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Spain Literature in the 18th Century

According to harvardshoes.com, the crystallization of the Baroque experience coincides with the settlement of the Bourbon dynasty in Madrid and with the consequent transplantation in Spain of French customs and precepts. The most immediate French influence easily penetrates the upper classes and operates above all through the new various academies, which slowly give a rational order and a norm to the knowledge of history, customs, language: for the latter in particular, the creation of ‘Academia española de la lengua (1713) marks the beginning of a coding and systematizing activity. The circles most eager for renewal are tenaciously neoclassical: proof of this is the long controversy on the theater of the seventeenth century, which was born in the Academia del buen gusto and was carried out in depth, towards the middle of the century, above all by N. Fernández de Moratín and by J. Clavijo y Fajardo, who oppose the model of classical French tragedy to the baroque theater. However, the anti-Lopian and anti-Calderonian stigma pervaded by academicism, awkwardly brought to the level of officialdom, culminating in the prohibition of the Autos sacramentales in 1765, is felt to be inauthentic.

● In a country like Spain, eighteenth-century culture cannot be built outside a certain conservative spirit: this is demonstrated, since the first half of the century, in the field of philology and criticism, by G. Mayáns y Siscar and I. de Luzán and above all thinkers such as BJ Feijoo, whose work is all spiritually aimed at a mediation between rationalism and Catholicism in which perhaps more echoes of seventeenth-century didacticism alternate, more memories of Gracián, than rigorous anticipations of the eighteenth-century Enlightenment. It is singular that in an age in which literature discovers the taste for science, the most genuine narrative expression comes from an extravagant, restless, not at all scientific prose, like that of D. de Torres Villarroel. La Vida (1743-58) by Torres, as well as the popular one Fray Gerundio de Campazas (1758) by the Jesuit JF de Isla, have nothing more picaresque than the literary memory and the use of some external ingredient. On the other hand, Isla intimately welcomes the awakening of critical conscience but makes no concessions, at least openly, to Frenchism; on the contrary, a meticulous and polemical nationalism is characteristic of his work and that of many Jesuits towards the middle of the century, behind which a sort of complex of French culture is hidden. And some of the Jesuits expelled in 1767 following the edict of Charles III opposed the Enlightenment with their tenacious conservatism, accompanied in fact by a more lively critical spirit than that which animates French circles at home. Except for the sporadic cases of Clavijo, by N. Fernández de Moratín, the conciliatory tendency between Enlightenment and Spanish tradition always emerges, in artists of the most varied origins: such as the playwright V. García de la Huerta, who writes tragedies marked by the most severe classicism (Raquel, 1778), yet revalues ​​Calderón de la Barca; as P. Montengón, author of a failed novel, Eusebio (1786-89), an imitation of Rousseau’s Émile and yet obedient to a strictly Catholic morality; and again in polemics and writers such as JP Forner, with incisive and cruel satire (Exequias de la lengua castellana, 1782), as GM de Jovellanos (Informe de la ley agraria, 1795), who strives to harmonize the concrete investigation of problems national with the dictates of encyclopedism; like J. Cadalso y Vázquez (Cartas marruecas, 1788-89, where the memory of Montesquieu is strong), that filters the Enlightenment through its humanitarianism and its social unscrupulousness, particularly attentive to the weaknesses of the Spanish tradition; like L. Fernández de Moratín, whose play El sí de las niñas (1805) is the only one that stands out in the theater scene of the time.

● It is the moment in which, between the austerity of the neoclassical tragedy, respectful of Aristotelian norms, between the celebratory poetry of JM Quintana (Poesías patrióticas, 1808) and Jovellanos and the moralistic and coldly constructed one of the Fábulas (1781) by FM Samaniego and by T. de Iriarte, an authentic successful comedy can hardly be made light, a frankly inspired poem; and yet we can find here and there the signs of a general change in taste. Already in the cultured and bourgeois theater of L. Fernández de Moratín and in that, which wants to be popular and farcical, by R. de la Cruz, dramatic art has taken on a new tone, a certain start of gallant Rococo lightness. And it is the tone that characterizes above all the lyric of J. Meléndez Valdés, in whose bucolic character it is easy to recognize pre-romantic accents.

Spain Literature in the 18th Century