Literary modernism: characteristics of the movement, origin and main authors.


What is modernism in literature?

It was a literary movement that was characterized by sustaining an important creative rebelliousness in its literary development, as well as a dye that many criticized as narcissistic. One of the central axes of its irruption had to do with the renovation of the language that it proposes for posterity, where after its extension it allows Latin American authors to have the space to influence in an important way in the continuation of its evolution.

What is modernism in literature

Modernism is considered the first literary movement in Latin America to break down borders and begin to form its own school, which later represented the first achievement to consolidate a literature of its own that mainly exposed its capacity to encourage reflection based on its own reality.

Origin of literary modernism

The birth of modernism took place around 1880 in the field of poetry, which is why this movement was particularly distinguished as a poetic current. Although the term was used to designate several movements not only literary but artistic in general, it will be taken in the field of literature in Chile at the time when the writer Rubén Darío exposes in the Revista de Artes y Letras using the term “modernism” to refer to the poetic and renovating tendency of writers in Latin America.

In this way, the term was mainly used to denominate a literary revolution that was opposed to the traditional one, criticized for having fallen into spaces that did not have a fresh expression. Thus, modernism will become synonymous with a new moment for literature in which the expression of the human being, anarchy and freedom emerge.

It must be recognized that several literary currents, up to that time, influenced the emergence of modernism, in addition to making important contributions, such as symbolism, impressionism, romanticism, among others.

Although other literary movements had been developed in Latin America, which in fact were inherited from those emerging in Europe, modernism was the first consolidated movement to develop in this territory and also claimed the place of Latin American literature with its own universal space.

Development of modernism in literature

Let us now review some essential points on how modernist literature began to be built. Starting from the fact that this movement was mainly poetic, we must consider that at the level of structure in verse and prose, there is an irruption related to tradition.

In their search for renovation and the breaking of the marked, modernist poets are interested in handling a free verse, where they free themselves from metrics and rhyme in their creations. This will be one of the key points that will later be decisive for the development of what will later be known as antipoetry and conversational poetry. Likewise, changes in language were also shown with the incorporation of words that had not been considered poetic, including Latinisms and Gallicisms.

Central themes of modernism

There are several axes that move in the literary development, however, it is possible to define two important paths on which are built, at the same time, new writing themes. Thus, on the one hand, there is the longing to recreate harmony and perfection, and on the other, a concern to find roots for uprooting.

In this sense, themes such as love and eroticism appear, reflecting an idealization of both the feeling and the beloved woman. The language, also formal and cultured, evades the reality of both time and space, the -Hispanic- becomes an antecedent of value and a source for the search for harmony, the poet seeks solitude, there is a rejection of society, also a weariness of life accompanied by anguish and nostalgia.

Main characteristics of modernism as a movement

Let’s see below the most important characteristics of the movement that was born in Latin America and that will be crucial for the development of literature in posterity, where it begins to spread not only from poetry, but also through other literary genres:

Rejection of everyday reality

Poetic modernism assumes a position of rejection of everyday life, where the author has the possibility of fleeing not only from his own space, but also from his time. Thus, many of the poets of this literary movement will write under distant environments and exotic places.

Search for freedom

One of the axes with which modernism coincides with Romanticism is the search for freedom, since it advocates this struggle in the process of fracturing the classical norms that had been imposed from the past. Thus, modern poets in their works rebel against traditions by presenting new forms that create a new space for them through mainly experimental forms.

Cultured language

Another of the key elements of poetic modernism is the authors’ care with the use of language, as the poets choose terms and words that have an important rhetorical load that add the cultured dye to their works. Thus, the authors take care to present a quality work that reflects perfection and formality with the use of language.

Musicality in poetry

A central aspect of poetic composition had to do not only with the creation of aesthetic pieces, but also with the musical dyes and the rhythm that the poem reached in its creation. The poet used resources such as synesthesia and alliteration to create his poems, in addition to drawing inspiration from classical stanzas with a particular sonority.

Rebellious character

One of the most important features of this movement has to do precisely with the attitude of rebellion against the vulgarity of the bourgeois. Thus, texts begin to develop, for example El Rey Burgués de Azul, written by Rubén Darío, in which it is evident how the poet is not understood by the bourgeois and how he is reduced to marginalization. However, daring and even erotic themes will also be frequently present, which discomfort the bourgeois’s worked-up cheesiness.

Breaking of the currents

Modernism is a movement that manages to break with the literary currents that were developing and it does it from parameters that oppose them, besides being also a contraposition with the currents of the past. However, it is necessary to consider that this movement will also be nourished by other trends such as symbolism and post-romanticism, since they coincide in the search to renew poetic musicality.

Impossibility of generalization

When an analysis of the poets of modernism is carried out individually, important differences become evident from their own experiences and ideologies, which makes it difficult to generalize and identify broad shared points. This can be seen in two specific cases, for example. On the one hand, Rubén Darío rejects the bourgeoisie under a tinge of evocation of Imperial Spain, while in José Martí this rejection appears but to both Spanish and North American imperialism, always in search of a rapprochement between Latin America and Bolivarian ideals.


As we mentioned, although modernism developed mainly in poetry, it gradually gained importance not only in other genres of literature, but also in other art forms, such as painting and architecture, for example.

Most important authors of modernism

Most important authors of modernism

During the development of this movement, authors from different regions of the continent, especially Latin America, will be much more visible. Among them we find authors such as Leopoldo Lugones, Enrique Larreta from Argentina, from Bolivia Ricardo Jaimes Freyre, from Chile Pablo Neruda, Carlos Pezoa Véliz, from Colombia José Asunción Silva, Guillermo Valencia Castillo, from Dominican Republic Manuel de Jesús Galván, from Costa Rica Lisímaco Chavarría, Rafael Ángel Troyo, from Cuba José Martí, Julián del Casal, from Ecuador Arturo Borja, Humberto Fierro and Ernesto Noboa y Caamaño, from Mexico Amado Nervo, Manuel Gutiérrez Nájera, José Juan Tablada, from Nicaragua Rubén Darío, Alfonso Cortés, from Peru Manuel Gonzáles Prada, Aurora Cáceres, among others from countries such as Uruguay and Venezuela.

In Spain there were also outstanding personalities who, for their part, showed nationalist sentiments and were influenced by the American continent, such as Antonio Machado, Juan Ramón Jimpenez, Ramón María del Valle-Inclán, Eduardo Marquina, Alejandro Sawa, Francisco Villaespesa, Ricardo Gil, Alberto Álvarez de Cienfuegos, Tomás Morales Castellano, Manuel Machado, Alonso Quesada, among others.

It is necessary to take into account that the features of modernism had a great influence and even continue to work in current literature. Proof of this is the interest taken to areas such as esotericism, since at present it continues to motivate attention in social and political spheres, for example. On the other hand, some other interests also continue, such as existence, the meaning of life, destiny and death, among others.

Many researchers agree that although modernism was mainly poetic, it also managed to go beyond and touch other literary genres such as theater, novels and other artistic spaces in which it reflects the Latin American expression.