Intermediate Historical Literature Terms in Spanish

Instructor: Aida Vega Felgueroso

Aida has taught Spanish at the University in Italy. Spanish is her mother tongue and she has a master's degree in Spanish Language and Literature.

In this lesson we will look at some important terms of historical literature in Spanish. We will examine several successful literary genres and both Spanish and Latin American literary movements in chronological order.

The Beginning to the Early Modern Period

The earliest known literary period is Edad Media (Middle Age), which lasted from the beginning of the 13th century until 1492. During this period, religious books were written like Los milagros de Nuestra Señora (Miracles of Our Lady) by Gonzalo de Berceo and also secular books such as El libro del Conde Lucanor (The Tales of Count Lucanor) by Juan Manuel.

The most important work of medieval times is Cantar de Mio Cid (The Poem of the Cid), an anonymous epic poem that tells the adventures of Rodrigo de Vivar, called Cid.

Manuscript of Cantar de mio Cid, written in ancient Spanish

Renacimiento (Renaissance) is a cultural movement that occurred at the end of the Middle Ages (15th and 16th centuries). Literary works at this time focused on the problems of men and society. In addition, new stanzas and verses were invented. The ideal of the Renaissance is balance, which can be appreciated in the poetry of Garcilaso de la Vega.

The Renaissance began a time of great splendor that continued into the Baroque period. In the 16th century, Barroco (Baroque) changed the ideals of the Renaissance from balance and austerity to excess and movement. Baroque heroes are anguished by life and death. During this period Góngora, Quevedo, Lope de Vega and Calderón de la Barca wrote.

Novelas de caballerías (chivalry books) were written at the end of the Middle Ages until the sixteenth century. They were adventures carried out by a brave and loyal knight who, for the platonic love of a beautiful lady, faces terrible enemies (real or fantastic, like giants and sorcerers).

Cover of Amadis de Gaula, the most famous knight errant

Novela picaresca (picaresque novel) emerged in the transition between the Renaissance and the Baroque. It depicted society using realism. The protagonist was a pícaro (rogue), a very poor boy usually without family, money, or culture, having only two things: a perpetual hunger and a lot of ingenuity. The first and most famous work is Las aventuras de Lazarillo de Tormes (The Adventures of Lazarillo de Tormes).

Siglo de Oro (Golden Age) started approximately in the beginning of the 16th century and finished at the end of the 17th century. These were years of great splendor in Spanish literature. During the Golden Age many of the greatest Spanish writers wrote like Miguel de Cervantes.

The Varied 19th Century

Romanticismo (romanticism) occurred in the first half of the nineteenth century. Romantic writers preferred subjects like freedom, rebellion, and passionate love. Duque de Rivas, José de Espronceda and José Zorrilla were well-known romantic authors.

Espronceda, his work and his turbulent life made him the best-known romantic poet.

Realismo (realism) is the opposite of romanticism. It was developed primarily in the second half of the nineteenth century. The realist authors wanted to describe reality as it was, indicating the problems that afflicted men. Benito Pérez Gadós was a prolific realist writer.

Realism evolved, and some of its followers switched to naturalismo (naturalism), an exaggerated realism that focused on marginalized people and diseases. In Spanish literature, the following writers were naturalists: Leopoldo Alas (known by his pseudonym Clarín), Emilia Pardo Bazán, and Vicente Blasco Ibáñez.

Generación del 98 (generation of '98) were a group of Spanish authors who wrote at the end of the 19th century. The name comes from the year 1898, a year in which Spain lost Cuba and the Philippines, its last colonies. The writers of '98 (Antonio Machado, Miguel de Unamuno, Azorín, Pío Baroja, etc.) were characterized by a deep political concern for the future of Spain and a certain pessimism.

Campos de Castilla by Antonio Machado, representative of the Generation of 98

Literary Movements in America

Literatura colonial (colonial literature) was written in the Spanish-speaking countries of the Americas while they were Spanish colonies (from the 17th to the 18th century). This period has different characteristics depending on the precise moment and the country, but it is usually divided into: classical, baroque, and neoclassical periods.

Modernismo (modernismo) occurred in the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries and was born in America. Its main representative was the Nicaraguan Rubén Darío. Modernism was characterized by a careful, refined and sensual language full of brilliant metaphors. The modernists placed their works in exotic, distant and refined environments.

Ruben Dario, modernista, his poems are full of color and music.

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