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JUAN VALERA Y ALCALA GALIANO (1824-1905)

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Originally appearing in Volume V27, Page 858 of the 1911 Encyclopedia Britannica.
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JUAN VALERA Y ALCALA GALIANO (1824-1905), Spanish novelist, son of a retired commodore, Jose Valera, who married Dona Dolores Alcala Galiano, marquesa de la Paniega, widow of a Swiss general named Freuller, was born on the 18th of October 1824 at Cabra (Cordova). Valera' was educated at Malaga and at the university of Granada, where he took a- degree in law. Entering diplomacy in 1847, he became unpaid attache to thedied on the 18th of April 1905. Valera's first publication, Canciones; Romances y Poemas, was published in 1856. His verses are melodious, finished and various in subject; but they are rather the imitative exercises of a scholarly man of the world than the inspirations of an original poet. That they failed to attract notice is not altogether to be regretted, for, as Valera himself confessed later in his half-ironical, half-ingenuous preface to the second edition (1885), " In spite of my idleness, I should have shown a most deplorable fecundity had I been received with favour and applause." However, if he published little more in the shape of verse, he wrote incessantly in prose. More than two-thirds of his work is still uncollected, buried in reviews and newspapers; but we may take it that he rescued what he thought most valuable. His criticism may be read in the Estudios criticos sobre literatura (1864), in the Disertaciones y juicios literarios (1878) and in the Nuevos estudios criticos (1888); yet, with all his penetration and taste, Valera laboured under one disadvantage not frequent in critics. He suffered from an excessive amiability. He said a hundred incisive, wise, witty, subtle and suggestive things concerning the mysticism of St Theresa, the art of novel-writing, Faust, the Inquisition, Don Quixote, Shakespeare, the psychology of love in literature; but, to do himself justice, it was an almost indispensable condition that he should deal with the past. In the presence of a living author Valera was disarmed. Unless the writer were an incurable pessimist, Valera would find something in his work to praise, exhausting the vocabulary of compliment and graceful tribute; but, except in the Cartas americanas (1889), where the laudation was manifestly so exaggerated that no harm could come of it, this trick of eulogy became perplexing and misleading. Valera, in effect, refused to criticize contemporary literature; as a rival author it seemed to him an indelicacy to censure his competitors, and he was either laudatory or silent. It is regrettable, for criticism was and is greatly needed in Spain. Valera, then, excelled neither as a poet nor as an impartial critic; he had the vocation of the novelist, though he was slow in discovering it, since he was in his fiftieth year before he published the novel which was to make him famous. Pepita Spanish embassy at Naples under the famous Duke de Rivas, the leader of the romantic movement in Spain. Valera witnessed the events of the Revolution, was promoted second secretary to the embassy at Lisbon in 185o, and in 1851 was transferred as first secretary to Rio de Janeiro, where he remained for two years. After a short period passed at Dresden, he was appointed to the permanent staff of the Foreign Office at Madrid, and in 1857 was attached to the special embassy to St Petersburg under the Duke de Osuna. In 1858 he resigned his post, was elected deputy for Archidona, in the province of Malaga, took his seat with the advanced Liberal Opposition, and joined with Albareda and Fabie in founding El Contempordneo, a very influential journal. An expert in the art of covering an opponent with polite ridicule, his writings in the press attracted general attention. He was elected a member of the Spanish Academy in 1861, and remained in Opposition till 1865, when O'Donnell appointed him minister at Frankfort; on the flight of Isabella II. in 1868 he was elected deputy for Montilla in the province of Cordova, became under-secretary of state for foreign affairs, and was one of the deputation who offered the crown to Amadeus of Savoy in the Pitti Palace at Florence. Though he always called himself a Moderate Liberal, Valera invariably voted for what are considered Radical measures in Spain, and a speech delivered by him in February 1863 against the temporal power of the pope created a profound sensation. However, though a member of the revolutionary party, he steadily opposed organic constitutional changes, and therefore he retired from public life during the period of republican government. After the Bourbon restoration he acted as minister at Lisbon (1881-1883), at Washington (1885), at Brussels (1886) and as ambassador at Vienna (1893-1895), retiring from the diplomatic service on the 5th of March 1896. During the last ten years of his life he took no active part in politics. He Jimenez (1874) is a recital of the fall of Luis de Vargas, a seminarist who conceived himself to be a mystic and a potential saint, and whose aspirations dissolve at the first contact with reality. It is easy to point out blemishes: the story is not well constructed, and it has pauses during which the. writer's fantasy plays at pleasure over a hundred subjects not very germane to the matter; but its characters are as real as any in fiction, the love story is told with the most refined subtlety and malicious truth, while page upon page is written in such Spanish as would do credit to the best writers of the 16th and 17th centuries. Unquestionably Pepita Jimenez is a very remarkable achievement--so remarkable, that contemporaries were reluctant to admit the superiority of its successors. It is certain that Valera's second novel, Las ilusiones del Doctor Faustino (1875), was received with marked disfavour, and that it has the faults of over-refinement and of cruelty; yet in keen analysis and in humour it surpasses Pepita Jimenez. The Comendador Mendoza (1877) is more pathetic and of a profounder significance; and if Dona Luz (1879) repeats the situation and the general idea already used in Pepita Jimenez, it strikes a deeper and more tragic note, which came as a surprise to those familiar only with the lighter side of Valera's , genius. Besides these elaborate psychological studies, Valera issued a volume of Cuentos (1887), some of these short tales and dialogues being marvels of art and of insight. Thenceforward he was silent for eight years, but after his retirement from politics he published several good books—El hechicero (1895), Juanita la larga (1896), Genio y figura (1897), De varios Mores' (1898) and Morsamor (1899). These are not all of equal excellence, but they are characteristic of their author, and abound in understanding, humorous comment and sympathetic creation. At the close of the 19th century Valera was recognized as the most eminent man of letters in Spain. He had not Pereda's force nor his energetic realism; he had not the copious invention nor the reforming purpose of Perez GaldSs; yet he was as realistic as the former and as innovating as the latter. And, for all his cosmopolitan spirit, he fortunately remained in-tensely and incorrigibly Spanish. His aristocratic scepticism, his strange elusiveness, his incomparable charm are his own: his humour, his flashing irony, his urbanity are eminently the gifts of his land and race. He is by no means an impersonal artist; in almost every story there is at least one character who talks and thinks and subtilizes and refines as Valera himself wrote in his most brilliant essays. This may be a fault in art; but, if so, it is a fault which many great artists have committed, from Cervantes to Thackeray. It is dangerous to attempt a forecast of Valera's final place in literary history, yet it seems safe to say that, though his poems and essays will be forgotten, Pepita Jimenez and Dona Luz will survive changes of fashion and of taste, and that their author's name will be inseparably connected with the renaissance of the modern Spanish novel. (J. F.-K.)
End of Article: JUAN VALERA Y ALCALA GALIANO (1824-1905)
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