Brazil Author Gilberto Freyre Dies at Age 87

Times Staff Writer

Gilberto Freyre, Brazilian author and social historian, died Saturday of a brain hemorrhage. He was 87.

Dr. Hilton Chaves, Freyre’s physician, said Freyre died in the northeastern city of Recife, his birthplace.

Known for his commentaries on Brazilian culture that sometimes inflamed fellow sociologists, Freyre’s most celebrated work was “Casa Grande e Senzala” or “The Masters and the Slaves,” which was published in 1933. The book provides a colorful account of the lives of Brazil’s natives and their colonizers down to details about their diet, furniture, architecture, speech and gardening.

Liberal Tendencies Cited


In his writings, Freyre speculated that the Portuguese were well suited to colonize the Brazilian tropics because of their liberal tendencies and their Catholic traditions were tempered by Moorish and Jewish influences.

Critics accused Freyre of displaying a tolerance toward slavery in his writings about Brazil’s colonial period.

In an interview in the New York Times seven years ago, Freyre responded to that criticism.

“I knew some of the children of slaves,” Freyre said. “That probably affected my view of it. I am accused of romanticizing slavery, but I had good reason to think that not all slaves were victims of cruel treatment. My main theme was that the typical slave in agrarian, patriarchal Brazil was happier in lots of ways than the working men in the first period of the industrial society in Europe and in Brazil.”


Wrote 60 Books

The chronicler of Brazilian life wrote more than 60 books and was heralded as a national hero for providing outsiders a glimpse of the South American country.

Freyre, a political conservative, served as a federal congressman from 1946 to 1951 and helped rewrite the nation’s constitution.

The author was educated in his hometown of Recife as well as Baylor and Columbia universities.

Freyre is survived by his wife, Magdalena, and two children.