Spanish Literature and the World from Alberto Manguel

I have always thought the Spanish Language writers have had a disadvantage that those in English do not: the Siglo de Oro, or the golden century. Sure we in English have Shakespeare who is from about the same time and is in a seemingly untouchable place, but we don’t have an era named in such a way that it suggests you can’t do any better. So it was rather funny to read the opening of Alberto Manguel’s essay on Spanish Literature in the world and see him note that when he was growing up high school teachers would tell him, there’s been nothing good from Spain since the Siglo de Oro. That disrespect, he argues, goes a long way to explaining why Spanish Literature has had little influence until now. It is an interesting statement and I wish the essay was longer and not one of those quick overviews that newspapers do so well.

La literatura española en el mundo · ELPAÍ

“Con la excepción de algunos poetas de la primera mitad del siglo veinte, la buena literatura española dejó de escribirse a finales del Siglo de Oro”, nos informó un profesor de literatura cuando teníamos trece o catorce años. Salvo ciertos lectores empedernidos, esta opinión prevaleció en Argentina durante toda mi adolescencia. Borges había decretado que ninguna novela española, después del Quijote, valía el esfuerzo de ser leída (cuando alguien le dijo que Galdós era, en su opinión, mejor novelista que Eça de Queiroz, Borges le contestó “mi sincero pésame”). A pesar de tal desolado juicio, los lectores de mi generación descubrimos que la literatura española sí existía. Aprendimos de memoria a Lorca, Cernuda, Aleixandre, Blas de Otero y Miguel Hernández; leímos (sin respetarlos lo suficiente) a Ortega y Gasset y Américo Castro; devoramos a los novelistas (que nos parecían extraordinariamente osados), de Goytisolo a Juan Benet, de Carmen Laforet a Mercé Rodoreda. Es cierto, sin embargo, que la literatura española influyó poco en los escritores de mi época, volcados sobre todo a la poesía y filosofía francesa, y a la novela americana e italiana.

2 thoughts on “Spanish Literature and the World from Alberto Manguel

  1. He makes a good point; Spain has great authors, but they look to the outside to create a literature that is interesting and marketable. There are some, like Almudena Grandes or Carlos Ruiz Zafón, that have managed to create something with an intrinsecally Spanish background that appeals to national and international readers, but they are the exception. I love, love Luis Cernuda and Miguel Hernández Pedro Salinas, who translated In Search of Lost Time to Spanish. Such rich writers. Then there are the poets that become novelists, and these are good too, because they tend to do strange and wonderful things with ethimology and are not scared of touching difficult subjects… but most of them can’t live on their writing.

    Then again, how many writers can?

  2. Have you read much by the short story writers? I’ve been reading quite a bit of them recently and have been impressed by the fluidity and style of their prose. Of late this site has become a bit of a blog about short stories form Spain.

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