The Generation of '98: A Historical Perspective on the Spanish-American War

The Generation of '98: Melancholy over the Empire's Downfall

The Generation of '98, also known as the Generation of 1898, was a group of Spanish novelists, poets, essayists, and philosophers who emerged during the time of the Spanish-American War in 1898. They were committed to refreshing the Spanish perspective and enhancing its productive activities associating with the modernist movement.

The Generation of 1898 was not a formal movement or organization, but rather a collection of individuals who worked in different fields and had different styles. They didn't often agree on how to solve Spain's problems. But, they shared a common goal of inspiring the Spanish people with modern and democratic ethics and reproducing a sense of national pride.

The Treaty of Paris was signed on December 10, 1898, following the Spanish-American War. As a result of the treaty, Spain lost its remaining colonies, including Cuba, Puerto Rico, the Philippines, and Guam. This marked the end of the Spanish Empire, leaving Spain with only a few small territories.

The loss of these colonies had far-reaching consequences for Spain, both politically and culturally. This intellectual movement sought to critically examine and renew Spanish culture, literature, and identity. This article provides an overview of the historical context, key events, and intellectual ideals of the Generation of '98.


The Generation of '98: A Historical Perspective on the Spanish-American War
Miguel de Unamuno


Cultural and Intellectual Renewal:

The Generation of '98 rejected the traditionalism, ignorance, and lack of genuine spirit from the Spanish literary and educational establishments. They criticized the Restoration (Spain) Movement that was taking place in Spanish government, seeing it as a defective attempt to restore stability. In this context, the Restoration movement refers to a period in Spanish history known as the Restoration, which occurred from 1874 to 1931. It was a period of political transition following the reign of Queen Isabella II and the First Spanish Republic. The Restoration aimed to restore stability and establish a constitutional monarchy in Spain.

In their literary works, the members of the Generation of '98 expressed nostalgia for Spain's past glory, traditions, and landscapes. They wanted to bring back the important stories and legends from Spanish literature and it is notable that they did not follow the usual writing styles that were commonly used before. Their works often conveyed a sense of frustration with the sociopolitical situation of the time.


Historical Context:

The intellectual movement of the Generation of '98 was shaped by significant events and trends in Spanish history. Most members of this group were born in the 1870s and were deeply influenced by Spain's defeat and humiliation in the Spanish-American War. The war resulted in the loss of Spain's colonies, including Cuba, Puerto Rico, the Philippines, and Guam. This defeat led to a moral, political, and social crisis in Spain, which served as a catalyst for the intellectual and cultural renewal pursued by the Generation of '98.


The Generation of '98: A Historical Perspective on the Spanish-American War
Spanish Colonial Empire


Diverse Backgrounds: The members of the Generation of '98 came from diverse backgrounds, including literature, philosophy, law, and politics. This multidisciplinary approach enriched their intellectual discourse and contributed to the unique character of the movement.

Intellectual Debates: The Generation of '98 was characterized by intense intellectual debates among its members. These debates centered on questions of Spanish identity, the role of tradition and modernity, the relationship between the individual and society, and the nature of Spanish history and culture.

Miguel de Unamuno's Concept of "Intranovel": Miguel de Unamuno, one of the prominent figures of the Generation of '98, introduced the concept of "intranovel" or "nivola." Unamuno believed that traditional literary types were inadequate to express the complex human experience and developed the concept of intranovel (a new form of storytelling) that explored the inner world of characters and their existential dilemmas.

Female Voices: While the Generation of '98 is often associated with male intellectuals, there were also notable female voices within the movement. Female writers such as Carmen de Burgos and Victoria Kent made significant contributions to the intellectual and cultural discussions of the time.


The Generation of '98: A Historical Perspective on the Spanish-American War
America's imperial ambitions


International Influences: The Generation of '98 was not limited to Spanish influences alone. Its members were well-versed in European intellectual currents and drew inspiration from thinkers such as Friedrich Nietzsche, Henri Bergson, and Søren Kierkegaard. They incorporated these ideas into their works, creating a unique blend of Spanish and European thought.



Regional Perspectives: The Generation of '98 was not a homogeneous group, and its members had different regional perspectives. For example, Azorín, who coined the term "Generation of '98," focused on the rural landscapes and traditions of Castile, while Ramón María del Valle-Inclán, another influential member, drew inspiration from Galician culture.

Exile and Return: Many members of the Generation of '98 experienced periods of exile due to their political or ideological stances. Some sought refuge in countries like France, England, or Argentina, where they continued their intellectual pursuits. However, several eventually returned to Spain, contributing to the cultural and intellectual revival in the post-war period.

Influence on Politics: While the Generation of '98 primarily focused on cultural and intellectual renewal, their ideas and criticisms had a political impact as well. Some members, such as José Ortega y Gasset, became influential political thinkers and participated actively in Spanish politics, advocating for democratic reforms and social change.


The Generation of '98: A Historical Perspective on the Spanish-American War
Battle of Manila Bay


Influence on Later Generations: The Generation of '98 had a profound influence on subsequent generations of Spanish intellectuals and writers. The Generation of 1898's careful analysis of Spanish identity and society paved the way for future movements and literary trends; including the Generation of '27 the literary avant-garde. The literary avant-garde refers to a broader movement of artists and writers who sought to break away from established conventions and norms. They aimed to create new and unconventional forms of artistic expression. Moreover, The Generation of '27 was a significant group of poets in Spanish literature from 1923 to 1927. They emerged with a common goal to explore and create innovative art and poetry influenced by the avant-garde movement.

Lasting Literary Contributions: The works of the Generation of '98 continue to be celebrated for their literary quality and depth of thought. Some of the most renowned literary works from this period include "Niebla" by Miguel de Unamuno, "La Regenta" by Leopoldo Alas Clarín, and "Sonatas" by Ramón María del Valle-Inclán. These works remain important pillars of Spanish literature.


Criticism of Spanish Establishment & Intellectual Movements and Initiatives:

The members of the Generation of '98 expressed their discontent with the Restoration movement that was taking place in the Spanish government. This movement aimed to establish a constitutional monarchy based on Victorian Britain, but it was seen by the Generation of '98 as lacking true reform and delaying a controlled electoral process.

During this period, several significant developments took place. In 1876, progressive professors who advocated liberal democracy were dismissed from the Central University of Madrid. In response, they founded the Institución Libre de Enseñanza (The Free Educational Institution), which emphasized intellectual freedom and moral self-improvement, challenging the ineffective and politically influenced official education system.


The Generation of '98: A Historical Perspective on the Spanish-American War
Treaty of Paris 1898


Ideals and Literary Contributions: Legacy and Criticisms:

The Generation of '98 intellectuals sought to rescue Spain from its sleeping state through non-political approaches. They rejected the organized structure of the Restoration system and the corruption associated with it. Their literary works reflected a strong intellectual unity and a revival of Spanish literary traditions.

They reintroduced traditional and lost words, and often expressed nostalgia for Spain's past glory, traditions, and landscapes. The works conveyed criticisms of the sociopolitical situation of the time and explored factors contributing to Spain's decline. The writing style of this generation was often simplified, using conversations more than detailed descriptions.


Conclusion:

The Generation of '98 was a group of Spanish intellectuals who emerged during a period of crisis in Spain's history. They aimed to modernize Spanish society and artistic expression, criticizing the literary and educational establishments and the Restoration movement. Their literary works reflected melancholy for Spain's past and explored the factors contributing to its decline. The Generation of '98 left a lasting impact on Spanish intellectual and literary traditions. However, some modern intellectuals criticize the group for their perceived egoism and frustration with Spanish society and politics.


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