THE HISTORY OF SPANISH LITERATURE

THE HISTORY OF SPANISH LITERATURE

1. THE MIDDLE AGES

The first works of Spanish literature were written during the Middle Ages.

The Poem of El Cid, whose author is unknown, is the first work written in verse in Spanish. It is a poem of heroic deeds, where the feats of El Cid are recounted.

“And from the lips of everyone comes the same reasoning. What a good servant I would be if I had a good master!”

Gonzalo de Berceo lived in the convent of San Millán de la Cogolla where he wrote The Miracles of Our Lady. His work belongs to clerical minstrel poetry, a medieval literature genre written by clerics whose aim is to teach the Christian faith in an interesting and entertaining way.

2. THE XV CENTURY

The XV Century was a bridge between the Middle Ages and the Renaissance, although it continued with the same medieval patterns, namely the didactic and religious.

The Castillian poet Jorge Manrique wrote the four-line verse Poem on The Death of his Father, where he  reflects, in a beautiful and profound way, on the brevity of life and the finite nature of worldly goods.

“Our lives are the rivers
That go to the sea of death;
There go the estates
Straight to their end and consumption.”

Fernando De Rojas composed The Celestina during the reign of The Catholic Kings. The work revolves around the love between Calisto and Melibea, two idle youngsters whose relationship is encouraged by the enabler Celestina.

3. THE RENAISSANCE (XV AND XVI CENTURY)

The Renaissance instilled a division between the natural and supernatural in reaction to The Middle Ages, where religion was always present.
Three types of poetry stood out: The Profane, The Ascetic and The Mystical
Profane Poetry is represented by Garcilaso De La Vega. A cultured, elegant man who served in the court of Carlos I. He wrote about love and the pastoral life.
Fray Luis De Leon belongs to the Ascetic branch of poetry. He was expelled from the University of Salamanca because of the Inquisition’s investigation into his beautiful translation of Song of Songs from the bible. After several years in prison, he was reinstated and uttered the famous phrase, “As we were saying yesterday,” when he returned to teaching. In Mystical Poetry, Saint John of the Cross and Saint Teresa of Jesus stand out. Saint Teresa is most famous for a fragment of one of her poems where she expresses her burning desire to reach a perfect union with God.

“I live without living in me,
And such a high life do I aspire to,
That I die because I do not die.”

Somewhere between the Renaissance and the Baroque periods is born the Picaresque Novel with Lazarillo de Tormes by an unknown author. So is born the literary figure of the rogue, who appears in later novels of the same genre like “Guzmán de Alfarache” by Mateo Alemán or The Life of a Hustler called Don Pablos by Quevedo. Miguel De Cervantes was born and grew up during the Renaissance period, but he found fame and died during the Baroque. He is considered the father of the modern novel. After leaving La Galatea unfinished and writing a series of respected novels, he arrived at his peak with Don Quijote, published in 1605, in which his protagonist, Alonso Quijano, fan of books about chivalry, goes slightly mad and ventures out with his horse Rocinante and his squire Sancho, to provide justice according to the rules of chivalry. The novel begins with this famous sentence:

“In a place in La Mancha whose name I don’t want to remember, some time ago lived a nobleman with a spear, an old leather shield, a thin, old horse and a running greyhound.”

4. THE BAROQUE PERIOD (XVII CENTURY)

In the XVII century, in reaction to the idealism and optimism of the Renaissance, emerged the scepticism and pessimism of the Baroque Period. A slow but progressive decline of the Spanish Empire in the military and diplomacy areas begins and there is a boom in the trend for artificial and refined poetry. Góngora uses language full of Latin expressions, known as Culteranismo, and Quevedo, considered the great love poet of this century, played with double meaning by using a language known as Conceptista (witty or ingenious). The famous rivalry between the two is best shown in this verse from Quevedo, ridiculing Góngora’s nose:

“There was a man stuck to a nose,
There was a superlative nose,
There was an elephant lying face up…”

In the theatre Lope De Vega was the most popular writer of the Baroque period, with a large number of plays. He revitalized the theatre, writing his plays to reflect the times in which he lived. Amongst them, the cloak- and- dagger comedies stand out. His lyrical writing is also much appreciated, such as the first verse of the romantic poem El Solitario:

“To my loneliness I come and go
Because to walk with myself
I have enough with my thoughts”

The other great playwright of the Baroque period is Calderon de la Barca who invented a more philosophical style of theatre, providing his characters with greater depth and reflection. In Life is a Dream, the sublime soliloquy of Segismundo stands out:

“An illusion, a shadow, a fiction
The greater good is small,
All life is a dream,
And dreams are simply dreams…”

5. THE ENLIGHTENMENT AND NEOCLASSICISM (XVIII CENTURY)

In the 18th century, with King Philip V arrived the Bourbon dynasty and the Enlightenment, so-called because of the movement which started in France. There is a return to the classical, with an educational and moral aim. The Tales of Iriarte and Samaniego, with animal protagonists, are a good example of this period. Cadalso wrote the Cartas Marruecas, an epistolary novel which collects a number of essays about the cultural, social and material backwardness of Spain.

6. ROMANTICISM (XIX CENTURY)

At the start of the 19th century arose Romanticism as a reaction to the rationalism from the previous era. The most representative poets are Espronceda and Béquer. José de Espronceda wrote his best poems after coming into contact with the English Romanticism. He had a weakness for those on the margins of society, as in his poem The Song of the Pirate:

“With ten cannons on either side,
And the wind in our sails,
Rather than slice through the sea, it flies
The Bergantine sailing ship.”

Meanwhile Gustavo Adolfo Bécquer, considered the initiator of Modern Poetry, had a simple and intimate style:

“ The dark swallows will return
To build their nests on your balcony
And once again with their wings on the glass
They will call you out to play.
But those that the flight deterred
Those who learned our names
Those…will not return!”

7. REALISM AND NATURALISM (XIX CENTURY)

As opposed to Romanticism, Realism looked for the objective representation of reality. Galdós, a prolific writer, wrote The National Episodes which covered history from the Battle of Trafalgar in 1805 to the Restoration Monarchy in 1874. Other of his novels are The Golden Fountain and Fortunata  and Jacinta.

Clarín, literary critic and author of La Regenta, is the main representative of Naturalism in Spain.

8. MODERNISM AND THE GENERATION OF 98 (XX CENTURY)

Modernism is characterized by the search for a formal beauty. In Spain, the main modernist poet was Juan Ramon Jimenez, who wrote the narrative Platero and Me:

“Platero is small, hairy and soft; so soft outside that you would think he was made of cotton, without bones.”

The authors of the 98 Generation wanted to renew society and they were concerned with the problems of Spain. With the loss of the last colonies in Cuba and The Philippines in 1898, Azorín, Baroja and Ramiro de Maeztu proposed radical solutions which became more moderate over time. Their language is characterized by its simplicity, agility and communication. These three were joined by Miguel de Unamuno, Antonio Machado and Valle- Inclán. Pío Baroja wrote several novels of which The Tree of Science, Zalacaín the Adventurer and The Adventures of Shanty Andía stand out, the last two set in the Basque Country.

9. THE GENERATION OF 27

The Generation of 27 owe their name to the celebration of the third centenary of the death of the poet Góngora, whose work they admired. Among them were Federico García Lorca, Rafael Alberti, Vicente Alexandre and Luis Cernuda. In his first period Garcia Lorca was known for his Flamenco Poetry and The Romancero Gitano. His poems were influenced by popular Andaluz lyricism:

“Green, I love you greenGreen wind, Green branches
The boat on the sea
And the horse on the mountain.”

10. POST- WAR LITERATURE (XX CENTURY)

Once the Civil War had finished, the novelists of the so-called post-war literary period appeared. Camilo José Cela, author of The Family of Pascual Duarte, introduced a new style of writing called “Tremendismo” (stark reality) in which reality is deformed to highlight the most unpleasant aspects of life. Miguel Delibes, with The Shadow of the Cypress Tree is Long, reflects the desolate post- war world; his characters appear disorientated, sad and frustrated.

11. SOCIAL REALISM AND NEW TRENDS

From 1955, the Social Realism period became popular. Concrete social realities were dealt with and injustices denounced. The novels El Jarama by Rafael Sanchez Ferlosio and Between Lace Curtains by Carmen Martin Gaite stand out. The decade of the 60s was characterized by experimental literature, looking for a change and renewal in the way of writing. In 1962 Time of Silence by Luis Martin Santos was published, which became the starting point for this new era, made up of writers like Juan Goytisolo with Signs of Identity and Juan Benet with You Will Return to Region.

 

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