Strict criteria based on the Montaignean model yield scant results if they are used in a search for essays through the corpus of Spanish literature. Since 711 Spain has been the Western frontier between the two great branches of Western civilization, Christendom and Islam. The intellectual consequence may be intuited in Lotario’s admonition to Anselmo in Don Quixote (Part I, Ch. 33): “It seems to me, Anselmo, that thine is just now the temper of mind which is always that of the Moors, who can never be brought to the error of their creed by quotations from the Holy Scriptures, or by reasons which depend upon the examination of the understanding or are founded upon the articles of faith, but must have examples that are palpable, easy, intelligible, capable of proof, not admitting of doubt, with mathematical demonstrations that cannot be denied, like, ‘lf equals be taken from equals, the remainders are equal’.” Cervantes depicts the Muslim mind as having progressed no further than the third Common Notion of Euclid’s Elements of Geometry, whereas the Christian engages in intellectual speculation. Hence the former has remained stuck in Euclidean space whereas the latter can ponder the indivisibility of infinity because he has been indoctrinated in the Athanasian Creed, which posits that the Father, Son, and Holy Ghost are uncreated, illimitable, and eternal and yet there are not three, but only one uncreated, illimitable, and eternal.
We now know that the Moors never went beyond their invention, al-jabr (algebra), and fell into intellectual oblivion while the Christians developed what Oswald Spengler calls the Faustian mathematics of capitalism, as well as, of course, the essay, a creation of secularized Christendom (also known as Western Civilization). But Cervantes was more broadminded than his nation’s rulers. Scientific advances were reserved for the rest of Europe whereas in Spain people were denounced to the Inquisition for being mathematicians. Saint Teresa (1515–82,), whose El castillo interior, o Tratado de las moradas (1588; Interior Castle) is deemed by José Luis Gómez-Martínez (1981) to be a model of the spiritual essay, writes in the penultimate chapter of her autobiography:
“While reciting the psalm ‘Quicumque vult’ [i.e. the Athanasian Creed] I was given to understand the manner in which there were one God and three persons, so clearly, that I was awed and greatly consoled. It benefited me greatly in understanding the greatness of God and his wonders, and when I think of the Holy Trinity or when it comes up, it seems that I understand how it can be, and it brings me much contentment.” In Spain, then, engaging in especulacion del entendimiento (examination of the understanding) with respect to the indivisibility of infinity appears limited to mystical experience; intellectual speculation in general posed considerable danger.
Owing to this danger, the Spanish mind is usually too cautious to divagate publicly.
When a reforming elite acquires power, as during the 18th-century Enlightenment, the consciousness of its role induces it to keep its distance. (An exception to this habit occurs when the intellectual elite is marginalized, as were the early Liberals and the Generation of 1898.) The Spaniard presents a courteous exterior but his interior is hermetically sealed, so that digression and wearing one’s heart on one’s sleeve, important Montaignean criteria, are rare in Spanish literature. Yet the elegance, wit, and subtlety found in Spain’s nonfictional prose more than compensate for this reticence.
When the danger seemed to dissipate, personal opinions were revealed in a manner untypical of Montaignean equanimity. Thus, the great novelist Pio Baroja (1872–1956), addressing his fellow Basques in his collection of essays entitled Las horas solitarias (1918; The solitary hours), judges the mentality of his compatriots in his usual caustic manner: “When one sees a Moor holding one book containing the whole truth, one understands that his race will never produce a Kant or a Newton. The majority of Spaniards, and almost all Basques, are Moors who, instead of carrying the Koran, bear in their spirit the doctrine of Father Astete.” The Jesuit Gaspar Astete’s (1537–1601) Doctrina Cristiana (1599; Christian doctrine) was one of the most widely translated and enduring Spanish works of all time.
It is appropriate, then, to broaden the concept of the essay by speaking of subgenres in which we find works that possess specific literary qualities: mystical essays, biographical essays, satiric essays, political, literary, social, journalistic, and philosophical essays.
Even though the purist may categorize some as treatises and others as newpaper articles, they truly possess artistic quality. Moreover, the masterpieces of Spanish literature are often in hybrid genres.
Because it is the only subgenre offering real continuity for several centuries, the feminist essay merits consideration apart from the chronological arrangement used for the rest of the genre. We can begin with the seven “Prohemios” (Proems) placed by Álvaro de Luna (1388?–1453) at the head of his Libro de las claras y virtuosas mujeres (1446;
Book of famous and virtuous women), dedicated to the queen. Its author, who seems to have been in correspondence with Joan of Arc, states that women should be allowed to do battle if they wish, and argues that woman is not more responsible than man for the Fall.
Another important 15th-century work in this vein is the Triunfo de las donas (Triumph of the ladies) by Juan Rodríguez de la Cámara (c. 1390–c. 1450) who, among other topics, argues that it is woman who evinces the superiority of humankind to the animals because, unlike their females, she looks heavenward during coitus. Not until the early 18th century, however, do we find a truly modern feminist treatise, Defensa de la mujer (Defense of woman), by the most famous of all Spanish essayists, the Benedictine monk Benito Jeronimo Feijóo y Montenegro (1676–1764). Josefa Amar y Borbón (1749– 1833) was the first Spanish woman to write feminist essays. The 19th century brings us La mujer (1860; The woman), a book of feminist articles by the Cuban-born poet Gertrudis Gómez de Avellaneda (1814–73), a book and an article by Concepción Sáiz (1850–?), and Concepción Arenal’s (1820–93) La mujer del porvenir (1868; The woman of the future), which antedates by one year John Stuart Mill’s The Subjection of Women.
Because her father spent most of his life as a political prisoner, Arenal was brought up completely by women. In the first edition of her book she argues for the ordination of women to the priesthood and civil rights for the fair sex, though not political rights, fearful that it would double the number of assassinations and thus leave children totally rather than half-orphaned. After being informed of the peaceful results of female suffrage in parts of the United States, she changed her position on this point. Arenal was followed as leader of the feminist movement by the great novelist Countess Emilia Pardo Bazan (1851–1921), who, as a faithful Catholic, opposed feminine ordination, and, as a fairly conservative monarchist, opposed universal male suffrage as well because the latter would theoretically allow all males to subjugate all females. In truth, it did not bother her to have the political privileges of the moneyed classes maintained. A dozen years after her death the liberals finally agreed to enfranchise women who then, influenced by the priests, voted them out of power. The most outstanding feminist essayists of the 20th century are María de Maeztu y Whitney (1882–1948) and Carmen Díaz de Mendoza, Countess of San Luis (?–1929).
Antecedents of the essay appear early, as Spain was the first land in Europe to replace Latin with the vernacular in expository prose, partly in order to accommodate Jewish translators of Arabic books. King Alfonso the Learned (1221–84) encouraged the enrichment of Castilian in order to make it suitable for the many important treatises whose redaction he supervised. Oriental literature translated from Arabic sources under his aegis influenced his nephew, Don Juan Manuel (1282–1349?), whose treatises on the education of princes, Libro de los estados (wr. c. 1330; Book of estates), and on the meaning of life, Balaam y Josafat, exhibit a tolerant pragmatism anticipating the humanist basis of the essay. In the kingdom of Aragon, Ramon Llull (i.e. Raymond Lully, 1232–1315) and Francesch Eximenis (1340–1409), the medieval precursors of the mystic essay, wrote in Catalan.
The biographical essay was initiated in the 15th century with Generaciones y semblanzas (Generations and portraits) by Fernán Pérez de Guzmán (1376–1460) and Claros varones de Castilla (1486; Famous men of Castile) by Hernando del Pulgar (1436–93). These pithy sketches of the outstanding figures of the 15th century display unusual expressiveness in manifesting the authors’ psychological intuition, for example, in Pérez de Guzmán’s depiction of his uncle, the statesman, diplomat, and scholar Pero López de Ayala (1332–1407) who, as a historiographer, is comparable to his model, Livy. Of great interest likewise are his sketches of three bishops, the first of noble blood, the second of peasant stock, and the third, Pablo de Santa María, Bishop of Burgos, a converted Jew who had been Grand Rabbi of that city. His son (born before his conversion) Alonso de Cartagena (1384–1456), also bishop of Burgos like his father, authored the Respuesta al Marques de Santillana (1444; Reply to the Marquise of Santillana), considered by Juan Marichal (1957) to be the first essay written in Castilian.
Two famous Renaissance thinkers who left Spain wrote their treatises in Latin. Juan Luis Vives (1492–1540) held important posts in England but, as a faithful Catholic, left because of his opposition to Henry VIII’s divorce; his De subventione pauperum (1526;
Concerning the Relief of the Poor) supposedly marks the beginning of the so-called Protestant ethic. Miguel Servet (1511–53), a forerunner of William Harvey in researching the circulation of the blood, authored De Trinitatis erroribus (1531; On the Errors of the Trinity), which eventually led to his burning at the stake in Geneva by Calvin and to his esteem among Unitarians. The writings of Erasmists like the Valdés brothers, Alfonso (1490–1532) and Juan (1501?–41), Pedro Mexía (1497–1551), Cristóbal de Villalón (c. 1505–58), and Antonio de Torquemada (fl. 1553–70) cannot really be called essays, but they strongly influenced the genre, and some of them were translated into English in their day. Closer to the genre are works by Antonio de Guevara (1480?–1545), whose Reloj de príncipes (1529; The Dial of Princes) was widely translated. Its most appreciated item is “El villano del Danubio” (“The Peasant of the Danube”), a fictional appeal to a Roman emperor, a veiled allegory, in Américo Castro’s opinion, of the manner in which the Indians were being treated by the Spaniards. The antithetical rhetoric of Guevara distances his work from the essay genre, especially in Menosprecio de corte y alabanza de aldea (1539; Scorn for the city and praise for the country), which has not been translated into English, although another work was passed off on the British public with this title and authorship. If we admit that the pseudo-epistolary genre is a variant of the essay, then his Epístolas familiares (1539–41; Golden Epistles), many of which likewise have not been translated, are essays in the most humanistic sense of the word. It may puzzle the contemporary mind to learn that Guevara was, among other things, an Inquisitor, one of the many honors bestowed upon him which he could hardly turn down.
Yet we must remember that what characterizes Spanish Renaissance thought is the attempt to Christianize humanism, as evidenced in the didactic prose of Fray Luis de Granada (1504–88), a precursor of Saint Teresa and Fray Luis de León (1527–91).
The baroque period provides us with an anti-Machiavellian treatise, Política de Dios y gobierno de Cristo (wr. 1617, pub. 1626; Politics of God and government of Christ), by the great poet and picaresque novelist Quevedo (1580–1645), and his ascetic treatise, La cuna y la sepultura (1635; The cradle and the grave). Quevedo’s writing is always cited as a model of conceptismo (style laden with figures of thought), as opposed to the culteranismo (style laden with rhetorical figures) of the poet Luis de Góngora y Argote (1561–1627). In this respect the Jesuit Baltasar Gracián (1601–58) is a follower of Quevedo. His Criticón (1651–57; The Critick) may be deemed a hybrid of novel and essay, but other works, such as El héroe (1637; The Hero), El político D.Fernando el Católico (1640; The politician Fernand the Catholic), and El discreto (1646; The discreet man, translated as The Complet Gentleman) fall more closely within the essay genre.
The advent of the Bourbons in the 18th century brought about a long-needed process of renovation and modernization to lift the country from Habsburg decadence. At the beginning of the Spanish Enlightenment the genre was dominated by Feijoo, although some of the writings of Diego de Torres Villarroel (c. 1694–1770) can be considered satiric essays. In the second half we find the incorruptible statesman Gaspar Melchor de Jovellanos (1744–1811), some of whose best work was composed during his political imprisonment. The first person is sparingly used in the expository prose of the Age of Reason, but personal revelation emerges at times in the work of the pre-Romantic José Cadalso (1741–82). His Cartas marruecas (wr. 1789, pub. 1793; Moroccan letters), inspired formally by Montesquieu’s Lettres Persanes (1730; Persian Letters) but ideologically by Oliver Goldsmith’s The Citizen ofthe World (1762), is a hybrid of essay and epistolary novel, with three correspondents rather than Montesquieu’s two, and traditional enemies rather than inhabitants of a distant nation. Cadalso’s Los eruditos a la violeta (1772; The pseudo-intellectuals), on the other hand, is a long satiric essay directed at pedantry. Among the many other meritorious works advocating national reform and modernization, one example is the Cartas sobre los obstáculos que la naturaleza, la opinión y las leyes oponen a la felicidad pública (1808; Letters on the obstacles that nature, opinion, and laws raise against public prosperity) by the economist and minister Francisco Cabarrús (1752–1810) written from prison in 1795, arguing that freedom is necessary for economic development. In the epistolary genre, mention must be made of the letters and impressions of foreign travel, especially to England, of the great playwright Leandro Fernandez de Moratin (1760–1828), which in many instances border on the essay. It must also be pointed out that in the 18th century the renovation and perfection of the means of expression were of great concern to reformers, so that excellence of expository style gave treatises the status of literature. Hence the writings of men like the cultural historian Juan Pablo Forner (1756–97), the philologers Gregorio Mayáns y Síscar (1699–1781) and Lorenzo Hervás y Panduro (1735–1809), the aesthetician Esteban de Arteaga (1747–98), the rhetorician Antonio de Capmany (1742– 1813), and the art critic Antonio Ponz (1725–92) may be included within the essay genre.
The period following the Napoleonic occupation was characterized by growing progressive and liberal agitation, cruelly repressed by traditionalist tyranny. As ecclesiastical authorities were sufficiently influential to suppress the drama and the novel, a genre known as costumbrismo, emulating French writers like Victor Jouy, made its way into newspapers to describe local color, plentiful in a growing capital to which peasants from various parts of Spain, with their peculiar dress, speech, and habits, were migrating in large numbers. The genre culminated in a collection entitled Los espanoles pintados por sí mismos (1843–44; The Spaniards, painted by themselves). Some of its practitioners, like Ramon de Mesonero Romanos (1803–82.), were able to inject social criticism into their often witty sketches, but all were outshone by the Romantic suicide Mariano José de Larra (1809–37), who passed off his subtle barbs of political satire as costumbrismo. Mention should also be made of the Letters from Spain (1822), political
essays written in English by the exiled poet José María Blanco White (1775–1841). It has been argued that Romanticism came late to Spain owing to rigid censorship during the reign of Ferdinand VII. Its displacement of neoclassicism was marked by a literary controversy between Juan Nicolás Böhl von Faber (1770–1863) and Antonio Alcal Galiano (1789–1865).
The Romantics were followed by the disciples of Julián Sanz del Río (1814–69), who brought back from his studies in Germany the philosophy of Karl Christian Friedrich Krause, whose “panentheism” suited the reforming efforts of the somewhat mystical mentality of the post-Romantic generation. Unlike the Enlightenment reformers, the followers of Krausismo, distmstful of the corrigibility or efficacy of governmental institutions, placed their hopes on the perfectibility of man. By making beauty equivalent to truth and goodness, the Krausists, as Juan López-Morillas (1956) points out, confused metaphysics, aesthetics, and epistemology. From their harmonic rationalism, apparently derived from Pythagorean ideas about music, they concluded that only by the study of art, which reveals the secret galleries of the genuine collective spirit, can history be truly humanized and point the way to universal harmony. Identifying epic poetry with homogeneous and unified culture, and lyric poetry with cultural bankruptcy, pluralist variety, and discordant multiculturalism, Krausists looked forward to a period of reconciliation and harmony brought about by dramatic poetry. Hence they raised the level of respect for belletristic endeavor, an attitude completely new to Spain, and paved the way for the re-examination of its history through its literature, a process that culminated decades later in the work of Américo Castro.
When the Krausists were barred from teaching at the universities, Francisco Giner de los Ríos (1839–1915) founded in 1876 the Institución Libre de Enseñanza (Independent secondary school), which contributed a renewed concept of education to Spain, freeing it from the current practice of indoctrination. The school’s Sunday morning field trips, scheduled at the same time as the church sermons, constituted an astonishing innovation in Spanish pedagogy. Giner’s Estudios sobre educacion (1886; Studies on education) antedate many of John Dewey’s ideas. In this collection can be found “La critica espontanea de los nifios en bellas artes” (The spontaneous criticism of children in the fine arts), describing a field trip to the school of fine arts, which had recently received from Italy plaster casts of sculptures by Donatello and della Robbia; these had just been unpacked and were lying pell-mell on the floor. Giner asked his class which they preferred and why. The gist of the children’s conversations, eventually resulting in a shift of preference from della Robbia to Donatello, is masterfully recounted in Giner’s essay.
Also of great interest are his Estudios literarios (1866; Literary studies), Estudios de literatura y arte (1876; Studies of literature and art), Estudios sobre artes industrials (1892; Studies on industrial arts), and Cartas literarias (1878–79; Literary letters).
According to López-Morillas, Krausismo went through three stages, the first being an exposition of its doctrines by Sanz del Río; the second, their application and hence adaptation by Giner, Francisco Fernández y González (1833–1917), and others, especially Francisco Canalejas (1834–83), whose optimism differentiates him from his colleagues’ meliorism; and the third, represented by Manuel de la Revilla (1846–81) and Urbano González Serrano (1848–1904), in whose thought the philosophy of Krause has been considerably diluted by the influence of positivism, evolutionism, determinism, and neoKantianism. This third generation of Krausists also had to recognize that the dramatic poetry of Romanticism was out of fashion and being replaced by the novel, thus casting doubt on the poetic predictions of their doctrine. Undoubtedly Krausismo had a lasting influence much beyond its time, for example on Unamuno’s concept of intrahistoria and on the Galerías of Antonio Machado’s poetry. At variance with Krausismo, Catholic traditionalism is represented by the diplomat Juan Donoso Cortás (1809–53), whose Ensayo sobre el catolicismo, el liberalismo, y el socialismo (1851; Essay on Catholicism, Liberalism and Socialism) enjoyed some popularity in Germany, by the Thomist Jaime Balmes (1810–48), and by the great literary historiographer Marcelino Menendéz y Pelayo (1856–1912), the Krausists’ most able opponent.
It sometimes happens that persons famous for other genres are not thought of as essayists, even though some of their writings may be more genuinely essayistic than those of colleagues known as practitioners of the genre. Such is the case with the great orator Emilio Castelar (1832–99), who is represented in a well-known collection of the world’s famous orations. His Recuerdos de Italia (1872; Recollections of Italy, translated as Old Rome and New Italy) and Un año en París (1875; A year in Paris) are undeservedly forgotten. Castelar, who argued all his life for social justice, combined an impeccable aesthetic appreciation of architecture with a keen understanding of its dwellers. His insight into the character of the inhabitants of various Italian cities is extraordinary. When dealing with Rome, he spends more time on, of all places, the ghetto than on any other. But then, it was his speech in the 1869 Cortes that brought religious freedom to Spain.
The novelists of the latter part of the 19th century are known as the Generation of 1868, this being the date of a revolution that temporarily dethroned the Bourbons and brought about the short-lived reign of Amadeo of Savoy and the equally shortlived First Republic. Among these novelists we find two outstanding essayists in addition to Emilia Pardo Bazán. Juan Valera (1824–1905), besides his novels, is known for some beautiful short stories and an extraordinary erudition, evident in his literary and historical essays.
Valera was a Platonist repelled by the excesses of the Romanticism prevalent in his youth as well as the positivism in vogue during his mature years, and his moderation served him well in his profession as a diplomat. Valera also excels in the epistolary genre, closely allied to the essay. His witty comments about the upper classes of the lands where he served constitute an eternal source of amusement. In his Cartas desde Rusia (Letters from Russia), composed at the beginning of his diplomatic career when he accompanied the Duque de Gor on a mission to St. Petersburg, he pokes gentle fun at the duke, at one of his colleagues, at the disparity between the classes, at Russian customs, and at the ugliness of the Russian aristocracy while also admiring their luxury and deploring their tyranny. On the other hand, as a moderate monarchist, in his letters from Washington he expresses some disdain for “the Great Republic,” whose capital had no palaces, and makes hilarious comments about American politicians and the courtship customs of their unchaperoned daughters.
Quite different from Valera’s Andalusian wit is the mixture of irony and sentimentality found in the great Asturian novelist Leopoldo Alas, “Clarín” (1852–1901), whose sarcastic “paliques” (chitchats) against intellectual and ecclesiastical backwardness and the mediocrity of literary figures favored by the politicized Royal Academy induced even more vicious attacks from those he ridiculed. When he criticized the Spanish navy for its ineptitude, evidenced by an inexcusable accident, his diminutive stature provided a pretext for turning down a challenge to a duel by angered officers. His Folletos literarios (1886–91; Literary pamphlets) are of similar tenor. When he was quoted as saying that contemporary Spain only had two and a half poets, Clarín, being asked who was the halfpoet, named Manuel de la Revilla. When the latter attacked him in return, Clarín put out a folleto literario entitled A 0,50 poeta (1889; At 0.50 a poet). As a republican, he also directed unjust and nasty barbs at the conservative Catholic Countess Pardo Bazán for her feminism.
Reacting to the loss of the remnants of empire as the result of its war with the United States, a group of young writers to whom one of their members, “Azorín,” gave the name of the “Generation of ‘98,” set out radically to re-examine and alter the Spanish mentality, still immobilized in the ideology developed during the nation’s former glory.
Inspired in part by the provocative attitude of Clarín and the caustic exasperation of Larra, whose fame they revived by a much-touted visit en masse to his grave, this generation periodically enjoyed greater freedom to impugn intellectual routinarianism than any previous one. In the essays of Miguel de Unamuno (1864–1936), who yearned to be the intranquilizador de Espana, we witness the writer’s eagerness to provoke hostile reaction. And some of the 66 articles comprising Las horas solitarias by the great novelist Pío Baroja can almost be called a hybrid of the essay and the temper tantrum. On the other hand, their contemporary, José Martínez Ruiz, “Azorín” (1873–1967), observes the Spanish scene with melancholy, tolerance, and resignation. The great poet Antonio Machado (1875–1939), fictitiously imitating what Plato did for Socrates, composed a long memoir of the thoughts of a nonexistent teacher, Juan de Mairena (1936), which must be called an essay for lack of a better word. The Nobel Prize-winning neurologist Santiago Ramón y Cajal (1852–1934) also published valuable essays on the possibility of scientific renewal in Spain.
Two other important essayists of this generation are Ángel Ganivet (1864–98) and Ramiro de Maeztu (1875–1936), both of whose analyses of the causes of the Spanish character have been superseded by the work of the philologist and historian Américo Castro (1885–1972), greatly influenced in his approach by the ideas of Wilhelm Dilthey.
The generation following that of ‘98, named novecentistas by one of its members, Eugenio d’Ors (1881–1954), includes the physician Gregorio Marafion (1887–1960), who produced extraordinary essays about life in the 16th and 17th centuries from the viewpoints of the history of medicine and Jungian psychology, and the erudite diplomat and novelist, Ramón Pérez de Ayala (1880–1962), whose essays are far more measured than those of the Generation of ‘98. Indeed, there was bound to be a reaction to the belligerency of Unamuno, and it came with José Ortega y Gasset (1883–1955), internationally recognized for his La deshumanización del arte (1925; The Dehumanization of Art) and La rebelión de las masas (1930; The Revolt ofthe Masses), the latter greatly influenced by Oswald Spengler, although a couple of comments regarding the German thinker evince a careless reading on Ortega’s part. His essay on love attempts to rebut Stendhal’s De I’amour (1822; Love) whose author, according to Ortega, was incapable of being in love. Conversely, Ortega, who never produced any fiction, fancied himself a literary critic, in which guise he proved himself incapable of appreciating the art of a great contemporary novelist, Gabriel Miró (1879–1930), some of whose costumbrista sketches surpass this subgenre’s 19th– century models. Another great novelist, Ramón Gómez de la Serna (1888–1963), internationally known for his greguerías, produced several surrealist sketches which fit this subgenre. In this generation we should also mention the humorists Wenceslao Fernández Flórez (1885– 1964) and Julio Camba (1882–1962), whose essays about the United States were widely read in his day, and Manuel Azaña (1880–1940), author of literary essays and President of the Republic.
The sobering experience of the Civil War injected a cautious tone into the genre. The new generation has been divided into the categories of Traditional Humanists, who sought harmony and compatibility among different viewpoints, Liberal Catholic Humanists, and Socialist Humanists. The term “Medical Humanist,” used to characterize Ramón y Cajal and Marañón, was now applied to Pedro Lain Entralgo (1908-), who is also, with the philosophers Xavier Zubiri (1898–1983) and Juan Rof Carballo (1905), a Conservative Humanist. José Luis Aranguren (1909–) is a Traditional Humanist who, along with the political scientist, philosopher, and late Mayor of Madrid Enrique Tierno Galván (1918–86), belongs to Socialist Humanism. The end of the Franco era, the attainment of stability and democratic institutions, and the integration of Spain into the European Community have all provided the freedom to facilitate a flowering of literature and new ideas. Some of the émigrés who had returned during a mitigation of the regime’s severity rejoined those who had remained. This group includes students of Ortega, like the cosmopolitan philosophers Julián Marías (1914–) and José Ferrater Mora (1912–), María Zambrano (1904–91), Joaquín Xirau (1895–1946), and José Gaos (1902–69), as well as the poets Luis Felipe Vivanco (1907–75) and Pedro Salinas (1891–1951), the diplomat Salvador de Madariaga (1886–1978), and the novelists Benjamín Jarnés (1888–1949), Francisco Ayala (1906–), Rosa Chacel (1898–1994), and Carmen Martín Gaite (1925–), along with scholars who combine literary criticism and historiographic method, like José Antonio Maravall (1911–86). Juan Marichal (1922–) argues in one of the essays of La voluntad de estilo (1957; The will for style) that a new sensitivity among the caste of 15th-century conversos (descendants of Jews) is at the bottom of the origins of the Spanish essay. The Nobel Prize-winning novelist Camilo José Cela y Trulock (1916–) has composed two book-length essays about his travels through Spain on foot and by donkey. We cannot fail to mention the immensely popular and witty but erudite El español y los siete pecados capitales (1966; The Spaniard and the Seven Deadly Sins) and books with similar titles about other nations, including France and the United States, by Fernando Díaz-Plaja (1918–), not to be confused with the literary historiographer Guillermo Díaz-Plaja (1909–).
An overview of the Spanish essay reveals that some epochs were quite fruitful while others were almost barren, depending on the political situation. Certainly no period was as fiercely anti-intellectual as the Ominous Decade (1823–43) when, in 1827, the professors of the University of Cervera, most of whom belonged to the clergy, sent to the king an exposition stating that “the dangerous novelty of reasoning lies far from our minds.” At other times Spaniards enjoyed relative freedom. Yet the specter of possible repression never failed to haunt the minds of writers, who consequently preferred to express themselves in poetry or prose fiction that contained allegorical levels. In the words of Blanco White found in El Español of January 1811, “Peoples subjected to governments that do not allow free expression possess the liveliness of deaf-mutes to make themselves understood by signs.” Consequently, in order to put ideas in a mild form acceptable to censorship, some essayists may have made themselves appear more conservative than they really were at heart. Their influence might have been swept aside after a loosening of the reins, but they still deserve respect when we view them in their historical context. Conversely, as a result of revolution or national disaster, new generations engaged in bursts of passion, whose literary expression should also be accepted in its historical context. As Marichal puts it, “In the case of Spain, the essayist’s articulation with contemporaneous society is much more changeable [than in Great Britain], and hence, in our essays, the continuity of literary manner characteristic of the English is not as observable. The Spanish essay will prove its worth if we approach it while keeping in mind that relative social stability and political freedom are by no means universal.”
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El ensayo español del siglo veinte, edited by Donald W.Bleznick, New York: Ronald Press, 1964
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López-Morillas, Juan, The Krausist Movement and Ideological Change in Spain, 1854–1874, Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1981 (original Spanish edition, 1956)
Marichal, Juan, La voluntad de estilo, Barcelona: Seix Barral, 1957; revised, enlarged edition, as Teoria e historia del ensayismo hispánico, Madrid: Alianza, 1984
Mermall, Thomas, The Rhetoric of Hutnanism: Spanish Culture After Ortega y Gasset, Jamaica, New York: Bilingual Press, 1976
Río, Ángel del, Historia de la literatura española, New York: Holt Rinehart Winston, revised edition, 2 vols., 1963 (original edition, 1948)
Salinas y Serrano, Pedro, Reality and the Poet in Spanish Poetry, Baltimore: Johns Hopkins Press, 1940
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