Spanish literature, European literature containing elements of the Western traditions of Europe and the Eastern traditions of North Africa. The heritage left behind when the Romans occupied the Spanish peninsula was the vernacular Latin, the foundation for the Romance languages, three of which became the most common Spanish dialects—Castilian, Galician-Portuguese, and Catalan. The long struggle from the A.D. 700s to 1400s between the Christians and the Muslim Moors created a religious patriotism that inspired some of the finest poetry and prose.
The Middle Ages
The first lyric poems, called jarchas, appeared in the A.D. 900s, expressing themes of longing for love. The epic work, Poem of the Cid, relates the adventures of Castilian hero, Rodrigo Diáz de Vivar. Early Spanish prose was promoted by the Castilian king Alfonso X. Two histories, General Chronicle of Spain and General History, appeared under his direction. Prose fiction first appeared about 1100 in a series of moral tales written by Pedro Alfonso entitled Scholar's Guide. The first distinctive prose writing was that of Don Juan Manuel who wrote on a variety of subjects; his Count Lucanor (1335) is a collection of moral tales. The three great poets of the 1400s were Iñigo López de Mendoza, Juan de Mena, and Jorge Manrique. López de Mendoza wrote elaborate pastoral poems called serranillas. Mena's allegorical work, The Labyrinth of Fate (1444), was inspired by Dante. Manrique eulogized his father in the Coplas (1476).
Printing was introduced to Spain c. 1473. The first book to set forth the rules of a European language, Castilian Grammar, by Antonio de Nebrija, was published in 1492. Other prose works such as Diego de San Pedro's The Prison of Love (1492) and a book of chivalry, Tirant lo Blanch (1490) appeared at this time. A novel about chivalry, Amadis of Gaul, was the masterpiece of the period. La Celestina, appeared as an anonymous novel in the late 1400s; it combines medieval theology with Renaissance concern for life and love. The story, probably written by Fernando de Rojas, features a witch, Celestina, who unites two lovers, Calisto and Melibea.
The Golden Age
The two main schools of poetry were the Castilian school of Salamanca and the Andalusian school of Seville, both of which followed the style of the Italian poet Petrarch. Writers of the Salamanca school adopted a cautious use of metaphor, while the poets of the Seville school developed a formal use of language that led to the Baroque style of the 1600s. The mystic poets wrote lyrically of a union with God, while the epic poets glorified people and events in long works. The pastoral novel, glorifying the simple life, became popular during the Renaissance. The picaresque novel presented life in satiric fashion through the eyes of a rogue.
Playwriting developed more slowly during the 1500s. The actor-playwright Lope de Rueda created short, farce works called pasos that ridiculed the everyday life of his time.
In the 1600s the picaresque novel quickly became a tradition. Mateo Aleman's Guzynán de Alfarache presents a bitter, pessimistic view of life in which neither human nature nor the conditions of life can be changed. Francisco López de Beda created a female rogue in La pícara Justina (1605).
In contrast to the picaresque novel, Cervantes's masterpiece novel, Don Quixote, contrasts the ideal and the practical. His characters present universal themes and qualities that extend to all humanity.
Lope de Vega was the leading dramatist of the Golden Age, presenting love and honor as sources of conflict, especially in his two greatest dramas, Fuenteovejuna (1619) and Justice Without Revenge (1634).
Two literary examples of the Baroque (ornamental) style of writing of the 1600s were conceptismo and culteranismo. Conceptismo writers used metaphors to create complicated, original views of life. Culteranismos such as Pedro Soto de Rojas created lyric poetry in full color and imagery.
In drama, Pedro Calderon de la Barca's brilliant work Life Is a Dream (1635) was written in the Baroque style. He used symbolism to express in verse philosophical explorations of life and death, original sin, and free will.
romanticism Neoclassicism and realism
Neoclassicism, stressing the ideas of reason, proper behavior, and moral sense, became the important literary trend of the 1700s. A Benedictine monk, Benito Jerónimo Feijoo, covered almost every branch of learning in the 9-volume Universal Theatre of Criticism (1726–40) and the 5-volume Erudite and Interesting Letters (1742–60). In the 1800s the most accomplished writer of neoclassical comedy was Leandro Fernández de Moratín, whose most famous play was The Maiden's Consent (1806).
Romantic literary forms intensified after the death of King Ferdinand VII in 1833. Ángel de Saavedra's drama Don lvaro or The Force of Destiny (1835) was a successful romantic tragedy. Antonio García Gutiérrez's historical tragedy The Troubadour (1836) was a triumph. Francisco Martínez de la Rosa and Juan Eugenio Hartzenbusch wrote plays reflecting rebellion, melancholy, and the passion of Spanish romanticism. José de Espronseda's poems The Student from Salamanca (1836–39) and Devil World, unfinished, are rich expressions of Spanish romantic anguish and social protest. Gustavo Adolfo Bécquer's light, airy poetry contains elements of romanticism, and he is often considered the most sensitive poet of the 1800s.
Short prose sketches, called costumbrismo, led to the development of the realistic Spanish novel in the mid-1800s. José María de Pereda's The Upper Cliffs (1895) was a costumbrista novel describing life on Spain's northern coast. Emilia Pardo Bazán's The Ulloa Estate (1886) narrated local traditions and politics in the interior of Galicia. Vicente Blasco Ibáñez's novel The Cabin (1898) described life in Valencia. Ibáñez gained international popularity for his novel about the terror of World War I, The Four Horsemen of the Apocalypse (1916).
The loss of the last remnants of Spain's empire during the Spanish-American War (1898) led to a resurgence of creative genius that dominated Spanish letters in the early 1900s. Miguel de Unamuno's essay The Tragic Sense of Life (1913) was an expression of romantic and philosophical grief. He is often considered the forerunner of the existential movement. Antonio Machado's poetry expresses the severe spirit and landscape of Castile. Ramón María del Valle-Inclán's Bohemian Lights (1924) was a picture of Spain as a grotesque distortion of normalcy. Scholars also rediscovered Spain's literary past, and interpreted, edited, and published works at the Center of Historical Studies in Madrid.
The short-lived age of modernism was represented by Manuel Machado and Gregorio Martínez Sierra. It inspired poetry of unequaled quality and intensity in Spanish literature. In Spanish drama, the best-known works are the comedy The Bonds of Interest (1907) and the domestic tragedy The Passion Flower (1913), by Jacinto Benavente.
The poets of the Generation of 1927 turned to the traditional ballad for inspiration. Their members included Pedro Salinas, Jorge Guillén, León Felipe, Gerardo Diego, Federico García Lorca, and others.
The Spanish Civil War (1936–39) caused a disruption in Spanish literature. Some writers were killed, and others continued to work in exile. The dark novel The Family of Pascual Duarte (1942) by Camilo José Cela was followed by Carmen Laforet's existential novel Nothing (1944).
Major novels since the mid-1950s have included The Jarama River (1956) by Rafael Sanchez Ferlioso, Time of Silence (1962) by Luis Martín Santos, and Soldiers Cry at Night by Ana María Matute.
Playwrights wrote in a variety of styles. Miguel Mihura wrote farces about everyday life. Antonio Bueno Vallejo promoted interest in serious drama with History of a Staircase (1949). The poets who wrote after 1939 used simpler forms of expression than the Generation of 1927. Some, including Claudio Rodríguez and Carlos Bousoño, were less interested in social realism. The newest generation of poets, called novisimos, reject social concerns and show interest in more personal, intimate, and intellectual concerns.