Spanish literature

from Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia

The term Spanish literature describes all prosaic, lyrical, dramatic or otherwise literary works that were created in Spain and in the Castilian language. In a broader version of the term, the regional language literature of Spain, the literatures of South and Central America and other former Spanish colonies could be included, which are not dealt with in this article.

middle Ages

An early evidence of the appearance of the vernacular languages ​​of cultivated poetry in medieval Latin Europe is embodied in the early medieval Spain of the Moorish rule from the 11th century onwards, the so-called " Jarchas ": closing lines written in old Spanish, otherwise in classical Arabic (or in Hebrew ), poem stanzas (genre " Muwaschschah "). But it was not until the High Middle Ages that full-fledged vernacular literature emerged on the Iberian Peninsula.


Early Renaissance

The year 1492, the year of the end of the Reconquista, is usually considered to be the beginning of the Renaissance era in Spain . In that year the first grammar of a Romance language (Spanish) was published by Antonio de Nebrija (1442–1522).

In addition to many works of learned epic, the Romancero , a form of popular rhyming epic , emerged during the late Recoquista period .

An important Spanish lyric poet of the Renaissance was Garcilaso de la Vega (around 1501–1536), who - influenced by Francesco Petrarca - wrote numerous sonnets and songs. Later his poetry was based on classical Latin and Neapolitan models, in whose style he wrote elegies , epistles , eclogues and odes . The sonnets and canzons of his friend Juan Boscán Almogávar (around 1490–1542) were also based on Dante and Petrarch.

Antonio de Guevara (around 1480 / 81–1545) stands out among the early Spanish historians for his pronounced predilection for falsifications. Among other things, he oriented himself. to Plutarch and Suetonius and became the first chronicler of the court society .

The Age of the Counter Reformation: Siglo de Oro


Eminent authors

18th century

In the 18th century, different epochs overlap in Spain:

  1. Late Baroque in the succession of Calderón , Góngoras and Quevedos (up to about the middle of the century); this phase is partly characterized by a mannerist-allegorical style, gongorism ;
  2. Neoclassicism , with a strong French influence (so-called afrancesados , approx. 1730–1809); this includes the poet Juan Meléndez Valdés (1754-1817) and the most important Spanish theater poet of the 18th century, Leandro Fernández de Moratín (1760-1828);
  3. Enlightenment (Spanish: la ilustración ) as a pan-European movement with a strongly rational note and tendencies towards secularization from approx. 1740 to 1809. An important representative of the early Enlightenment was the theologian, philosopher and encyclopedist Benito Jerónimo Feijoo (1676–1764); but the Enlightenment period lasted into the 19th century. A later representative was the Spanish-Irish writer and theologian José Maria Blanco White (1775–1841), who left Spain in 1810 and supported the liberals from England as a journalist.

In addition to neoclassical drama , reflective prose ( essay , didactics , journalism ) as well as autobiographical and satirical writings are of particular importance.

Other important authors

19th century


Spanish literature in the 19th century can be divided into the following main epochs or literary currents:

  1. approx. 1800–1830: Reverberation of neoclassical literature
  2. approx. 1830–1850: Romanticism
  3. approx. 1850–1880: realism
  4. approx. 1880–1914: Naturalism


New genres in the 19th century were journalistic and costumbrist articles, historical novels and serial or colportage novels (Spanish: novela por entregas, folletín ). This was mainly due to the development of the media (newspapers, magazines) and the modest approach to democratizing culture.

The predominant or “leading genres” in Romanticism are lyric poetry and drama , and in realism and naturalism the novel.



Johann Nikolaus Böhl von Faber , an export merchant from Hamburg who had settled in Spain, had already publicized Friedrich Schlegel's romantic ideas in the press at the beginning of the century . However, due to historical events, the real Spanish Romanticism emerged much later than in other European countries; the heyday did not begin until after the return of the emigrants in 1833. They brought the new trend with them from Germany, England and France, which they had got to know in exile . The breakthrough came in 1835 with the world premiere of Don Álvaro o la fuerza del sino des Duque de Rivas .


Forerunners of realism can be found in Spain in Costumbrismo ; however, the emphasis in the Costumbrist literature was placed even more on the folkloric element and not so much on an exact representation of social conditions. Some literary scholars also see picaresque novels (Spanish: novela picaresca ) as a more distant forerunner; also farces or comedies marked before "lower" social circles for a long time, sometimes with means of satire . In this sense, Spanish literature is often referred to as "consistently realistic" (for example Don Quixote ).

Spanish realism in the narrower sense emerged in two “spurts”: 1. The Isabelline Age (Spanish: Época de Isabel II.) During the reign of Isabella II. 1843-68, which produced rather mediocre works (one also speaks of “ Pre-Realism ”) and ended with the revolution of 1868, which was welcomed by many authors as a liberation; 2. The Restoration Era (Spanish: Época de la Restauración) 1875–98, during which realism reached its peak in Spain. From around 1885 realism gradually changed into naturalism, although a strict distinction between the two currents in Spain is not easy.

Epoch characteristics


The basic romantic attitude is one of individualism ; the typical romantic author relies on the freedom of the ego, the external world appears to him as a projection of the subjective, of his own emotional world. Feeling is generally placed above reason (as opposed to the neoclassical attitude). Therefore, the landscape also reflects the mental state of the author or the characters - accordingly, ruins, cemeteries, high peaks, stormy seas, jungle and nocturnal scenarios with moonlight can be found. First and foremost are negative emotions such as melancholy and despair, but also longing, metaphysical restlessness, idealistic enthusiasm and love. The typical romantic hero is one who finds himself in opposition to the surrounding society, who fights alone against all; this is how almost all romantic dramas end tragically, suicide is a common variant. Romantic works often take place in the distant past (mainly in the Middle Ages), in geographically distant cultures (for example oriental countries) or in fantasy worlds.

Freedom of inspiration is paramount: the romantic poet wants to get away from the strict norms of neoclassicism; he sees himself as a genius and feels above all canons . The principle of imitation, which was so important in previous centuries, is being replaced by the cult of one's own creative original genius. There is a constant search for originality and surprise effects, the romantic wants to shake up the audience's sensitivity; a popular method for this is contrast. Romantic authors are also no longer concerned with formal perfection like their predecessors in the neoclassical trend; they maintain a passionate tone, and are sometimes gimmicky and pathetic . Their great musicality is often purely ornamental.

In poetry this means new verse and stanza forms ; but one also likes to return to old forms. So the Spanish romance is revalued. In the drama, the three classic units (place, time and plot) are consequently dissolved, the tragic and the comic, the sublime and the grotesque, prose and verse mixed.

There is an appreciation of national and regional values. The “folk spirit” plays a major role, folklore and popular things are becoming socially acceptable again, topics from Spanish history and legends are popular. Instead of old certainties of belief, the idea of ​​an inscrutable fate occurs, especially in the so-called “horror romanticism” existential insecurity, fears, obsessions and visions of horror spread.

In Spanish Romanticism a distinction must be made between a rather conservative current, which was particularly concerned with the revaluation of the national past and wanted to restore the old order ( José Zorrilla y Moral is considered to be its main representative ), and a liberal, socially romantic and revolutionary current. Your main representative is José de Espronceda . The great themes of Romanticism emerge in his poems. In Canción del Pirata (Song of the Pirate), the pirate is a symbol of freedom, a homeless idealist in search of adventure. Gustavo Adolfo Bécquer, with his masterpiece Rimas y Leyendas , is a popular Romanian. The poems are about love and poetry. The legends are linked to popular traditions.

Costumbrismo mediates between romanticism and realism with its emphasis on local color.


On the basis of positivism and empiricism , realism strives for a faithful reflection of social conditions. One limits oneself to what is empirically given, to observable, demonstrable facts and wants to come to generally valid, practically applicable knowledge, also and especially through literary works that sometimes take on the function of sociological studies. Belief in progress, Enlightenment optimism and materialism characterize this trend, although these general characteristics are softened in Spain by the fact that industrialization and the development of an educated bourgeoisie are taking place much more slowly than in the rest of Europe.

According to their claim, external reality should be described impersonally and objectively in realistic texts; very often (for example in the works of Benito Pérez Galdós ) a humorous and ironic element is added that undermines this tendency. If the romantics wandered into the past, then topicality is the order of the day; the interest of the realists is concentrated on the immediate surroundings, on the everyday, the probable (Spanish: verosimilitud ), on the "vida vulgar". The descriptions of nature are no longer a reflection of the state of mind, but rather depict familiar landscapes, the rural ambience in the province, and everyday urban life in a recognizable manner. As far as characterization is concerned, the greatest possible psychological probability applies here as well (in contrast to the idealizing stylization in Romanticism). The characters in the story all come from the middle class , are “people like you and me”, they are no longer exceptional characters.

A sober style spreads, with little showmanship, a "natural", simple language compared to romanticism; From today's perspective, however, the detailed descriptions seem rather lengthy. Often the aesthetic intention is subordinate to a didactic purpose, the observation of reality only a pretext to demonstrate a thesis and therefore not free of ideology . Basically, realistic literature in Spain is moralistic , it tries to convince readers; metaphysical fear gives way to a bourgeois sense of the practical.

The time of the action is mostly contemporary; Galdós, for example, calls his novels “novelas contemporáneas” (contemporary novels). Usually years and dates indicate a specific historical epoch that was not very distant. The space also encompasses specific Spanish landscapes, for example Cantabria near Pereda , cities (near Galdós Madrid ), regions ( Fernán Caballero and Pedro Antonio de Alarcón : Andalusia , Pereda: Santander ).

The language of the novels is no longer grandiose as in the Romantics, but "ordinary" Spanish colloquial language , in some cases even regionalisms from the various dialects flow into it . At the same time, a “terminological” use of the language is spreading, i.e. the use of technical terms from various scientific disciplines or practical areas of activity, from industry and the financial world. The personal speech is given social, regional, professional and psychological characteristics. The main genre is narrative prose as the primary medium; one also speaks of the "siglo más novelífero", of the "most romantic" epoch, with extensive novels comprising several hundred pages being the rule.


Naturalism, as it is at the core of the term, wants to be “natural”, that is to say: without stylistic transformation, to make reality visible in a photographically true way, especially the milieu of the proletariat and the factory towns should be represented with precision. This direction is less pronounced in Spain, as there has not yet been a real industrial revolution in the country (around 70% of the population still lived from agriculture in 1900). The question of the liberation of the “fourth estate” could therefore not yet arise, at least as a central problem. Some authors doubt at all whether one can distinguish between realism and naturalism in Spain. In addition, because of the high rate of illiteracy in Spain, there was a lack of the broad public base that naturalism aimed at and for which it was intended in France.

In addition, conservative politics wiped out the gains of the 1868 revolution. Naturalism was strongly opposed by its opponents, especially Catholic traditionalists , because of its "immorality" and its basic deterministic concept. In fact, in naturalistic novels, the characters appear to a certain extent as a product of their environment and the historical moment, and the possibilities for free decision-making are severely restricted (cf. the milieu theory of Hippolyte Taine ). Nevertheless, in Catholic Spain the question of free will plays a large role in the discussion; one also speaks of a softened naturalism (Spanish: "naturalismo mitigado"), because in this sense a compromise has been made with the teachings of the church.

The authors are given greater freedom when it comes to dealing with “slippery topics”, including vocabulary (taboo and swear words are increasingly used) and previously unaffected topics such as birth, illness, work, money. As for the subject matter, physicality and society come first: food and drink, alcoholism, illness, degeneration, insanity and the urban proletarian ambience are the typical issues that naturalistic authors grapple with. The reader does not get a detailed description of the characters from the beginning (as was usual in realism), but rather they should “naturally” gradually gain in profile through their actions and words.

The authors often conduct on-site studies in order to be able to represent the milieu authentically; For example, Emilia Pardo Bazán stayed in the A Coruña tobacco factory for a month before writing the novel La Tribuna . It is not uncommon to find a precise description of the technical details of the production process in various sectors.

The protagonists are no longer heroes in the sense of an exceptional phenomenon, but average people, sometimes representative types like the cigar worker, you often find a collective or at least several people as protagonists. From a naturalistic point of view, anything can be novel material (Spanish: "materia novelable"), it does not have to be special events. Since every person's life contains literary material, it sometimes happens that minor characters in one novel become main characters in another. The concept of the incomplete part of life (“trozo de vida”) also applies: an action without a distinctive beginning and end (which often remains open), a simple, arbitrary excerpt from a life, without the classic principle of periphery , catastrophe, and ending. The form should come as close as possible to the “natural” form of life, the action usually consists of a “coming down”, a degeneration , a descent into the gutter or madness. This also applies to what is arguably the most important psychological novel of the late 19th century, La Regenta (1884/85) by Clarín , which was influenced by Gustave Flaubert's Madame Bovary and describes the almighty influence of the church on small-town life and a beautiful rich woman, which is eventually rejected by society.

Eminent authors

Late classicism

Romance: lyric

Romance: drama

Journalism and Costumbrismo

Realism and Naturalism: Roman

Realism and Naturalism: Drama

20th century


The following epochs or currents play a role in Spanish literature of the 20th century; Sometimes the names still fluctuate with newer trends, but mostly the generation scheme is used:

  1. Modernismo (approx. 1880–1930)
  2. Generación del 98 (approx. 1898–1936)
  3. Generación del 14 (approx. 1914-1936)
  4. Generación del 27 (approx. 1927-1939)
  5. Literature after the Civil War ( Posguerra )
    1. Exile literature (approx. 1936–1975)
    2. Generación del 36, tremendismo (1940s)
    3. Generación del Medio Siglo (approx. 1950–1975)
    4. Generación del 68 (approx. 1968–1980)
  6. Literatura posfranquista, literatura de la transición (approx. 1975-2000)

Brief characterization

At the transition from the 19th to the 20th century, the “ disaster of 1898 ” played a role in the mood in the country, which also had an impact on literature: Spain and its identity were the subject of the Generación del 98 , a forerunner of the Today's movement of the indignant , who thinks about how Spain can make up for the painfully felt political and cultural backwardness towards Europe. Its pioneer José Martínez Ruiz ( Azorín ) felt and suffered from the "distance between the official language of politics and the press and the reality of a country that is in a deep social and political crisis". Azorín contributed significantly to the consolidation of Spanish cultural identity by canonizing the authors of the Spanish classics in a time of widespread illiteracy and poverty.

In addition, almost at the same time, there is the current of modernism , which tries to escape the harsh everyday reality by fleeing into the beauty. After all, before the civil war, the so-called “Sons of the 98s” were decisive, also called Generación del 14 (according to the pedagogue Lorenzo Luzuriaga Medina) or (as a literary movement) “Novecentismo”. Its oldest representative is Vicente Blasco Ibáñez , trained in French naturalism, who achieved world fame with his anti-war novel Los cuatro jinetes del Apocalipsis (“The Four Horsemen of the Apocalypse”, 1914). He and the younger writers of this generation strive in the face of the wavering attitude of the Spanish public during World War I, the political chaos of the reign of Alfonso XIII. , the independence efforts in the peripheral regions, the Rif war , anarchist acts of violence and state repression - intensified under the military dictatorship of Miguel Primo de Rivera since 1923 - to a new spiritual orientation. Even more intensely than their predecessors, they are looking for a philosophical and essayistic approach to the Spain problem, in which they are deeply emotionally entangled. Her stylistic devices are heterogeneous - they range from psychologically realistic portraits to lyrical mood images to metaphorical or crass satirical humoresque , her texts are partly shaped by formal care, partly thrown out quickly and sketchily.

In the Generación del 27 , the third of the waves of renewal that follow one another in a short time, various avant-garde currents such as modernism and surrealism , which find their expression above all in poetry, as in the surrealist poems of the later Nobel Prize winner Vicente Aleixandre . There are also influences from the film. Rafael Alberti , for example, writes poems about American silent film comedians . However, he and Federico García Lorca tie in more to models of traditional folk romantic poetry (so-called neopopularismo ).

In contrast, Catholic-conservative authors like the Falange ideologist Rafael Sánchez Mazas orientate themselves on models of the Siglo de Oro and try to revive classicism until the aestheticism of the generation breaks with the political realities of the 1930s.

The civil war marked a sharp turning point in Spanish literary history. One also speaks of the "death of literature". Relevant authors go into exile , others stay in the country and try to adapt to the censorship conditions. Underpaid teachers, professors and writers had to supplement their meager salaries with censorship activities. In 1966 the censorship was relaxed, it was not officially abolished until 1978. Criticism of the Church and Franco's politics, positive evaluations of Marxism and liberalism, foreign authors such as Sartre, Camus, Hemingway, Descartes, Tolstoy, Balzac, Dostoievskij and Spanish authors such as Baroja, Unamuno, Valle-Inclán, Ortega, Pérez de Ayala , Clarín were forbidden. A total of 3,000 books were on the index. Words like “justicia” and “libertad” were banned and disappeared from the Spanish vocabulary; Divorce, abortion, and adultery were taboo. Even books for young people like “Tom Sawyer” by Mark Twain were mutilated by the censors. This led to the literary isolation of the authors who remained in Spain.

After a phase of neo-realism in the 1950s, which was supported by the socially critical Generación del 50 , especially in Madrid and Barcelona, ​​the early 1960s saw a renewal, especially of the narrative literature, which made people sit up and take notice with new methods. After Francisco Franco's death , Spanish literature took another turn, especially towards crime-thriller-like genres , but feminism also brought a renewal of women's literature.

Increasing language pluralism

Meanwhile, the Spanish language centralism can be regarded as a failure; the centripetal forces have become very strong since the 1980s, so that today about a quarter of all Spaniards no longer primarily use Castellano in everyday life. At least four written and official languages ​​exist side by side: In addition to Spanish, there are regional Catalan (with the varieties Valencian and Mallorcan ), Galician , Basque and Aranese , a variety of Gascon spoken by around 4000 people , official and cultural languages. Most of these languages ​​have their own literatures.

Asturian (also Asturian-Leonese, locally referred to as Bable ) is not an official language, but a standardized written language with its own language academy, the Academia de ia Liingua Asturiana, founded in 1980 . Gaspar Melchor de Jovellanos (1744-1811) was one of the early Asturian authors .

Eminent authors


Generación del 98

Generación del 14

Generación del 27

Exile literature

Generación del 50



× Marta Sanz (× 1967)


Literary prizes

Various literary prizes are awarded in Spain every year:

Regional language Spanish literature



  • Courage to live and other Spanish stories. Selection, translation and introduction by Karl August Horst. Horst Erdmann Verlag, Tübingen / Basel 1969.
  • Spanish poetry: 50 poems from Spain and Latin America. Spanish and German. Reclam, Ditzingen 2004.
  • Spanish poetry of the 20th century. Spanish and German. 5th, updated and expanded edition. Reclam, Ditzingen 2003.

Secondary literature

  • Juan Luiz Alborg: Historia de la literatura española. Volume 1 ff. Madrid.
  • Frank Baasner: Literary historiography in Spain from the beginning to 1868 . Analecta Romanica issue 55. Vittorio Klostermann, Frankfurt 1995.
  • Hans Ulrich Gumbrecht : A History of Spanish Literature . Suhrkamp, ​​Frankfurt am Main 1998, ISBN 3-518-58062-0 .
  • Wolfram Krömer: On the worldview, aesthetics and poetics of neoclassicism and romanticism in Spain. Spanish research by the Görres Society, series 2. Aschendorffische Verlagsbuchhandlung, Münster 1968.
  • Hans-Jörg Neuschäfer : Spanish literary history . 4th edition. Metzler, Stuttgart 2011, ISBN 978-3476-02390-2 .
  • Hans-Jörg Neuschäfer : Classical texts of Spanish literature. 25 introductions from “Cid” to “Corazón tan blanco” . Metzler, Stuttgart 2011, ISBN 978-3-4760-2397-1 .
  • Carmen Rivero Iglesias: Spanish Literary History. An annotated anthology. W. Fink, Stuttgart 2014, ISBN 978-3-8252-3988-6 .
  • Michael Rössner : Latin American literary history . 3rd, expanded edition. Metzler, Stuttgart 2007, ISBN 3-476-02224-2 .
  • Christoph Strosetzki: History of Spanish Literature . 2nd, unchanged edition. Niemeyer, Tübingen 1996, ISBN 3-484-50307-6 .
  • Christoph Strosetzki: Introduction to Spanish and Latin American literary studies . Erich Schmidt Verlag, Berlin 2003, ISBN 3-503-06189-4 .

Individual evidence

  1. ^ Friederike Hassauer: Spain's first feminist , in: Zeit online , September 26, 2014.
  2. ^ AAA: Clarín: La Regenta. In: Kindlers new literature lexicon, Munich 1996, vol. 3, p. 3 f.
  3. See the bilingual anthology by Erna Brandenberger (ed.): Spanische Erzähler / Narradores espanoles. The generation of 1914. (Spanish - German) Munich 1992, ISBN 978-3-4230-9219-7
  4. See the bilingual anthology by Erna Brandenberger (ed.): Spanische Dichter / Poetas españoles. The generation of 1927. (Sapnisch-Deutsch) Munich 1980, ISBN 978-3-4230-9160-2 )
  5. Julia Macher: The grandfather of the indignant . Deutschlandradio Kultur, March 2, 2017
  6. Medardo Fraile: The generation of writers from 1913 and the Spain of their time. In: Erna Brandenburger (Hrsg./Übersetzer): Spanish narrators. Generation of 1914. Munich 1985 (bilingual), pp. 145–150.
  7. ^ Eva Hecht: Literature during the civil war and Franco dictatorship , Ms., online: [1] .