Castro, Rosalía de (1837–1885)

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Castro, Rosalía de (1837–1885)

Galician writer, best known for her poetry and for her contribution to the revival of the Galician language in Spain. Name variations: María Rosalía Rita; Rosalía Castro de Murguía; Rosalia de Castro. Born on February 24, 1837, in Santiago de Compostela, Spain;died in Padrón, Galicia, Spain, on July 15, 1885, of uterine or stomach cancer; daughter of María Teresa da Cruz de Castro y Abadía (of noble family) and José Martínez Viojo (a priest); attended school in Santiago where she learned music, drawing and French; married Manuel Martínez Murguía on October 10, 1858, in Madrid; children: Alejandra (b. 1859); Aurea (b. 1869); twins Gala and Ovidio (b. 1871 or 1872); Amara (b. 1874); Adriano (b. 1875, died in infancy); Valentina (1877–1877).

Began composing verses at age 11 or 12; published first book of poetry (1857); enjoyed first publicly acclaimed poetry collection Cantares gallegos (Galician Songs, 1863); published second poetry collection Follas novas (New Leaves, 1880); published last poetry collection and book, En las orillas del Sar (On the Banks of the River Sar, 1884).


La flor (The Flower, 1857); A mi madre (To my Mother, 1863); Cantares gallegos (Galician Songs, 1863); Follas novas (New Leaves, 1880); En las orillas del Sar (On the Banks of the River Sar, 1884). Prose: La hija del mar (The Daughter of the Sea, 1859); Flavio (1861); El cadiceño: Descripción de un tipo (The Man from Cádiz: Description of a Type, 1863); Ruinas: Desdichas de tres vidas ejemplares (Ruins: Misfortunes of Three Exemplary Lives, 1866); El caballero de las botas azules (The Gentleman of the Blue Boots, 1867); El primer loco (The First Madman, 1881); Conto gallego: Os dous amigos e a viuda (Galician Tale: The Two Friends and The Widow, 1923). Nonfiction: Las literatas (Literary Women, 1866); Lieders (1858); "El Domingo de Ramos" (Palm Sunday, 1881); "Padrón y las inundaciones" (Padrón and the Floods, 1881).

Rosalía de Castro is one of the few women as well as one of the few regional writers in Spain to have a position in the literary canon of Spanish literature. As one of the protagonists of the cultural revival in Galicia, a region of Spain situated at the northwestern corner of the Iberian peninsula, in the 19th century, she remains the best-known and most popular poet of Galicia. Her first collection of poems in the language of her native region, Cantares gallegos (Galician Songs), constituted a crucial turning point for the literary status of the Galician language, which had been relegated to the oral tradition since the 15th century, when Castilian had become the literary language of Spain.

It was the rich oral tradition into which she was born that inspired Rosalía de Castro to write much of her poetry. She expressed a vivid concern in her work for the sorrows and predicament of her fellow Galicians. In the prologue to her second poetry collection in the Galician language, Follas novas (New Leaves), she voiced this empathy: "My natural disposition (for not in vain am I a woman) [is] to feel other people's sorrows as my own." It is to the Galician women, however, that she particularly directs her sympathies:

What always really moved me and, therefore, could not but be present in my poetry, were the innumerable worries of our women: loving beings to their people and to strangers, full of sentiment, strong in body as they have tender hearts and also so miserable that they seemed to have been born to deal with all the worries of the most humble and most fragile part of humanity. In the fields they share with their men half of the hard chores; in the home they courageously endure the hardships of motherhood, housework and the difficulties of poverty. Alone most of the time and having to work from dawn to sunset to barely make a living for them and their children, they seem to be condemned to never find rest if it is not in the grave.

Rosalía de Castro was born in Santiago de Compostela, in Galicia, in 1837. Her mother, María Teresa da Cruz de Castro y Abadía was of a noble family from the village of Padrón. Her father, José Martínez Viojo, was a seminarian from the same village, who later served as a priest. Castro's birth certificate records her as a child of "unknown parents"; the mysterious circumstances surrounding her birth are related to what was then regarded as the scandalous nature of her origin; she was the daughter of unmarried parents and, what is more, her father was soon to become a priest. She spent her early childhood in the countryside with her godmother María Francisca Martínez who, some speculate, was related to Castro's father. At the age of nine or ten, the child joined her mother to live in Santiago de Compostela, where she received the education befitting a lady of her time, including lessons in music, drawing and French. In her youth, she took part in events at the Lyceum, a meeting place for young artists and writers, and she was well received when she played the leading role in a local amateur theater production.

At age 19, Rosalía de Castro moved to Madrid, some argue for reasons related to family legal matters while others speculate that she was fleeing the provincial atmosphere of Santiago, to perhaps seek work as an actress. The cultural vitality of Madrid seems to have inspired her; one year later, in 1857, Castro published her first collection of poetry, La flor (The Flower). This book was warmly reviewed by the writer and historian, Manuel Martínez de Murguía, who became her husband the following year. Immediately after the marriage, Castro and Murguía returned to live in Santiago de Compostela; reports on the character of Castro's husband are contradictory, but he seems to have been supportive and to have encouraged her to write. In 1859, Castro had her first child, Alejandra, and published her first novel, La hija del mar (The Daughter of the Sea). Her second novel, Flavio, followed two years later.

A year after the death of her mother in 1862, Castro published a brief volume of poems, entitled A mi madre (To my Mother). Aware of the oppressive social conditions for women at the time, the poet had never reproached her mother for having abandoned her in her early childhood. In one of her nonfiction pieces, Lieders, written several years earlier, in 1858, Castro had explicitly denounced the unfair treatment of women:

Oh woman! … Why do men pour on you the filth of their whims, afterwards despising and abhorring in your deadening tiredness the horror of their misconduct and heated desires? … [T]hey transmit everything to you, everything, … and in spite of it, they despise you.

In 1863, Rosalía de Castro published Cantares gallegos (Galician Songs), her first collection of poetry written in Galician. In 1886, Murguía would give an account of the genesis of this work in his Los precursores: The poems were written at the beginning of a period, lasting up to 1870, when Castro was living away from Galicia, traveling throughout other regions of Spain. According to her husband, it was in the dry lands of Castile that Castro especially longed for the exuberance of the Galician countryside and felt the need to write "a book in which the landscape and whole life of the people of our country would be reflected with all its poetry and purity." This book, based on Galician popular lyrics, particularly appealed to those in sympathy with the Galician regionalist movement, which was led by Murguía. Castro was reluctant to have the poems published and at first wanted them to appear under her husband's name. Ultimately, however, they were published under her name and won her widespread recognition for her literary accomplishment.

In the prologue to the collection, the poet acknowledges the influence of another collection of popular poetry, El libro de los cantares (The Book of Songs), written by Antonio Trueba in 1852. Castro surpassed her predecessor, however, in what was her own personal tribute to the already existing body of folk songs from the Galician oral tradition. Each poem is introduced by a popular refrain, followed by an elaboration on its theme, motif or tone, resulting in a lyrical work of powerful creativity. Although many critics regard this book as a collection of folk songs, it should be appreciated for its highly artistic value. In the prologue of Cantares gallegos, Castro wrote that she wanted to defend her homeland and Galician language from those who "despise" the land and who "mock" the language, but her poetic themes deal in particular with the everyday life of the Galician people. Love is a frequent theme; it is common to hear the voice of a girl or a woman singing to her lover, or the melancholy and sorrow in remembrance of something or someone that has been lost; the theme of emigration is also present, as Galicians are known as an emigrant people, often forced by economic conditions into leaving their homeland for unknown destinations, usually in Central or South America.

In an age when poets declaimed, Rosalía de Castro had the courage to write honestly and realistically about issues that troubled her.

—Jack Shreve

Cantares gallegos was followed by a number of prose works, including the novelette Ruinas (Ruins) and the article "Las literatas" (Literary Women) in 1866. The latter is one of the most vivid and direct accounts of the conditions for a woman writer in 19th-century Spain:

Above all, my friend, you do not know what it is to be a writer…. In the street they point at you permanently, and not for a good reason; everywhere they gossip about you…. Women point out the most hidden of your imperfections and men tell you unceasingly that a talented woman is a true nuisance … that women should leave the pen and mend their husbands' socks, if they have husbands, and, if not, then women should mend their menservants'. It would be easy for some women to open their wardrobes and show them the careful mendings and prove to them that the writing of a few pages does not prevent them from attending their household chores…. [I]t is a fact that men look upon women writers worse than they would the devil.

In 1867, Castro published her best-known novel, El caballero de las botas azules (The Gentleman of the Blue Boots), which is a satirical analysis of 19th-century Spanish society and of the popular novels of the time. Two years later, she gave birth to her second child, Aurea, and afterward poor health compelled her to return to Galicia. In 1871, the family moved to La Coruña and later to Santiago de Compostela, following Murguía's job opportunities. While living in Santiago, Castro had twins, Gala and Ovidio, in 1872, and a daughter, Amara, was born in La Coruña in 1874; a sixth child, Adriano, was born in 1875 but died before the age of two; a seventh child, Valentina, was stillborn in 1877.

In 1880, poems written in Castile and the Galician cities of Santiago and La Coruña were published in Follas novas (New Leaves), Castro's second collection written in Galician. In the foreword to the new volume, the poet eloquently declares her intention to express the sorrows of those least favored by Galician society, particularly its country women. She prefers "instead of personal compositions, those that with more or less success express the tribulations of the ones who suffer around me." The poems in Follas novas, which reflect less of the gaiety of the Galician people found in her earlier volume, can be grouped in three categories: those similar to Cantares gallegos in their concern with popular roots; those of social content, particularly the issue of emigration, and those that are intimate and personal. Thus, a whole section of the book is dedicated to "The Widows of the Living and The Widows of The Dead," referring to the women left behind when the men of Galicia are forced to emigrate. It is in the third category, however, that Castro's outlook becomes truly revolutionary, as she uses her native tongue not only to portray picturesque scenes of her homeland, but to express metaphysical, spiritual, and highly subjective themes, for which the Galician language had previously been considered unfit.

El primer loco (The First Madman), subtitled Cuento extraño (Strange Tale), was Castro's last novel, published in 1881. The book, which offers a psychological analysis of the Romantic temperament and madness, appeared in the same year as two articles: "Padrón y las inundaciones" (Padrón and the Floods) and "Domingo de Ramos" (Palm Sunday). In the latter, Castro vividly describes the ceremonies and festivities related to the observance of the religious holiday. In the final years of her life, the poet was quite ill and had little energy to travel, but her love for the sea drove her to a last journey to the seaport of Carril on the Atlantic coast. On July 15, 1885, she died in the Galician village of Padrón, of either uterine or stomach cancer. It is said that just before her death she asked her eldest daughter, Alejandra, to open the window for she wanted to see the ocean. A number of her works in progress were subsequently lost when members of her family carried out her request to destroy her manuscripts.

A year before her death, Castro published her last poetry collection, En las orillas del Sar (On the Banks of the River Sar), written in Castilian. In the Introduction to Rosalía de Castro: Obras completas, Victoriano García Martí notes that this collection of poetry differs from her other two major collections, in that the late poems are about "disillusion imposed by the passing of time, the inevitable loss of youthful hopes." This final collection was the work that finally earned Castro acclaim throughout Spain. Praised at first for its innovative experiments with meter, which anticipated the modernist poetry of the Nicaraguan poet, Rubén Darío, that was yet to come in the early 20th century, the book also earned the recognition of the writers of the Generation of 1898, including Antonio Machado, Juan Ramón Jiménez and Miguel de Unamuno, who admired the work for its subjective, personal, and existentialist mood. The volume also addresses some very contemporary concerns: the long poem "Los robles" (The Oak Trees) has an ecological theme, denouncing the deforestation that was occurring in Galicia in the late 19th century. Most of the poems share a tone of despair and desolation scarcely present in Castro's earlier collections.

Due in large part to the tremendous impact of Cantares gallegos, Rosalía de Castro has been mythologized by the Galician people. She is often referred to as la santiña, "the little saint," or la nai gallega, "the Galician mother," and she is also popularly known as la chorona, "the sorrowful woman." She has become a symbol representing all that is Galician. Her contribution to an imminent feminist sentiment in Spain should also not be ignored. Although she was far from being an outright advocate for the rights of women, the unjust treatment of women, especially of Galician country women, was a frequent concern of hers. Castro's decrial of the oppression of women was actually part of a broader concern for all oppressed people. Some critics see her as a Romantic and others as a Realist; however difficult it may be to reconcile these opinions, her poetry is truly original.


Castro, Rosalía de. Rosalía de Castro. Obras completas. 2 vols. Edited by Arturo del Hoyo. Madrid: Aguilar, 1988.

Kulp-Hill, Kathleen. Rosalía de Castro. Boston: Twayne, 1977.

Murguía, Manuel. Los Precursores. La Coruña: Imprenta de "La Voz de Galicia," 1886.

suggested reading:

Brenan, Gerald. The Literature of The Spanish People: From Roman Times to The Present Day. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1970.

Castro, Rosalía de. Poems. Edited and translated by Anna-Marie Aldaz, Barbara N. Gantt, and Anne C. Bromley. NY: State University of New York Press, 1991.

Davies, Catherine. "Rosalía de Castro's Later Poetry and Anti-Regionalism in Spain," in The Modern Language Review. Vol. 79, no. 3. July 1984, pp. 609–619.

Kulp, Kathleen K. Manner and Mood in Rosalía de Castro: A Study of Themes and Style. Madrid: Ediciones José Porrúa Turanzas, 1968.

Stevens, Shelley. Rosalía de Castro and The Galician Revival. London: Tamesis Books, 1986.

Ingrid Martínez-Rico , Assistant Professor of Spanish, Gettysburg College, Gettysburg, Pennsylvania

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Castro, Rosalía de (1837–1885)

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