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.