Generation of 1898

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regeneration of spain
literary works
critical response

In Spain, as 1898 was drawing near, a national social, economic, and political crisis intensified. Movements favoring Catalan and Basque autonomy gained momentum with the formation of labor unions headed by anarchists and socialists. In 1868 the Spanish throne became vacant with the expulsion of Queen Isabella II of the Bourbon line. Following a number of failed provisional governments, the Bourbon line to the Spanish throne was reinstated in 1874, in the person of Isabella's son, Alfonso XII. The return of the Bourbon dynasty to the Spanish throne is known as the Restoration period. Alfonso XII was succeeded by his son, Alfonso XIII, who was born a few months after his father's death. Until 1902, the year when Alfonso XIII came of age, Spain was ruled by the regent Maria Christina. The rule of Alfonso XIII ended in 1923, when he was overthrown by a coup d'état led by Primo de Rivera. Between the 1870s and the turn of the century the infrastructure of cities such as Madrid and Barcelona changed. Clashes between labor and capitalists fragmented the Spanish bourgeoisie, a class held partly responsible for the national crisis. In the political arena, the key descriptor for this period is instability. The continuum of ill-fated governments made Spaniards weary and dispirited. These feelings were further fueled when Spain lost the Spanish-American War in 1898 and consequently lost Cuba, Puerto Rico, and the Philippines, the last of its colonies.

regeneration of spain

Spanish thinkers sought to solve the nation's ills by calling for a regeneration of Spain, questioning what constituted "lo español," that is, what was purely Spanish. They questioned the spiritual and moral values of Spain, and believed that a reevaluation of the Spanish national character would lift the country from its prostration. A group of literary, cultural, and political male writers attempted to redefine the concept of "lo español." Their writings encompassed all genres of Spanish national literature. Collectively, these writers are known as the Generation of 1898, and their works are key to understanding the process leading to the development of modern Spain. The characteristics of this group are: writings that reflect an intellectual search for truth instead of for aesthetic pleasure; a reverence for the region of Castile turning it into a symbol of what is purely Spanish; an individualistic stance; a new approach to the study of Spanish history; a reestablishment of both medieval and golden age authors as literary models; a fierce criticism of the Restoration period; and the use as philosophical anchors of the ideas of Friedrich Wilhelm Nietzsche (1844–1900), Arthur Schopenhauer (1788–1860), and Søren Kierkegaard (1813–1855).

Most of the Generation of 1898 were young Spanish intellectuals who were literary writers whose paths crossed with journalism: the novelists Miguel de Unamuno y Jugo (1864–1936); Pío Baroja (1872–1956); José Marténez Ruéz, known as "Azorín" (1873–1967); Ramiro de Maetzu y Whitney (1875–1936); Ángel Ganivet (1865–1898); and Ramón María del Valle-Inclán (1866–1936); the dramatist Jacinto Benavente y Martínez (1866–1954); the poet Antonio Machado y Ruiz (1875–1939); and other intellectuals, such as the social historian Joaquín Costa y Martínez (1846–1911), regarded today as a precursor of the Generation. In their manifesto of 1901, Baroja, Azorín, and Maetzu call on science to find solutions for a new social regeneration of Spain "aplicar todos los conocimientos de la ciencia en general a todas las llagas sociales" (apply all scientific knowledge in general to every social ill). This regeneration would begin with the Spanish intellectuals and trickle down to the masses and would be accomplished by studying Spanish history from another perspective, that is, from its "intra-historia," as Unamuno states. This "intra-historia" (intrahistory), would be palpable in the ordinary deeds of common folk, and is important because it carries within itself a connectedness and continuity not found in the Spanish history books. Writers could find this "intra-historia" in the central countryside of Spain, such as Castile, as well as in the works of Spanish medieval writers, including Gonzalo de Berceo and Jorge Manrique. While there were some members of the Generation who looked toward the future (Costa), others saw that revisiting Spain's past history was the way to regenerate Spain because it was in the past that true Spanish character could be found (Ganivet and Unamuno).

literary works

Joaquín Costa focused on the economic and social ills of Spain. His response to "el problema de España" was to modernize the country and eliminate the oligarchic system. Costa believed that Spain needed to "ponerle doble llave al sepulcro de Cid" (put double locks on El Cid's grave), meaning that it was time to stop living in Spain's past. Some of these preoccupations are reflected in Costa's writings. Ganivet's essay Idearium español (1897; Spanish idearium) defines certain aspects of the Spanish character: individualism, a constant preoccupation with a military past, and a disorganization in Spain's political and social life that precluded Spain from being on par with its European neighbors. What was needed, according to Ganivet, was to awaken Spain from its "abulia" (paralyzed will). For Ganivet, Spain had to look inward. Considered the eccentric of the group, the novelist, dramatist, and poet Valle-Inclân in his four Sonatas rewrites the myth of Don Juan for fin-de-siècle Spain. For Valle-Inclân, the novel became a canvas for linguistic experimentation producing what is now considered the best Spanish prose since Miguel de Cervantes Saavedra. Furthermore, these experimentations make Valle-Inclân one of the most innovative writers of the Generation of 1898. He entitled his dramatic works "esperpentos" (grotesque and deformed caricatures), very much in the same vein as paintings that Goya produced during his dark period. Valle-Inclân's "esperpentos" depict what he considered to be the tragic reality of his homeland: a decadent Spain.

The novelist Pío Baroja presented his characters in a constant struggle against hierarchy in a world full of pessimism. He shared with the other members of the Generation of 1898 a fierce criticism of the Restoration period. The essayist, novelist, dramatist, and poet Miguel de Unamuno is considered today to be the philosopher of the group. In his essay En torno al casticismo (1895; Concerning what is purely Spanish), Unamuno takes a new look at Spanish history and the role of Castile in Spanish history. In his novels, Unamuno exposes the contradictions of his life: a tension between the inevitability of death, and the struggle to live the present in a country in need of change.

José Martínez Ruíz "Azorín," regarded as the group's master of style, describes with melancholy an almost frozen-in-time Castilian landscape. For Azorín, the quality of timelessness in the Castilian landscape has yet to be discovered. Yet he realizes that time cannot be stopped, and that Spain has not moved forward in time. Azorín's style uses considerable repetition and this repetition also gives a continuity to his prose. On the other hand, his prose reflects the monotony of Spanish village life, which, as an avid traveler, he experienced firsthand. Azorín's style of repetition also gives continuity to his views on both medieval and golden age Spanish literature. His writings include sequels to masterworks of Spanish literature: the anonymous Lazarillo de Tormes (1554) and La Celestina (1519), and José Zorrilla's Don Juan Tenorio (1844).

The poet Antonio Machado also expresses his love for Castile with a deep introspection. In Machado's hands, Castile becomes a symbol that inspires change and action. In his autobiographical poems, the reader sees another side of Castile, a side that is inevitably tied in with the poet's happy and sad existence. The novelist and essayist Ramiro de Maetzu shares with the other members of the Generation of 1898 a preoccupation for the future of Spain. In his essay Hacia otra España (Looking toward another Spain) (1899), in which he strongly criticizes the culture of Restoration Spain, he advocates the need for a new Spain, one that helps itself by looking toward the rest of Europe. The Nobel prize winner in literature (1922) Jacinto Benavente censured Spanish society in his brand of satirical comedy. He effectively modernized the Spanish drama by distancing it from the Romantic excesses of his own century. His modern comedies are on par with those of Henrik Ibsen (1828–1906), Gerhart Hauptmann (1862–1946), Oscar Wilde (1854–1900), and Gabriele D'Annunzio (1863–1938), the masters of modern European theater.

Although these writers identified some of the reasons for the fin-de-siècle crisis in Spain, their approach for solving this crisis was escapist and therefore ineffective. They advocated looking toward Spain's past and returning to life as it existed in Castile, a region they revered. The members of the 1898 Generation were reactionary voices against realism and the values of the middle class. Theirs was a quest for regenerating Spain by adopting a set of elitist intellectual and spiritual values that disregarded pressing economic, labor, gender, and education issues. In this sense, the Generation of 1898 failed to follow Costa's advice to throw away the key of El Cid's grave and focus on Spain's present ills. Only one of the members of the Generation of 1898 moved in Costa's direction (Maetzu). Maetzu went into public life well into the twentieth century, and by then he had already changed many of his past ideological positions.

critical response

Some critics today credit the Generation of 1898 with having produced a body of work comparable to the golden age of Spanish literature (that is, the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries). From the standpoint of Spanish history, through their intellectual influence, this generation succeeded in giving Spaniards another way to interpret Spanish history: By revisiting the political history of Spain. Their body of work is on par with that of Cervantes de Saavedra, Luis de Góngora y Argote (1561–1627), Garcilaso de la Vega (1503–1536), and Francisco Gómez de Quevedo y Villegas (1580–1645).

The members of the 1898 Generation raised intellectual concerns over traditional Spanish values and the character of Spaniards and for this they deserve credit. On the other hand they did not address the socioeconomic problems plaguing the nation's middle class. Hence, conspicuously absent from their writings are topics such as gender, despite the fact that this was one of the topics of the day in Spain during the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries. Also lacking is the literary canon's inclusion of Spanish female writers as part of the Generation of 1898. This gives the impression that no female literary production related to Spanish regeneration existed during the Restoration period. Modern critics highlight the importance of Carmen de Burgos Seguí, Concepción Gimeno de Flaquer, and Emilia Pardo Bazán, just to name a few women writers of this period. Contrary to the Generation of 1898, these women writers did offer practical solutions for the political, economic, educational, and social issues needing resolution during the Spanish fin de siècle.

See alsoBarcelona; Intellectuals; Madrid; Spain.


Blanco Aguinaga, Carlos. Juventud del 98. Madrid, 1970.

Carr, Raymond. Modern Spain, 1875–1980. New York, 1980.

Caws, Mary Ann. Manifesto: A Century of -Isms. Lincoln, Neb., 2001.

Costa, Joaquín. Oligarquía y caciquismo: Colectivismo agrario y otros escritos. Madrid, 1973.

Machado, Antonio. Obras: Poesía y Teatro. Buenos Aires, 1964.

Maetzu, Ramiro de. Obra literaria olvidada, 1897–1910. Edited by Emilio Palacios Fernândez. Madrid, 2000.

Ramsden, Herbert. The 1898 Movement in Spain: Towards a Reinterpretation: With Special Reference to En torno al Casticismo and Idearium español. Totowa, N.J., 1974.

Shaw, Donald Leslie. The Generation of 1898 in Spain. New York, 1975.

Ugarte, Michael. Madrid 1900: The Capital as Cradle of Civilization and Culture. University Park, Pa., 1996.

Leslie Anne Merced