Salvadoran literature

Origins of Salvadorean literature Colonial literature During the colonial period, literature flourished in the Iberian metropolis; in the American colonies there was also a remarkable cultivation of the arts, especially architecture, fine arts, and music. There were significant barriers, however, to a comparable emergence in literature. Religious authorities zealously controlled the lives of recent converts to Christianity, insisting that literary expression be in the service of faith and under their careful scrutiny. Despite this, an important secular literary tradition emerged in the viceregal courts of Mexico and Lima. This literature tended to imitate the metropolitan canons, though occasionally nourished an original and memorable voice like that of Mexican poet Juana Inés de la Cruz. The Salvadorean territory was far from the centers of culture. Literature may have enjoyed popularity among small circles of educated criollos, but there is little evidence of this. What evidence does exist confirms that literary development was sporadic, ephemeral, and even accidental. An example of such development is the house of Andalusian Juan de Mestanza, who was the mayor of Sonsonate between 1585 and 1589, mentioned in Miguel de Cervantes’ “El Viaje al Parnaso”. In the colonial era there was considerable theatrical activity, a central aspect of popular entertainment in the settlements’ festivities. During these events religious or comic plays were presented. Religious literature Catholic faith and rites were the unifying factor in a heterogeneous and highly stratified society. Some literary expression was linked to religiously-themed dramatic productions, staged during celebrations in villages and neighborhoods. On the other hand, some literature was addressed to a smaller, more elite readership. In the latter group are pious works, hagiographies portraying the lives of saits, and theological treatises, written by clergy born in the county, but generally published in Europe. Among this last category is Juan Antonio Arias, a Jesuit born in Santa Ana. He wrote treatises including Misteriosa sombra de las primeras luces del divino Osiris and Jesús recién nacido. Father Bartolomé Cañas, also a Jesuit, sought asylum in Italy after being expelled from his order in the Spanish territories; in Bologna he wrote a major apologetic dissertation. Diego José Fuente, a Francisco born in San Salvador, published a variety of religious works in Spain. Juan Díaz, a native of Sonsonate, authored the biography Vida y virtudes del venerable fray Andrés del Valle. Secular literature A major non-religious work was a manual for the manufacture of indigo El puntero apuntado con apuntes breves, by Juan de Dios del Cid, who made a rudimentary printing press to publish his work, which may have been the first press in the territory of El Salvador. The document is printed with the date 1641, but Salvadorean literary critic Luis Gallegos Valdés asserts that this date was a typographical error, and some historical references place it in the next century. Another major work was the Carta de Relación, written by the conquistador Pedro de Alvarado for practical reasons; it narrates major episodes in the conquest of the Americas. Literature during the era of independence By the last decades of Spanish rule there already existed considerable secular cultural activity in Central America. It was centered on the University of San Carlos in Guatemala. There, educated criollos gathered to discuss and exchange ideas of the Enlightenment. This encouraged the emergence of a literature more political than aesthetic, manifested principally in oratory and argumentative prose, both polemic and dotrinal, in which authors demonstrated their ingenuity and use of classical rhetoric. One major figure of this era was Father Manuel Aguilar (1750–1819), whose famous homily proclaimed the right of insurrection of oppressed peoples, provoking scandal and censorship. The priest José Simeón Cañas (1767–1838) is known for his 1823 speech in the Constituent Assembly, in which he demanded the emancipation of slaves. Presbyterian Isidro Menéndez (1795–1858), the author of much of the era’s legislation, was also renowned for his oratory. The aesthetic of Salvadorean literature of this era did not have a role comparable to that of eloquent speech or journalistic writing. Literature was used only occasionally, such as anonymous verses offering satirical comment on contemporary politics, or other poetry celebrating the good name and deeds of important figures. Examples of the latter category include the prose work Tragedia de Morazán (Tragedy of Morazán) (1894) by Francisco Díaz (1812-1845) and the ode Al ciudadano José Cecilio del Valle (To the Citizen José Cecilio del Valle (1827) by Miguel Álvarez Castro (1795-1856). The weakness of the state, the lack of urban life, and the consequently non-existent cultural infrastructure limited authors’ ability to support themselves. Under these conditions, artists were dependent on private patrons and oriented toward serving their tastes and increasing their social prestige.