Advanced Historical Literature Terms in Spanish

Instructor: Yolanda Reinoso Barzallo

Yolanda holds a CELTA Cambridge, a Juris Doctorate, and a Master of Public Administration. She is a published author of fiction in Spanish.

Would you like to be able to discuss Spanish literature? You don't have to be intimidated by this topic because this lesson gives you some key Spanish literary history terms along with examples of authors you can use in conversation.

Literature and Society

Historia literaria (literary history) tells you about tendencies that have been present in the production of literature at different stages in history. The interesting aspect of literary production in a specific historical period is its relationship with society at the time. For instance, when you read books that narrate stories related to the Spanish colonization, you get a glimpse of people and culture at that time. Let's analyze some relevant Spanish literary history terms.

Key Terms

In this section, you have key historia literaria terms in Spanish along with corresponding examples. We learn from Dr. Céspedes, a professor of Spanish literature. He mentions that each of the terms below represent a movimiento literario (literary movement), which is a trend in literature at a specific time and place. Some people use the term estilo literario (literary style) instead.


Conceptismo refers to the style of the Spanish Baroque period of the 17th century in which authors use lots of remarkable metaphors, which could either be very concise or could include very elaborate concepts. Precisely, the word conceptismo comes from concepto (concept). Let's see what Dr. Céspedes says about it:

Los autores satíricos usan el conceptismo como método para deshacer las apariencias sociales de una manera muy ingeniosa. (Satirical artists use conceptismo as a method to expose certain social customs in a witty manner.)

Examples: Spanish authors Francisco Gómez de Quevedo y Villegas and Baltasar Gracián


Culteranismo, or gongorismo (Gongorism), is a style of the Baroque period in which authors use exaggerated metaphors and complex language structures to create a sense of very elevated language use in poetry. Dr. Céspedes explains:

La palabra culteranismo viene de cultura. Este término expresa la intención de los autores de darse a conocer por su uso extremadamente culto y complejo del lenguaje a través de la escritura. (The word culteranismo comes from the term 'culture'. This term expresses the intention the authors had to become known for their use of extremely cultured and complex language in writing.)

Examples: Spanish author Luis de Góngora y Argote; Mexican author Sor Juana Inés de la Cruz


Costumbrismo is a technique that emphasizes the traditions and customs that are specific to a region or country. Although this trend began during the time of the Golden Age of Spanish literature (16th–17th centuries), it gained momentum in the first half of the 19th century, particularly in Latin America. Dr. Céspedes says:

El término costumbrismo viene de costumbre. En América Latina, el costumbrismo permitió que las costumbres de los pueblos nativos se evidenciaran en la literatura a fin de que no se perdieran frente al predominio de la conquista española. (The term costumbrismo comes from costumbre, or 'custom'. In Latin America, the costumbrismo allowed authors to make evident the customs of the native peoples so they would not be lost among the predominance of the Spanish conquistadors.)

Examples: Spanish author Emilia Pardo Bazán; Latin American writers José Milla from Guatemala and Esteban Echeverría from Argentina


Existencialismo is a literary style that analyzes human existence in terms of freedom and personal responsibility in a world full of things that don't have those attributes. Dr. Céspedes says:

Probablemente, el existencialismo es el resultado de la soledad y la incomunicación del autor. (Existencialismo is likely the result of solitude and the author's lack of communication with others around.)

Examples: Chilean author Pablo Neruda; Basque writer Miguel de Unamuno


Neoclasicismo comes up as a trend that rejects the complications typical of the Baroque movement and, thus, neoclasicismo goes back to the simple and didactic ways of literary production that are typical of classic literature. Dr. Céspedes tells us:

El neoclasicismo incluye el término neo, que significa nuevo. Esto quiere decir que se vuelve a escribir como en la literatura clásica pero con autores nuevos. (The term neoclasicismo includes the term neo, which means 'new'. This means that new authors go back to writing as the representatives of classic literature did.)

Examples: Cuban-born author José María Heredia; Tomás de Iriarte of Spain.

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