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Delfina Benigna da Cunha

Other names/titles:
Gender: F
Ethnic origin: White

Biographical details

Delfina Benigna da Cunha was born in 1791 in São José do Norte, Rio Grande do Sul, Brazil, to Maria de Paula e Cunha and a monarchist military father, Captain Joaquim Francisco da Cunha Sá e Meneses. She was struck blind by German measles at the age of twenty months but was none the less able to receive a certain degree of education (Muzart, 119). She developed a talent for poetic verse particularly the spontaneous poetic art of “repentismo” or improvisation, and some of her work was lately transcribed for publication. Her first published volume Poesias oferecidas às senhoras riograndenses appeared in Rio Grande do Sul in 1834, believed to be the first book of poetry published by a woman in Brazil, and it was reprinted with significant additions in Rio de Janeiro in 1838. With the death of her father in 1826 (and later her mother in 1833) she had no means of financial support and appealed to the Emperor Dom Pedro I to grant her his patronage at court (Muzart, 119). She was awarded a pension partly in recognition of her father’s military service to the crown. Given her personal situation and family background she was not surprisingly a staunch and vociferous monarchist during the Farroupilha War which erupted in her home state of Rio Grande do Sul in 1835. She went to live in Rio in 1835 to escape the dangers of the war and established a certain literary circle around herself. She is known to have been friends with the contemporary female poet from Minas Gerais, Beatriz Francisca de Assis Brandão whose poem “Carta de Leandro a Hero, e Carta de Hero a Leandra” published in 1832 was dedicated to Delfina da Cunha.

She published two further volumes of poetry Poesias oferecidas às senhoras brasileiras (1838) in Rio de Janeiro and Coleção de várias poesias (dedicada à imperatriz viúva) (1846). She is known to have travelled fairly extensively after 1838 and the last of her three published collections was produced as a result of public subscriptions gathered by da Cunha herself in the towns of Parati, Lorena and Campos (Muzart, 119). Her published work consists predominantly of “poesia de ocasião” (eulogies and celebrations imperial family events) love sonnets and political poetry against the Farroupilha republicans and their leader Bento Gonçalves in the Civil War. She travelled to gain subscriptions to publish her work. She was thought to have been in love with Manuel Marques de Sousa, the Conde de Porto Alegre who distinguished himself on the Monarchist side during the Farroupilha War (Muzart, 124).

Cunha was relatively well known in court circles. Some of her poetry was published in the Parnaso Brasileiro and she came to be known as the “Musa Cega”. She produced a eulogy to the earlier Rio Grande do Sul woman poet and journalist Maria Josefa Barreto in her poem “Epístola” written “em resposta à outra que lhe dirigiu a Ilma. Sra. D. Maria Josefa Barreto Pereira Pinto” (62) published in Poesias oferecidas às senhoras riograndenses (1834). She died in 1857 (Muzart, 119).

Life Events

Born 1791
Died 1857


Davies, Catherine, Brewster, Claire and Owen, Hilary, (2006), South American Independence. Gender, Politics, Text

Muzart, Zahidé Lupinacci, (2000), Escritoras Brasileiras do Século XIX

Schmidt, Rita Terezinha, (), Introdução


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