Pedro Antonio de Alarcón 1833–-1891
Spanish novelist, novella and short story writer, travel writer, poet, playwright, and critic.
The following entry provides criticism on Alarcón's short fiction from 1979 through 1999.
Famous for his vivid tales of Spanish life, Alarcón has been commended for enlivening Spanish literature with his animated voice and elegant style. By utilizing new forms—the short story, novella, travel diary, and memoir—he contributed much to the literary development of his country. In addition, his work reflects many of the major literary developments of his time, mirroring the gradual shift from romanticism to realism.
Born to a noble but impoverished family, Alarcón turned to writing at an early age, publishing his first novel at the age of twenty-one. The same year he became editor of El látigo (The Whip), a Madrid avant-garde newspaper at which he launched vitriolic attacks on the government, military, clergy, and other writers. Alarcón so incensed his fellow artists that a group of them arranged for organized jeering at performances of El hijo pródigo (1857), his only play, thus resulting in its swift failure. He soon left his editor's post to volunteer for military service during the Moroccan campaign of 1859-60. Diario de un testigo de la guerra de Africa (1860), his enormously successful account of this adventure, provided him money and reputation, and for the next thirty years he produced dozens of short stories, poems, travel essays, sketches, and novels, including his acknowledged masterpiece, El sombrero de tres picos (The Three-Cornered Hat), which appeared in 1874. In addition to his literary activity, Alarcón was involved in politics, and having dedicated himself to increasingly conservative causes, he served four times as deputy to Alfonso XII. Disheartened by critical disapproval of his later literary works, Alarcón virtually abandoned writing, publishing only two notable works, a literary reminiscence and a collection of short stories, between 1884 and his death in 1891.
Major Works of Short Fiction
In his Historia de mis libros (1884), Alarcón divides his short stories chronologically into three groups: his early stories, which were written while he lived in Guadix and Granada and exhibit the influence of writers like Walter Scott and Victor Hugo; his middle stories, which were written in Madrid and influenced by Alphonse Karr and Agustín Bonnat; and his later stories, which renounce any particular influence and are considered of high quality. Alarcón's stories were collected in three volumes, Novelas cortas: Cuentos amatorios (1881), Novelas cortas: Historietas nacionales (1881), and Novelas cortas: Narraciones inverosímiles (1882). Most of the stories of Historietas nacionales are war stories and are set during Spain's war with Napoleon's France, known as the War of Independence. Written before 1860, these early stories are classified as romantic in nature. Cuentos amatorios includes stories that have the common theme of love. Narraciones inverosímiles contains stories that are invented, not based on actual events—unlike the stories in the other volumes. Despite his impressive number of short stories, Alarcón is best remembered for his novella, The Three-Cornered Hat. Set in Guadix in the early 1800s, this humorous story chronicles an old man's unsuccessful attempt to seduce and corrupt a virtuous and intelligent young woman.
Although Alarcón is sometimes called a “one-book author,” memorable only for The Three-Cornered Hat, his contribution is hardly limited to that single novella. Commentators note that he was an influential author with a unique personal voice and mastery of many literary forms that he helped introduce to Spanish literature. Recent critics have attempted to place Alarcón's short fiction within the tradition of nineteenth-century Spanish literature and trace his literary development from romanticism to realism. Commentators have evaluated the influence of such writers as Walter Scott, Alexander Dumas, Victor Hugo, Honoré de Balzac, Agustín Bonnat, and George Sand on Alarcón's fiction, particularly the early stories. His portrayal of women has been another topic of critical analysis.