Larra, Mariano José de
Mariano José de Larra 1809-1837
(Also wrote under pseudonyms of Fígaro, El bachiller Don Juan Pérez de Munguía, El pobrecito hablador, El duende satírico, Andrés Niporesas, and Ramón de Arriala.) Spanish essayist, journalist, novelist, and playwright.
The following entry presents criticism on Larra from 1971 to 1999.
A renowned Spanish satirist and social critic, Larra's life and early death served as emblems of Romantic tragedy and as a source of inspiration for succeeding generations of Spanish intellectuals.
Larra was born in 1809 in Madrid, the only child of Mariano de Larra y Langelot, a physician, and his second wife, Dolores Sánchez de Castro y Delgado. Larra's father joined Napoleon's Imperial Army during its occupation of Spain, and was compelled to accompany the retreating troops back to France in 1813. The family's exile lasted until Larra was nine years old when Spain issued a general amnesty for French sympathizers. He received his early education in French schools and spoke French rather than Spanish—factors that contributed to Larra's lifelong feeling that he was an outsider within his own country. In 1824 Larra entered the University of Valladolid, but left without earning a degree and returned to Madrid where he embarked on a career as a journalist. He founded the periodical El duende satírico del día, serving as its editor and principal contributor. Highly critical of Spanish politics and social customs, the publication was soon suppressed by the government. In 1829, Larra married Josefa Anacleta Wetoret y Martínez, a match that proved unsuccessful. Three years later Larra began publishing another journal, El pobrecito hablador, which lasted only slightly longer than his first effort. He continued to write for other periodicals and in 1833 began an affiliation with La revista española, for which he produced numerous satirical essays under the pseudonym Figaro. At the same time, Larra wrote several successful plays that were staged in Madrid during the 1830s. His unhappy love affair with Dolores Armijo, his financial difficulties, and his growing pessimism about the possibilities for meaningful social and political reform led to Larra's suicide in 1837 at the age of twenty-eight.
Larra's most important works were the essays and satires he produced for various Spanish journals. In general, they may be categorized as political articles, literary criticism, and artículos de costumbres, or sketches of customs. The first group demonstrated Larra's commitment to political justice as well as his pessimism regarding the possibilities of achieving any real reform in his own time. His literary criticism was also marked by his liberal and progressive attitude, and by his belief in the aesthetic ideals associated with Spanish Romanticism. The final category, the artículos de costumbres, best illustrates Larra's keen powers of observation, his brutal honesty, and his biting wit. These essays are critical of everything from poor service in the restaurants of Madrid to such Spanish institutions as the bullfight and the masked ball. Larra's most famous essay, “La Nochebuena de 1836,” was composed less than two months before his death. Its narrator, widely assumed to be Larra himself, tours the city on Christmas Eve and is disturbed to find that the celebrations are marked by sensuality rather than spirituality. He returns home to discover that his servant is intoxicated, and in the classic role reversal associated with carnivals and festivals, the drunken servant freely criticizes the excesses and hypocrisy of his master's class.
Larra was also a renowned dramatist, producing No más mostrador in 1831 and Macías (1834), a verse drama based on his historical novel El doncel de don Enrique el Doliente (1834). The work, considered Larra's best play, tells the story of fifteenth-century Galician poet Macías O Namorado.
With the exception of Macías, Larra's plays were considered little more than translations of the works of French playwrights of the time, most notably Eugène Scribe. Even so, they were popular and financially successful during Larra's lifetime, but have largely been forgotten since. His satirical essays, however, were widely read by his contemporaries and continued to inspire succeeding generations of liberal Spanish intellectuals throughout the nineteenth and twentieth centuries. Alvin F. Sherman, Jr. reports that Larra's influence can be seen in the works of several nineteenth-century Spanish writers, most notably the novelist Benito Pérez Galdó. In addition, Larra's political vision motivated many of the members of the Generation of 1898, particularly Unamuno and Azorín, and his work formed the basis of the ideological essays of Ortega y Gasset of the Generation of 1914. Paul Ilie also discusses Larra's influence on succeeding generations of liberals, including the Leftist intellectuals of the twentieth-century Spanish Civil War. In fact, Ilie believes that Larra's status as a champion of liberal causes is rising: “With increasing exaggeration, Larra is becoming the hero of modern Leftist scholarship. His reputation reflects growing idealization both in the literary world and in some scholarly circles.”
Larra's political and aesthetic philosophies contain inherent contradictions according to John R. Rosenberg, who has analyzed the essay “La Nochebuena de 1836.” Larra and his narrator are torn between the position of alienated personal superiority typical of the romantic hero and the desire to be part of the public discourse working toward social change that characterizes the liberal reformer. Rosenberg reports that “Larra is at the head of the Spanish romantic movement that paraded a series of heroes and writers who cultivated their marginality only to find themselves locked out of meaningful discourse and enclosed by silence.” Susan Kirkpatrick also explores the contradictions in Larra's work, maintaining that despite his liberalism, his representation of individual subjectivity was very conventionally male. According to Kirkpatrick, although Larra “exalts the hero's rebellion against political authority in the name of the individual subject's right to happiness, defiance of patriarchal law cannot be conceived as a positive attribute of the female protagonist.”
No más mostrador [Quitting Business] (play) 1831
“El hombre menguado” (essay) 1833
El doncel de don Enrique el Doliente (novel) 1834
Macías (verse drama) 1834
“¿Qué hace en Portugal su Majestad?” (essay) 1834
*Fígaro: Colección de artículous dramaticos, literarios, políticos y de costumbres, publicados en los años 1832, 1833, y 1834. 5 vols. (essays) 1835-1837
*Obras completas de Fígaro (essays) 1835
“El día de difuntos de 1836” (essay) 1836
“La nochebuena de 1836” (essay) 1836
“Panorama matritense. Cuadros de costumbres de la capital observados y descritos por un Curioso Parlante” (essay) 1836
Obras completas de D. Mariano José de Larra (“Fígaro”) (essays, poetry, plays, and novel) 1886
†Obras de D. Mariano José de Larra (Fígaro) (essays, poetry, plays, and novel) 1960
*The essays in these collections were first published in various periodicals, including El duende satírico del día, El pobrecito hablador, La revista española, and El Español.
†Published in Biblioteca de Autores Españoles, vols. 127-130
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SOURCE: Ullman, Pierre L. “Larra's Preparliamentary Articles.” In Mariano de Larra and Spanish Political Rhetoric, pp. 65-100. Madison: University of Wisconsin Press, 1971.
[In the following excerpt, Ullman maintains that as censorship was relaxed at the end of 1834, Larra's political criticism, often embedded within theatrical reviews, grew more strident.]
The preceding chapter dealt with the political situation from Ferdinand's death to the opening of Cortes. Now we shall turn to Larra's production during this period. An immediate question in that respect is whether, as some scholars have felt, Figaro's writings betray a gradual disillusionment with Martínez. It seems to me that a thorough examination of the essays, with adequate knowledge of historical sources, would obviate such a conclusion. An increase in the essays' evident animosity should be attributed not so much to growing disillusionment as to a probable relaxation of censorship in the latter half of 1834. Yet this is only a hypothesis, because no one has studied the fluctuation of censorial severity during that year. Nevertheless, there is evidence of such a relaxation. A new censorship regulation did go into effect on July 1, 1834, and we can assume that it was a step toward freedom. It could be argued, of course, that the interpretation and application of the law in such cases is more significant than the law itself; and no study of...
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SOURCE: Ilie, Paul. “Larra's Nightmare.” Revista Hispanica Moderna 38, no. 4 (1974-75): 153-66.
[In the following essay, Ilie examines Larra's work in terms of its aesthetic quality, which he describes as “grotesque.”]
With increasing exaggeration, Larra is becoming the hero of modern Leftist scholarship. His reputation reflects growing idealization both in the literary world and in some scholarly circles.1 When writers like Azorín and Baroja marched to Larra's graveside and paid homage to his memory in 1901, everyone understood that a group of intense young men were eager to find a hero in their moment of need. But even as they fantasied the impassioned Larra as the supreme symbol of national tragedy, they recognized and spoke of his paradoxes and faults. Then later, during the Civil War, Communist Party member Cernuda wrote a commemorative poem on the anniversary of Larra's death in 1937, speaking only of his virtues and using them to denounce the Fascist effort to suffocate freedom.2 The outcry against intellectual stiflement continues today among such Leftist writers as Juan Goytisolo, who singles out Larra's position as a “committed” writer. He praises not only Larra's moral honesty in dealing with censorship but also his efforts to “promover una cultura nacional auténticamente popular.”3 Goytisolo does not document his opinion about a popular...
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SOURCE: Kirkpatrick, Susan. “Liberal Romanticism and the Female Protagonist in Macías.” Romance Quarterly 35, no. 1 (February 1988): 51-8
[In the following essay, Kirkpatrick maintains that Larra's conception of individual subjectivity within the aesthetics of Romanticism and within liberal political reform remained male and bourgeois.]
In his 1836 essay “Literatura,” Mariano José de Larra called for a new literature, “expresión de la sociedad nueva que componemos, toda de verdad como de verdad es nuestra sociedad.”1 Larra's development of this idea proposes as the mission of his generation a new concept of the object of literature, a concept fundamental to liberal Romanticism. It is above all in his elaboration of what he means by the truth common to literature and society that we can see the premises linking Romantic aesthetics to liberalism: “En política el hombre no ve más que intereses y derechos, es decir, verdades. En literatura no puede buscar por consiguiente sino verdades. … Porque las pasiones en el hombre siempre serán verdades, porque la imaginación misma, ¿qué es sino una verdad más hermosa?” By including self-interest, rights, passions, and imagination within the meaning of “truth,” Larra defines truth in terms of a basic assumption of liberal ideology—that the common reality...
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SOURCE: Lovett, Gabriel H. “Larra and the Liberal Revolution.” In Romantic Spain, pp. 57-80. New York: Peter Lang, 1990.
[In the following excerpt, Lovett discusses the role of Larra's satirical writings during the 1833-40 Spanish civil war between the Carlists and the Liberals.]
In the war against Carlism Larra's pen played an active part. In a number of articles he poked fun at the pretender's cause, ridiculing Carlism and the Carlists with his incomparable satire. He saw them as backward, attempting to annul all progress, and even history itself, in their desire to take Spain back to the order of the sixteenth century. The Carlists, according to Larra, displayed their ignorance through their propensity for pure negation; they denied both the necessities of the new day and also the progress made in the nineteenth century. It seemed as if the Carlists supported a system which had no place in the modern era. One of his most ingenious anti-Carlist papers is the one entitled “Nadie pase sin hablar al portero o los viajeros en Vitoria” (18 October, 1833) published in La Revista Española. In this article the author begins by asking the question “why should not the country have its portero” and then proceeds to give a fictitious scene which transpires in the northern town of Vitoria.
Two travellers to Spain, a Frenchman, ignorant of the...
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SOURCE: Sherman, Alvin F., Jr. “Mariano José de Larra: A Witness of His Time.” In Mariano José de Larra: A Directory of Historical Personages, pp. 1-23. New York: Peter Lang, 1992.
[In the following excerpt, Sherman examines various influences on Larra's work, as well as Larra's influence on the critical and political writers of both Spain and Latin America during the nineteenth and twentieth centuries.]
Larra's articles have played a prominent role in the development of both critical and ideological thought in Spain and Latin America. One of the earliest manifestations was with the Generation of 1837 in Argentina (Alvarez Guerrero). The political-literary personalities of this decisive period in Latin American history, including Sarmiento (Scari, 77) and the revolutionary writers of Uruguay (Martín Periodista, 235), modified and enhanced Larra's liberal vision of a progressive government to meet the needs of the emerging nations of Latin America. In Spain his works influenced several significant writers, either directly or indirectly. The late nineteenth-century novelist Benito Pérez Galdós (Lorenzo-Rivero Afinidades, 85)1 based many of his works on the same weaknesses that Larra saw in the society of his period. More directly motivated by his vision of Spain, and the country's potential, were the writers of the Generation of 1898,...
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SOURCE: Rosenberg, John R. “Between Delirium and Luminosity: Larra's Ethical Nightmare.” Hispanic Review 61, no. 3 (summer 1993): 379-89.
[In the following essay, Rosenberg explores Larra's difficult ethical position as a practitioner of Spanish romanticism vacillating between self-imposed marginality and engaged participation in contemporary discourse.]
In the Critique of Pure Reason Kant proposes an epistemological reversal that reflects a major step in the transformation from neoclassical to romantic ideology. He writes: “It has hitherto been assumed that our cognition must conform to the objects; but all attempts to ascertain anything about these objects a priori, by means of conceptions, and thus to extend the range of our knowledge has been rendered abortive by this assumption. Let us then make the experiment whether we may not be more successful in metaphysics, if we assume that the objects must conform to our cognition” (qtd. in Philosophical Writings 6). This “Copernican turn” (as he called it), when joined to the work of Fichte, Schiller and the Schlegels, attempted to help resolve many of the unacceptable consequences deriving from seventeenth- and eighteenth-century thinking. Hans Eichner has pointed out how the romantics inverted classical epistemological systems in order to escape the limitations placed on free will by the concept of a mechanical universe....
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SOURCE: Sherman, Alvin F., Jr. “Larra and Satire: The Question of Don Carlos and the Spanish Monarchy.” Critica Hispanica 17, no. 2 (1995): 211-23.
[In the following essay, Sherman discusses Larra's views on satire, which he considered a necessary activity that would lead to social and political reform.]
In his well-known article “De la sátira y de los satíricos”1 Larra comments:
Somos satíricos porque queremos criticar los abusos, porque quisiéramos contribuir con nuestras débiles fuerzas a la perfección posible de la sociedad a que tenemos la honra de pertenecer.
As we can see, Larra saw satire as a reformative activity that if manipulated correctly could result in improved social development. In this same article he defines the satirical writer as “la luna, un cuerpo opaco destinado a dar luz, y es acaso el único de quien con razón se puede decir que da lo que no tiene” (BAE 128:164). A few lines later he adds, “Esa acrimonia misma, esa mordacidad jocosa que suele hacer tan a menudo el contento de los demás, es en él la fría impasibilidad del espejo que reproduce las figuras no sólo sin gozar, sino a veces empañándose” (BAE 128:164). Interestingly, this expanded definition adds a human equality to the satirist....
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SOURCE: Nordlund, David E. C. “Larra: Theatrical Criticism and Social Revolution, 1833-36.” Revista Hispanica Moderna 48, no. 2 (December 1995): 233-49.
[In the following essay, Nordlund examines Larra's conception of theatre as a possible instrument for social change.]
Although Mariano José de Larra is best known for his articles dealing with social customs and political satire, and much critical work has been devoted to these subjects, Larra also displays a great interest towards theater as a literary genre and also theater in terms of its function in society, especially that of Spanish society. The purpose of the following study is to analyze Larra's view of theater as an important genre as well as a means to better a society in disarray. The years of 1833-1836 stand out and will be the focal point of our interest. The nearly void year of 1835 (due to his long stay outside of Spain) serves as a bridge between the two major blocks of Larra's approach towards theater. The years that represent the heart of our study, 1833-34, are most useful to study his preoccupation with the primarily technical aspects of theater (the actor as a subject matter to be critiqued, the question of theatrical genres), his admiration of Moratín (and therefore a Neoclassical embracement), and finally, a special interest towards the literary production of Martínez de la Rosa. On the other hand, though, back from his long...
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SOURCE: Pao, Maria T. “Coming to His Senses: Physical Gratification in ‘La Nochebuena de 1836’ and Two Texts of the Spanish Avant-Garde.” Letras Peninsulares 10, nos. 2-3 (fall-winter 1997-98): 415-36.
[In the following essay, Pao examines the role of physical gratification and excess in Larra's essay “La Nochebuena de 1836” and the influence of that work on two twentieth-century avant-garde texts.]
For writers in Madrid after 1915 and through the 1920s, the place to be on Saturday nights where one could be assured of witty exchanges and general merriment was the tertulia at Ramón Gómez de la Serna's “Sagrada Cripta de Pombo.” The list of attendees included entrenched members of the cultural establishment as well as initiates; Ortega y Gasset, Azorin and Valle-Inclán were known to appear, along with Lorca, Buñuel and the painter Maruja Mallo. From time to time “banquetes literarios” were held in honor of admired figures such as the aforementioned Ortega, the writer and critic Enrique Díez-Canedo and, once, the estimable “Don Nadie.” According to Ramón, the prototype—“el que crea el género”—for these homages could be traced to a banquet which took place on March 24, 1909 at the Cafe Fornos (293-94). This was the dinner dedicated to “Fígaro” or Mariano José de Larra, the nineteenth-century satirist. More than 100 participants were present at the event...
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SOURCE: Schurlknight Donald E. “The Limits of Romantic Ideology: Larra's Review of Dumas' Antony and Moral Relativism.” In Spanish Romanticism in Context: Of Subversion, Contradiction and Politics, pp. 73-93. Lanham, Md.: University Press of America, 1998.
[In the following excerpt, Schurlknight explores Larra's understanding and interpretation of Romantic ideology and discusses some of the contradictions between that ideology and Larra's personal beliefs.]
In this chapter we turn our attention from drama to the essay. Even so, our focus does not abandon the topic of theater, because the two-part article that we now investigate is a review of Alexandre Dumas' drama Antony. Here, too, in Mariano José de Larra's elegant prose essay we discover that contradiction and ambiguity are integral, if unwanted, aspects of his review.
Many critics consider Larra the most genuine of Spanish Romantics, because of his literary work and his life and because of the fusion in him of the external with the internal world. In his writings we see reflected the most ardent, the most discussed problems of his times, as well as his own particular way of focusing these. In a society that was, at the time, struggling to determine its course for the future, Larra was keenly attuned to a large number of the more important issues. For many, it is easy to concede that Larra had a clearer view of...
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SOURCE: Iarocci, Michael P. “Between the Liturgy and the Market: Bourgeois Subjectivity and Romanticism in Larra's ‘La Nochebuena de 1836.’” Revista de Estudios Hispánicos 33, no. 1 (January 1999) 41-63.
[In the following essay, Iarocci asserts that Larra's critically acclaimed essay “La Nochebuena de 1836” is a fusion of individual romantic subjectivity with contemporary social and political concerns.]
The word is the medium in which occur the slow quantitative accretions of those changes which have not yet achieved the status of a new ideological quality, not yet produced a new and fully-fledged ideological form. The word has the capacity to register all the transitory, delicate, momentary phases of social change.
—M. N. Voloshinov, Marxism and the Philosophy of Language
Among the most widely anthologized of Mariano José de Larra's works, “La Nochebuena de 1836” continues to rank, along with “Horas de Invierno,” “El Día de Difuntos de 1836” and “Necrología. Exequias del Conde de Campo Alange,” as one of the most canonical and critically celebrated essays in his production; and the immediate reasons for its privileged status are not difficult to discern.1 As the work of critics as methodologically disparate as Ricardo Gullón, Susan Kirkpatrick and John Rosenberg has demonstrated,...
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Brent, Albert. “Larra's Dramatic Works.” Romance Notes 8, no. 2 (spring 1967): 207-12.
Provides a complete listing of Larra's plays including production dates and locations.
Adams, Nicholson B. “A Note on Larra's No Más Mostrador.” Romance Studies Presented to William Morton Dey, no. 12 (1950): 15-8.
Examines the popularity and questionable originality of Larra's first play.
Adler, Robert L. “Modernization of Spain and the Converso in the Work of Mariano José de Larra.” Hispania 72, no. 3 (September 1989): 483-90.
Discusses Larra's use of converso characters in No más mostrador as part of his continuing efforts to modernize his country.
Fox, E. Inman. “Historical and Literary Allusions in Larra's ‘El Hombre Menguado.’” Hispanic Review 28 (1960): 341-9.
Considers Larra's first political articles written in response to the civil war between the Carlists and the Liberals.
Gies, David T. “Larra, Grimaldi, and the Actors of Madrid.” In Studies in Eighteenth-Century Spanish Literature and Romanticism in Honor of John Clarkson Dowling, edited by Douglas and Linda Jane Barnette, pp. 113-22. Newark, Del.: Juan de la Cuesta, 1985....
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