Spanish literature: Late-Nineteenth- and Early-Twentieth-Century Movements

Late-Nineteenth- and Early-Twentieth-Century Movements

The towering figure of Benito Pérez Galdós dominated the realistic novel during the second half of the 19th cent., but Pedro Antonio de Alarcón, José María de Pereda, Armando Palacio Valdés, Juan Valera y Alcalá Galiano, and Emilia Pardo Bazán also wrote notable fiction. Realism continued to have leading exponents well into the 20th cent., notably Vicente Blasco Ibáñez, but at the turn of the century the intellectual and literary life of Spain underwent a deep transformation. With the loss of its colonial empire and the disastrous effects of the Carlist wars, Spain was economically and culturally bankrupt.

At the end of the century the writers of the Generation of '98, stimulated by French and German influences and by Rubén Darío and the modernismo movement in Spanish America, set out to reevaluate and revitalize the cultural life of Spain. Ángel Ganivet, a precursor, had foreshadowed their work in his Idearium español. Miguel de Unamuno, as essayist, poet, novelist, and educator, emphasized the quixotic aspect of Spanish values and exerted great influence on Spanish youth. Azorín (see Martínez Ruiz) created memorable impressionistic sketches. Ramón del Valle Inclán brought a poetic sense of the fantastic and the bizarre to his novels and plays. Pío Baroja y Nessi infused his novels with a fierce independence of spirit that rejected all traditional values and sought to arouse people to action.

The drama, whose only notable exponent in the late 19th cent. had been José Echegaray, was revitalized in the early 20th cent. by Jacinto Grau, Gregorio Martínez Sierra, and especially by Jacinto Benavente y Martínez. A major role in the Spanish cultural revival was played by the great educator Francisco Giner de los Ríos.

After World War I the intellectual currents set in motion by the Generation of '98 merged with other forces in the European avant-garde to create a mainstream that fertilized Spanish cultural life until the outbreak of the civil war. Criticism, which had flourished at the turn of the century under the erudite Marcelino Menéndez y Pelayo, reached new heights in the works of the distinguished medievalist Ramón Menéndez Pidal. The humorist Ramón Gómez de la Serna wrote his inimitable greguerías.

It was in poetry, however, that Spanish literature produced its greatest achievements. The lyrics of Antonio Machado and of the great Juan Ramón Jiménez are among the finest in the language. José Moreno Villa, Rafael Alberti, Vicente Aleixandre, Luis Cernuda, Jorge Guillén, Dámaso Alonso, and many others formed a brilliant constellation of poets, but the most engaging figure was that of the poet and dramatist Federico García Lorca.

Parallel to these developments in poetry was the work of one of Spain's most gifted essayists—José Ortega y Gasset. The novelist Ramón Pérez de Ayala used his novels as a forum for intellectual discussion, whereas Gabriel Miró Ferrer wrote novels that can be considered lyric prose poems, and Benjamín Jarnés produced surrealist novels. The novels of Ramón Sender marked a return to social criticism.

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