What is the Generation of ’98?
A group of writers, including poets and essayists of Spanish origin, who at the end of the 19th century coincided in their intellectual interests due to the political, social and moral crisis that arose in the country after the military defeat in the Spanish-American war against the United States, was known as the Generation of ’98. In this way, the writers will give way to one of the most important cultural and literary movements in the region.
Thus, the generation of ’98 is identified for having a critical stance towards the social and political situation of the time, criticizing the aestheticism in which beauty was defended above morality. Thus, the authors of the movement began an artistic production with a critical and leftist sense that would later take the notion of the traditional related to the past and novelty. However, it will be a movement full of criticism and polemics, initiated by the Group of the Three, composed by Azorín, Maeztu and Baroja.
Use of the term the movement had its name in 1913 by Azorín, who used the name -generation of ’98- to refer to this group of writers from a series of articles published during that year. It would bring together authors who were born between 1864 and 1875.
Emergence of the Generation of ’98
Although the term -generation of ’98- would be installed until 1913, its origins date back to the defeat of the Spanish-American war, a moment in which a part of the Spanish society longed for the arrival of a cultural renaissance for its region. In the face of the defeat, the illusion declined and a lack of hope flourished in the population, a feeling that inspired the intellectuals to spread new ideas.
Initially, the movement was formed by the Group of the Three, composed of Maeztu, Azorín and Baroja, although later other writers, including poets, joined the Generation of ’98 because of their aesthetics and interest. Their main objective was that Spain could emerge from its crisis and thus be on a par with other nations of the European continent, so they implemented tones and elements that also contributed to the resolution and advancement of the crisis. Among the main precursors of the Generation of ’98 literary movement were Joaquín Costa, Ángel Ganivet, Miguel de Unamuno, José Martínez Ruiz-Azorín, among others.
At this time a great concern arose among the writers about the Spanish heritage, but also about what was to be their new position within the imminent modernity. Thus, they focused mainly on becoming aware of the external tendencies of the literary field in order to look critically at the values of their country according to their own context, which would give rise to a new consciousness with a nationalist character.
Development in the literature of the Generation of ’98
Often the movement was also known as the “fin-de-siecle generation”, its main source of inspiration was the so-called Hispanic identity that rested on previous works of the region. Thus, the literature that they began to create not only enjoyed these influences, but also the presence of historical monuments, historical events and the landscape in formats such as poetry, novels and plays, within the literary field in order to exalt it.
One of the aspects that will most influence the development of the literature of this movement is the tendency of philosophical currents, especially of European origin. In this sense, we can find currents such as existentialism, irrationalism and vitalism that will be key to the intellectual thought of the country.
In the essay
The Generation of ’98 expresses its taste for traditional words, as well as the subjectivism that will be present in the lyrical tone of some of its works and the innovation of literary genres, where the configuration of what will become the modern essay appears. This is one of the most important processes that the essay will be in contact, also, not only with historical reflection, but also with literary and philosophical reflection.
In the novel
The authors leave aside the use of realistic prose and reject the idea of portraying reality as they know it, opting for an inclination towards subjective experience and the condition of human consciousness. This interest can be explained by the taste for aspects such as imprecision, suggestion, the inconclusive, etc. They will be novels that include, at the same time, the novelties of the time. Literature will no longer take the exalted tone with the ornamentation and the burden of language, but will be much lighter.
Characteristics of the Generation of ’98
It is time to review the main features that not only gave rise to the movement in literature, but also those that allowed its long development in the artistic field and laid its own foundations of creation. Thus, we find the following characteristics:
One of the main axes and starting points of the Generation of ’98 had to do especially with the treatment of language. Let us remember that these were Spanish authors, which is why Spanish was present in their works; however, it was characterized by a rather simple style, which made it easier for all social strata to access and understand their texts. Nevertheless, some authors consider them too reduced works of an enriched language. In this way, concrete sentences were included, moving away from a rhetoric that was too loaded.
Rebellion and criticism
It is important to mention that the position of the writers of the Generation of ’98 was characterized, among other things, by the criticism they established. This movement rebelled against the backwardness of the country, which is why they offered solutions for the reconstruction not only of the economy, but also of education, culture, etc.
Faced with a period of not only political, but also social and moral crisis, the population was confronted with a complex process of questioning that its authors expressed in literature. In this way, the concern for the meaning of life was exposed, which is why in their texts they promote existential questioning.
In spite of the great crisis that the country was going through at that time, the patriotic feeling was one of the axes in which the artists of the time coincided, reason why their works, in this case of literature, were strengthened by patriotic feelings that, in addition, motivated the nationalist force.
Another feature of this movement is related to the ideological expression that its authors have around the leftist political ideology. In this same sense, other ideologies such as socialism and anarchism will also flourish.
Search for the essence
In the moral collapse and the crisis of the population, the authors are concerned with searching for the essence, their own essence. Thus, they are going to turn to different areas to find it, in which there is not only the literary world, but also the landscape and history in the process. That is why Castile, in particular, will become the seat of inspiration with the creation of essays, novels and poems.
It is necessary to begin by mentioning the main precursors of the movement, among whom we can find Joaquín Costa, Ángel Ganivet, Miguel de Unamuno and José Martínez Ruiz-Azorín, as we have already mentioned, but we must also include Vicente Blasco Ibáñez, Ramón María del Valle-Inclán, Antonio Machado Ruiz, Manuel Machado Ruiz, Ramiro de Maeztu, José Ortega y Gasset and Pío Baroja.
Other authors who stand out in different fields are Antonio Machado in poetry, Vallé-Inclán, Pío Baroja, Unamuno in the narrative genre, Ganivet, Unamuno, Azorín, Maeztu, Menéndez Pidal in essays and Jacinto Benavente, Valle-Inclán in theater. Some of the key works of Pío Baroja were: La Busca, Zalacaín el aventurero, Las inquietudes de Shanti Andía, among others. Machado’s works include Soledades, Nuevas canciones, Poesías de Guerra and Campos de Castilla, among others.
To learn more about other generations and movements in the literary field, do not forget that in our Literature section you can find all the information you need to learn more about this artistic expression and its evolution over time.