THE ORIGIN of Cuban literature in general and the novel in particular can be traced to Domingo del Monte (1804–1853) and his famed literary circle. A member of the influential sociedad Económica de Amigos del País(Friends of the Country’s Economic Society), del Monte was in charge of the newly constituted literary commission, which he transformed into the Academia Cubana de Literatura. He wanted to promote a Cuban literature that reflected the island’s culture. Del Monte’s ideas were daring for the period, and he encountered resistance from the members of the society who supported slavery. Del Monte is better known for his literary salon, which he held in his home in Matanzas and later in Havana between 1834 and 1839, where he put into practice his ideas on literature and culture. There, he met with writer friends and exposed them to his vast library and the latest European literary currents. He also encouraged them to abandon romanticism and accept realism, which included writing about slavery and incorporating blacks and slaves into the emerging Cuban literature.
To promote his political and literary ideas, del Monte encouraged the slave Juan Francisco Manzano (1797–1854) to write and publish poetry at a time when the slavery laws did not accord slaves the same rights as whites. Manzano was one of Cuba’s first national writers, and his works are at the center of the nascent culture. He published two collections of poems, Poesías líricas (Lyric Poetry, 1821) and Flores pasajeras (Passing Flowers, 1830), and his compositions appeared with some regularity in the major publications of the