Bécquer, Gustavo Adolfo
Gustavo Adolfo Bécquer 1836-1870
(Born Gustavo Adolfo Dominguez Bastida) Spanish poet and short story writer.
Gustavo Adolfo Bécquer, renowned as Spain's first modern poet, is most widely recognized for his collection of tales in Leyendas (1857-64; Legends) and his volume of poetry, Rimas (1871; Poems). Writing bitter lyrical poetry during the late Romantic period, Bécquer was set apart from his contemporaries, not by his themes of perfection, love, life, and death, but by his unique, restrained style. He is credited with having had enormous influence on many other acclaimed authors, including Rubén Darío, Miguel de Unamuno, and Juan Ramón Jiménez.
Bécquer was born February 17, 1836, in Seville, Spain, and lived with his father, Don José Domínguez Bécquer, a prominent painter, until the age of ten when his father died. He then lived with a series of relatives before coming to reside with his wealthy godmother. She financed his education at the College of San Antonio Abad and the College of San Telmo, where he began to write his first novel and, with the help of a classmate, a play. When the Spanish government closed the school, Bécquer began a four-year apprenticeship with the painter Antonio Cabral Bejarano. In spite of his godmother's aspirations for him to begin a career in mercantilism, Bécquer moved to Madrid in 1854 to pursue his literary dreams, thus forfeiting his inheritance in her will. There he held a succession of jobs in journalism, translation, and governmental posts. From 1864 to 1868, he served as the official censor of novels under the reign of Queen Isabel. In his spare time, Bécquer frequently contributed anonymous poems and articles to the newspapers El contemporáneo and El museo Universal. He also joined a small ring of writers, artists, and musicians directed by Joaquin Espin y Guillen, a professor at the Conservatoire in Seville. At that time, Bécquer became enamored with Guillen's daughter, Julia. However, his love was not returned and many believe she was the basis for the poems in his Rimas, many of which focused on love. In 1861, he married Casta Esteban y Navarro, the daughter of the doctor who treated him for his continuing bouts of tuberculosis. Together they had three sons. The couple's marriage was strained immensely, however, when Bécquer's brother, Valeriano, moved in with them. Bécquer left the family in 1864 and travelled to a monastery at Veruela in northern Spain, where he hoped to overcome his ill health. There he wrote Cartas desde mi celda (1864), or his spiritual autobiography—his only major work to be published during his lifetime. In 1868 Bécquer began collecting his poems for Rimas; unfortunately, most had been previously purchased by the minister Gonzalez Bravo. The plundering of Bravo´s house during the Spanish Revolution resulted in the loss of these manuscripts, forcing Bécquer to reconstruct them from memory over the course of several years. Following his brother's death in September 1870, Bécquer became extremely ill and returned to be with his wife until he died from pneumonia and hepatitis on December 22, 1870. On December 23, a group of his friends published a two volume collection of his works to aid his widow and three sons.
Bécquer's first book, Historia de los templos de España (1857), was a factual work about churches in Spain that included his own illustrations. His second major book, Cartas desde mi celda, known as his “spiritual autobiography,” represented a radical shift from his first work as he wrote and analyzed his innermost emotions while recuperating in the Veruela monastery. The best of Bécquer's posthumous publications are compiled in two books. His most renowned prose is a collection of tales in Leyendas. This accumulation of legends is marked by its supernatural quality and eerie, mystical themes, a style that has led modern critics to compare Bécquer to authors such as Edgar Allan Poe and E. T. A. Hoffmann. He is also considered to be a precursor in the modernist movement, as his unique style helped revolutionize current views of literature. Bécquer's compilation of poems in Rimas contains seventy-six verses about a poet's struggle for perfection and eventual failure in both love and art. The language, written in a colloquial style, alternates between rhymed meter and speech-rhythms. The poems are organized into four categories, each respectively concentrating on poetry as an art, a love affair, antagonism through suffering, and hopelessness. As the collection progresses, the tone also shifts from frustration and despair to detachment and solace in death.
While Bécquer had a modest, obscure career as a writer during most of his life, he has recently gained international recognition for his work. Bécquer is considered unique among his Romantic contemporaries due to his understated style, which stands in stark contrast to their opulent use of emotion; yet simultaneously, Bécquer, too, uses his literature as a forum for imparting his view of the world to his readers. Critics have thoroughly examined his poetic theory and use of dominant themes such as idealism, love, spirituality, and the supernatural. His verse reveals his experience with true heartbreak, his strong religious beliefs, his own endeavor for perfection as a poet, and his frustration and final acceptance of suffering and death. Bécquer is considered to be Spain's first modern poet, and continues to be distinguished in Latin American literary circles for his original insights into life and literary style.
*Historia de los templos de España (nonfiction) 1857
Leyendas [Legends] (short stories) 1857-64
Cartas literarias a una mujer [Literary Letters to a Woman] (letters) 1861
Cartas desde mi celda [Letters from My Cell] (spiritual autobiography) 1864
Obras de Gustavo Adolfo Bécquer (prose and verse) 1871
Rimas [The Infinite Passion] (poetry) 1871
*Bécquer also provided the illustrations for this work.
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SOURCE: “Analysis of the Leyendas,” in German Romanticism in Gustavo Adolfo Bécquer's Short Stories, Allen Press, 1959, pp. 19-55.
[In the following excerpt, Turk offers an analysis of Leyendas in the context of German Romanticism.]
… We have observed definite features of German Romanticism that must have influenced Bécquer's thinking from earliest childhood, beginning with Hoffmann, then Heine (early in Madrid), and probably also Schiller and Goethe. Bécquer had to be acquainted with Schiller and Goethe, if we are to believe the information in his Obras completas. If he had not died so young, we can be sure that he would have produced Spain's first major works on the great German literary duo. First of all, he contemplated issuing a sort of one-volume anthology of Schiller's works. The title was already chosen: Ecos de Schiller.1 All we know of its contents is that it would contain poesías chicas. That he knew Goethe's works also, we gather from another place in his Obras2 arriving at this fact by simple inductive reasoning. Under the heading Proyectos de obras y publicaciones, he plans to publish a sort of “Great Books” series that would be cheap enough for every Spaniard's pocketbook. It is the only evidence of a militant or concerted effort on the part of Bécquer to bring both the classics and contemporary works of...
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SOURCE: “The Poetics of Gustavo Adolfo Becquer,” in Modern Language Notes, Vol. 80, No. 2, 1965, pp. 185-201.
[In the following essay, González-Gerth reviews Bécquer's Rimas in light of the author's poetic philosophy.]
During his short life, Gustavo Adolfo Bécquer (Seville 1836—Madrid 1870) wrote about seventy-five short poems or Rimas which were not published in book form until after his death. They are now numbered among the lesser treasures of Spanish literature. Into these generally brief lyrics, Bécquer projected tremendous intensity of feeling without resorting to the verbal effusiveness so characteristic of his time. He made the poems into vehicles for subtle confession, devoid of artificiality. And his simple sincerity, restraint of expression, and tenuous, unrhetorical phrasing made Bécquer a favorite of contemporary Spanish poets from Juan Ramón Jiménez1 to Jorge Guillén and Rafael Alberti, of whom the last two are specific assayers of his work as well. However, Bécquer's stories and articles do not show the same admirable conciseness and directness as his poetry, and consequently did not exert the same influence. Nevertheless the prose is as important as the poetry when studying his literary development and poetics.2
Bécquer, once an apprentice painter, whose father and brother were talented painters, and always an enthusiast...
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SOURCE: “The Real and the Imagined in Bécquer's Leyendas,” in Bulletin of Hispanic Studies, Vol. 43, No. 1, 1966, pp. 25-31.
[In the following essay, Inglis examines the theme of ineffability in Bécquer's Leyendas.]
The question of Bécquer's treatment of ‘lo inefable’ in his Leyendas has recently been raised again, in an article1 in which special attention is paid to ‘la mujer inalcanzable’ as a theme used in this connexion. The ineffable is important also in other ways, and helps to explain certain variations in quality to be found within the Leyendas. To show how this is so will be the main aim of the present article.
The theme of the ineffable or unattainable corresponds to tendencies which are already to be observed in Bécquer during his youth in Seville, and which are epitomized, then and later, in the Historia de los templos de España project. The Historia exemplifies Bécquer's highly-developed sense of the past, which attracts him above all because of its remoteness and mystery. This is what engages him in the legends of the people, and this, also, is what especially interests him in his ‘templos’: a building is an expression of the ideals of the men who have made it, and to understand an old building is to understand the spirit of another age. Such a view finds quite explicit expression in “La ajorca de...
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SOURCE: “Bécquer and the Creative Imagination,” in Hispanic Review, Vol. 35, No. 3, July, 1967, pp. 252-69.
[In the following essay, Hartsook presents an overview of Bécquer's philosophy of creative imagination, focusing on both his poetry and prose.]
During the last fifty years there has been a growing interest in that field of psychology which deals with the creative uses of the imagination. Recent works in this field provide us with data collected from poets, artists, musicians, and scientists revealing their own imaginative processes in artistic creativity and scientific discovery.1 But these works lament the scarcity of material for such investigations. Literary artists have not often left records of introspective analysis of their own mental processes, and when they have the record is usually sketchy. The revelations of Coleridge, Dryden, Blake, Poe, Valéry, Housman, and Yeats are among the better known. New data are always welcome to students of this field.
It is therefore fruitful to study the revealing accounts of the workings of his own imagination that Gustavo Adolfo Bécquer has left scattered among his works. These have hitherto passed unnoticed as documents for the study of the creative imagination. His observations provide a valuable new source of data concerning the creative mind, shed additional light on the poet's personality, and help us to...
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SOURCE: “The Role of Memory and the Senses in Bécquer's Poetic Theory,” in Revista de Estudios Hispánicos, Vol. IV, No. 2, November, 1970, pp. 281-91.
[In the following essay, Jones presents an overview of Bécquer's works, tracing his poetic theory through his writings.]
Gustavo Adolfo Bécquer did not enjoy fame in his own lifetime, but at his death in 1870 he left behind a small body of literature which has earned him a place in the foreground of nineteenth-century Spanish letters.1 Today he stands between Romanticism and the more modern literary tendencies. The abundance of supernatural and mysterious elements, his fascination with ruins, the unlucky heroes who populate the Leyendas, and the quest for the absolute link him with the former movement, yet he deviates from the Romantic fondness for impulsive creation in his interest in the formal aspects of art.2 Bécquer's works contain, in fact, a surprising amount of material on this subject, dispersed among other topics. There are important ideas on the poetic process in the Cartas desde mi celda and the Cartas literarias a una mujer (as well as in the Rimas and the Leyendas), couched in a very informal, intimate tone—one which he obviously tailored to please the taste of the discriminating nineteenth-century newspaper public. Bécquer avoids authoritativeness, disclaiming any pretense...
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SOURCE: “An essay on Becquer's La Ajorca de oro,” in Romance Notes, Vol. 13, No. 2, Winter, 1971, pp. 276-79.
[In the following essay, Fedorchek discusses imagery in Becquer's “La Ajorca de oro.”]
“La ajorca de oro” is the story of a sacrilege committed in the cathedral of Toledo. The protagonists are the beautiful María and her lover, the superstitious and valiant Pedro. María is irresistibly attracted to a gold bracelet on the arm of the statue of the Virgin. Pedro, fully aware that he will be violating the patroness of the city, contrives to be alone in the cathedral, makes off with the bracelet, and goes mad as a consequence of his act.
This leyenda has many of the traits common to Bécquer's other tales: the almost ineffable beauty of the poet's eternally beautiful woman (“El rayo de luna”); the lover, drawn to this woman and driven by some inexplicable force to gratify her caprices (“Los ojos verdes”); supernatural occurrences (“El beso”); and the madness and nightmarish appearances (“El Miserere”). Not unique to “La ajorca de oro” is the exquisite poetic fantasy (cf. “La cruz del diablo” and others), but two images—vertigo in parts I and II and the cathedral in part III—are well worth special consideration because they stand out as elegant examples of this poet's seemingly effortless creativity.
Part I of...
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SOURCE: “Becquer's ‘Disembodied Soul,’” in Hispanic Review, Vol. 47, No. 2, Spring, 1979, pp. 185-92.
[In the following essay, Palley discusses the history of the “disembodied soul” motif in literature and comments on Becquer's use of it in his Rimas.]
The myth or image of the disembodied soul, leaving the body during sleep or in a death-like trance, is a pervasive motif of classical, medieval and romantic thought and art. It is taken up by Plato, Cicero and Macrobius, and becomes the basis for the dream-vision of medieval literature, whose paragon is Dante's Divine Comedy. In Western tradition it was Plato who first wrote of the winged and soaring soul, that of the pair of winged horses and a charioteer. When perfect and fully-winged she soars upward, and orders the whole world. In Book X of the Republic, the myth of Er relates how the son of Armenius was slain in battle, but later returned to life and told them what he had seen in the other world. He said that when his soul left the body and went on a journey with a great company … they came to a mysterious place at which there were two openings in the earth. In romanticism, the dream and its soaring soul return in Young, De Quincey, Novalis, Schiller and Becquer.
Cicero, in De Divinatione, presumes to attack the practice of oneiromancy, but while doing so engages in perspicacious reflection on the...
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SOURCE: “The ‘Existential Wave’ in Bécquer's Rimas,” in Revista de Estudios Hispánicos, Vol. 13, 1986, pp. 25-31.
[In the following essay, Billick contends that Bécquer, more than any of his predecessors, formulated in his poetic work Rimas a sophisticated exposition of the existential problem of being.]
In What is Existentialism? William Barrett writes that although metaphysical concerns have traditionally been the domain of philosophy, in the twentieth century poetry “has raised the fundamental problem of man and his destiny in a startling form.”1 He further observes that “from the contemporary poets who are anxious about the modern age there is a direct link back through the nineteenth century.”2 In Spanish literature, any effort to uncover the roots of modern poetry inevitably leads one to the works of Gustavo Adolfo Bécquer, universally accepted as a transitional figure between Romanticism and contemporary poetry: “To understand Bécquer is to understand more about our contemporaries … (He could) be called the prophet of twentieth-century Spanish poetry.”3 Up to now Bécquer's contribution to succeeding generations has been seen largely in his originality in stanza forms, melodic rhythms, and sonorous vowel combinations, with major emphasis on his impact on the modernista movement: “precursor del movimiento...
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SOURCE: “Self Realization in the Leyendas of Gustavo Adolfo Bécquer,” in Revista Hispanica Moderna, Vol. 44, No. 2, 1991, pp. 191-206.
[In the following essay, Baker examines Bécquer's Leyendas in the context of Jungian philosophy, focusing specifically on the functioning of the subconscious in the process of creation.]
There is ample evidence that Gustavo Adolfo Bécquer was greatly affected by his unconscious fantasies. In the “Introducción” to his Libro de los gorriones he refers to “este otro mundo que llevo dentro de la cabeza,”1 and in “Hojas Secas” he describes a trance-like state when his spirit explores the workings of this mysterious inner world (642). In “Rima LXXV” he tells us that the mind continues to be active when the body sleeps, and Kessel Schwartz has observed that in the moment just before going to sleep Bécquer experienced what modern psychology calls “hypnagogic manifestations” that have their origin in the unconscious (202). The contents of this deeper level of awareness provided the basis for many of his literary works,2 and his description of how this occurs helps us understand an important aspect of his creative thought. With this in mind, let us look at Bécquer's “Introducción” more closely.
He begins by describing a state of insomnia during which he is agonizingly aware of the...
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SOURCE: “Romanticism, Imagination, and Bécquer,” and “The Ways of the Imagination,” in The Romantic Imagination in the Works of Gustavo Adolfo Bécquer, University of North Carolina Department of Romance Languages, 1993, pp. 9-22, 71–122.
[In the following excerpts, Bynum presents an overview of Bécquer's writing in the context of the philosophical and aesthetic orientation of European Romanticism and then explains Bécquer's view of the imagination's significance.]
There are words of a superficially romantic character in which the imagination is used simply to provide a holiday from reality. But the true romantic fancy constitutes a valid mode of perception, perhaps even of thought.
Alan Menhennet, The Romantic Movement
The complete literary production of Gustavo Adolfo Bécquer is the brilliant result of a coherently elaborated world view that closely parallels that of other major European romantic authors. It is a philosophical and aesthetic orientation marked by a sense of the duality of existence in which the imagination, as conceptualized during the Romantic era, plays a vital role. This study proposes to examine Bécquer's texts in the light of this world view and its consistent dependence upon the imagination.
Every individual, whether an ordinary human being or one of genius, has the...
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SOURCE: “‘Poesía … Eres tú,’ or the Construction of Bécquer and the Sign of the Woman,” in Culture and Gender in Nineteenth-Century Spain, Clarendon Press, 1995, pp. 53-73.
[In the following essay, Mandrell explains Bécquer's use of women as a theme in his Rimas.]
The dictum ‘Poesía … eres tú’ [Poetry … is you] (59; 549)—found both in the last line of the twenty-first rima (LG 21) and in the first of the Cartas literarias a una mujer—sums up what has long been considered one of the more pressing questions with respect to Gustavo Adolfo Bécquer and his poetry and prose.1 This question is nothing less than the nature of woman, as well as the identity of the woman, in Bécquer's work, and it has had serious implications for the study of Bécquer. With few exceptions, discussions of the poetry included in the volume known as the Rimas [Poems; literally, rhymes] and of the texts in prose linked to the poetry—specifically the ‘Introducción sinfónica’ [“Symphonic Introduction”], ‘La mujer de piedra’ [“The Woman of Stone”], and the Cartas literarias a una mujer [Literary Letters to a Woman]—tend toward an explicit or even implicit consideration of the identity of the woman or various women to have inspired or to be addressed in these works. If speculation oscillates between the real and the...
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Arboleda, Joseph R. “Mi conciencia y yo, Becquer's First Prose Work.” Studies in Romanticism 11, No. 1 (Winter 1972): 26-35.
An overview of Mi conciencia y yo as a precursor to Bécquer's Rimas and Leyendas.
Bécquer, Gustavo Adolfo. A Concordance to the Poetry of Gustavo Adolfo Bécquer, compiled by Enrique Ruiz-Fornells. Alabama: University of Alabama Press, 1970, 207 p.
A study of concordance in Bécquer's poetry. Includes reprints of many of his poems.
Boyer, H. Patsy. “A Feminist Reading of ‘Los Ojos Verdes.’” Theory and Practice of Feminist Literary Criticism, edited by Gabriela Mora and Karen S. Van Hooft, pp. 188-200. Ypsilanti: Bilingual Press/Editorial Bilingüe, 1982.
Study of male-female polarity in “Los Ojos Verdes,” a short story by Bécquer.
Bynum, B. Brant. The Romantic Imagination in the Works of Adolfo Gustavo Bécquer. Chapel Hill: University of North Carolina Department of Romance Languages, 131 p.
Detailed analysis of Bécquer's poetic theory.
Del Vecchio, Eugene. “Becquer's Poetico Recinto.” Hispania, 67, No. 4, (December 1984): 554-59.
Explores Bécquer's theory of poetic creativity as expressed in his works of poetry that...
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