Academic journal article Bulletin of Hispanic Studies

The Limits of 'Spanishness' in Nineteenth-Century Spanish Literary History*

Academic journal article Bulletin of Hispanic Studies

The Limits of 'Spanishness' in Nineteenth-Century Spanish Literary History*

Article excerpt


This article analyses some of the most representative histories of Spanish literature written during the nineteenth century (both in and outside Spain), to show the different definitions they offer of the limits of Spain and Spanishness: the chronological, linguistic and geographical limits set to the Spanish nation and literature, but also the inner limits of Spanishness; the conceptual, aesthetical or ideological limits that divide Spanish literature from not-so-Spanish literature, even within the external limits previously defined. I will also study, however briefly, how these configurations of the limits of Spanishness affect the selection and assessment of literary works.


El presente artículo analiza algunos de las producciones más representativas de la historiografía literaria española del siglo XIX, producida tanto en España como en el extranjero, para mostrar la definición de lo español que subyace en ellas, en especial en relación con los límites atribuidos a la nación y a la literatura española: no solo los límites externos, cronológicos, geográficos o lingüísticos, sino tambien los limites internos: la conceptualización estética o ideológica de lo español mediante la cual es posible distinguir la literatura nacional de la no nacional. También se estudiará, si bien de manera sucinta, el modo en que estas definiciones de los límites de lo español afectan a la selección y configuración del canon literario.

Historiography, in its modern, narrative form derived from its nineteenthcentury tradition, is still subject to extensive and sometimes harsh debates about its validity as a scientific tool or as a cultural or ideological artifact;1 literary historiography, sometimes considered merely as a branch of the former (or of 'cultural history', be it what it may), and at other times as a whole new epistemological field, is not less complicated in its epistemological, theoretical and even practical foundations.2 In fact, it could be argued that apart from sharing the common questions and instabilities of any narrative history, literary history must face specific problems that haunt it to these days - but these, paradoxically enough, have not stopped it from developing for over two centuries with a great deal of editorial and scholarly success.3 Its teleological narrative form, its ability to grasp its object, which at the same time evades temporality and resists chronology; its ideological and nationalistic debts, and its guilty relations with power, nation, institution and canon, all of which have been questioned in the last century, have rendered its status questionable at best; indefensible at worst. In the much quoted words of Lawrence Lipking, 'literary history used to be impossible to write; lately it has become much harder' (1995: 1).

All these theoretical and historiographic debates have had their counterparts in Spain, a country in which literary history has played a central role in the national educational system since its development by the middle of the nineteenth century (see Carolyn Boyd 2000; Pérez Isasi 2010). As early as 1978, in his article 'Sobre el objeto del cambio literario', Claudio Guillén asked for a detailed study of the process of canon creation in Spain; his request was partially answered by the works of José Carlos Mainer (2000, 2003, among others), a pioneer of historiographic studies in Spain, with a focus on the social and ideological aspects of the process. Since then, the corpus of works which deal with literary historiography in its general, theoretical implications or in its actual textual configuration regarding particular authors or texts, has increased exponentially.4

This is, precisely, the critical and theoretical background in which this article should be considered. My aim is to analyse Spanish nineteenth-century literary historiography (a wide corpus that includes histories of Spanish literature written in Spain and abroad; histories of Spanish literature per se and their pedagogical equivalents: textbooks of Spanish literary history directly published to be used in the classroom5), not only to demonstrate its close relationship with the process of the creation of a nation state, which is already quite solidly established,6 but more precisely to make explicit the specific (and often implicit) limits of the national literature such works describe: the external, chronological, geographical, linguistic or cultural frontiers of historiography, as well as its internal, conceptual, ideological or identitarian ones. …

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