:
Kendrick, T.D. The Lisbon Earthquake .New York: Lippincott, 1955.
Photo Credit: Messud, Claire. The Woman Upstairs. New York: Knopf, 2013.
Messud, Claire. The Emperorís Children. New York: Vintage Books, 2006.
---. The Woman Upstairs. New York: Knopf, 2013.
Paice, Edward. Wrath of God: The Great Lisbon Earthquake of 1755. London: Quercus, 2008.