Authors: Juan Valera

  • Last updated on December 10, 2021

Spanish novelist

Author Works

Long Fiction:

Mariquita y Antonio, 1861

Pepita Jiménez, 1874 (Pepita Ximenez, 1886)

Las ilusiones del doctor Faustino, 1875

El comendador Mendoza, 1877 (Commander Mendoza, 1893)

Pasarse de listo, 1878 (Don Braulio, 1892)

Doña Luz, 1879 (English translation, 1891)

Juanita la larga, 1896

Genio y figura, 1897

Morsamor, 1899

Short Fiction:

Cuentos y diálogos, 1882

Algo de todo, 1883

Cuentos, diálogos y fantasías, 1887

Cuentos y chascarrillos andaluces, 1898 (with Narciso Campillo, Conde de las Navas, and Doctor Thebussem)

De varios colores, 1898


Tentativas dramáticas, pb. 1879

Teatro, pb. 1908


Ensayos poéticas, 1844

Poesías, 1858

Canciones, romances y poemas, 1885


De la naturaleza y carácter de la novela, 1860

Estudios críticos sobre literatura, política, y costumbres de nuestros días, 1864

Crítica literaria, 1864-1871

Disertaciones y juicios literarios, 1878

Nuevos estudios críticos, 1883

Apuntes sobre el nuevo arte de escribir novelas, 1887

Carta al señor don Juan Valera, 1888

Cartas americanas, 1889

Nuevas cartas americanas, 1890

Las mujeres y las academias, 1891

Ventura de la Vega: Estudio biográfico crítico, 1891

Ecos argentinos, 1901

Edited Texts:

Florilegio de cuentos, leyendas y tradiciones vulgares, 1860

Florilegio de poesías castellanas del siglo XIX, 1902-1904


Poesía y arte en los árabes en España y Sicilia, 1867, 1868, 1871 (of Adolf F. Schack’s Poesie und Kunst der Araber in Spanien und Sicilien)


Obras completas, 1905-1935 (53 volumes)

Obras completas, 1947-1958 (3 volumes)


Juan Valera (vah-LAY-rah), in full Juan Valera y Alcalá Galiano, was born October 18, 1824, in Cabra, a hill town some thirty-five miles southeast of Córdoba, Spain. His parents were distinguished if not affluent, his mother of the Spanish nobility, his father a naval officer. His maternal uncle was the famous orator and politician Antonio Alcalá Galiano. Valera attended a good secondary school in Málaga from 1837 to 1840, studied law in Granada’s Colegio del Sacro Monte and in Madrid, and–back in Granada–graduated in 1844. Though an avid reader of literary classics, he was not a diligent student. It might be noted that many a nineteenth century Spanish undergraduate law major never intended a career in jurisprudence. Such degrees were closer to what would be considered today as the bachelor of arts. Valera, however, despite predictable excursions into the field of literature (a few poems in magazines and a volume of verses whose publication was subsidized by his father as a graduation present), actually attempted to practice law in Madrid.{$I[AN]9810000024}{$I[A]Valera, Juan}{$S[A]Alcalá Galiano, Juan Valera y;Valera, Juan}{$I[geo]SPAIN;Valera, Juan}{$I[tim]1824;Valera, Juan}

Valera’s family connections gave him entrée into high society. It was a pleasant but unremunerative existence; he soon had to think of correcting his course. Diplomacy appeared a more likely choice, and, after a slow start, it proved a good one. He obtained an unofficial post in Naples, working for his friend the great Romantic author the Duque de Rivas, at the time Spanish ambassador, from 1847 to 1849. Valera was sent to Lisbon in 1850 and to Rio de Janeiro in 1851. There followed a post in Dresden (1855) and a visit to Russia (1856).

Returning to Spain, Valera ran for the office of deputy (similar to the position of congressman) in 1858, an office he held during two not very outstanding terms. In 1865, he received his first really important diplomatic appointment as minister in Frankfurt. In 1868, Isabel II lost her throne; Valera became undersecretary of state for most of one year. He even helped choose Amadeo of Savoy as the new king of Spain in 1870 and was made director of public instruction for a very short time. The king soon abdicated, leaving Valera out of political favor. For seven years, Valera devoted himself to writing.

During previous lulls in his public career, he had already managed to produce a volume of poetry in 1858, helped found two satiric literary magazines in the two succeeding years, and was editor in chief for the middle-of-the-road El contemporáneo (where his first, unfinished novel, Mariquita y Antonio, appeared in 1861). Although he had only one book to his credit, the 1858 volume of poetry (an earlier one in 1844 had sold so poorly that he had had it withdrawn from the market), he was elected in 1861 into the Spanish Academy, whose standards, it must be admitted, were somewhat less strict than those of its sister institution in France. His first collection of essays appeared in 1864: Estudios críticos sobre literatura, política, y costumbres de nuestros días (critical studies on contemporary literature, politics, and customs). In 1867, by then in his early forties, he married Dolores Delavat, a daughter of a career diplomat, whom he had first known in Rio de Janeiro in 1851. She was half his age, stubborn, and extravagant; he was usually strapped for funds, given to sarcasm, and notably fond of affairs of the heart (an early addiction still catered to long after his marriage). It was not an especially happy union, although they never separated, and the last few years proved somewhat calmer.

From 1881 to 1883, needing funds to support a growing family along with his extravagant wife, Valera accepted a post as minister in Lisbon, where the accusation of certain financial and political improprieties almost led to a duel. He resigned the position, supposing that his career was ruined. On the contrary, the next year, he was appointed minister to the United States in Washington, D.C. His wife stayed in Spain with the children. Washington, like almost all of his appointments, seemed a mixed blessing. He was forever impugning the climate, the manners, the dress, or the tastes of the places–European or American–where he served his country. American men he termed dull moneygrubbers, though, as always, he enjoyed the women. One of them, Katherine Lee Bayard, the twenty-eight-year-old daughter of the secretary of state, loved him deeply enough to commit suicide in 1886, on hearing that he was to return to Spain. Despite her death and that of his eldest son from typhoid, he seems to have enjoyed his transatlantic stay. Besides his usual active social life, he found time to read generously from American literature, even translating a few poems by James Russell Lowell and John Greenleaf Whittier with an eye to adding fifty or so more to make up a whole book, a project that died aborning.

Valera’s last two diplomatic posts were as minister in Brussels, from 1886 to 1887, and, after a six-year lapse, in Vienna, from 1893 to 1895. There ended his diplomatic career, rendered untenable by questionable health and increasing blindness. Returning to Madrid, he resumed his pursuit of literature. Even in government harness, he had produced Cartas americanas and Nuevas cartas americanas (new American letters), discussing Latin American writers such as the Nicaraguan Modernismo poet Rubén Darío. Full-time commitment allowed for three more novels–Juanita la larga (shrewd Juanita), usually considered his best after Pepita Ximenez; Genio y figura (the title a shortened version of “genio y figura hasta la sepultura,” an expression signifying “what’s bred in the bone will be with you until you die”); and his historical novel, Morsamor–as well as short stories, essays, polemics, and an extensively annotated five-volume anthology of nineteenth century Spanish poetry. Valera died peacefully on April 18, 1905, in the very act of composing a discourse to be delivered before his beloved Spanish Academy.

The author-cum-diplomat was a proud man, at times even haughty, and a chronic complainer, occasionally belligerent. He was often guilty of provincialism, not above denigrating foreign writers who dared pass judgment on things Spanish. He could be superficial and flighty, traits he exhibited all of his adult years. That he used some dozen publishers during his writing career is somewhat unusual, though the large body of his oeuvre may to some extent justify what seems to indicate a difficult personality. He was quite outspoken, a characteristic not always found among professional diplomats. Yet, despite his thorniness, he was normally kind to writers of his own generation in Spain (even too kind, some critics have objected), and he encouraged young writers and scholars. The public tends to expect social and moral perfection in its famous men. Valera might fail his critics, but he remains basically a man to honor and respect.

BibliographyBianchini, Andreina. “Pepita Jiménez: Ideology and Realism.” Hispanofila 33, no. 2 (January, 1990): 33-51. An examination of the novel’s relationship to ideology and idealism. Discusses the three-part structure of the work.DeCoster, Cyrus Cole. Juan Valera. New York: Twayne, 1974. An informative biography. Contains an overview of Valera’s life and literary career and analyzes his literary characters and themes.Ford, J. D. M. Main Currents of Spanish Literature. 1919. Reprint. New York: Biblio and Tannen, 1968. In these critical lectures delivered at the Lowell Institute in Boston, Valera’s novels are considered high points of Spanish American literature. Text includes a bibliographical note.Lott, Robert E. Language and Psychology in “Pepita Jimenez.” Urbana: University of Illinois Press, 1970. A well-regarded study of the language and psychology found in Pepita Jiménez. The first part is an analysis of language, style, and rhetorical devices. The second section is a psychological examination of characters.Taylor, Teresia Langford. The Representation of Women in the Novels of Juan Valera: A Feminist Critique. New York: P. Lang, 1997. This study focuses on the underlying patriarchal ideology in Valera’s texts. Includes bibliographical references and an index.Trimble, Robert. Chaos Burning on My Brow: Don Juan Valera in His Novels. San Bernardino, Calif.: Borgo Press, 1995. A critical study. Includes an index and a bibliography.Turner, Harriet S. “Nescit Labi Virtus: Authorial Self-Critique in Pepita Jiménez.” Kentucky Romance Quarterly 35, no. 3 (August, 1988): 347-357. Examines the omniscient narrator, the writer, the use of irony, and the relationship to virtue.
Categories: Authors