Naturalism and realism were the two literary currents in vogue when Juan Valera decided to write his first novel. Valera felt a profound antipathy for naturalism, with its emphasis on what he considered the gross and the vulgar, and he disliked realism for its lack of imagination. He believed that a good novel must be both inventive and amusing. Searching for an alternative to either naturalism or realism, he decided on a new form, the psychological novel. His work remains within the general framework of realism, but unlike his contemporaries, Valera describes an interior reality rather than the objective reality.
Valera, considered to be one of the three most important novelists of nineteenth century Spain (along with José María de Pereda and Benito Pérez Galdós), was also one of the major literary critics of that period. He was born into Spanish aristocracy, studied law and religion, was an elected deputy in congress, and had a long career as a diplomat, serving as an ambassador to Vienna and as a minister in Lisbon, Washington, D.C., and Brussels. Valera first received critical acclaim for his essays, which covered a wide array of subjects. An important literary contribution was his psychological analysis of his characters. Although Valera attempted earlier novels (some of which appeared in serial form in newspapers), Pepita Jiménez is his first completed novel, and is regarded as his best.
Valera was an elegant and refined author. He is acknowledged as the foremost stylist in his language of the nineteenth century. He was a keen observer who studied human passions and feelings, and a master of the understated emotion. In general he created well-developed characters, using balanced, artificial language to add depth to his novels and draw out the relationship between the characters. A writer who used a contemporary setting to address the problems existing in his society, he believed that a novel could be credible and true to life without portraying the vulgar things common in the works of naturalistic authors. He was an admirer of form and beauty and believed that...
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