Biography of Federico Garcia Lorca

Biography of Federico Garcia Lorca

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Biography of Federico Garcia Lorca

Federico García Lorca was born into an educated bourgeois family in Fuente Vaqueros, in Andalusia, Spain, in 1898. His mother was a teacher and his father a rich farm labourer. He read literature and music at Granada University and in 1919, at the age of 21, he published his first book, Impresiones y Paisaijes, that was inspired by a trip around Spain that he took as part of his degree. That year, Lorca went to Madrid to continue with his studies. He moved into the Residence of Scholars (residencia de estudiantes), a liberal institution that taught according to the social, political and religious philosophies of Krause. Their view of religion gave way to what is called pantheism, which is a perspective Lorca embraced in his work. The importance of the residencia in shaping a generation of writers and poets that became known as the Generation of ’27 cannot be underestimated. All the latest innovations in the arts were discussed and debated within the walls of this institution and its students included names as

was a had a profound affect on Lorca’s generation, where he would meet and make good friends with the famous Spanish poets, Juan Ramón Jiménez (born in Huelva in 1881-1958), Emilio Prados (born in Málaga in 1899-1962), Rafael Alberti (1902-present) and Jorge Guillén (1893-1984), as well as the famous Surrealist artist, Salvador Dalí (born in 1904 in Figueras), to whom he would write an ode in 1926, and Luis Buñuel (born in 1900 in Teruel), among others. Through his friends at the Residencia he soon got to know a number of other poets with whom he also shared a bond in terms of friendship and ideological leanings and who have since been given many names including that of “La Generación del ´27” (The Generation of ´27). This group, or generation includes his friends Prados, Alberti and Guillén, as well as Pedro Salinas, Gerardo Diego, Dámaso Alonso, Vicente Aleixandre, Luis Cernuda and Manuel Altolaguirre. Of these, Lorca’s poetry has most often been compared with that of Rafael Alberti.

Lorca was a prodigious artist, poet and playwright; his first play, El Maleficio de la Mariposa (The Butterfly's Evil Spell), premiered in 1920 and his first book of poems, Libro de Poemas (Book of Poems), was published the following year, although neither of these initially received the acclaim that his later works would. In November 1921 he wrote Poema del Cante Jondo, which would not be published until a decade later, in 1931.

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Biography of Federico Garcia Lorca Essay

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Similarly, his book Canciones (Songs), written that same year, would not be published until 1927 nor would Primeras Canciones (First Songs), written in 1922, be published until 1935. In 1927, along with the publication of Canciones, his play, Mariana Pineda, successfully premiered and he also finished a collection of poems called the Romancero Gitano (The Gypsy Ballads), which earned him critical acclaim when it was published the following year, in 1928. These are generally considered to fall into the category of his early works, but are not considered to be any less valuable than pieces he wrote afterwards, indeed they showed great artistic ability. It is interesting that Lorca initially placed a greater emphasis on his poetry then on his dramaturgy, which would become his defining medium.

Between 1929 and 1930, Lorca lived in New York as a lecturer at Columbia University; the city inspired a new collection of poems called Poeta en Nueva York (Poet in New York), that is considered by some critics to be a transitional piece of work, and was published in Mexico posthumously. While in America, he also visited Cuba. When he returned to Spain in 1930 Lorca wrote the play La Zapatera Prodigiosa (The Shoemaker’s Prodigious Wife), as well scenes for two new plays, El Público (The Public) and Así Que Pasen Cinco Años (Once Five Years Pass), thereby initiating a new and more mature phase that, until his death in 1936, placed a greater emphasis on his skills as a playwright. In 1931 Spain was declared a republic for the second time, and as a result of his friendship with the then Ministro de Instrucción Pública, a man named Fernando de los Ríos, Lorca was asked to put a theatre group together for the university, which he called La Barraca. He travelled around Spain with this group, putting on plays by classic Spanish playwrights in towns and cities throughout the country. In 1932 he visited Galicia, a region in Spain that is similar to Ireland in terms of its Celtic tradition and folklore, which inspired Lorca to write his Seis Poemas Galegos (Six Galician Poems), although critics said of these that he had not been able to capture the essence of Galicia in the same way that he had been able to capture the essence of Andalusia in his Gypsy Ballads. Between 1933 and 1934 Lorca travelled to Argentina and Uruguay; in 1933 he won wide acclaim for the premiere of two plays, Bodas de Sangre (Blood Wedding) and Amor de don Perlimplín con Belisa en su Jardín (The Love of Don Perlimplín and Belisa in the Garden), the latter directed by himself. In 1934, he compounded his success with the tragedy Yerma, which starred Margarita Xirgú, a famous Spanish actress of the time. That year he also wrote a poem called Llanto por Ignacio Sánchez Mejías (Lament for the death of a bullfighter), in homage to his friend, the great Spanish bullfighter, Sánchez Mejías, who died that year. In March 1935 he directed the unabridged version of his play La Zapatera Prodigiosa and in May he staged some scenes from a farce he entitled El Retablillo de don Cristobál (In the Frame of Don Cristobál). In December, he staged Doña Rosita la Soltera o el Lenguaje de las Flores (Doña Rosita, The Spinster or Language of Flowers) in Barcelona. In 1936 he finished his play La Casa de Bernarda Alba (The House of Bernarda Alba), which would complete his trilogy of Andalusian folk tragedies; the others being Yerma and Bodas de Sangre). La Casa de Bernada Alba was premiered posthumously in 1945 and starred Margarita Xirgú.

On the 16th July Lorca went to Granada to spend some time in the country when the Spanish Civil War broke out and Granada was taken by Franco’s troops. It was a time of much uncertainty and the nationals, convinced that a counterattack was being organised, began to round up possible left-wing sympathisers in their homes and execute them. Lorca was aware of the political situation and the danger he was in, particularly as many of the assassinations that were taking place were just an excuse to settle personal scores, in addition to which he was a popular poet and playwright with well-known left-wing leanings as well as being homosexual. He decided to stay with two very close personal friends, the poet Luis Rosales and his brother José. José Rosales was leader of the Falange of the Jons in Granada; under his protection they thought Lorca had a good chance of surviving execution. Nevertheless, he was arrested by the Falange and despite repeated intercessions on his behalf by the Rosales family, on the 19th August he was shot dead along with other left-wing sympathisers. His death rocked the nation and horrified his contemporaries. A number of his works were published posthumously, including Diván de Tamarit (The Tamarit Divan), Seis poemas galegos (Six Galician Poems) and Sonetos del Amor Oscuro (Sonnets of Dark Love), among others, although some of his work has been censored by his family and many pieces have been lost.

Lorca was born in 1898, the year the Spanish refer to as ‘The Great Disaster’, when Spain lost what remained of her once great empire (Cuba, The Philippines and Puerto Rico) to North America. Spain was in a period of its history known as the Restoration, that would last until the dictatorship of General Primo de Rivera, from 1875 until 1923. From 1875 until 1897, government and politics in Spain was essentially farcical and worked according to a ‘system' created by the politician Antonio Cánovas de Castillo, called the Turno Pacífico, whereby his party, the Conservative party, would take it in turns to govern the country with the Conservative Liberal party, headed by Práxedes Sagasta. It was a system that gave the monarch power to decide which party should govern the country and for how long; when it looked like the population was unhappy with a particular party and looked like it could pose a potential threat to the system, rather than allow the people to vote themselves, the monarch would ensure that power was given to the opposition. The decision of the monarch would be enforced by powerful, corrupt men working at local government level, known as Caciques. By 1980 however, critics of the system, particularly from those it excluded, which were the Carlists on the far right and the Republicans on the far left, started to create unrest and the system began to crack; critics blamed it’s weakness as a system and the fact that it was based on corruption for the great loss of 1898.

In social terms, Spain at this time was very much dominated by a backward feudal system of land ownership in the central and southern regions of Spain, which meant that the majority of land was owned by a handful of powerful families, while labourers, or jornaleros as they were called, were paid a daily wage that was barely enough to feed them. The majority of the population in rural Spain were illiterate. The irresponsibility and laziness of landowners meant that new technology was not invested in that would have improved intensive farming methods in these areas, bringing Spain in line with the rest of Europe in terms of industrial development. Instead, they preferred to take advantage of cheap labour to increase production in the short term. The metallurgy industry in the Basque Country, in the north of Spain, along with the Catalan textile industry on the east coast were the exception to general economic backwardness. The industries in these regions experienced industrial development in line with the rest of Europe, although they were hampered by geographical factors such as un-navigable rivers and mountainous terrain that made good road or rail transport a difficult enterprise, thus the cost of transporting fuels, which were not of a high quality in any case, meant that these industries were not as competitive as their European counterparts. In addition, any profits made in these sectors only benefited a handful of powerful businessmen and investors, while the majority of factory workers were ill paid and illiterate, just as the land labourers were in the rest of the country. Demographic figures show that life in these industrialised cities was so dire that birth rates were low but death rates were high, due to poor living conditions: Demographic figures that prove that industrialisation has taken place tend to show low birth rates in conjunction with a fall in death rates. To sum up, one could say that Spain at the turn of the century was characterised by an inefficient and corrupt political system, a powerful and irresponsible ruling class, social inequalities and backwardness.

Following the loss of it’s empire, those who were already critical of Spain’s corrupt political system and irresponsible society, renewed their demand for regeneration. Perhaps the most renown of these social critics were a group of bohemian poets and writers that are known as the Generation of ’98, that are often linked to, or confused with, the Modernist movement. The differences between the two movements, or groups, are discussed in an essay written by Pedro Salinas entitled “El problema del Modernismo en España o un conflicto entre dos espíritus” (which could be translated as ‘the problem of modernism in Spain, or a conflict between two ethos’) (Salinas:13). In his essay, Salinas argues that both movements came about for the following reasons: “insatisfacción con el estado de la literatura en aquella época, tendencia a rebelarse contra las normas estéticas imperantes, y deseo, más o menos definido, de un cambio que no se sabía muy bien en qué había de consistir” (Salinas:13). This similarity generated contact between the two for a brief period in 1898, when the Nicaraguan poet and father of Modernism, Rubén Darío, came to Spain. However, their differences soon proved greater than their similarities and the two groups would diverge, so that the Spanish literary Modernist movement would be characterised by its concern for the aesthetic, the pleasure of the senses and lack of social conscience: “Nunca habían cantado las palabras castellanas con alegría tan colorinesca, nunca antes brillaran con tantos visos y relumbres como en las espléndidas poesías de Darío” (Salinas:16). Salinas even goes so far as to compare Modernism to a narcotic, and the words of Darío to the call of a siren, in that their poetry offered escapism to a generation suffering from complex of defeatism and pessimism, rather then urging them to stand and fight against the system.

The generation of ’98 on the other hand, horrified by the loss of the Spanish empire, which they considered proof of Spain’s backwardness, were more political, more critical and more analytical. Their work was also marked by a kind of introspective spirituality; the need to search one’s soul in order to find a solution to society’s problems. This group of writers included Miguel de Unamuno (1864-1936), Pío Baroja (1872-1956), Antonio Machado (1875-1939), Azorín and Ramiro de Maeztu (1875-1936); all of which would be greatly admired by Lorca’s contemporaries. Although appreciative of Darío as a master of his art, both the generation of ’98 and the generations that followed, were critical of its lack of originality and dismissive of its content. Salinas pointed out that by constantly embracing previous cultural references, or movements such as romanticism, the Modernists succeeded only in imitating them rather than creating something new based on their own experiences: In short, their poetry was ornate, decadent and described that which had already been described before.

The early twentieth century in Europe was marked by great advances in technology that went hand in hand with great social unrest and political extremism, which was reflected in an era of experimentation in the arts. It sprang from a need for young artists, poets and writers to break violently away from everything that had been done previously; the need to create something new and original, the need to uncover hypocrisy and move towards purity. Different countries produced different movements: Italy would produce Futurism and Fascism; France would produce Cubism, Dadaism and Surrealism; Russia would produce Acmeism; England and the US would promote Imagism and, Spain would produce Ultraism and Creationism. The Vanguard or Avant-Garde movement was popularised in Spain by a group of writers, poets and philosophers that were brought up in regenerationist Spain, that included Juan Ramón Jiménez (1881-1958), Ramón Gómez de la Serna (1888-1963) and José Ortega y Gasset (1883-1955). These writers would have a profound effect on Lorca and his contemporaries. Chronologically speaking only ten years separated them from their predecessors, the Generation of ’98, and from their successors, the Generation of ’27. In many ways then, they were a transitional group that marked the end of the old (Modernism) and the beginning of the new (The Vanguard). Indeed Juan Ramón Jiménez is a good example of this as his early work was at first very much influenced by Darío, however, he later rejected Modernism in favour of an avant-garde style of poetry called ‘nude poetry’ or ‘poesía desnuda’, in other words, poetry stripped of all ins unnecessary ornate trappings: “!Oh passion de mi vida, poesía/Desnuda, mía para siempre!


Carr, Raymond: “Spain 1808-1975” (2nd ed.) 1982, Oxford University Press/Clarendon Press
“Federico García Lorca Conferencias I”, Alianza Editorial, S.A., Madrid 1984
Gaos, Vicente: “Antología del Grupo Poético de 1927” Ediciones Cátedra, S.A. 1981
Harvard, Robert G: “Federico García Lorca Gypsy Ballads – Romancero Gitano”, Aris & Phillips – Warminster – England.
Salinas, Pedro: “Literatura Española Siglo XX” 1970, Alianza Editorial, S.A. Madrid
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