Juan Valera Analysis

Other literary forms

(Survey of Novels and Novellas)

The first edition of the collected works (Obras completas, 1905-1935) of Juan Valera (vah-LEHR-ah) came to fifty-three volumes. In addition to his nine novels, he published poetry, drama, and short stories. He composed short stories early in his career, worked again in the genre in midcareer, and returned to the form more assiduously during the last decade of his life.

Valera also was a notable literary critic, with a number of volumes to his credit, among them Disertaciones y juicios literarios (1878; literary discourses and judgments), Apuntes sobre el nuevo arte de escribir novelas (1887; notes on the new art of writing novels), Nuevos estudios críticos (1883; new critical studies), and Cartas americanas (1889; American letters). If his criticism were to be faulted, it would be on the grounds of unwarranted benevolence toward some of his less gifted contemporaries and occasionally hastily conceived, shallow reviews; if it is to be especially praised, it is for opening the public’s eyes to the then largely unknown field of Latin American literature. In general, his point of view was classically conservative.

Finally, there is Valera’s five-volume edition of the Florilegio de poesías castellanas del siglo XIX (1902-1903; anthology of nineteenth century Spanish poetry) and his translation into Spanish of Adolf F. Schack’s Poesie und Kunst der Araber in Spanien und Sicilien (1865) as Poesía y arte en los árabes en España y Sicilia (1867, 1868, 1871). In addition to almost every form of literature, critical and creative alike, Valera wrote on matters political and social and left a large body of well-crafted letters, of which more than a thousand have already turned up, addressed to his many friends in Spain and abroad.


(Survey of Novels and Novellas)

Although today Juan Valera is remembered mainly for the ever-popular Pepita Ximenez (and perhaps to a lesser extent for Juanita la larga), during the latter part of the nineteenth and into the twentieth century, he ranked high among the great Spanish novelists and even among the better Spanish critics of his day. His complete works in fifty-three volumes appeared in Madrid from 1905 to 1935, and the widely disseminated Aguilar compact series devoted to him a three-volume set of virtually the same material. Only Benito Pérez Galdós, the dominant Spanish novelist of that time, stood preeminently above him. Because Pérez Galdós himself and other potential rivals, such as Emilia Pardo Bazán, Leopoldo Alas (Clarín), and José María de Pereda, wrote in the realistic or naturalistic vein, the one serious competitor in Valera’s chosen field was probably Armando Palacio Valdés, whose La hermana San Sulpicio (1889; Sister San Sulpicio, 1890), in subject, treatment, and acclaim, bears favorable comparison to the best of Valera’s work.

Valera was also an excellent critic of the literature of his day and was largely responsible for popularizing with the Spanish public the works of the then quite ignored Latin American writers from across the sea, especially the Nicaraguan poet Rubén Darío. Indeed, Valera’s early election into the Spanish Academy was principally the result of his criticism rather than of his (rather slim) accomplishments as a poet. His career as a novelist was still in the future. It might be added that his short stories and plays come to no more than should be expected from any major writer in a related genre.

Valera’s long diplomatic career did not prevent an impressively large literary output: Forty works bear his name, including works he not only wrote but also edited and translated. Only in a country such as Spain, proverbial for the abundant output of its writers (Lope de Vega Carpio reputedly penned more than two thousand plays, of which more than four hundred are indisputably his; Pérez Galdós wrote some one hundred novels and dramas), could Valera be considered slothful. By any other national standard, his production is impressive.


(Great Authors of World Literature, Critical Edition)

Bianchini, Andreina. “Pepita Jiménez: Ideology and Realism.” Hispanofila 33, no. 2 (January, 1990): 33-51. An examination of the novel’s relationship to ideology and idealism. Discusses the three-part structure of the work.

DeCoster, Cyrus Cole. Juan Valera. New York: Twayne, 1974. An informative biography. Contains an overview of Valera’s life and literary career and analyzes his literary characters and themes.

Ford, J. D. M. Main Currents of Spanish Literature. 1919. Reprint. New York: Biblio and Tannen, 1968. In these critical lectures delivered at the Lowell Institute in Boston, Valera’s novels are considered high points of Spanish American literature. Text includes a bibliographical note.

Lott, Robert E. Language and Psychology in “Pepita Jimenez.” Urbana: University of Illinois Press, 1970. A well-regarded study of the language and psychology found in Pepita Jiménez. The first part is an analysis of language, style, and rhetorical devices. The second section is a psychological examination of characters.

Taylor, Teresia Langford. The Representation of Women in the Novels of Juan Valera: A Feminist Critique. New York: P. Lang, 1997. This study focuses on the underlying patriarchal ideology in Valera’s texts. Includes bibliographical references and an index.

Trimble, Robert. Chaos Burning on My Brow: Don Juan Valera in His Novels. San Bernardino, Calif.: Borgo Press, 1995. A critical study. Includes an index and a bibliography.

Turner, Harriet S. “Nescit Labi Virtus: Authorial Self-Critique in Pepita Jiménez.” Kentucky Romance Quarterly 35, no. 3 (August, 1988): 347-357. Examines the omniscient narrator, the writer, the use of irony, and the relationship to virtue.