*Larra, Mariano José de
Larra, Mariano José de
Mariano José de Larra’s output as an essayist was prodigious, and he gained from his essays a reputation as the first great modern Spanish writer. In addition to a novel, three original dramas, seven play translations, and several poems, he produced over 270 articles in only nine years. The depth and variety of his essays are likewise impressive, encompassing political, social, cultural, literary, and other issues, and provoking diverse and even antagonistic opinions. During the past 35 years his essays have received tremendous attention, which is evidence of their prominence in Hispanic and global literatures.
Larra’s career as an essayist began when he founded El Duende Satírico del Día (The satiric spirit of the day) in February 1828. It was closed by the government for its social and political satires on 31 December 1828, after publishing only eight articles. He wrote no more articles until August 1832, when he founded El Pobrecito Hablador (The poor little tattler), where he established himself as a satirist. He solidified his career in La Revista Española (The Spanish review) from November 1832 to 1835. He also wrote simultaneously for other periodicals and weeklies such as El Correo de las Damas (The ladies’ post), El Observador (The observer), and others, until he committed suicide in 1837. He never published his essays under his real name, using several pen names until he settled on Fígaro in 1833.
The articles published in El Duende Satírico del Día are insignificant—Larra even excluded them from his first collection published in 1835. These first articles suffered from many of the deficiencies characteristic of Spanish literature of that time, inherited from the previous century, such as excessive use of Latin words and gross abuse of gallicisms, quotations, and epigraphs, as well as the rigid neoclassical norms. Later essays, however, better illustrate the degree of development and civilization of contemporary Spanish society. Larra had the most lucid Spanish mind of his time, leading his contemporaries by several decades. This gave his articles a modern feel, and for that reason he still is in many ways a relevant author as well as perhaps the most outstanding figure of Spanish Romanticism.
Larra’s life coincided with a monumental national crisis. During this period Spain suffered the atrocities and devastation of Napoleon’s war. Then, upon King Ferdinand VII’s return from exile in France, he rejected the newly drafted Constitution, ruled with an iron fist, had hundreds of liberals executed, and forced thousands into exile in France and England. He even had universities closed and opened instead a bullfighting school.
At his death in September 1833, the Carlist Civil War engulfed the country. During Larra’s life Spain never enjoyed a truly constitutional government such as various European countries had at that time. His desire, then, was to change Spain into a modern progressive nation, as he wrote in “Dos liberales, o lo que es entenderse: Segundo artículo” (1834; Two liberals, or understanding each other: second article): “This [Spain] does not go forward, and only a continuous opposition may save us. Target them, therefore, Mr. Fígaro, and reform them with your satires.”
For Larra, Spain was a grotesque deformation of Europe in which the Spanish people were subject to the will of a parasitic aristocracy and an avaricious clergy. His goal was to achieve social justice, and as late as August 1835 he believed that Spain soon would liberate itself from such horrible oppression. He wrote in “Conventos españoles: Tesoros artísticos” (Spanish convents: artistic treasures) that Spain “is at the critical moment of the transition, transition which could be more abrupt the more it has been desired and delayed.” Thus Larra became perhaps the most authentic revolutionary of the entire Spanish 19th century, as some critics have stated. Less than a year later, however, he had lost all hope of reform in Spain. Although in Larra’s opinion Europe had achieved a greater degree of political liberty than Spain, it still was not fully democratic either. He wrote in “Cuasi: Pesadilla política” (1835; Almost: political nightmare): “[there is] an almost eternal struggle in Europe between two principles: kings and people”—a struggle between the monarchies’ desire to preserve their absolute power and the people’s wish to establish democracy.
Larra’s readers had an important bearing on his style, since he believed that writer and reader were bound together in a collective effort. This explains the dialogic nature of most of his essays, at times addressing his reader directly in a conversational tone.
Although he addressed a large and diverse patronage, he assumed a high intellectual level in his readership. He left untranslated his quotations in Latin, French, English, and other languages, but the meanings are contextually lucid. Critics consider that he was the writer of his time who contributed most to the modernization of Spanish literary language and style. He was a precursor to the 20th-century Spanish essayists and philosophers Miguel de Unamuno and José Ortega y Gasset, although Larra’s essays are less philosophical.
Larra’s vocabulary, while extensive, is never obscure. It contains many neologisms and his ideas develop frequently through images and metaphors. His handling of viewpoints is complex and challenging, resorting to skillful ironies, distortion, and mirror techniques to outwit the strict censorship. His essays demand that today’s reader be well-versed in Spanish culture and history of that time fully to comprehend his subtleties; they also require knowledge of Spanish, for the ironies and hidden meanings in his writings make translation difficult. Critics connect Larra’s essays with the clandestine press of the end of the Spanish 18th century, especially with the writings of León de Arroyal, José Marchena, and Juan Bautista Picornell, as well as with Francisco de Quevedo and Francisco de Goya. He also had affinities to such British writers as Addison, Steele, and Swift, or the French Étienne de Jouy, Louis Sébastien Mercier, Restif de la Bretonne, and others. But Larra’s essays, particularly after the death of Ferdinand VII in September 1833, capture the nature of the changes taking place in Spanish society.
As a critic Larra censured all that was an obstacle for the reform of Spain according to his progressive ideology. As a refined satirist, however, his attacks were never directed at a named person, but rather at deplorable acts. Since he takes issue with certain women’s shortcomings, some shortsighted critics have accused him of misogyny, but on the contrary, he was a strong supporter of women’s liberation, directly opposing the misogyny of others, for example in the review of “Todo por mi padre, escándalo en tres actos” (1837; Everything for my father, scandal in three acts): “It is commonly said that women are vulnerable 15 minutes a day. It would be useful to know when this occurs… we respect them too much to pay attention to such vulgarities.” He blamed men’s control of Spanish society and the lack of women’s education for the denial of their rights and the abuses they suffered.
Larra’s essays, despite their thematic diversity, constitute a work of great unity of objectives and techniques. Spain and the problems of the Spanish people are the common thread in his essays. Sadly, seeing such a depressing situation in his country, Larra lost his hope and the will to fight any longer for his ideals, as he wrote in “El día de difuntos de 1836: Fígaro en el cementerio” (1836; All-Souls’ Day 1836: Fígaro in the cemetery):
“My heart is but another sepulcher… Here lies hope!” Three months and II days later he committed suicide, an act he had already committed in his mind.
Mariano José de Larra y Sánchez de Castro. Used the pseudonyms Fígaro, El Duende, El Pobrecito Hablador, and others. Born 24 March 1809 in Madrid. Father collaborated with Napoleon, and family forced to flee to France, 1813; lived six months in Bordeaux;
studied in Paris; family returned to Spain, 1818. Studied at the Escuelas Pías de San Antón; Colegio Imperial de la Compañía de Jesús, Madrid, 1823–14; studied philosophy in Valladolid, 1824–25, and in Madrid, 1825–26. Founder, El Duende Satírico del Día, 1828, and El Pobrecito Hablador, 1832–33; drama critic, La Revista Española, 1832–35;
columnist, El Observador, Revista Mensajero (Messenger review), and El Correo de las Damas, 1833–35, and El Español, El Mundo (The world), and El Redactor General (The general editor), all 1836. Married Josefina Wetoret y Martínez [Pepita Martínez], 1829 (separated, 1834): one son and two daughters. Intimate liaison with Dolores Armijo, which ended when she decided to return to her husband; he shot himself that night. Died (suicide by gunshot) in Madrid, 13 February 1837.
Essays and Related Prose
Fígaro: Coleción de artículos dramáticos, literarios, políticos y de costumbres, 5 vols., 1835–37; edited by Alejandro Pérez Vidal, 1989
Colección de artículos: Artículos dramáticos, literarios, políticos y de costumbres, publicados en varios periódicos de España (as Fígaro), 1844
Artículos de costumbres, 2 vols., 1874–75; edited by José R.Lomba y Pedraja, 3 vols., 1923–27; selections edited by Rubén Benítez, 1987, and Luis F.Díaz Larios, 1989
Postfígaro: Artículos no coleccionados, 2 vols., 1918
Artículos de crítica literaria y artística, edited by José R.Lomba y Pedraja, 1923
Artículos políticos y sociales, edited by José R.Lomba y Pedraja, 1927
Los mejores artículos, edited by Alberto de Segovia, 1930
Selected Essays, edited by Caroline B.Bourland, 1932
Artículos completos, edited by Melchor de Almagro San Martín, 1944
Artículos varios, edited by E.Correa Calderón, 1976
Escritos sobre teatro, edited by José Monleón, 1976
Antología, edited by Armando L.Salinas, 1977
Artículos sociales, políticos y de crítica literaria, edited by Juan Cano Ballesta, 1982
Las palabras: Artículos y ensayos, edited by José Luis Varela, 1982
Artículos, edited by Enrique Rubio, 1984
Other writings: three plays, a historical novel, and poetry.
Collected works edition: Obras, edited by Carlos Seco Serrano, in Biblioteca de autores españoles, 127–30, 4 vols., 1960.
Aymes, Jean-René, “Las interpretaciones de la obra de Mariano José de Larra (1837– 1978),” in Evocaciones del romanticismo hispánico, edited by John R.Rosenberg, Madrid: Porrúa, 1988
Azorín, Rivas y Larra, in his Obras completas, vol. 3, Madrid: Aguilar, 1961
Escobar, José, “‘El Pobrecito Hablador,’ de Larra, y su intención satírica,” Papeles de Son Armadans 64 (1972):5–44
Escobar, José, Los orígenes de la obra de Larra, Madrid: Prensa Española, 1973
Fabra Barreiro, Gustavo, “El pensamiento vivo de Larra,” Revista de Occidente 50 (1967):129–52
Hendrix, William, “An Early Nineteenth Century Essayist,” Texas Review 4 (1918– 19):238–44
Ile, Paul, “Larra’s Nightmare,” Revista Hispánica Moderna 38 (1974–75):153–61
Kirkpatrick, Susan, Larra: El laberinto inextricable de un romántico liberal, Madrid: Gredos, 1977
Kirkpatrick, Susan, “Spanish Romanticism and the Liberal Project: The Crisis of M.J.de Larra,” Studies in Romanticism 16 (1977): 451–71
Kirkpatrick, Susan, “Larra and the Spanish ‘mal du siècle’,” in Evocaciones del romanticismo hispánico, edited by John R. Rosenberg, Madrid: Porrúa, 1988
Lorenzo-Rivero, Luis, Larra y Sarmiento: Paralelismos históricos y literarios, Madrid: Guadarrama, 1968
Lorenzo-Rivero, Luis, Estudios literarios sobre Mariano José de Larra, Madrid: Porrúa, 1986
Lorenzo-Rivero, Luis, Larra: Técnicas y perspectivas, Madrid: Porrúa, 1988
McGuire, Elizabeth, A Study of the Writings of D.Mariano José de Larra, Berkeley: University of California Press, 1918
Martín, Gregorio C., “Larra: Los artículos del miedo,” in Evocaciones del romanticismo hispánico, edited by John R. Rosenberg, Madrid: Porrúa, 1988
Ruiz Otín, Doris, Política y sociedad en el vocabulario de Larra, Madrid: Centro de Estudios Constitucionales, 1983
Rumeau, A., “Une copie manuscrite d’oeuvres inédites de Larra: 1836,” Hispanic Review 4 (1936):111–23
Tarr, F.Courtney, “More Light on Larra,” Hispanic Review 4 (1936):89–110
Tarr, F.Courtney, “Larra’s ‘El duende satírico del día,’” in Mariano José de Larra, edited by Rubén Benítez, Madrid: Taurus, 1979
Ullman, Pierre L., Mariano José de Larra and Spanish Political Rhetoric, Madison: University of Wisconsin Press, 1971
Varela, José Luis, Larra y España, Madrid: Espasa-Calpe, 1983
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