Mariano José de Larra Essay - Critical Essays

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.

Biographical Information

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.

Major Works

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.

Critical Reception

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.”

Principal Works

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


Pierre L. Ullman (essay date 1971)

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...

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Paul Ilie (essay date 1974-75)

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...

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Susan Kirkpatrick (essay date February 1988)

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...

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Gabriel H. Lovett (essay date 1990)

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,...

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Alvin F. Sherman, Jr. (essay date 1992)

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...

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John R. Rosenberg (essay date summer 1993)

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...

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Alvin F. Sherman, Jr. (essay date 1995)

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.


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David E. C. Nordlund (essay date December 1995)

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...

(The entire section is 9162 words.)

Maria T. Pao (essay date fall-winter 1997-98)

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...

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Donald E. Schurlknight (essay date 1998)

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...

(The entire section is 9738 words.)

Michael P. Iarocci (essay date January 1999)

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...

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Further Reading


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):...

(The entire section is 446 words.)