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History of Spanish literature

Spanish literature: history from 1975 onwards

History of Spanish Literature from 1975.

In 1975 with the death of General Franco, the Transition began in Spain. This was the political movement that carried out the change from the dictatorship to the parliamentary monarchy. Since the 1960s a series of changes had begun in the social life of Spanish culture. The novel had lost a lot of itself in the previous years. The objectivism had exhausted its creativity because it had been based on a reality that had been rendered obsolete with the migration from countryside to city. The lack of depth of analysis added to the poverty of the language in accordance with the social and political changes of a Spain plunged into a post-war atmosphere. But the post-war period had ended. Carlos Barral, in an unrivalled attempt, published the great works from the new Hispano-American narratives, which was known as “magic realism”, as well as other works from the Anglo-Saxon world which had previously been forbidden, such as Virginia Woolf and James Joyce.

This invasion of essays, particularly from Latin America, created a new concern in the Spanish literary world. “Tiempo de Silencio” (Time of Silence) by Luis Martín Santos should be highlighted, with its relative lack of coherence and sense of logic, being both an autonomous text about reality and a world in itself. In 1962 Mario Vargas Llosa won the Premio Biblioteca Breve for his book “La Ciudad y los Perros” (The Time of the Hero), and José Manuel Caballero Bonald published “Dos Días de Septembre” (Two September Days). Demythologization appeared alongside a distancing from reality through its distortion. Juan Marsé with “La Oscura Historia de La Primera Montse” was involved in this movement.

From 1966 onwards authors from previous generations also became involved in this movement. Miguel Delibes played with experimentalism in his monologue “Cinco Horas con Mario” (Five Hours with Mario). Camilo José Cela published “San Camilo 1936”.

For many intellectuals the death of Franco did not produce huge differences, since changes had been seen little by little since the 60s. In 1985 Spain became a member of the European Economic Community (EEC) and formed part of the Western European culture. Modernity was reborn in a country that had remained isolated for 40 years.

In May 1976 the newspaper “El País” appeared and revolutionized the world of press with its opinionated articles. The magazine “Interviú” was born. In 1977 the censorship of show business ended which gave way to what is commonly known as “el destape” (period of liberalization after the end of the Franco regime). In a country that had not seen nakedness in the cinema or on the television for forty years the phenomenon of the “destape” produced a huge revolution in the world of show business. However this was denigrated by low quality films which were pushed into the background in the early 80s, until they disappeared completely at the end of the decade. The creation of the Ministry of culture provided subsidies to aid the diffusion of culture and became widely recognized. This Ministry lacked a definitive ideology. Between 1983 and 1986 the “Movida Madrileña” appeared which involved a wide range of culture: the cinema of Pedro Almodóvar, alongside design, music, literature and movement. It started in Madrid but soon spread to all the regions of Spain and was either accepted or rejected, and sometimes even counterattacked by other cultural movements that came from the peripheries of Spain. The western world experienced a moral crisis that Spain was not part of. In Spain the present dominated and there was no memory of the past. Man needed continuous up to date information. And so “el sincretismo” (syncretism) appeared, which was basically the recycling of traditional art and the popularization of its values. The appearance of a prosperous middle class with purchasing power led to the desanctification of culture through the commercial. The author no longer created a book, but the book was something that the publishing house asked him to write. The publishing houses were multinational companies that looked for profit in production. Among the different artistic creations the novel was the one to best adapt. The crisis produced an evolution of hybrid forms. The reader made demands and the writer had to respond to them. The reader at the time was looking for entertainment and a well-written story that they would enjoy, something exotic, intriguing and mysterious which characterized this age of decadence.

Novel paradigm

The first paradigm that was observed was “la novela del novelar” (the novel about writing a novel). This described and analyzed the problem of literary creation, as was seen with Unamuno and the Avant-garde. This became a work of internal coherence, distancing itself from reality, and only made sense by itself. Its greatest representative was Gonzalo Torrente Ballester with “Fragmentos de Apocalipsis” (Fragments of an Apocalypse) and “La saga /fuga de J.B” (The Saga/Flight of J.B). His books allowed the reader to read the novel but not to become part of it. The world of the novel became part of the novel itself. For example: “La saga/fuga de J.B takes place in a rural environment in Galicia where one of the delicacies is the “lampreas” (a type of primitive fish); the inhabitants of the town eat these fish which they cook in a variety of ways. However, every now and then someone from the town falls into the river and the lampreas eat them, creating a vicious circle. This means that we see the people of the town as isolated from reality and from us as the readers. There also existed a type of social and committed novel by Miguel Delibes with his novels “Los Santos Innocentes” (The Innocent Saints) and “El Disputado Voto del Señor Cayo” (The Contested Vote of Señor Cayo).

“La novela de la memoria” (The Memory Novel) became very strong from the eighties onwards. It was a novel that described the author´s own life, but without a confessional characteristic and without searching for justification. The authors tried to find themselves without creating trauma. They shared similarities with crime novels and the adventure model, such as “Corazón Tan Blanco” (A Heart So White) by Javier Marías. Within this group there was also Francisco Umbral, winner of the Cervantes prize in 2001 with his novel “Las Ninfas” (The Nymphs).

After the experimentalism of the previous years the classic forms reemerged: the public wanted a well-told story, they weren´t looking for structural complications. With this new demand came the historical model, which steered away from chronicle and the learning of facts in order to give more importance to fiction. It produced anachronisms (errors in chronology) even in the most recent facts that it dealt with. Examples of this type of novel are: “Galíndez” by Vázquez Montalbán; “El manuscrito carmesí” (The Crimson Manuscript) by Antonio Gala; and “Crónica de rey pasmado” (The Chronicle of the Stunned King) by Gonzalo Torrente Ballester.

In the detective paradigm Manuel Vázquez Montalbán appeared with his series of novels about a detective called Pepe Carvalho. As a principal characteristic the main change was from the model of an American crime novel about a meticulous investigator, to an investigator with no ethnicity. The impressive “Beltenebros” by Antonio Muñoz Molina also stood out, as a spy novel based on the harshest moments of Franco´s dictatorship, with an international backdrop. This novel was halfway between the historical novel and the crime novel, and as mentioned above, fiction took priority over historical fact.

Recent years have seen the arrival of novels based on the new generations: “Historias del Kronen” by José Ángel Mañas shows us the life of young people in the 90s who are sick of a life that offers nothing without effort. Another example is the novel “Héroes” (“Heros”) by Ray Loriga.