Costumbrista literature: what it is, how it was born, main features, representatives and more


What is costumbrismo?

Costumbrista literature, also known as costumbrismo, was known for being an artistic style or trend whose main objective was the expression of customs, hence its name, as well as the uses and attitudes of a specific society. Although it was an artistic trend that had its field of action in different dimensions of art, in literature it will take a great importance.

What is costumbrismo

In general, we speak of a literary style that was concerned with the portrayal of the daily life of a particular society in a specific time frame. In this sense, they are works that manage to represent each of the details of their time, as well as build an atmosphere inspired by it that manages to introduce the reader.

How is literary costumbrismo born?

It is possible to identify different moments in history in which costumbrismo literature presents varied precedents regarding the use of traditional themes. However, it is precisely during the 19th century that it is taken as a reaction of the bourgeoisie against the emerging style of romanticism, although many experts mention that costumbrismo, in reality, emerged from it.

Thus, in an attempt to recover from the possible loss of its traditions after the arrival of the Industrial Revolution, costumbrismo began its first steps. However, after the progress generated by this process, the movement of costumbrista literature began to take giant steps.

Costumbrista literature moved to other parts of the world, reaching areas such as America in the 19th century. This movement, in this part of the world, represented a critical thinking that was based fundamentally on a satirical tone. Frequently, American costumbrismo represented regionalism and nationalism within the Creole class.

Development of costumbrista literature

Now, as for the development of the movement in particular within the creation, it is important to consider that it will mainly take the format of the novel for its production. This is how a great creation of costumbrista novels with varied landscapes began, such as La gaviota by Fernán Caballero, La Pepita Jiménez by Juan Varela and Sotileza, Peñas arriba written by José María de Pereda, among others.

On the other hand, the literature of costumbrismo includes elements of Neoclassicism, so that in its literature it is possible to identify aspects such as the moralizing and didactic intention, in addition to the love for the popular that represented romanticism, of which it also involves elements.

Article of customs

During its development in Spain, costumbrismo mainly took the form of prose, although it was also seen in verse and plays. However, its greatest diffusion was through the cuadro de costumbres, also known under the notion of artículo de costumbres. In this format dialogue and action are reduced and replaced in many cases by the description of scenes, entities or institutions, the moralizing aspect, places, social classes, among others.

This will allow the construction of the didactic and moralizing character that accompanies the literary development of costumbrismo, in addition to recovering from oblivion the customs of societies, as it was in its attempt the customs of the countryside that during the Industrial Revolution began the migration to the cities.

Main characteristics of costumbrismo

It is time to review in depth the most important features of this type of literature, where we will know the main characteristics of the costumbrista literature in its time:

Search for costumbrista expression

We speak of a type of literature in which the main expression is the exposure of the pleasure towards the customs of the present in front of a specific society. In this sense, they are works that include a wide range of information about the details of the society, its habits and other key aspects that allow to represent it.

Main characteristics of costumbrismo

Simple style

An important feature that also facilitates the understanding of readers, is the use of simple language that tinges this type of literature of a light style. In many cases the authors used colloquial language, in addition to humor as elements that allow readers to make the work much lighter for interpretation. In addition to this, the omniscient narrator who was usually present in the works, sometimes under a false name, allowed the reader to identify with him.

Love for the immediate

This type of texts will also allow us to see the expression of love for the immediate, however, this of the -immediate- is fundamentally marked in the customs of the time it portrays, as well as the environment or scenario in which the work is developed.

Presence of satire

Although the aim of costumbrista literature was to express customs, often using an affectionate tone towards the society it describes, its authors were also characterized by including a satirical or humorous tone in their works.

Transition and identity

Another aspect that should be taken into account when evaluating this type of texts has to do with the fact that in the case of literature, it represents a kind of transition that guides the way to a search for the society’s own identity. In this sense, in this transition it describes the change between the colony and independence from it.

A critical view

A trait that we cannot leave aside in the literature of costumbrismo is the critical look it offers, given that it questions, at the same time, the social customs, as well as the vices of the society it portrays. To this end, he used resources such as humor and satire, in which he elaborates covert criticisms of society’s own customs. In addition to this, he advocates the exposure of traditions that had been forgotten.

Although it offers a critical view, it is not a type of literature that stops to elaborate analyses of the conditions it presents. This means that although it presents events, it does not take the time to interpret them as did other movements such as realism, which we have already discussed in another section.

Use of varied formats

Although many of the most important works of literary costumbrismo are in the narrative format, the truth is that it was a style that also developed in other genres such as journalism, generating articles on customs, and in theater.

Representatives and works of costumbrismo

Among the main representatives of this movement are the works of José María Pereda, Juan Varela, Armando Palacios Valdés, Pedro de Répide, Alejandro Pérez Lugín and Fernán Caballero. Also outstanding representatives of costumbrismo in America were José Milla y Vidaurre, José Joaquín Vallejo, José María Vergara, Ricardo Palma, Juan Vicente Gonzáles, Rafael María Baralt, Jorge Isaac, Felipe Pardo Aliaga, Manuel Ascencio Segura,

Among the most representative works we can highlight the work of Pedro de Répide, Troya o Currito de la Cruz by Alejandro Pérez Lugín, works by Benito Pérez Galdós, Pepita Jiméne by Juan Valera, Sotileza, Peñas arriba by José María de Pereda, La gaviota by Fernán Caballero, La hermana de San Sulpicio written by Armando Palacios Valdés, Contigo, pan y cebolla by Manuel Eduardo de Gorostiza, A la vez, viruelas, El pelo de la dehesa and A Madrid me vuelvo by Manuel Bretón de los Herreros, La Celestina, El Lazarillo de Tormes, Don Quijote de la Mancha, El libro de buen amor, Cantar de Mio Cid, among others.

And so we come to the end of one of the most important literary movements in history, as it also had a great echo in other artistic dimensions. Remember that if you want to know more about other genres, movements, types and aspects of this expression of art, you can go to our Literature section where you will find much more information.