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Bible Encyclopedias

1911 Encyclopedia Britannica

Spanish Literature

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"SPANISH LITERATURE The dominant feature of Spanish contemporary literature in 1910-21 may be found in an effort to achieve the fusion of the critical with the creative element in the race (see S. de Madariaga, " Introduction to Spanish Contemporary Literature," London Mercury, Sept. 1920). With the death of Galdos, the sceptre of Spanish literature falls on Miguel de Unamuno (b. Bilboa, 1864), a professor of Greek in the university of Salamanca, a voracious reader, familiar with all European, American and classical literature, and an indefatigable writer. Unamuno represents the modern version of the Spanish mystic writer. His main concern is the relation of man to creation. It is the subject of his masterpiece El Sentimiento Tragico de la Vida, a book of passionate meditation, and, at any rate as an attitude of mind, it dominates his criticism ( En torno al Casticismo, Ensayos ), his novels (Abel Sanchez, Tres Novelas y un Prologo ) and his plays (Fedra). In these works Unamuno appears as the apostle of an ideal of life more closely connected with spiritual Easternism than with the intellectual and social tenets of the West. He thus fulfils in Spain much the same function which Dostoievsky held in Russia, for Spain, like Russia, stands as a transition between East and West. His ideal is in intensity rather than in extension, in individual achievement, the saving of one's soul, rather than in social work and collective material progress. His style corresponds to his beliefs. It reminds one of Carlyle's in that it is written with the whole man's being, body and soul, but it is never eloquent and rhetorical; rather does it tend to conversational familiarity and evinces now and then a proclivity towards being led to new thoughts by the mere shuffling of words.

Should we care to complete the parallel with Russia by finding a Spanish westerner to oppose to Unamuno, as Turgueniev stands to Dostoievsky, a younger man than the Basque master, Jose Ortega y Gasset (b. 1883), would have to be mentioned. A professor of Philosophy at the university of Madrid, Senor Ortega y Gasset is a refined humanist, strongly influenced by German contemporary neo-Kantian schools of thought. His style is naturally polished and his mind penetrating and acute.

tive Cabi- His main work is in the field of criticism and psychology ( Meditaciones del Quijote, El Espectador). To this same school may be ascribed Jose Martinez Ruiz (b. 1876), better known under his literary name as " Azorin." His art has all the finish and exquisiteness, all the smallness also, of miniature-painting. He has had the rare merit of applying it to the interpretation of national scenes and places ( Castilla, Los Pueblos ), and has thus contributed in no small measure to the movement for national self-knowledge which is noticeable in contemporary Spain.

In fiction, though belonging to an older generation, Vicente Blasco Ibanez (b. r866) must be mentioned, since he continued to wield a never-idle pen. His creative vigour was unabated. His war novel, Los Cuatro Jinetes del Apocalipsis, made him famous with the English-speaking public. Older novels have been translated, such as Sangre y Arena (as The Matador ) and La Barraca (as The Cabin). Blasco Ibanez represents a kind of art which is Spanish only in its subject, but not in its spirit, manner or style. He is more closely related to the French naturaliste school than to any Spanish literary tradition. Of a younger generation, Pio Baroja (b. 1872) is perhaps the most widely read. A Basque, with all the acuity of mind of his race and not a little of its rustic independence and antagonism to civilization, Baroja writes abundantly and carelessly, with more spirit than art. He is more capable of rendering with remarkable accuracy separate aspects of truth than of weaving them into an organic unity endowed with life. His best work is perhaps Idilios Vascos, where he has rendered the quaint charm of his own country. Ramon Perez de Ayala (b. 1881), a critic of great talent, has written several novels, the best of which are Novelas Poemdticas and Belarmino y Apolonio. Jacinto Benavente (b. 1866) is still the dominating figure of the Spanish theatre. His most famous play, Los Intereses Creados (1907), is not representative, for it illustrates but one phase of the talent of this many-sided author. A more powerful tragedy, La Noche del Sdbado, is of the same period. In more recent times he has given an intense drama of love in La Malquerida. There is, however, a type of play in which Benavente must yield the prize to the brothers Alvarez Quintero (Serafin, b. 1871; Joaquin, b. 1873). As authors of Comedias de Costumbres these two writers, who always work together, are unsurpassed. The list of their comedies is long ( Las de Cain, Puebla de las Mujeres). Other playwrights of note are Linares Rivas (b. 1866), remarkable for his skill in the handling of dialogue; Martinez Sierra (b. 188x), a delicate psychologist; and Pinillos (" Parmeno," b. 1875), a vigorous painter of social conflicts. But drama and comedy are but one, and not the more important, aspect of the Spanish theatre. Still more typical of the nation is what is modestly known in Spain as genero chico (small genre), a full growth of theatrical production, generally short and accompanied with music, and ranging from variety pieces akin to operettas to little masterpieces of musical drama. Its best-known exponents are the brothers Quintero and Carlos Arniches (b. Alicante, 1866).

The two main currents which influenced Spanish poetry towards the close of the 19th century, i.e. the national tradition and the symbolist school of France, more or less interpreted by South American poets, such as Ruben Dario (b. 1867), remained still observable up to 1920, though the first was more vigorous and conscious, the second widened so as to include all influences, from those of d'Annunzio to those of Maeterlinck and even Rabindranath Tagore. As more typically national, we shall mention Miguel de Unamuno ( Rosario de Sonetos Liricos, El Cristo de Velazquez ), strong and somewhat unharmonious, but true and austere; Antonio Machado (b. 1875) (Soledades, Campos de Castilla ), whose pessimistic serenity is in keeping with the landscape of central Spain which inspires his poems; and Salvador de Madariaga (b. 1886), whose Romances de Ciego restate, in a new spirit, the old Spanish theme of Jorge Manrique. Other poets appear under more complex influences. Thus Manuel Machado (b. 1874), whose main inspiration is popular and southern, has, however, written excellent verse in which the influence of French elegant sensibility is discernible. Juan Ramon Jimenez (b. T88r), more remarkable for his exquisite sensibility than for his power ( Arias Tristes, Elegias ), is led by his melancholy moods towards fluid rhythms which, though more subtle, remind one of Maeterlinck and, through him, of Rossetti. Ramon del Valle Inclan (b. 1870), perhaps the most skilful musician amongst modern Spanish poets, has given in La Marquesa Rosalinda an admirable example of the adaptability of the Spanish language to the most refined rhythms. Ramon Perez de Ayala (b. 1881), in El Sendero Innumerable, succeeds in effecting a happy wedding of thought with harmonious poetry, in a work not wholly uninfluenced by Francis Jammes, d'Annunzio and Walt Whitman.

Among historians of literature the work of Marcelino Menendez y Pelayo is continued by D. Ramon Menendez Pidal (b. 1869), whose works on the Poem of Myo Qid and on the Spanish chronicles have thrown great light on the origins of Spanish epic poetry. Francisco Rodriguez Marin (b. 1855), the editor of Don Quixote, a specialist in Spanish folklore, has succeeded the master as head of the National Library. In the younger generation, Federico de Onis (b. 1885) has edited Fr. Luis de Leon, and Americo Castro (b. 1885) has worked on Lope de Vega.

Journalism, always a great art in Spain, where the paper is infinitely more read than the book, is cultivated by all writers, and every one of the names quoted above might be quoted here again as a journalist. Mention must be made, however, of two eminent contemporary writers whose work is almost exclusively journalistic - Ramiro de Maeztu (b. 1874), a versatile mind whose educating influence on the Spanish reading public has been incalculable; and Luis Araquistain, a powerful dialectician and a master of the polemic style. (S. DE M.)


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Bibliography Information
Chisholm, Hugh, General Editor. Entry for 'Spanish Literature'. 1911 Encyclopedia Britanica. https://www.studylight.org/encyclopedias/bri/s/spanish-literature.html. 1910.


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