literature

literature
   The development of literature since the end of the Franco regime in 1975 is characterized by a blend of continuity and rapid innovation. Though censorship and the general ideological climate of the regime provided inauspicious conditions for literary and cultural activity, some of the most notable literary achievements of the twentieth century in Spain were realized during the dictatorship. This was particularly the case in the novel, with the work of Cela, Laforet and Matute marking decisive formal innovations and offering a critique of the official version of reality purveyed by the regime. In the theatre, too, Buero Vallejo, Sastre and Gala courageously challenged the prevailing authoritarianism with plays which criticized cruelty and injustice, sometimes obliquely, but often explicitly. Poetry also flourished, owing to the efforts of an exceptionally gifted succession of poets from the 1950s on. Three factors combined to enable writers to achieve some successes, even within the limited field of manoeuvre allowed by censorship. In the first place, the functioning of censorship itself was often inefficient, inconsistent, and prone to manipulation by personal contacts and influence. Moreover, writers themselves developed considerable skill in exploiting the limits of what was permitted: Buero, for example, wrote several ostensibly historical plays, in which the implied parallels with the Franco dictatorship were clear enough to perceptive audiences, but insufficiently explicit to allow the censors to invoke the criteria, however vague and general, by which they operated. Poetry, appealing to a limited readership, was comparatively unmolested by censorship. Though José Angel Valente suffered harassment from the authorities, it was not because of his poetry, but because of a short story which the censors regarded as critical of the armed forces. In any case, by the 1960s, the regime's anxiety to present itself to the world as a modern, quasi-democratic polity had the effect of mitigating some of the more severe effects of censorship, though there were still limits to what could be written. The explicit comments on the Civil War and on police brutality during the regime in Juan Goytisolo's Marks of Identity (Señas de identidad, 1966) meant that the book was first published in Mexico, and did not appear under a Spanish imprint until after Franco's death.
   Second, it proved impossible in practice for the regime to isolate Spain from intellectual and cultural currents from outside, owing to the importance of tourism and the growth of international communications. The discovery of Italian neo-realism in the 1950s had a profound effect on both the Spanish cinema and, more notably, on the novel. By the 1960s, the increasing availability of foreign works of critical theory, plus the growth of innovative fiction in Latin America, represented, among others, by the "magical realism" of Gabriel García Márquez, was encouraging experimentation among Spanish writers.
   The third factor was the traditional, humanistic character of university education, which, while limiting its practical relevance to a society in need of rapid technological modernization, kept alive interest in literature in general, and in the literary heritage of the various cultures of Spain in particular. Admittedly, for most of the Francoist period, it is meaningful to speak of a cleavage between élite and mass cultures. Academic critics tended to be dismissive towards literary journalism, and the reading public for serious creative literature remained relatively limited until the 1980s. Nevertheless, it was university graduates, including many from disciplines other than arts, who staffed the literary journals, started brave and precarious publishing ventures, and, indeed, produced much of the creative writing, some of which, like the early work of Cela, was partly influenced by the sixteenth- and seventeenth-century picaresque novel, a genre in which Spain had excelled. The role of education in the sphere of literature became increasingly important after 1970 (see also education and research), when the first of several legislative measures was enacted, which had the effect of widening participation in education and, in the long run, creating a more sophisticated and demanding readership. In parallel with this, the publishing industry has expanded and diversified, aided by the penetration of the Spanish market by international firms like the German-based Springer group, and the adoption of aggressive marketing strategies. One consequence of this has been to foster an approach to literature similar to the consumerism which determines attitudes towards other products.
   The effects of this on the cultural and literary environment have been complex. At one level, the escapism which characterized Francoist culture has been compounded, producing a burgeoning of what is referred to as "kiosk literature" (literatura de quiosco). Already, during the dictatorship, the reading public had developed a taste for translations of English and American novels of adventure, romance and detective fiction, as well as indigenous genres such as the novela rosa and the fotonovela. To this has been added a proliferation of other kinds of reading matter, such as practical manuals, comics, gossip magazines coming under the general rubric of prensa del corazón, and pornography. Newspaper kiosks located on the street and in railway and bus stations, stationers, large department stores, and even fast food chains such as VIPS (see also fast food outlets), all provide retail outlets for a much more diversified mass literature. Figures produced by the National Statistical Institute show that in 1995 reading was more than twice as popular a leisure-time activity as watching spectator sports or going to discos. The increasing tendency of readers to behave as consumers has, however, been beneficial to more serious kinds of literature as well. Though readership of the press is overall among the lowest in Europe, readership of the quality press (ABC, El País, El Mundo, La Vanguardia) is comparable to that in the UK (see also media). The lack of specialist weeklies such as the Times Literary Supplement or the New York Review of Books is compensated for by the literary supplements of the Spanish quality papers, which exercise considerable influence over reader preferences, and also have an impact on the sales figures of publishing houses. The traditional disdain of academic critics for anything smacking of popularization has been broken down, and many now write willingly for the newspaper supplements. Writers like the novelist Francisco Umbral and the dramatist Antonio Gala have earned a secondary reputation as literary and political journalists with a wider public than they commanded through their creative work. In addition to prolonging the "culture of evasion" characteristic of Francoism, the retail outlets mentioned above have also been a means of disseminating low-cost editions of foreign and Spanish classics, as well as work by serious contemporary writers. Whereas in the 1950s and 1960s a quality novel by a Spanish writer might have a print-run of a few thousand, from the mid-1980s, it was not uncommon for leading novelists like Juan Benet to have initial print-runs of several tens of thousands.
   Part of the reason for this is that serious writers often adapted their style and subject-matter (judiciously, it must be said) to the demands of the market. Poetry, a genre identified in the public mind with the concerns of an élite minority, has not shared in the general expansion to the same extent as the novel, though a survey of young readers carried out on behalf of the Ministry of Culture in 1987 showed that in the late teens and early twenties age-group, 40 percent reported having read a volume of poetry. The same survey suggested that it was this age-range that accounted for the largest single cohort of the reading public, and this group was more likely to read books than newspapers. It is to the interests of this sector, with its desire to understand contemporary society and its antecedents in the Civil War and the Franco dictatorship, that many of the most successful novelists have been able to appeal. This is, for example, why the detective novel, especially in the hands of one of its most successful exponents, Manuel Vázquez Montalban, has displayed some unusual features in Spain since 1975, with implied political and social commentary being accorded as much importance as the solution of the crime.
   The other major development since the 1980s has been the expansion of women's writing. Though novelists like Rosa Chacel, Carmen Laforet and Ana María Matute enjoy a wellmerited reputation as a result of work published in the difficult Franco years, relatively few women were writing in the social-realist mode which won favour with influential critical opinion in the 1950s and 1960s. The situation of women writers in all genres has been transformed by general changes in the social status of women, the expansion of the publishing industry, the more favourable critical climate, and the multiplication of sub-genres, including erotic literature, to which many women writers have contributed. Literature since 1975, therefore, has reflected the expansion of the reading public in numerical terms, the increasing commercialization of the publishing industry, and the blurring of the distinctions between "high" and "popular" cultures, with the consequent diversification of activity and interests by writers and readers alike. Traditionalist critics, in Spain as elsewhere, continue to deplore what they see as the decline of literature, particularly in competition with the audiovisual media, but the complexity of the situation does not warrant such pessimistic judgements.
   Further reading
   - Debicki, A.P. (1994) Spanish Poetry of the Twentieth Century: Modernity and Beyond, Lexington, KY: University Press of Kentucky (contains especially useful overviews of Spanish poetry of the 1970s and 1980s).
   - Graham, H. and Labanyi, J. (eds) (1995) Spanish Cultural Studies, an Introduction: The Struggle for Modernity, Oxford: Oxford University Press (the index can be used as a guide to the references to literature which appear through the book, and to individual writers).
   - Hooper, J. (1995) The New Spaniards, Harmondsworth: Penguin (see chapters 24, 28 and 29 for a concise overview of the main trends).
   - Jordan B. (1990) Writers and Politics in Franco's Spain, London: Routledge (one of the most lucid studies in English of the novel in relation to its sociopolitical context).
   - Ruiz Ramón, F. (1989) Historia del teatro español. Siglo XX, Madrid: Cátedra (a history of the Spanish theatre in the twentieth century).
   EAMONN RODGERS

Encyclopedia of contemporary Spanish culture. 2013.

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