The Literature of the Spanish People: From Roman Times to the Present Day

By Gerald Brenan | Go to book overview

CHAPTER XV
NINETEENTH-CENTURY PROSE

WE HAVE seen that the principal kinds of literature that sprang up in the 1830's, after the long period of savage wars and reaction had come to an end, were romantic poetry and poetic drama, and that these were really the propaganda weapon of the new Liberal ideology. It was natural that the prose of the day should reflect the political ideas also--in modern parlance, 'be engaged'. We need not be surprised therefore that the greatest writer of this time, the only one whom we can still take up with much pleasure, was a journalist.

Mariano José de Larra--for that was his name--was born in 1809. His father, a man of parts, was an army doctor who, having served under Joseph Bonaparte, was obliged to leave the country in 1814. His son went with him. When in 1817 the child was sent back to live with his mother's relatives in Castile, he spoke only French. Put to school with the Escolapians in Madrid, he grew up to manhood under the ominosa decada, or terror. His first post was in a Government office. Then, as the censorship weakened, he left it to become a journalist, and within a year or two was the greatest journalist that this people so given to reading newspapers has ever had.

The rest of Larra's brief life can be quickly told. His success as a journalist gave him fame and an entry into the best society. He visited Paris and London and married. But he remained an unhappy man. A novel on the Middle Ages and a romantic verse play which he had written were both failures. His marriage turned out a failure too and he formed a liaison with another woman. When she, for reasons of conscience, decided to break with him, he shot himself. He was just twenty-eight.

The articles that Larra scribbled in haste at night for his paper are what we read of his today. It was the age of great journalists.

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