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History of Portuguese Literature Origins of Portuguese Literature The Portuguese Language Oral Literature Fiction Lyricism
Travel Literature Cantigas de amigo Historiography Doctrinal Prose



History of Portuguese Literature

Fólio of Cancioneiro da Ajuda

Front page of the newspaper JL - Jornal de Letras, Artes e Ideias, Year I, No. 1, from 3 to 16 March, 1981.


The history of Portuguese literature can be understood on two separate levels:

     1. The progression over time of the cultivation of the Portuguese language for aesthetic and cultural purposes (which the theory of literary history calls literary evolution, e.g. Tynianov and the Russian Formalists);

    2. Consideration of the way in which this progression should best be seen, through the critical and methodological perspectives that determine its nature.

At level 1., it should be stressed that:

     a) The evolution of a community has strong correlations with the evolution of neighbouring communities, or with the evolution of those communities with which it has close relations (in the Portuguese case, this meant certain European literatures, such as Spanish, French, Italian and others, depending on the particular periods and the types of relationship enjoyed; later, it was to mean Brazilian and North American literature, either because of their natural intercommunication or through an indirect relationship);

     b) uch evolution takes place within a much broader artistic, cultural, socio-political and economic framework, from which literature does not just spring passively, but with which it sometimes interferes actively;

       c) Such evolution can be perceived as taking place in phases (or series, as they were called by the Russian Formalists), which the manuals of literary history then reduce in terms of periodisation to schools, generations and movements. Sometimes this is in fact the case (when authors openly adhere to doctrinaire programmes and share a certain awareness of belonging to a group with definite affinities), but in reality these phases are rarely uniform, even though, in the eyes of readers and critics, they tend to show their identifying features more clearly.

The Group of 10: a group of intellectuals consisting of Eça de Queirós, Carlos Mayer, Guerra Junqueiro, António Cândido, Ramalho Ortigão, Oliveira Martins, Carlos Lobo d’Ávila, the Count of Arnoso, the Marquis of Soveral and the Count of Ficalho.

It is difficult to understand Portuguese literature without establishing its clear links with Provençal lyricism, in the Middle Ages (12-15C), and understanding the latter’s connections with the Galician-Portuguese form of cultural expression. During the classical period (16-18C), it is equally important to understand the influence of the Italian Renaissance, the Spanish Baroque and the French Enlightenment, which gave rise to the specific Mannerism of Camões and the peculiarity of our travel literature. In the nineteenth century, Portuguese literature is best understood in connection with Romanticism, Realism, Symbolism and other European aesthetic tendencies; whilst in the twentieth century, there is the influence of Modernism and other vanguard movements, as well as post-modernism.

At level 2., we shall consider the personalities who tried to express this historical evolution, writing about it and thus occupying a place in history in their own right. We shall divide these into three groups:

a)     the providers of material, who gathered together relevant information and data, e.g. Barbosa Machado (17C), João Gaspar Simões (20C);

b)     the cultural historians, who considered literature from a predominantly historicist perspective (integrating literary production into the generic periodisation dictated by the historical sciences), e.g. Teófilo Braga (19C), António José Saraiva (20C);

c)     the literary historians, who considered literature from a predominantly critical perspective (being guided by aesthetic and ideological criteria), e.g. Fidelino de Figueiredo, Adolfo Casais Monteiro, Jacinto do Prado Coelho and Óscar Lopes (all from the 20C).


© Instituto Camões, 2001