Although Gustavo Adolfo Bécquer’s fame rests mainly on his only volume of poetry, The rhymes, he was also a notable prose writer. Bécquer demonstrated his talent at an early age with the publication of Historia de los templos de España (1857; a history of Spain’s temples), an ambitious project of which only the first volume, a study of the churches of Toledo, was completed. Posterity has recognized the greater value of a variety of prose works which appeared in Madrid’s newspapers and magazines during Bécquer’s lifetime. Outstanding among these works are the newspaper letters published under the heading Cartas desde mi celda (1864; From My Cell, 1924). They were written from Veruela’s monastery in Aragón, where the author had gone to seek relief for his failing health. In these “letters,” Bécquer pours out his moral biography, revealing himself to be a religious man who is both aware of the problems of his surroundings and sensitive to the legends and traditions he hears from shepherds and rovers in the northeast of Spain.
Also of great importance among Bécquer’s prose works are the four Cartas literarias a una mujer (1860-1861; Letters to an Unknown Woman, 1924) and the prologue to the book La Soledad (1861) by his friend Augusto Ferrán. In these works, Bécquer expresses his ideas about love, literature in general, and, above all, poetry. In his prologue to Ferrán’s book, Bécquer categorizes his own poetic production as the kind that is “natural, brief, dry, that which germinates in the soul like an electric spark, touches the feelings with a word and flees. . . .”
Bécquer’s most celebrated prose works were his more than twenty legends, Leyendas (1858-1864). The themes of these prose tales do not differ substantially from those of the tales in verse typical of the Romantic movement in Spain and throughout Europe; they reveal a taste for the macabre, for medieval settings and exotic lore. What differentiates Bécquer’s legends from the verse narratives and plays of the Duque de Rivas and José Zorrilla y Moral is their greater emphasis on the mysterious, the uncanny, the supernatural.