Generation of 98 – Information, characteristics and representatives

We explain what the generation of 98 was in Spanish literature, its context and characteristics. In addition, representatives and works.

generation of 98 miguel de unamuno
The Generation of ’98 fought politically and artistically against the Spanish decadence.

What was the Generation of ’98?

In the history of Spanish literature, the group of poets, essayists and Spanish writers who lived through the depression period in Spain after his military defeat in the Spanish-American War in which they lost their last colonial territories in America (Puerto Rico, Cuba) and Asia (Guam and the Philippines), and which was known as “The disaster of 98”.

This set of writers included many of the greatest names in the contemporary Spanish literary tradition. It was a period of outrage and protest that turned the tragic collapse of the Spanish Empire into a new era of intellectual splendor, this time oriented towards a mostly progressive thinking.

The Generation of ’98 was a participant in the movement called “regenerationism.” Its purpose was to fight politically and artistically the Spanish decadence.

The term “Generation of 98” was coined by José Martínez Ruíz “Azorín”, in essays published in the press and later collected in his book Classic and modern (1913). However, the members of the Generation of ’98 never functioned as an organized movement or as an artistic school, and they could not agree on the solutions proposed for what they understood as the serious backwardness of Spain with respect to the rest of Europe.

Generation ’98 Characteristics

The Generation of ’98 presented the following main characteristics:

  • He grouped various writers and thinkers born between 1864 and 1876, of dissimilar tendencies and origin, but with a similar diagnosis of Spain: that there was a real and miserable one, and an official but fictitious one.
  • They used to meet in bars and cafes, to debate and dialogue; while his works were generally published in magazines short-lived as they were: Don Quixote (1892-1902), Germinal (1897-1899), New life (1898-1900), New Magazine (1899), Electra (1901), Helios (1903-1904) and Spanish Soul (1903-1905).
  • They revalued the Castilian landscape abandoned and dusty, and revive traditional genres such as ballads.
  • They embrace experimentation and renewal of literary genres, trying to break the mold of the traditional. In addition, they reject realistic aesthetics and seek an impressionist language, close to street speech.
  • Share a pessimistic and critical view of Spain, and tried to adapt to the local the philosophical views of Nietzsche, Schopenhauer, Kierkegaard and Bergson.
  • They embrace subjectivity as the artist’s maximum value.

Historical context of the generation of ’98

As we said before, the year 1898 represented a great tragedy for the Spanish people, the climax of a history of decline and decline that had begun centuries before, but which became very evident throughout the 19th century.

The Napoleonic invasion at the beginning of the century, the loss of the American colonies in independence conflicts and the crisis of the Carolinas of 1885 were events that immensely weakened the Spanish Empire in the world, as the United States emerged as a future power.

In 1898, within the framework of the Cuban independence conflict, the United States intervened in favor of Cuba and unleashed a brief war whose result for Spain was catastrophic. This defeat revived the spirits of the 1868 Revolution (also called the Glorious Revolution or September Revolution), in which a military uprising dethroned and exiled Queen Elizabeth II, giving rise to the democratic six-year term (1868-1874).

The latter was an unsuccessful political experiment, but it left an indelible mark on the political fabric of Spain, since the possibility of a non-monarchical government was first raised. They were the very seeds of the future Spanish Civil War in the 20th century.

Authors and representatives of the Generation of ’98

generation of 98 pio baroja
Pio Baroja was a controversial figure of the Generation of ’98.

The main names associated with the Generation of ’98 are the following:

  • Miguel de Unamuno (1864-1936), philosopher and writer of narrative, essay, theater and poetry, he is often considered a precursor of the Generation of ’98. He was rector of the University of Salamanca and deputy of the Cortes during the Second Spanish Republic, which then succumbed to the Civil War.
  • Angel Ganivet (1865-1898), diplomat, sociologist, journalist and poet, is usually considered a forerunner of the generation of 98, along with Unamuno. His work revolves around the fight against apathy, that is, reluctance, in which he said that the evils of Spain were rooted.
  • Ramón María del Valle-Inclán (1866-1936), playwright, poet and novelist whose work is part of modernism, is considered a key author in 20th century Spanish literature. He lived a bohemian life, sacrificing everything for literature, and his works, tremendously numerous in all genres, have been adapted for opera, film and television.
  • Pío Baroja (1872-1956), was a theater writer and especially a novel, coming from the world of medicine. Of marked anticlerical and anarchist thinking, he left a controversial work in which some can see the seeds of the coming Spanish fascism, for his opposition to communism and his anti-Semitic ideas. He is a controversial figure that sparks much debate among his biographers.
  • Azorin (1873-1967), pseudonym of José Martínez Ruíz, was a writer who cultivated all literary genres, although he showed a preference for the novel and the essay. His impressionist and peculiar style work was very characteristic at the time, and much of it has been taken to the cinema later.
  • Antonio Machado Ruiz (1875-1939), the youngest of all the writers of the Generation of ’98, was fundamentally a modernist poet, in which critics rescue popular wisdom and an almost Taoist contemplation of reality. One of the great poets of the Spanish tradition, he died in exile during the Second Spanish Republic.


generation of the 98 valley inclan
The writers of the Generation of ’98, such as Valle Inclán, were part of regenerationism.

The stream of regenerationism was born in Spain between the 19th and 20th centuries, and included many philosophical, political and artistic representatives, in addition to the Generation of 98. In fact, the latter and the regenerationists are usually distinguished in that the former assume a subjective and literary stance, while regenerationists pursue more socially and politically active methods.

Regenerationism denounced the backwardness of Spain with respect to the rest of Europe, and longed for an answer that would eliminate the ills of the country, such as illiteracy, political corruption, scientific-technological backwardness or the misery of the peasantry. The curious thing is that this ideology inspired very disparate political sectors of Spanish society, from the extreme right or the conservatives, to the republican and socialist sectors.