Authors: José María de Pereda

  • Last updated on December 10, 2021

Spanish novelist

Author Works

Long Fiction:

El buey suelto, 1877

De tal palo, tal astilla, 1879

El sabor de la tierruca, 1882

Pedro Sánchez, 1883

Sotileza, 1884

Nubes de estío, 1891

Peñas arriba, 1895

Short Fiction:

The Last of the Bread, and Other Stories, 1914


Escenas montañesas, 1864


Of all Spanish regional novelists, the greatest was José María de Pereda (pay-RAY-dah), the youngest of twenty-two children of a wealthy family of Polanco, near Santander, Spain. Having grown up full of the conservative ideas of his social class, he journeyed to Madrid at the age of nineteen to enter artillery school. There his dislike of mathematics and his disgust with mob rule during the revolution of 1854 turned him against the capital. Although he returned later to serve in Congress, the political corruption he encountered made the quiet of his country home in the north seem even more attractive, and he spent the rest of his life in Santander.{$I[AN]9810000211}{$I[A]Pereda, José María de}{$I[geo]SPAIN;Pereda, José María de}{$I[tim]1833;Pereda, José María de}

Pereda founded a newspaper, La Abeja Montañesa (the mountain bee), and for it he wrote a series of descriptive sketches. Later he collected eighteen of them into his first volume, Escenas montañesas (mountain scenes), published in 1864. This book revealed Pereda as a writer with a true feeling for nature. Mountains and sea play as important a part in his stories as people do. Civilization, he believed, destroys people’s souls.

The traditions of his mountainous homeland, never overrun by the Moors who conquered most of the rest of Spain, are more truly Spanish than those of southern Spain, occupied by foreigners through the fifteenth century. Because of his portrayals of the patriarchal life of his region, the conservative Pereda was accepted during his lifetime as more Spanish than his contemporaries. Some of his books can still serve as guidebooks for tourists to Santander and the surrounding countryside. Ironically, this novelist who believed that liberal thinkers are the incarnation of all that is evil had as his greatest friend the liberal Benito Pérez Galdós, with whom he took a walking trip through Galicia and Portugal and who sponsored his election to the Spanish Academy in 1897.

Pereda was against anything new. His fervent Catholicism turned him against the naturalism of Émile Zola, which colored the work of other writers of Spain. However, in spite of the idealization of some of his characters, Pereda was not a true romanticist; Menéndez y Pelayo classified Pereda’s style as “idealized realism.” Especially realistic is his reproduction of the speech of the common people. Though he was an aristocrat, his sympathetic short story, “La leva” (the draft), telling of the conscription of lowly Santander fishermen, is one of the greatest ever written in Spain.

Uncertain at first of his capabilities as a writer, Pereda was very sensitive to critical opinion. Following the publication of De tal palo, tal astilla in 1879–his uncompromising answer to Pérez Galdós’s anticlerical novels–critics declared that his depiction of love was cold. In 1882 he replied with El sabor de la tierruca, an idyll describing village life and the charms of the Santander region. When this work provoked the comment that his novels had a limited horizon, he changed his scene to Madrid in the unsettled times he had known there as a student and wrote the modern picaresque novel Pedro Sánchez, the story of a political adventurer.

His most popular novel, Sotileza, a fine sea tale, was written to portray the noble virtues and incorruptible faith of Santander fishermen as well as their miserable living conditions. Ten years later, when the critics declared that he was “written out,” Pereda replied with Peñas arriba, considered by many his best novel. This work describes the healing effects of nature on a Madrid idler who takes over his uncle’s mountain estate. With its sale of five thousand copies during the first week equaled in its time only by Pérez Galdós, the book helped bring about Pereda’s election to the Spanish Academy in 1897.

Pereda’s flaws lie in the weakness of his plots and his inability to portray women effectively, especially women of the upper class, who appear in his pages chiefly as snobs or caricatures. Only the lower-class women get sympathetic treatment in his pages, as in his handling of the orphan heroine of Sotileza.

Pereda showed little understanding of modernism. For this reason, during his lifetime, some critics were blinded to his talents by their dislike for his social and religious beliefs. A later revaluation of his writing, however, won for him a high place among Spanish novelists for his vivid style, his delicacy of observation, his forceful and enormous vocabulary, and his realistic creation of characters. Pereda died in Santander in 1906.

BibliographyBlanco de la Lama, María Ascunción. Novela e idilio en el personaje femenino de José María de Pereda. Santander, Spain: Ediciones de Librería Estudia, 1995. Discusses Pereda’s depiction of women.Dorca, Toni. “Pereda and the Closure of the Roman à these: From Don Gonzalo Gonzalez de la Gonzalera to Peñas arriba.” Hispanic Review 70, no. 3 (2002): 355-371. A poststructuralist reading of Pereda’s work.Klibbe, Lawrence H. José María de Pereda. New York: Twayne, 1975. Provides biographic information and discussions of major works. A good introduction, and one of the few in English.Madariaga de la Campa, Benito. José María de Pereda: Biografía de un novelista. Santander, Spain: Ediciones de Librería Estudia, 1991. A biography. In Spanish.Rodríguez, Luz Colina. El folklore en la obra de José María de Pereda. Santander, Spain: Institución de Cultural de Cantabria, 1987. Discusses Pereda’s use of folklore in his work. In Spanish.
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