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Literature and Writing

Spanish Literature

Esther Tusquets, Carme Riera, mio Cid, Francisco Ayala, Spanish writers

Deeper web pages:

>  The Early Period (1st Century Through 10th Century)

>  Toward a National Literature (10th Century To 15th Century)

>  The Renaissance in Spain (Early- and Mid-16th Century)

>  Spanish Baroque and the Golden Age (Late 16th Through 17th Centuries)

>  Political and Cultural Realignment (18th and 19th Century)

>  Upheaval (Late 19th Century and 20th Century)

Spanish Literature, literature of Spain from about ad 1000 until the present, written in the Spanish language. Spanish literature does not include works in Spanish that originated in Latin America, the Philippines, or the United States. Spanish literature does include a number of works written by Spanish citizens living outside of Spain during the Spanish Civil War (1936-1939) or during the dictatorship of Francisco Franco from 1939 through 1975.

Geography has been an important factor in the development of Spanish literature. Located on the Iberian Peninsula at the southwestern corner of Europe, Spain long remained isolated from the rest of Europe. Trends in other European literatures, if they reached Spain, generally arrived after they had reached other parts of the continent. This isolation enabled Spain to develop its own distinctive literary voice.

Spain’s distinctive literary voice also resulted in part from its diverse population: a combination of groups from the Mediterranean region with rich cultural heritages. Arabs from northern Africa, Jews from the Middle East, and Christians from the Iberian Peninsula intermingled during Spain’s early literary period and created a unique blend of literary styles and subject matter. The influence of each group is evident in some of Spain’s most celebrated literary works, including El cantar de mio Cid (1140; The Song of the Cid) and Libro del Conde Lucanor (1323-1335; Book of Count Lucanor).

Spanish literature takes in many contradictions. It celebrates a combined heritage of Christian, Arabic, and Jewish influences that helped define Spanish culture and history, while at times conforming to the literary styles of European movements such as the Renaissance, romanticism, naturalism, realism, and modernism.

Several historical events significantly influenced Spanish literature. The first of these was the occupation of the Iberian Peninsula from 719 until the late 1400s by Arabic-speaking people from northern Africa known as Moors. The Moors introduced Spain to the Arabic language, the Islamic religion, and a social structure that encouraged academic study of the arts and mathematics. Ironically, the Moors’ presence in Spain also promoted the rise of Christian Spain. Christian kingdoms in the north of Spain gradually reconquered the peninsula and by the early 1500s made a single Spanish dialect, Castilian, the language of the unified land.

An important period in Spanish literature began in the 16th century when Spain, along with other European countries, experienced a burst of intellectual activity in literature, art, and philosophy known as the Renaissance. This creative outpouring led to the Golden Age of Spanish literature from the mid-16th century through the 17th century. During the Golden Age, writers such as Miguel de Cervantes, Tirso de Molina, and Lope de Vega addressed conflicting views of life often described as idealism and realism. Their efforts yielded popular (and sometimes comic) literary styles used for discussions of the universal themes of love, honor, disillusionment, and death.

During the 20th century, the Spanish Civil War and the rise of Franco profoundly influenced Spanish literature. From the late 1920s through the 1970s, authors, poets, and dramatists such as Federico Garcia Lorca, Francisco Ayala, Camilo Jose Cela, and Carmen Laforet addressed political and societal issues of the time, including the brutality and horror of the civil war and its aftermath. Authors found themselves divided into two ideological camps—those who supported the fascist government of Franco and those who opposed it. By the end of the 20th century, Spanish writers once again could write without fear of censorship. A movement led by Esther Tusquets, Paloma Pedrero, Carme Riera, and other writers addressed the idea of literary creation itself and turned to newly permissible subject matter about the state of Spanish society.


Weller, Celia E. Richmond, B.A., M.A., Ph.D.

Professor of Spanish, Whitman College.

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