Modern Spain: Literature and Society 1700-2013

Some of this is stolen or imitated from other people and I am posting it so that others may also take ideas from me. The idea is that this course be issues driven, not periods-and-styles driven, but I am not quite there yet. Much is being left out and this is a survey course. I would rather be teaching five representative texts or authors and leave it at that but I am doing this because many students may not be ready for so many whole books.

I have no qualms leaving things out of survey courses on Latin America of any period because I can talk on just about anything extemporaneously, thus pulling in all sorts of things. On Spain I am just not that good although it would be great fun if I were. With Moodle, though, much more can be posted including a/v material. Sub-titles can change, texts can change, and sub-themes can be added as I become more intelligent; this is a great advantage of Moodle.

Addendum: the Moodle site already looks beautiful, and I have barely started! And 80% of the students are people who have studied with me before, so let’s dance!

Modern Spain: Literature and Society 1700-2013


El tema de este curso es la literatura española moderna, escrita desde la Ilustración (Enlightenment) hasta nuestros días. Nuestro propósito es estudiarla en su contexto histórico, relacionándola con las otras manifestaciones artísticas, y con las principales corrientes sociales, políticas y económicas del período. Los autores que estudiamos son considerados canónicos en España, sea por su influencia sobre generaciones posteriores, ya sea por la recepción popular que recibieron en su propia época. La clase se da enteramente en castellano aunque algunos materiales ancillares están en inglés (e.g. los libros de Hooper y de Labanyi) y aunque este sílabo viene, por razones burocráticas, escrito en inglés.

I am interested this semester in four interrelated themes: modernities, identities, “tradition” and memory, and a question: how useful is it, or not, to speak of Spain’s modernity as “peripheral”? We will explore the struggles within Spain over both “Spanishness” and modernity as they evolved in this period, and the development of Spain’s relationship to Europe and the broader world. How are tradition and memory important in this context? What images did Spanish writers and other artists create of the nation, and what relationship(s) to the notion of modernity did they forge?


Students taking this course will gain broad knowledge of modern Spanish and European cultural history, from the Enlightenment to the present (major trends, schools, movements). They will also attain a deeper understanding of canon formation and its relation to nationhood.

We will also aim sharpen our awareness of the tools of critical analysis and of the most effective means of applying these. The focus on historical and societal context is intended to develop a fuller understanding of questions such as: what correlations may exist between cultural production and contemporary political, social, and economic issues? how do styles, aesthetic taste, or certain ideologies become dominant within any given generation?

In addition, we will develop a deeper understanding of the various expressive registers available to us in Spanish, and strengthen our skills in close reading as well as analytical, persuasive, expository writing and speaking.


Regular attendance and productive engagement in class is required. There will be two very brief (less than one page) writing assignments every week, designed to aid focused reading and prepare for class discussion. There are two examinations covering reading and discussion (identification, short answer, and essay, with a choice of questions in each of the three sections), of which the second will be given before the last week of classes, and one final paper (7-8pp. on an issue as represented in our reading); this paper will cite secondary sources but will consist primarily of textual analysis. Time permitting there will also be a brief oral presentation, given in pairs, on a simple research topic toward the beginning of the semester, and a more formal one, given individually, on work toward the final paper.

Grading distribution: Attendance, participation, and presentations 20%, examinations 20% each, writing portfolio 20%, final paper 20%.

Grading scale:

A Exceptional command of material and skills: elegant writer, original thinker, strong follow-through
B Good command of material and skills: solid writer, sensible thinker, good follow-through
C Acceptable command of material and skills; students at this level may have some misconceptions and lacunae, but would be able to give a reliable explanation of major issues and texts to a peer
D Some mastery of material but work is incomplete and/or contains important factual errors; students at this level would not be able to give a reliable explanation of the course material to a peer
F No, or highly insufficient mastery of basic material.

I am a flexible grader but I do teach at a high intellectual level; you do not have to be at all perfect to get a good grade, but you will need to be a serious, engaged, curious student to finish the class. I am assuming you have taken the Introduction to the Study of Hispanic Literatures and that you may not have taken any other Spanish course at the present level.


Many of our readings can be found in Foster, Literatura española. Una antología (New York and London: Garland, 1995), second of 2 vols., ISBN 0-8153-2064-7 (paper), on order at the bookstore. I expect to post as much as possible to Moodle, and all of our readings can be found in other formats.

At the end of the semester we will be reading Javier Cercas, Soldados de Salamina (Barcelona: Tusquets, 2008), 978-848385012 (about $10).

Highly recommended and less expensive than the Foster volume are two very helpful, very readable, newer books not available in our library:

Labanyi, Spanish Literature: A Very Short Introduction (Oxford: OUP, 2010), 978-0-19-920805-0 (about $12), and

Phillips, A Concise History of Spain (Cambridge: CUP, 2010), 978-0521607216 (about $20).

Also recommended for the later part of the semester is Hooper, The New Spaniards (London: Penguin, 2d ed. 2006), 978-0141016092 (about $10).


Thursday, January 17: First day.
Order the Labanyi and Phillips books tonight, to receive them soon and get oriented. Make a clear plan for the acquisition of the Cercas, Foster, and Hooper books.
Tuesday, February 12: Holiday: Mardi Gras.
Friday-Monday, February 22-25: Exam I (take home).
Thursday, March 28: Exam II (same format taken in 75 minutes, in class, questions given in advance).
Tuesday and Thursday, April 2 and 4: Holidays: Spring Break.
Over Spring Break we will be doing research and viewing films on the 1936-1939 Spanish Civil War.
Thursday, May 2: Last day of class.
Thursday, May 9: Final papers due at 9 AM.


Academic dishonesty is defined for this course as by the University and will be reported. When in doubt about appropriate use of sources, citations, or outside help, do not hesitate to ask. Never “cheat” out of fear that your own work will not be good enough; this course is within your capability if you have taken Spanish 320. If you are having doubts or difficulties you should talk to me; I will help to solve them.

The use of electronic devices is permitted in this class provided that they are used to enhance discussion and not to disturb or distract from it. I reserve the right to withdraw such permission at any time, from individuals or from the group as a whole. An exception is any kind of audio or video recording unless agreed upon for specific purposes (e.g. to compensate for a disability). This rule has been made to protect the privacy of all students.

Students with disabilities should make themselves known as early as possible and provide all necessary documentation. Materials are canonical and should be available in alternate formats, and special arrangements for examinations will not be complicated to make for this course.

Please be aware of locations of fire and emergency exits for this floor and for the building, taking note of posted signs. In the event of an emergency we will use the staircases, not the elevators.


January 17: Introduction

January 22: What is Spain? (Literature)
January 24: What is Spain? (History)

January 29: What is Enlightenment? What is modernity? What was the global 18th century?
January 31: The Spanish 18th century: literature, history, and society; reading Goya

February 5: Spain as “other” — Caldalso, Cartas Marruecas
February 7: Forms of sociability: Moratín, La comedia nueva o el café

February 14: Moratín; Napoleon and the transition to Romanticism

February 19: Romanticism and Larra
February 21: General discussion and review; questions for Exam I handed out and rules set
Friday, February 22, noon: Exam I opens; ideally to be taken in 75 minutes, but not more than 2 hours

Monday, February 25, noon: Exam I due
February 26: Poetry: Bécquer (Espronceda, Castro; Zorrilla)
February 28: Realism: Pardo Bazán (Galdós)

March 5: Realism: Clarín
March 7: General discussion: the generational concept and the “desastre” of 1898; re-visions of Spanish identity; Unamuno; literatura y bohemia (Valle-Inclán); Machado

March 12: Modern poetry 1: Juan Ramón Jiménez
March 14: Modern poetry 2: García Lorca

March 19 and 21: García Lorca, Yerma. Questions for Exam II handed out March 21.

March 26: Modern poetry 3: Méndez, Alberti, Cernuda, Aleixandre.
March 28: Exam II.

April 9 and 11: The Civil War. Research reports and discussion.

April 16 and 18: Javier Cercas. Reading and discussion; planning of final papers on Cercas’ novel.

April 23 and 25: Javier Cercas, reading and discussion; paper outlines due.

April 30 and May 1: Javier Cercas and Spain, 1939-1975 and 1975-2013, reports.

May 9: Final papers due, 9 AM.


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