Of all Spanish regional novelists, the greatest was José María de Pereda (pay-RAY-dah), the youngest of twenty-two children of a wealthy family of Polanco, near Santander, Spain. Having grown up full of the conservative ideas of his social class, he journeyed to Madrid at the age of nineteen to enter artillery school. There his dislike of mathematics and his disgust with mob rule during the revolution of 1854 turned him against the capital. Although he returned later to serve in Congress, the political corruption he encountered made the quiet of his country home in the north seem even more attractive, and he spent the rest of his life in Santander.
Pereda founded a newspaper, La Abeja Montañesa (the mountain bee), and for it he wrote a series of descriptive sketches. Later he collected eighteen of them into his first volume, Escenas montañesas (mountain scenes), published in 1864. This book revealed Pereda as a writer with a true feeling for nature. Mountains and sea play as important a part in his stories as people do. Civilization, he believed, destroys people’s souls.
The traditions of his mountainous homeland, never overrun by the Moors who conquered most of the rest of Spain, are more truly Spanish than those of southern Spain, occupied by foreigners through the fifteenth century. Because of his portrayals of the patriarchal life of his region, the conservative Pereda was accepted during his lifetime as more Spanish than his contemporaries. Some of his books can still serve as guidebooks for tourists to Santander and the surrounding countryside. Ironically, this novelist who believed that liberal thinkers are the incarnation of all that is evil had as his greatest friend the liberal Benito Pérez Galdós, with whom he took a walking trip through Galicia and Portugal...
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