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History of Spanish literature

Romanticism in Literature


With the end of nobility and the emergence of the bourgeoisie as the dominant class, new liberal trends appeared. With them came a new cultural movement, particularly in the literary field, called Romanticism. It began a revolution that was so great that many of the ideas that came from it are still in force today; the individual as the center of society, appearance of social classes, people´s rights, democracy as a governmental form…

The Romantic author tried to recreate the Middle Ages. They looked for new ideals that could be transferred to literature in a resurgence of the novel, and specifically the historical novel which would recreate the medieval age. They wanted to create a novel which would mix real historical characters with fictional ones. The most obvious example is “Ivanhoe” by Sir Walter Scott. This paradigm resuscitated the novel which had ceased to exist during the Enlightenment. The Romantic author felt liberated from all of the restrictions of the Enlightened didactic genre. Books no longer had to teach, but were a form of entertainment used to transport the reader to make-believe worlds. The fantastic was no longer repulsive.

The Romantic author had a tragic vision of the world. He felt misunderstood and searched for an escape. This desire took one of two forms: the journeys in search of adventure (e.g. Lord Byron going to Greece), which led to the appearance of exoticism; or secondly, suicide.

Romanticism reached Spain a little later. During the Napoleonic period Spain had found itself caught up in the Independence War (1808-1812). Finally Fernando VII was crowned King, but would go from being the most loved King to the most hated. Upon his arrival he cancelled any attempt to install a democracy, with the suppression of the 1812 Constitution and the persecution of all liberal movements.

Journalism became stronger than it had been during the Enlightenment, and the main author of Spanish Romantic literature appeared: Mariano José de Larra. In his articles he portrayed the society that surrounded him in a critical and scathing manner. His life was saturated by the Romantic spirit, so much so that it caused his tragic death by suicide.

José de Espronceda was another of the great Romantics. In his poems the main Romantic themes appeared, although his most well-know poem is the “Canción del Pirata” (Song of the Pirate). As an idealist social outcast who lived on a boat and searched for adventure, the pirate was a symbol of freedom. He fit perfectly into the Romantic spirit.

Subsequently two of the greatest names in Spanish Romanticism appeared: Gustavo Adolfo Bécquer and Rosalía de Castro. The former was famous for his “Rimas y Leyendas” (Rhymes and Legends). His Rhymes innovated new meters which were full of rhythm and musicality. They were poems that talked about love and poetic creativity. The Legends were short prose texts which relayed popular legends that had been recreated by the author. The latter was a female author who wrote in Galician. Her lyrical works reached insurmountable success within female literature of the 19th century.

The novel also reappeared in Spain in its historical paradigm, such as “El Señor de Bembibre” by Enrique Gil y Carrasco. In which he recreates the story of the Knights Templar in Bierzo (a region in León). This historical novel created fantastic events that were based on real ones. He mixed real historical characters with imaginary characters in his eagerness to rewrite and interpret history. He wasn´t trying to teach, he wanted to deduce present reality from previous events. This paradigm has remained valid even until today, despite losing its importance during the Realism movement at the end of the 19th century.