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Spanish Literature

Spanish Literature

Because we know that Learning Spanish is a lot more than just the language, we've made a section about the rich Spanish Culture!


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Spain is rich with talented writers, poets, playwrights... trust us, the list goes on. One such literary master is Miguel de Cervantes, the creator of the legendary Don Quijote, who has been used in all aspects of Spanish culture. Lope de Vega is another example of a Baroque master.

Poetry is a strong force within Spain with many examples proving the statement. What better example than the Generation of 27, featuring the exquisite work of Federico García Lorca, who had been frequently associated with surrealist experts Salvador Dali and Luis Buñuel. If the Generation of 27 doesn't sound like the right group for you, then how about the Generation of 98? Whether you are a passionate connoisseur of the written word or a passing visitor there will be something that will spark your creativity in this section on Spanish literature .

Spanish Literature history

The history of Spanish literature can be traced back centuries and it is clear that over this time, Spanish literature has not only been influenced by the events happening within Spain and across the world, but has also influenced the world itself. Spain has produced some fantastic writers in all genres, many of whom were instrumental in the developments of some of the biggest literary movements. So why not read on and find out more about the history of Spanish literature .

Early Spanish Literature

One of the earliest told stories in Spain is that of 'El Cid' from the 12th century, which was an epic tale that was transmitted from generation to generation by oral repetition. The first written works though appeared in the 13th century when literature began to be cultivated in all of its genres: theatre, poetry and prose. However the real flourish for Spanish literature came with the Renaissance period where there was a lot of Italian influence in Spain. Many of the works produced during this time therefore had a heavy religious tone as well, such as the works of Fray Luis de Leon and San Juan de la Cruz.

Baroque & Enlightenment Literature

One of the most important times for Spanish literature was the Golden Age, in which Baroque literature was all the rage. During this time, countless literary works and productions were produced, among which we can find the ever famous Don Quixote by Miguel de Cervantes. This book has come to represent the height of Spanish literature . However, we must also remember the likes of the playwright Lope de Vega and the poet Quevedo who were also writing during this period.

Following on from the Baroque period, the Enlightenment period represented a change from the old idea of authority as well as a break away from the valuation of feelings and emotions, preferring instead to value reason. During this time, prose and essays were the most cultivated genres, as poetry was seen as too old-fashioned.

Romanticist & Realist Literature

However all this focus on reason and logic couldn't last, and Enlightenment literature was soon overshadowed by Romanticism which preferred feelings and emotions. Romanticist literature was free and did not play by the rules that had governed previous literary movements. Eventually however, writers got bored of the movement, and turned instead to a more realistic approach; hence the birth of Realism in Spanish literature . Realist literature was designed to paint an accurate portrait of society, and avoided the over imaginative styles of Romanticism.

Modern Literature

The 20th and 21st centuries have been a great time of change for Spain, however Spanish literature has developed in a more stunted manner. There are no great literary movements during these years as each writer begins to develop their own individual style. The Spanish Civil War and the Franco dictatorship gave rise to a number of generations of writers - Generation of '98, Generation of '14 and Generation of '27 - who helped to develop Spanish literature. Censorship was one of the major pressures on Spanish literature under Franco as it meant writers had to be much cleverer and more subtle in order to convey their true feelings.

In more recent times, Spanish literature again has seen very little in the way of literary movements. Many of the younger writers choose to write in very realistic styles, commenting and criticizing the modern society they live in. However, with the spread of globalization, many Spanish authors have had their works read by much larger international audiences, hence there are a number of Spanish language authors who have made it on to the lists of top authors in the world.

  • Miguel de Cervantes
  • Federico García Lorca
  • Fernando de Rojas
  • Lope de Vega
  • Miguel de Unamuno
  • Luis de Góngora
  • Antonio Machado
  • Generation of 27
  • Female Authors

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Spanish Literature

The history of Spain has been marked by all types of events, wars, conquests, marriages, deaths... and literature has played an important part in it. From the epic tale of the "Cantar del Mio Cid" to the surrealism present in some of Cela 's works; from the amazing adventures of Don Quixote to the many books recounting the horrors of the Spanish Civil War, Spanish literature has had it's own way of influencing history. Literature is a very important subject in all Spanish schools, and this site is a guide to the evolution of Spanish literature across the centuries.

Best Spanish Books

Classics Spanish Books

Spanish literature has a huge array of must-read books, but to read them all would take you uncountable years. These are the most iconic works of the Spanish literature, from the first manifestation during the 12th century to the great poems of Federico Garcia Lorca.

Spanish Literature - The beginnings

Classics Spanish Books - Jorge Manrique

The history of Spanish literature starts with "El Cantar del Mio Cid" (12th century), an epic narrative that was transmitted orally through the story tellers. However, the first written testimonies of Spanish literature begin in the 13th century with the Middle-Ages literature, which cultivated all the genres in prose, poetry and theatre. The end of the Middle Ages (sometimes known as pre-Renaissance period) is a very prolific time for Spanish literature , with the development of works like "Coplas a la muerte de mi padre" (Jorge Manrique) and "La Celestina" (Fernando de Rojas).

During the Renaissance the influence of Italy in Spain was very strong, and thus the religious influence. During this period there's a big production of religious works with authors such as Fray Luis de Leon or San JUan de la Cruz. Pastoral or didactic novels were also quite popular, and the picaresque genre became popular with "Lazarillo de Tormes"

Spanish Literature - Baroque period

Classics Spanish Books - Cervantes

The Spanish Baroque coincides with the Golden Age of Spanish literature , called that way because of the great number of excellent literary productions that appeared in the period. Miguel de Cervantes is, without doubt, the ultimate Baroque author. His masterpiece, the adventures of the mad knight "Don Quixote", is considered the most important book of the Spanish literature and one of the most important in the Universal literature. Other important authors in this period are the poet Quevedo and the play writer Lope de Vega.

Spanish Literature - Enlightenment period

The Enlightenment period in Spanish literature can be divided in three different periods: the post-Baroque period, the Neo-Classical period and the pre-Romanticism period. The Enlightenment wants a break with the old concept of authority, and thinks reason is more important than feeling or emotions. This is why this period doesn't have a strong poetry group. In prose, essays and didactic texts are the most popular types of works, especially among literates. Newspapers help to spread the knowledge of other European countries around Spain.

Spanish Literature - Romanticism and Realism

Romanticism appears as a reaction against the strict rules of the Enlightenment, and in opposition to it, it places more importance in feelings than reason. Romanticism can be divided into two different movements: traditional Romanticism (defends the traditional values ​​represented by the Church and State) and liberal Romanticism (fights the established order, religion, art and politics, and claims the rights of individuals to society and the laws).

Realism appears when literates have grown tired of the subjectivism of Romanticism and are looking for something more real. They were tired of the imaginative and colorful, and sought to observe the people, society and contemporary traditions objectively. Its goal was to present the truest portrait of society.

Spanish Literature - 20th century

Classics Spanish Books - Generation of '98

The 20th century is a century of great change in Spain. There's not a specific movement. Rather, every author develops his or her own personal style. Novels become the most popular genre, and social themes are very common, especially those related to life in Spain during the Spanish Civil War and the following dictatorship. There are three important generations of writers during the 20th century that configure the Spanish literature of the period: Generation of '98 , Generation of '14 and Generation of '27 .

If you ever study Spanish, reading some of the works of these great Spanish authors will give you an added knowledge into the Spanish way of life.

Most important Spanish books

  • Cantar del Mio Cid
  • Don Quixote
  • Lazarillo de Tormes
  • Romancero Gitano

Spanish Literature: 16th-17th century

Spanish literature: 18th century, spanish literature: 19th century, spanish literature: 20th century, learn spanish.

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The first works of Spanish literature were written during the Middle Ages.

The Poem of El Cid, whose author is unknown, is the first work written in verse in Spanish. It is a poem of heroic deeds, where the feats of El Cid are recounted.

“And from the lips of everyone comes the same reasoning. What a good servant I would be if I had a good master!”

Gonzalo de Berceo lived in the convent of San Millán de la Cogolla where he wrote The Miracles of Our Lady. His work belongs to clerical minstrel poetry, a medieval literature genre written by clerics whose aim is to teach the Christian faith in an interesting and entertaining way.


The XV Century was a bridge between the Middle Ages and the Renaissance, although it continued with the same medieval patterns, namely the didactic and religious.

The Castillian poet Jorge Manrique wrote the four-line verse Poem on The Death of his Father, where he  reflects, in a beautiful and profound way, on the brevity of life and the finite nature of worldly goods.

“Our lives are the rivers That go to the sea of death; There go the estates Straight to their end and consumption.”

Fernando De Rojas composed The Celestina during the reign of The Catholic Kings. The work revolves around the love between Calisto and Melibea, two idle youngsters whose relationship is encouraged by the enabler Celestina.


The Renaissance instilled a division between the natural and supernatural in reaction to The Middle Ages, where religion was always present. Three types of poetry stood out: The Profane, The Ascetic and The Mystical Profane Poetry is represented by Garcilaso De La Vega. A cultured, elegant man who served in the court of Carlos I. He wrote about love and the pastoral life. Fray Luis De Leon belongs to the Ascetic branch of poetry. He was expelled from the University of Salamanca because of the Inquisition’s investigation into his beautiful translation of Song of Songs from the bible. After several years in prison, he was reinstated and uttered the famous phrase, “As we were saying yesterday,” when he returned to teaching. In Mystical Poetry, Saint John of the Cross and Saint Teresa of Jesus stand out. Saint Teresa is most famous for a fragment of one of her poems where she expresses her burning desire to reach a perfect union with God.

“I live without living in me, And such a high life do I aspire to, That I die because I do not die.”

Somewhere between the Renaissance and the Baroque periods is born the Picaresque Novel with Lazarillo de Tormes by an unknown author. So is born the literary figure of the rogue, who appears in later novels of the same genre like “Guzmán de Alfarache” by Mateo Alemán or The Life of a Hustler called Don Pablos by Quevedo. Miguel De Cervantes was born and grew up during the Renaissance period, but he found fame and died during the Baroque. He is considered the father of the modern novel. After leaving La Galatea unfinished and writing a series of respected novels, he arrived at his peak with Don Quijote, published in 1605, in which his protagonist, Alonso Quijano, fan of books about chivalry, goes slightly mad and ventures out with his horse Rocinante and his squire Sancho, to provide justice according to the rules of chivalry. The novel begins with this famous sentence:

“In a place in La Mancha whose name I don’t want to remember, some time ago lived a nobleman with a spear, an old leather shield, a thin, old horse and a running greyhound.”


In the XVII century, in reaction to the idealism and optimism of the Renaissance, emerged the scepticism and pessimism of the Baroque Period. A slow but progressive decline of the Spanish Empire in the military and diplomacy areas begins and there is a boom in the trend for artificial and refined poetry. Góngora uses language full of Latin expressions, known as Culteranismo, and Quevedo, considered the great love poet of this century, played with double meaning by using a language known as Conceptista (witty or ingenious). The famous rivalry between the two is best shown in this verse from Quevedo, ridiculing Góngora’s nose:

“There was a man stuck to a nose, There was a superlative nose, There was an elephant lying face up…”

In the theatre Lope De Vega was the most popular writer of the Baroque period, with a large number of plays. He revitalized the theatre, writing his plays to reflect the times in which he lived. Amongst them, the cloak- and- dagger comedies stand out. His lyrical writing is also much appreciated, such as the first verse of the romantic poem El Solitario:

“To my loneliness I come and go Because to walk with myself I have enough with my thoughts”

The other great playwright of the Baroque period is Calderon de la Barca who invented a more philosophical style of theatre, providing his characters with greater depth and reflection. In Life is a Dream, the sublime soliloquy of Segismundo stands out:

“An illusion, a shadow, a fiction The greater good is small, All life is a dream, And dreams are simply dreams…”


In the 18th century, with King Philip V arrived the Bourbon dynasty and the Enlightenment, so-called because of the movement which started in France. There is a return to the classical, with an educational and moral aim. The Tales of Iriarte and Samaniego, with animal protagonists, are a good example of this period. Cadalso wrote the Cartas Marruecas, an epistolary novel which collects a number of essays about the cultural, social and material backwardness of Spain.


At the start of the 19th century arose Romanticism as a reaction to the rationalism from the previous era. The most representative poets are Espronceda and Béquer. José de Espronceda wrote his best poems after coming into contact with the English Romanticism. He had a weakness for those on the margins of society, as in his poem The Song of the Pirate:

“With ten cannons on either side, And the wind in our sails, Rather than slice through the sea, it flies The Bergantine sailing ship.”

Meanwhile Gustavo Adolfo Bécquer, considered the initiator of Modern Poetry, had a simple and intimate style:

“ The dark swallows will return To build their nests on your balcony And once again with their wings on the glass They will call you out to play. But those that the flight deterred Those who learned our names Those…will not return!”


As opposed to Romanticism, Realism looked for the objective representation of reality. Galdós, a prolific writer, wrote The National Episodes which covered history from the Battle of Trafalgar in 1805 to the Restoration Monarchy in 1874. Other of his novels are The Golden Fountain and Fortunata  and Jacinta.

Clarín, literary critic and author of La Regenta, is the main representative of Naturalism in Spain.


Modernism is characterized by the search for a formal beauty. In Spain, the main modernist poet was Juan Ramon Jimenez, who wrote the narrative Platero and Me:

“Platero is small, hairy and soft; so soft outside that you would think he was made of cotton, without bones.”

The authors of the 98 Generation wanted to renew society and they were concerned with the problems of Spain. With the loss of the last colonies in Cuba and The Philippines in 1898, Azorín, Baroja and Ramiro de Maeztu proposed radical solutions which became more moderate over time. Their language is characterized by its simplicity, agility and communication. These three were joined by Miguel de Unamuno, Antonio Machado and Valle- Inclán. Pío Baroja wrote several novels of which The Tree of Science, Zalacaín the Adventurer and The Adventures of Shanty Andía stand out, the last two set in the Basque Country.


The Generation of 27 owe their name to the celebration of the third centenary of the death of the poet Góngora, whose work they admired. Among them were Federico García Lorca, Rafael Alberti, Vicente Alexandre and Luis Cernuda. In his first period Garcia Lorca was known for his Flamenco Poetry and The Romancero Gitano. His poems were influenced by popular Andaluz lyricism:

“Green, I love you greenGreen wind, Green branches The boat on the sea And the horse on the mountain.”


Once the Civil War had finished, the novelists of the so-called post-war literary period appeared. Camilo José Cela, author of The Family of Pascual Duarte, introduced a new style of writing called “Tremendismo” (stark reality) in which reality is deformed to highlight the most unpleasant aspects of life. Miguel Delibes, with The Shadow of the Cypress Tree is Long, reflects the desolate post- war world; his characters appear disorientated, sad and frustrated.


From 1955, the Social Realism period became popular. Concrete social realities were dealt with and injustices denounced. The novels El Jarama by Rafael Sanchez Ferlosio and Between Lace Curtains by Carmen Martin Gaite stand out. The decade of the 60s was characterized by experimental literature, looking for a change and renewal in the way of writing. In 1962 Time of Silence by Luis Martin Santos was published, which became the starting point for this new era, made up of writers like Juan Goytisolo with Signs of Identity and Juan Benet with You Will Return to Region.

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Spanish Literature

Spanish Literary Works

Today, Spain is known as one of the most fascinating places to visit due to its rich history. It is a great place to vacation to see how this small country helped shape the world as we see it today. It was a civilization that was sought after by many people throughout history. There were Romans, Carthaginians, and Arabs all wanting a piece of this territory as well as Catholic monarchs. It became one of the most powerful empires of its time, but eventually collapsed in the 19th century due to other political arenas and agendas throughout the world. Spanish-Castle  Not only has Spain given us all a rich world history, but it has also produced some of the greatest writers of all time and has contributed immensely to literature. Spanish writers have a long literary tradition both in Spain and in many Latin American countries. These authors have long used language as a way of expressing their thoughts and political views throughout time and this art is even more prolific today.

Influences of Writing

As in other cultures, a Spanish authors’ literary works reflected the times in which he lived. Great times of influences were the Middle Ages, Pre-Renaissance Period, Baroque Period, Enlightenment Period, Romanticism Period, and the Realism Period.

Popular poems from the Middle Ages encompassed those sung by commoners as well as those sung in the courts of the nobles. During the Renaissance Period there were poets such as Garcilaso de la Vega, San Juan de la Cruz, and Santa Teresa de Jesus. This poetry mostly focused on classical elements and simplicity. The 17th century Baroque Period brought pessimism and disillusion and is considered by many to be comprised of rhetorical and twisted writings; however, it seemed to be the mantra of that time and literature works simply showed this point of view. This brought about writers such as Miguel de Cervantes and poets Luis de Gongora.

The world then moved into the Enlightenment Period of the 18th Century and thus Spain brought forth some of the best story tellers. Authors such as Tomas de Iriarte and Felix Maria Samaniego were born. This time period produced writers that had a different outlook on life and were not as negative as those coming from the Renaissance Period. The Enlightenment Period writers became more focused on the essay and satire of that time and moved into neoclassicism (writings influenced by the ancient Greek and Roman arts).

Eventually we entered into the 19th century early Romanticism Period which focused more on self, passionate love, social demands, nature, and religion. This period created writers such as the poet Jose de Espronceda and novelist Mariano Jose de Larra.

As the late 19th century moved forward, the Realism Period came to fruition. The writings of this period depicted contemporary life and society as it was. It moved away from things that did not portray the “actual.” A few Spanish writers of that time were Juan Valera, Emilia Pardo Bazan, Leopoldo Alas, and Vicente Blasco Ibanez. Poets were José Zorrilla, Gaspar Nunez de Arce and Menendez Pelayo.

Biographies of Well Known Authors from Spain

At the turn of the century we had writers such as Miguel de Unamuno. He was a poet, a novelist, a philosopher, and a playwright. He was born in 1864 in Barque, Spain. Throughout his life he published many essays on metaphysics, religion, travel, and politics. He also wrote 10 novels and many plays. Some of his great works are Del Sentimiento Trágico de la Vida en los hombres y en los pueblo (The Tragic Sense of Life) published in 1913. Another one is San Manuel Bueno, mártir (Saint Manuel the Good, Martyr) published in 1930. Unamuno lived in Spain and attended the University of Madrid where he studied many languages and philosophy. He obtained a PhD in 1884. Unamuno is known for criticizing the regime of General Miguel Primo de Rivera and was eventually forced to live in exile in the Canary Islands and then Paris. After the fall of the general’s regime, he later returned to Spain as a critically acclaimed author. He again stood up against the political powers in place of that time and was put under house arrest. He died in 1936.

In 1898, Vicente Aleixandre was born. Throughout Spain, he is known as a great poet winning much accolades and international recognition. He is known for winning the Nobel Prize for Literature. Throughout his life, he lived in Malaga and Madrid. About 1922, he worked for the Andalusian Railways but became very sick and nearly an invalid. He then moved to Madrid, began his life of solitude, and developed his writing career even more extensively and with passion. He had many writings throughout his life; however, some of the most notable are Ambito (poems). He passed away in 1984.

We also have Emilia Pardo Bazan who is a highly respected scholar and is known for her stories in the genre of creative writing. One of her most famous books is Temprano y Conso which is a popular fiction novel. She lived from 1851 to 1921.  More currently, we have Miguelanxo Prado. As you will note with this author, writing in Spain is not always taken so seriously. Miguelanxo Prado is a famous comic book writer. His comics are enjoyed by the people of Spain as they deal with social issues, but can also be light hearted and easy to read. Before he ventured into the comic world, Prado studied architecture, was a painter, and then a writer. Today he is best known for the comic book Trazo de Tiza or Trait de Craie published in 1992. This comic story is about a man that lives on an island and can’t distinguish from a dream-like existence and true reality. He also had an animated feature, De Profundis, released in 2007.

In addition, we also have Miguel Rivas who is an author and a poet from Spain. He began by writing for a local newspaper until he was able to get his work published. Some of his writings, such as A Lingua Das Bolboretas , have been made into movies.

There is a plethora of well known authors, both historical and modern, that it would be impossible to list them all. Here is a list of just a few. (Nineteen) 19th century writers are: Pedro Antonio de Alarcon, Gustavo Adolfo Becquer, Jose Maria Blanco-White, Vicente Blasco Ibanez, and Rosalia de Castro. (Twenty) 20th century writers are: Rafael Alberti, Ignacio Aldecoa, Joaquin Aderius, Carlos Be, Gabriela Bustelo, Espido Freire, Javier Marias and Antonio Munoz Molina.

Outreach and Publishing

Spanish writers do not keep their best works in Spain alone. Many writers have had their works published in other languages so people throughout the world can enjoy their writings. One such author is Almundena Grandes. She won an award for an erotic novel called Las Edades de Lulu . There have been movies made from her writings, which include Bigas Luna and Malena es un Nombre de Tango. She continues to write literature for Spanish audiences as well as for people around the world.

It is no easy feat for a Spanish author to get their work published. Many authors start off by first writing for local papers and other local publications. Once a person becomes somewhat established, they are then more able to obtain a publishing contract. For those that have not had any type of work published it can be very difficult. As in other countries, a writer often has to send their work to several publishers before they can get published. It can be difficult to get started but once a person is established, they can have a long and healthy career as a writer in Spain.

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Spanish Literature: A Very Short Introduction

Spanish Literature: A Very Short Introduction

Spanish Literature: A Very Short Introduction

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Spanish Literature: A Very Short Introduction explores the ways in which it has been read, in and outside Spain, explaining misconceptions, outlining the insights of recent scholarship, and suggesting new readings. Spanish literature has given the world the figures of Don Quixote and Don Juan, and is responsible for the ‘invention’ of the novel in the 16th century. The medieval period produced literature in Castilian, Catalan, Galician, Latin, Arabic, and Hebrew, and today there is a flourishing literature in Catalan, Galician, and Basque as well as in Castilian — the language that has become known as ‘Spanish’. A multi-layered history of exile has produced a transnational literary production, while writers in Spain have engaged with European cultural trends.

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