Gustavo Adolfo Bécquer: Biography Of A Legend And His Ghosts

For many of us, Bécquer was the first adult author we read in our teens and, for many of us, he was a young platonic love affair. Gustavo Adolfo Bécquer, the highest representative of Spanish Romanticism, is much more than a classic. His life, his work , his moving verses, his magical influence and the winged beauty of all his work have captured the imagination of millions of people.

Today, we bring you a new perspective, something different from what your biographers are used to. A version of his life and work that is revolutionizing our vision of Bécquer, for better or for worse. Mariano Fernández Urresti, historian and researcher of great prestige, has plunged us back into the life of the poet with his novel Los fantasmas de Bécquer .

The interpretation of the events of his life is in this work a bit far from the idealized image that we all had about this great poet. Although there is no doubt that Fernández Urresti presents it to us as a fascinating story, much more attractive than that of the sickly and in love, almost cowardly poet, who had previously shown us.

His early life

Gustavo Adolfo Bécquer was born in Seville in 1836. The son and brother of painters, he grew up surrounded by the plastic arts and also trained in painting. It seems that as a child his pictorial tendencies revealed a taste for mystery and the occult, themes that would mark all his later literary work.

Bécquer was very close to his brother Valeriano since they were children. Valeriano devoted himself entirely to painting and remained by his brother Gustavo’s side throughout his career. Their lives always ran in parallel to the point that both would die just three months apart.

In 1854, the young Gustavo Adolfo Bécquer moved to Madrid. He made that trip with great expectations of developing a rapid and brilliant literary career with his Historia de los temples de España . But his first book was a failure and he only managed to publish one of the volumes in the collection.

Surviving in Madrid without literary success led him to work for a conservative newspaper. It seems that the political tendencies of Bécquer and his brother Valeriano during their youth were always conservative.

His first Legends and Julia Espín

On a visit to his native Seville in 1858, Bécquer was forced to stay in bed for nine months due to tuberculosis that, in reality, today we know was possibly syphilis. It was while convalescing that Gustavo Adolfo Bécquer wrote his first legend.

During that same time, he meets Julia Espín, who is believed to be the inspiring muse of the poet’s most heartbreaking words. It is then when he begins to write his first Rhymes . Even so, its most fruitful stage spans from 1861 to 1865.

In these four years, Bécquer wrote most of his Legends , many of his journalistic chronicles and the Letters from my cell, which he would write during one of the relapses of his illness. In 1861, he married Casta, the daughter of one of the doctors who treated his ailment. The marriage had three children, although it seems that their relationship was quite turbulent.

The lost rhymes

In 1866, things began to change for Bécquer. With the help of Luis González Bravo, who served as a kind of supporter , he was promoted in the newspaper to the position of censor of novels. This allowed him more time to focus on his Rhymes and his Legends .

However, during the September revolution of 1868, Gustavo Adolfo Bécquer lost his job, was abandoned by his wife and his original Rhymes disappeared after looting. These events make him seclude himself in Toledo for a few months with his brother Valeriano; in this period, he dedicated himself to rewriting the Rhymes that had been stolen during the revolt.

Shortly after, both returned to Madrid, switched to the liberal side and worked at the magazine La Ilustracion de Madrid . In September 1870, his brother Valeriano passed away and Bécquer fell into a state of deep sadness and his state of health worsened significantly.

He gave the complete compendium of his work to a friend to take care of, probably already sensing its end. Three months later, on December 22, Gustavo Adolfo Bécquer died. His death coincided with an eclipse of the sun.

It should be noted that the Rhymes appeared in the press between 1855 and 1871, there were 13 and published some releases elsewhere. The manuscript was lost in 68 and, as we have advanced, it is believed that Bécquer rewritten it from memory. The manuscript presents a different order from that of the first edition of 1871, although the order does not affect the reading. In this first edition, there is an order in four series: the first involves a reflection on the poetic fact, the second corresponds to love poetry, the third is the series of disappointment and the fourth is a kind of mixed bag.

The crisis of language was another of the fundamental pieces of his poetry and, for him, there were two types of poetry: the bombastic and the simple (brief and that springs from the soul). For Bécquer, poetry is the expression of the ineffable in an almost mystical, intimate way and tries to explore new forms of poetic expression.

On the other hand, his Legends  are a set of post-romantic, intimate narratives that evoke the historical past, combining it with fantastic or unusual elements. After his death, his friends published them in an edition that included the Rhymes . Thus, the work was published in 1871 under the title of Rimas y Leyendas .

Spiritist circles

It seems that Gustavo Adolfo Bécquer could have had a very direct contact with the spiritist circles so fashionable in his time. His social circle, the plot of his Rimas y su Leyendas, and an old childhood friendship with one of Spain’s most famous spiritualists seem to support this vision of his life.

In his work, music is the element that communicates the living with the dead. Mediums, ghosts, souls from other worlds, astral travel, apparitions of all kinds, worlds formed of dust and suns, and levitations were characteristic matters of spiritistic practices and their circles.

Could it be that in the original rhymes that were lost we could find more clues that confirm this relationship? The novel Los Fantasmas de Bécquer plays with this idea and with some more, joining threads that are as fascinating as Bécquer’s own work.

Why is Gustavo Adolfo Bécquer’s work so appealing to us?

We wonder what it is about the Rhymes and the Legends of Bécquer to have captivated millions of people within hidden, mysterious and, at times, quite dark plots when not of true terror.

Humans have loved these kinds of stories ever since stories began . Some psychologists argue that this fact is intrinsic to human nature. It would be something like a residue of the first human specimens that had a highly developed ability to detect threats.

In fact, there are studies done on how three-year-olds detect a snake earlier than a flower on a screen. We speak of primordial fears. In those moments of fear, our bodies release surges of adrenaline, endorphins and dopamine ; as a consequence, we become faster and stronger beings.

Many people learn to enjoy the physical sensations of fear. Especially if they occur in safe environments. Those are the characteristics of scary stories. In a moment they are real, you live them, but in the safe environment of a book, a screen or a circle around a bonfire. Thus, the fascinating work of Bécquer remains immortal, as if time had not made a dent in it and connects us with our most human fear, with mysticism and a taste for the fantastic.