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

By Gerald Brenan | Go to book overview

CHAPTER XVII
POSTSCRIPT

AT THE end of a long book such as this, covering so many centuries of literature, certain reflections come into the mind and certain authors emerge with especial vividness. It may be useful if I put down a few of the things that occur to me.

In Spanish prose three or four books written before the middle of the nineteenth century stand out above all the others: La Celestina, Don Quixote, Quevedo Sueños and Lazarillo de Tormes. Of these La Celestina seems to me the one that is most alive today. Cervantes' novel, great and many-sided though it is, has defects of unevenness, forced gusto and uncertainty of intention that, rightly or wrongly, diminish the pleasure we get from it, but La Celestina makes the impression of a clear and untarnished work, fit for the admiration of every age. It is not only the first European novel, but one of the greatest. Quevedo occupies a place by himself: he is an expressionist writer, both bitter and buffoonish, with a vivid imagination and a prodigious power over language. But though he was one of the greatest literary performers of all time, he lacked judgment and spent his talent either on occasional works or on moral and political treatises that have dated. Lazarillo could not be more different. Slight and trivial at first sight, because it is deliberately underwritten, it displays to perfection that fine, sad and penetrating observation which is one of the especial things in Spanish literature. For this reason it is among those seminal books that have had a long line of descendants.

In more recent times two novelists stand out as European figures --Pérez Galdós and Pío Baroja. Galdós is one of the major novelists, yet a certain exuberance and wordiness in his manner, despite his fundamental pessimism, have put him under a cloud with contemporary readers. He is, besides, the end and consummation of a great age of novel writing, rather than the beginning of a new one.

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