La Generación Del 27: Spain's Tragic Literary Generation

Federico García Lorca in 1914. This photo was found at the University of Granada in 2007 and its author is unknown | unknown author/WikiCommons
Federico García Lorca in 1914. This photo was found at the University of Granada in 2007 and its author is unknown | unknown author/WikiCommons
Photo of Cristina Tomàs White
1 November 2016

Eduardo Galeano once described history as a backwards-looking prophet; to best understand the present, it is necessary to understand the past that has forged the present into what it currently is. Therefore, and because culture is an ever-evolving phenomenon shaped by its prior forms, to fully understand a country’s present culture, everyone must strive to understand its past. In this case, The Culture Trip decided to take a look at Spain’s literary past with the Generation of 27 and highlight some of its most prominent members since the Generation of 27, without a doubt, includes a number of the country’s most highly esteemed 20th-century writers.

The Residencia de Estudiantes in Madrid | © Ketamino/WikiCommons

Pedro Salinas, Jorge Guillén, Gerardo Diego, Federico García Lorca, Vicente Aleixandre, Dámaso Alonso, Rafael Alberti, Emilio Prados, Luis Cernuda, and Manuel Altolaguirre — Spain’s Generation of 27, also known as the ‘Generation of Friends,’ refers to a group of poets who were born between 1891 and 1905, or 1910 if including Miguel Hernández (some people prefer to include him in the Generation of 36). This literary generation owes its name to the 1927 act of homage held at the Ateneo de Sevilla commemorating the 300th anniversary of the death of the baroque poet Luis de Góngora, considered by them to be a writer of ‘pure poetry’ and one of the greatest Spanish writers of all time. Furthermore, these writers gravitated around the same intellectual circles, such as Madrid’s Residencia de Estudiantes. They were also greatly influenced by the works of and their friendships with other Spanish-language writers of the time, such as Pablo Neruda or Jorge Luis Borges, among many others.

Despite the fact that these writers are grouped together in one literary generation, it is hard to speak of them as having one clearly overriding literary focus or style beyond their avant-garde approach to literature and widespread use of metaphors due to the differences among members of the group as well as their own personal writing trajectories. Nevertheless, they did tend to reject Modernism and what they considered to be overly academic writing, recognizing more working-class and popular perspectives as valid literary themes; this is particularly notable in, though not limited to, Federico García Lorca’s work (see, for example, his Romancero Gitano).

The Generation of 27 was heavily marked by the Civil War and the subsequent Franco dictatorship, which cast a highly unfavorable eye upon left-wing intellectuals. Of this group, Lorca was executed, Hernández died in prison, and most of the others spent time in exile (if not the rest of their lives). The only exception to this was Gerardo Diego who was the only member of the group who was sympathetic to Franco’s fascist regime.

Vicente Aleixandre | © sconosciuto/WikiCommons

Vicente Aleixandre (1898-1984)

Winner of the Nobel Prize for literature in 1977, Aleixandre wrote prolifically throughout his life. Some of his most famous works include Ámbito (‘Ambit’), La destrucción o el amor (‘Destruction or Love’) andSombra del paraíso (‘The Shadow of Paradise’). Aleixandre, not in favor of Franco’s regime, never went into exile and was considered, along with Dámaso Alonso, to be a representative of the other exiled members of the group.

Federico García Lorca in 1914. This photograph was found at the University of Granada in 2007 | unknown author/WikiCommons

Federico García Lorca (1898-1936)

Outside of Spain, Lorca is probably the most well-known writer of the generation and is renowned for his poems and his plays alike. His most celebrated works include two poetry collections, Canciones (‘Songs’) and Romancero gitano (‘Gypsy Ballads’) as well as his play La casa de Bernarda Alba (‘The House of Bernarda Alba’). Lorca, a left-wing intellectual and rumored to be homosexual, was shot by Franco-supporters and buried in an unmarked mass grave only a month into the Spanish Civil War. The location of his remains is still a matter of great controversy, and only relatively recently did his family agree to exhume the plot of land where he was presumed to have been buried; however, his remains have yet to be found.

Monument of Luis Cernuda in Dos Hermanas, Seville | © CarlosVdeHabsburgo/WikiCommons

Luis Cernuda (1902-1963)

Cernuda’s poetry was heavily influenced by the fact that he was a gay man living in a society that was very unaccepting of homosexuality; unlike Aleixandre, Cernuda was always very open about his sexual orientation although it was still a source of anguish due to the lack of widespread social acceptance. This angst is present in his tellingly named collection Los placeres prohibidos (‘The Forbidden Pleasures’). Cernuda was on tour in the UK when the Second Republic fell, marking the start of the exile that was to last for the rest of his life. A collection of all of his poems was published posthumously under the name of Realidad y deseo (‘Reality and Desire’); poems such as ‘Peregrino’ (‘Pilgrim’) beautifully capture dilemmas that exiles may face, such as whether to continue abroad or to return home.

Rafael Alberti at the Communist Party’s first celebration after its legalization in 1978 | © Nemo/WikiCommons

Rafael Alberti (1902-1999)

Alberti was born in the town of El Puerto de Santa María, near Cadiz; being from a small coastal town influenced much of his later poetry, which features many maritime themes, such as in Marinero en tierra (‘Sailor on Land’) andPleamar (‘High Tide’). He was also highly applauded for his surrealist work Sobre los ángeles (‘Concerning the Angels’), which signified a break from his previous and more structured poetry. As an avowed Marxist, Alberti was forced into exile and only returned to Spain in 1977, after Franco’s death. In 1983, Alberti was named hijo predilecto de Andalucía (‘favorite son of Andalusia’), an honorific title bestowed upon those who have most positively contributed to Andalusia.

Miguel Hernández | © UNED/Flickr

Miguel Hernández (1910-1942)

As the youngest of the group, Hernández is also associated with the Generation of 36. However, many have also argued that he is closer to the Generation of 27; indeed, he was close to many of its members as well as to Pablo Neruda, as were other members of the Generation. Hernández was born to a poor family from a town in rural Valencia and did not receive much formal education; nonetheless, he is still remembered for his moving poetry. Hernández joined the Republican forces during the Spanish Civil War, for which he was later imprisoned and even sentenced to death. From prison, Hernández famously wrote his Nanas de la cebolla (‘Onion Lullaby’) as a response to a letter from his wife stating that she and their young child were surviving only on onions and bread; Joan Manuel Serrat famously put music to these verses years later. Although his death sentence was commuted, he died of tuberculosis in prison.
By Cristina Tomàs White

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