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

By Gerald Brenan | Go to book overview

CHAPTER XVI
THE TWENTIETH CENTURY

As ONE approaches modern times, every art tends to become more interesting. That is why I have written on the literature of the nineteenth century at greater length than its merit, in comparison to that of earlier periods, deserves. If I were to continue in the same way, the past forty years would require at least as much space --all the more since it has been an exceptionally brilliant period. However, as the reader will probably agree, this book is already long enough. Besides, recent literature properly requires a volume to itself, because, being so close to us, it must be viewed with a different focus. Some sort of compromise seems necessary. I propose, therefore, to continue this book on a diminishing scale, discussing only the most important authors and breaking off when I come to the generation that started writing in the 1920'S.

Two different and quite unrelated tendencies moved and directed the writers of the twentieth century. One was the patriotic urge to discover the soul of Spain, to analyse the symptoms of her long decline and sickness and to prescribe a cure for it, and the other was the influence of the symbolist, fin de siècle--call it what one will--literature of France, which, reaching Spain at this time, opened up new and exciting possibilities. Let us begin by speaking of the first of these two tendencies.

We have seen that the Spanish predicament, as I have called it, had imposed itself on some of the greatest writers of the nineteenth century--in particular on Larra, Galdós and Leopoldo Alas--with almost the force of an obsession. To a small group of people in the 'seventies, the principal came of the weakness of their country seemed to be the lack of an élite of able, patriotic men who would fill the most important posts in science, politics and civil administration, and contribute to art and literature. To produce them a reform was needed in the system of higher education. Some such

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