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History of Spanish literature

Online library of Spanish Literature

Neoclassical Literature

The 18th century produced a change in literature, as new tendencies arrived from France with the Enlightenment movement, which simplified what we knew of the Baroque era. The new authors criticized the previous literature and searched for a literature with new objectives. The Baroque had become over elaborate, and the books had become too complicated and incomprehensible. The Enlightenment was pleading for a simple literature that could be used to teach. The objective of this new literature was didactic, and so it had to be simple so that it could reach the largest number of people possible.

The Enlightenment in Spain was in the hands of the Bourbon dynasty. The last King of the House of Habsburg was Carlos II “El Hechizado” (“The Bewitched”) who had died with no heir, which caused the War of the Spanish Succession between the Austrian and French emperors. In the end, with the help of the Treaty of Utrecht, the Bourbon dynasty began with Felipe de Anjou, the nephew of Luis XIV, who would become Felipe V. Despite the continuous wars in which he intervened because of his desire for the French throne, he began a profound reform of Spanish politics. He centralized all politics on the French absolutist model, and got rid of the states of Aragón and Cataluña but maintained the jurisdiction of Navarra and Vascongadas.

However Carlos III was the real model of an Enlightened monarch. As the abdicated King of Naples he came to Spain since Fernando VI had no heir. He began a profound reform which was interrupted by the Esquilache Riots, which were named after one of the King´s ministers. The revolt happened because he tried to ban the long cape and “chambergo” (broad brimmed hat); items of clothing that were used, among other reasons, to hide one´s face. The government argued that this promoted delinquency. The Minister of Esquilache had to resign and the King had to change his reforms, and attempt to slowly implement them.

Literature became a vehicle of the Enlightenment, giving its support to the absolute monarchs who in turn returned their support. The novel practically disappeared as a genre and the essay appeared in its place. This genre was the discloser of ideas based on excellence, which fit very well into the general characteristics of the era: usefulness and education. The main representatives of this genre were Feijoo and Jovellanos. The epistolary form took hold of many works of prose. These were letters dedicated to fictional or real people. The main work of this type in Spain was “Las Cartas Marruecas” (The Moroccan Letters).

The essays were published in the newspapers. Journalism was a successful method of distribution due to the fact that it was very cheap and easy to read, and moreover it reached a wide range of the population. People became aware of the need to be well-informed, and the government realized that journalism contained great power.

In terms of poetry, the classical models reemerged, but with many metrical innovations. The themes were always didactic: criticism of customs, importance of education, the role of women, and the pleasures of life. Fables, which were a type of poetry that delivered moral teachings, usually using animals as examples, also became popular.