The six Spanish Nobel Prizes for literature, eleven if we extend it to the Hispanic space, give Spanish letters a prominent place in world literature: the United Kingdom, with 30, heads the ranking of most awarded writers, followed by France (15), United States (11), Germany and Sweden (8) and Spain and Italy (6).
We analyze the traits, the trajectory and the work of the six Spanish Nobel Prize winners for literature, representatives of very different styles.
- You can also read: The 10 best Spanish writers of all time.
The 6 Spanish Nobel Prize winners for literature and their work
The dynamism of Spanish literature in its approach to themes and innovation in styles has been crucial in universal literature. If the Nobel Prize is a scale of world recognition, the six Spanish laureates represent the universal significance of Spanish literature .
These are the six winners, banners of six eras, six styles and six works.
1. Jose Echegaray (1904)
Jose Echegaray, Nobel Prize for Literature. | Image by: Joaquin Sorolla.
The controversy unleashed with the awarding of the Nobel Prize for Literature to a singer-songwriter like Bob Dylan in 2016 is reminiscent of the criticism received by the first Spaniard to win the prize, the playwright Jose Echegaray, in 1904. His training in engineering and exact sciences led many to consider that it lacked literary value.
The smear campaign came, in fact, from the Spanish literary avant-gardes themselves, with Pio Baroja, Ramiro de Maeztu and Miguel de Unamuno at the head. But Echegaray, although devoid of the literary technique of those first figures, won a large and devoted audience thanks to a direct and captivating style.
The historical drama In the Fist of the Sword (1875) marked the beginning of its success with a strident style that, in the channels of Restoration theater, dazzled the public and excited the elites, recovering old styles such as the immorality of romanticism revolutionary .
The Academy awarded him precisely for “having revived the great traditions of Spanish theatre”. In 1892 his masterpiece, Mariana , was premiered, which critics agree in pointing out as a piece under the influence of Henrik Ibsen’s theater.
Upon receiving the award, his contemporaries considered him to be a real jerk and a cheap copy of Calderon de la Barca, although the public continued to appreciate his works. In them, melodramatic aspects were mixed in which adulterers, love affairs, duels, historical elements and current affairs were not lacking .
2. Jacinto Benavente (1922)
Jacinto Benavente, received the Nobel Prize for Literature in 1922. | Image from: El Confidencial.
The renewal in the Spanish theater of that time came from the hand of Jacinto Benavente, a playwright from Madrid who made a transcendental decision for his career: to put his talent at the service of a dramatic play.for the general public and not be limited to a more demanding production reserved for minorities.
His success was overwhelming, no matter how well his satirical tone has often subtracted from him the load of depth that is demanded of a first-rate writer. In fact, the Academy recognized him, in 1922, for ” the joy with which he has transmitted the traditions of Spanish theater.”
Thus, the scathing criticism of the Spanish wealthy classes with which he made himself known, with the work El nido ajero (1894), gave way to a soft and paternal satire, friendly, much more digestible by the general public. The vested interests (1907) culminated that style that mixed modern elements of Spanish theater with foreign influences.
There is no doubt that Benavente aa good connoisseur of the theater that was written outside , and that Henrik Ibsen, Oscar Wilde or Gabriele D’Anunzio influenced his style.
What continues to fascinate literary critics is the singularity and personality of his work, difficult to frame in modernism or in the generation of 98, although he draws from both sources. He is recognized as the heir to the comedy of the nineteenth century , freeing it from romanticism with a cultured and refined style.
3. Juan Ramon Jimenez (1956)
The Spanish Juan Ramon Jimenez, Nobel Prize for Literature. | Image from: Europa Press.
The third Nobel Prize for Spanish literature went to a poet, Juan Ramon Jimenez, who, in love with the poetry of Ruben Dario and the Spanish romantics, created his own style in which he mixed, with unprecedented ease, emotion and intellectual depth .
This is one of those cases in which the author’s biography marks his style: the premature loss of his father led him to a nervous and depressive character that served as the inspiring engine of a melancholic poetry. This was enriched in its maturity with more vital and energetic tones in which Zenobia Camprubi had a lot to do.
After a sweeping love they married in 1916. By then he had published collections of poems with which he had conquered critics and the publicfrom a modernist style: Rimas (1902), Arias Tristes (1903), Elegias (1908-1910) or Soledad Sonora (1911) are some examples.
But in Spiritual Sonnets (1914) he already announced a formal change marked by the liberation of the rigid canons of modernism and the adoption of free verse whose strength gave the obsession with rhythm and the sobriety of the word .
In the tireless search for perfection and beauty, he worked tirelessly until his death, leaving eternal works like Platero and I that influenced a whole generation of poets like Federico Garcia Lorca, Rafael Alberto or Vicente Aleixandre. In 1956 the Academy awarded him the Nobel, highlighting his “elevated spirit and artistic purity” .
4. Vicente Aleixandre (1977)
Vicente Aleixandre, Nobel Prize-winning Spanish poet. | Image from: RTVE.
In the 1930s, a generation emerged that won the hearts of all Spaniards and whose influence crossed borders. It was the generation of 27 , in which along with poets such as Federico Garcia Lorca, Pedro Salinas and Rafael Alberti, was Vicente Aleixandre.
In 1977, this Sevillian poet received the Nobel Prize for “illuminating the condition of man in the cosmos and in today’s society” and for having ” renewed the traditions of Spanish poetry between the wars.” For much it was the recognition of a leading intellectual figure and a whole generation of poets.
His contact with literary youth awakened in him an artistic concern that he never abandoned, devoting his entire life to the construction of a poetic work in which, gathering influences from the past (Gustavo Adolfo Becquer and Ruben Dario) and the present (Antonio Machado and Juan Ramon Jimenez) introduced innovative elements such as surrealism.
This evolution can be followed from his first work Ambito (1928), highly influenced by Jimenez, to the surrealist period, with Swords like lips (1932) and La destruccion o el amor (1935), and the subsequent evolution to a less complex style . , with works such as Presencias (1965). The link between the two periods is marked by Shadow of Paradise (1944).
5. Camilo Jose Cela (1989)
Camilo Jose Cela, one of the most famous Spanish writers. | Image from: El Confidencial.
It was not until 1989 that Spanish narrative was recognized with the Nobel Prize, since until then only poets and playwrights had been awarded. The award could only go to Camilo Jose Cela, who had the genius to create two masterpieces, La familia de Pascual Duarte (1942) and La Colmena (1951), at a disastrous time for the Spanish novel.
In the forties, in the midst of a narrative crisis, Camilo Jose Cela drew attention with a rural drama that combined tragedy and satirical elementsand picaresque. Pascual Duarte’s family announced the two great characteristics of his literary personality: the style, hard and torn, and the theme, the suffering of man and his circumstances.
In the first work, the memories of a peasant with several crimes behind him awaiting death on the scaffold, and in Rest Pavilion (1943) the life in the sanatorium of a group of tuberculosis patients. The Academy awarded him, precisely, for “showing different forms of human vulnerability .”
In 1951 he established himself with La colmena, a portrait of post-war life with the intention of recounting the collective destiny of a people. The success of the novel lies in the mastery as the author builds an authentic hivewith more than three hundred characters and a languid and imprecise plot.
I combine this profound theme with travel books such as Viaje a la Alcarria (1948) and experimental works such as Mr. Cadwell speaks with his son (1953). His work included dictionaries, poetry, miscellany and newspaper articles in a total literary personality that won the Nobel Prize, the National Prize for Literature, the Prince of Asturias and the Cervantes.
6. Mario Vargas Llosa (2010)
Mario Vargas Llosa, the last to receive a Nobel Prize in 2010. | Image from: Wikimedia Commons.
The sixth and last winner of the Nobel Prize for Literature is a Peruvian with dual Peruvian and Spanish nationality, and although much of his work belongs to theHispano-American thematic and stylistic scope , there is no doubt that the contact with Spain has marked the last vital stage of Mario Vargas Llosa.
The influence of Faulkner and Joyce promoted the creation of The City and the Dogs (1963) with which the writer from Arequipa broke with the tradition of Latin American narrative with elements such as the interior monologue and chronological fragmentation .
As with Cela, Vargas Llosa’s long career elevates him as a total artist who has ranged from great novels such as The War of the End of the World (1981) and The Feast of the Goat (2002) to journalistic works, essays, theater and criticism. with titles like Garcia Marquez: history of a deicide (1990) or The truth of the lies (1990).
His style has gone from an experimental but firm narrative to the descent to a more journalistic style that, although at times it has diminished the literary value, has allowed him to become a chronicler of his time. The Academy honored him in 2010 ” for his mapping of power structures and individual resistance.”
- It may interest you: The 25 most famous Spanish actors in history.