Spain Literature – From Romanticism to Realistic Objectivism (1860 – 1900)

Romanticism, as an individual life that folds exclusively on its own sensitivity, ends with Gustavo Adolfo Bécquer (1836-70). We are at a sensitivity that knows how to recognize itself theoretically and express itself with virgin immediacy. His prose Leyendas unfold on an aristocratic weaving of soft sentimental delicacies and enchanted fantasies. They portend the early poetic prose of Rubén Darío, the initiator of modernism in opera. But the fame of the Becquer rests on the Rimas, all short-circuited compositions of simple intonation, on the eternal motifs of the poetic dream, of the desolate solitude of the dead and of the mysterious words of music. In the slender and fragmentary work of this poet, romantic fever subsides in elegant forms of fantasies and, with sobriety and precision of manners, breaks into brief melancholy and ironic notes, punctuated by a fickle variety of rhythms. With Ramón de Campoamor, allegorical and metaphysical intentions penetrate and dominate the lyric, overlapping inspiration (Colón, 1853; El drama universal, 1869). They try to grasp the idea beyond the particularity of the intimate experience, sublimating it into fragmentary notes and short compositions (Doloras ; Humoradas). Campoamor’s La Poética (1883) can be reduced to the search for an image in which an idea is sensibly revealed; but in truth his art is often resolved in opposition of concepts, it stops at the irrational logic of lived passion (Pequeños poemas) and stops at the material humor that yields to abstract symbolism (El drama universal).

According to, a crescendo of objectivity in lyrical sentiment and the prevalence of moral interests occurred in Gaspar Núñez de Arce, who bent, with warmth and laborious stylistic refinement, towards the full forms of oratory expression (Gritos de combate, 1875). His poetry is intellectually organized around a center of ethical emotion and becomes meditative in opera and theater (El haz de la leña, 1872). With the gradual abandonment of classical tragedy and historical drama with fixed formulas of lyrical impulses and sentimental inventions (the latest representatives are Tomás Rodríguez Rubí and Luis de Eguílaz y Eguílaz), the daily reality in what it has universal and human. The zarzuela, as a study and representation of costumes, resurrected in the lively checkered and synthesized impressionism of Adelardo López de Ayala and Manuel Tamayo y Baus. Thesis comedies, in rigid situations, whose solution is deduced with pressing logic through ingenious action and a precise and dramatic dialogue, were those of José Echegaray (1832-1916). He Spanishized, with a violent romance, forms of the Scandinavian and German theater. His characters experience tormenting and complex cases of conscience and moral conflicts (O locura o santidad ; El gran galeoto); and despite all their concrete determinations they sometimes seem to empty themselves of reality and aspire to pure symbol (El loco Dios ; El hijode Don Juan). The novel dominated literary production after romantic lyricism. At first he took up social theses and presented spiritual problems related to education, in a passionate form and with sure analysis. Juan Valera proved the skill of his academic pen, echoing mystical motifs amorously and sensually (Pepita Jiménez ; Doña Luz); Pedro Antonio de Alarcón, with a more lively search for interiority, assembled a world of figures soberly analyzed around subjects in which problems of profound Christian realism are concretely and dramatically addressed (el escandalo ; El niño de la bola). Naturalism, which resolved itself into a temperate realism, acclimatized in Spain, losing all scientific presuppositions. It rested remotely on abstract theses; neither the impersonality nor the absolute objectivity of the representation was proposed. Naturalism briefly mentions scientific pretensions with Emilia Pardo Bazán (Pascual López ; La madre naturaleza ; Moriña) and overlooks hints of determinism.

On the whole he wanted to portray with feeling and sympathy, with psychological intuition and intimate experience, with firm control of sensitivity, simple and modest creatures, the petty bourgeois life and the humble popular life, highlighted within the costume world of the province or against the background of typical regional characters. José María de Pereda with Sotileza (1884) and Peñas arriba (1893), Armando Palacio Valdés with Marta y María (1883) and La hermana San Sulpicio (1889) give the measure of a healthy and balanced art, which does not lack irony when it appears to the life of high society and affects its ambitions and weaknesses (La Montálvez del Pereda, La espuma by Palacio Valdés and Pequeñecesby Luis Coloma). Benito Pérez Galdós (1843-90) stands out above all for the complexity of his work, for the multiplicity of human types that populate it, for the historical atmosphere and the romantic psychology which constitute its soul and which combine, not without intellectual restlessness, with the sympathetic observation of national life in a period of civil strife (Episodios nacionales). Galdós is an artist who always works in sympathy; it captures the individual and not the characteristic; he chooses determined personalities and contemplates them through a vague humanitarianism, which accepts them all, as profound aspirations of the Spanish world in the somewhat suffocating atmosphere of contemporary historical reality. The pessimism without harshness of Galdós is nothing but the intimate spirit of the hesitant and indecisive age that he lived (Nazarín y Halma); and the hints of anticlericalism (Doña Perfecta, 1876; Gloria, 1877) and naturalistic realism (Lo prohibido, 1884; Tormento, 1906). His theater starts from the novel and is often its later transformation; but the dramatic style of the prose is stripped and the ideal motif, which turns into a thesis (Electra), tends to prevail over the concreteness of the representation. The moralistic eclecticism of Leopoldo Alas (Clarín), passed from the naturalism of La Regenta(1884) to the somewhat harsh and biting revision of all traditional values. His attitude is the negative form of his discontent with the present. It is true that in him, as in all writers of the late nineteenth century who are concerned with the national problem, tradition is intellectually felt as a weight of dead things, because there is no exact vision and sentimental impetus of what needs to be built. The blind bewilderments of a politics that loses sight of the actual reality of things are reflected in the ambitious dream of negative ideologies in the color of irony. More analytical and dialectical than synthetic and systematic is the pessimism of Ángel Ganivet García in the Idearium español(1897). The creation of the character Pio Cid, the persistent builder and destroyer of his dreams of heroism, proceeds from his irony (Conquista del reino de Maya, 1897; Los trabalos del infatigable creador Pio Cid, 1898). The crisis of Krausism, which was also the doctrine of Castelar and Salmerón, coincides at the end of the century with a wavering agnostic positivism; which was, in politics, the renunciation of ideals that were too vast and lofty to take into account the concrete needs of the country in its last historical phase and in the reality of its spiritual life. This movement, from which the new literature flows, parallels the generous and vibrant effort of ethical conscience, made by scholarly criticism to rediscover the spiritual heritage of Spain and illuminate it in what is characteristic and significant. The great master, renovator of Spanish criticism, “the free citizen of the republic of letters”, was Marcelino Menéndez I Pelayo (1856-1912). Scholar, bibliographer and humanist,

Spain Literature - From Romanticism to Realistic Objectivism (1860 - 1900)