Guilherme Gavrilov (Гуилхерме Гаврилов) (1860-1887) was a Portuguese-Russian writer.

Gavrilov was born to a Russian merchant-sailor father and a Portuguese prostitute mother in Silvassa, at that time a port city in Portuguese India. His parents married shortly before his birth and when only four years old the family moved back to St. Petersburg in Russia.

* 1 Early Life
* 2 Scintillating Scotoma & predictions
* 3 Portuguese Diaries
* 4 Feud with Chekhov, Death
* 5 Trivia
* 6 References

Early Life

The collapse of Gavrilov's father's shipping line when aged 12 devastated the family. Guilherme was sent home from boarding school in Tynemouth, England and was forced to give up his studies and accompany his father around Russia as a travelling salesman.1 The family lived in poverty for four years in order to save money for a shipping enterprise. At the end of the four years, when they had almost reached the minimum amount necessary for a business loan, Russia experienced a short-period of Hyper-Inflaton, wiping out their assets.2 The experience informs the content of his novella "The Shoe" which tells of a destitute man who saves up for a year to buy a pair of expensive shoes sitting in the window of a cobbler's shop on Nevsky Prospekt. It is not until he attempts to purchase these shoes that he discovers they are priced per individual shoe. He decides to buy one anyway, and walks around the city with one bare foot.3

Scintillating Scotoma & Predictions

Gavrilov suffered from Migraines throughout his entire life, and particularly from the visual neurological phenomenon of scintillating scotoma. Gavrilov attributed many of his story ideas to visions he perceived during these hallucinogenic episodes. His satirical work "The Prophecies of Tutenkhamun" is based on some of these, and ironically foretells the Russian Revolution, the life of Rasputin and the Russo-Japanese war of 1904.4

Portuguese Diaries

Gavrilov is most noted for his satirical novel "The Portuguese Diaries", an 1882 fictionalised transcript of a Russian sailor's naval diary. The sailor, Ivan, is the single survivor of a shipwreck in the Azores. Ivan recreates a minature Russia on the island and rules over the wild animals as a depostic Tsar, attempting to teach them the Russian Language. When a rescue ship reaches him, he takes it for an invading Navy, and is killed attempting to decapitate the captain. The novel was banned upon publication for the scathing way it mocked the rule of Alexander III of Russia, who had at the time been extending the Russian empire eastward and instituting policies of Russification. Gavrilov was sent to the Siberian town of Omsk for six months hard labour, Gavrilov wrote in his memoirs that "building a barracks with bricks was a comfortable respite from building new worlds out of words."

Feud with Chekhov, Death

Gavrilov took issue with Chekhov's demeaning characterisation of Sibierian towns, including Tomsk, where Gavrilov spent some of his teenage years. The two exchanged angry letters with one another in the literary journal Oskolki. Chekhov wrote that Gavrilov possessed "the mimetic qualities of an Indian parrot, able to forge the tone, pitch and timbre of his words, without any understanding of what they might actually mean". Gavrilov responded that, in India "The parrot is used by those sailors who, through age or illness, can no longer speak intelligably, and are dependent on the bird to communicate cargo to potential customers. The key to true writing is in speaking for others, in using a variety of voices but your own. I would much rather be the Parrot than the bird that senselessly sings for no other reason than to hear the sound of its own voice."5

Shortly after this highly publicised exchange of letters, Gavrilov was found drowned and floating in the Neva river in St Petersburg. It remains unclear whether his death was caused by suicide, misadventure or murder.


Gavrilov's mother, Liliana Da Costa, was the last woman in India to be charged with witchcraft. The case never reached court.6

Gavrilov was the first Russian to address the debating society of Hudson University, NY, during a visit to America in 1884. In his opening speech he claimed that Laurence Sterne was the greatest writer in the English Language, and also that "I speak in English, write in Russian, but dream in Portuguese."

Gavrilov was a polyglot and could speak fluently in English, Russian, Portuguese, French, Spanish, German and Sanskrit. He was the first person to translate the works of José Maria de Eça de Queiroz into Russian and English. He also translated the works of his close friend Jules Verne into Russian, though his translations were rejected as "too colloquial" by publishers at the time.


1. ^ Charlton Waine - Breed of the Inshore, a Novel
2. ^
3. ^ Boris Eichenbaum - Stat'i o Lermontove, 1961
4. ^ Boris Eichenbaum - Stat'i o Lermontove, 1961
5. ^ V Shklovsky - Rozanov p. 56
6. ^ R Bolano - Nazi Literature in the Americas

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