Spanish Long Fiction Summary


(Survey of Novels and Novellas)

The prose form that eventually came to be called the novel has always been the least precisely defined of literary genres. For that reason, it is difficult to assign a beginning to the history of the novel in Spanish literature. Most of the prose of the Middle Ages and much of that written during the eighteenth century does not fit very well into the category of long fiction of which the nineteenth century realistic novel is the synthesis. Poetry could be defined—at least until the advent of the experimental poetry of the twentieth century—as a literary form in which the language is ordered through rhyme and meter, and drama is identified by the fact that it is intended for live presentation on a stage. The characteristics that make a work of prose “novelistic,” however, have eluded most attempts at precise identification.

The history of the novel in Spain is the history of a form that is constantly new, or “novel.” The shape of that history is determined to some extent by a concern for the purpose of the novel, which is really a concern for the effect of the novel on the reader. Throughout the development of long fiction in Spain, as in many other Western cultures, reading for pleasure was considered an idle and potentially dangerous pursuit and reading for edification an admirable pastime. The novel was subjected to a process of more or less subtle censorship by the official institutions of society, which tended to make it justify itself as something other than pure entertainment, as something useful. This social phenomenon is most obvious in the case of the masterpiece of Spanish fiction, Miguel de Cervantes’ Don Quixote de la Mancha (1605, 1615), but it is manifest even in the earliest extant imaginative prose writing in Spain, the exemplum literature of the thirteenth century.

The novel after Franco

(Survey of Novels and Novellas)

The Spanish novel from 1950 to the end of the Franco regime in 1975 was dominated by two significantly different trends that have characterized the novel throughout its history. The neorealist mode is a continuation of the attempt of prose fiction to create an aesthetic experience that parallels the varied experiences of historical, “real” human existence. The other trend, represented by the diverse textual experimentation of the more innovative novelists such as Juan Goytisolo and Benet, represents the attempt to portray the authentic nature of human experience more effectively through a nontraditional narrative.

These two tendencies in prose fiction continued to be apparent in the novel after 1975, but there is evidence of a preference for a less complex narrative style. One of the manifestations of this trend is the emergence of a significant number of novelists working in the genre of detective or crime fiction. The first novel of Eduardo Mendoza (born 1943), La verdad sobre el caso Savolta (1975; The Truth About the Savolta Case, 1992), is an example of the genre, as are many of the novels of Lourdes Ortiz (born 1943), Benet’s El aire de un crimen (1980; scent of a crime), and Visión del ahogado (1977; a drowned man’s vision), by Juan José Millás (born 1946). Manuel Vázquez Montalbán (1939-2003) cultivated the genre with a series of novels about his fictional hero Pepe Carvalho, a bodyguard for U.S. president John F. Kennedy turned detective. Among his many novels of this type, all characterized by a perverse sense of humor unusual in the Spanish fiction of the period, are Yo maté a Kennedy (1972; I killed Kennedy), Los mares del sur (1979; Southern Seas, 1986), and El delantero centro fue asesinado al atardecer (1988; Offside, 1996).

Many of the novelists who established themselves before and during the Franco era continued to publish in the period after 1975. Cela’s Mazurka para dos muertos (1983; polka for two dead people) and Delibes’s Los santos inocentes (1981; the innocent saints) are evidence of the continued vitality of the older writers. Cela won the Nobel Prize in Literature in 1989, “for a rich and intensive prose, which with restrained compassion forms a challenging vision of man’s...

(The entire section is 959 words.)