Twentieth-century Portuguese literature has evolved under the banner of the coexistence of two contrasting and at the same time complementary elements: the drive to broaden horizons beyond national borders and attachment to characteristics that are felt to be peculiar to local tradition. In this sort of “pendulum swing” now one and then the other of the two factors has prevailed: the attempt to “universalize” with the symbolist experience of E. de Castro (1869-1944) – that this experience poetics gives the name of “nephelibatism” -, of A. Nobre (1866-1900) and C. Pessanha (1867-1926), followed by the reference to the values indicated as traditional with the literary experience of “Saudosism” of which Teixeira de Pascoaes is founder and major interpreter;
Despite the substantial parallelism with the analogous movement in other countries, modernism is characterized in Portugal (where its chronological limits are formally 1915 and 1940) by a clear differentiation between two moments: the first, in the spirit of the Luso-Brazilian magazine Orpheu (who defines himself as the “sum and synthesis of all modern literary movements”, and of which only two numbers come out, precisely in 1915); the second, in that of the magazine Presença (which is published with interruptions from 1927 to 1940 and which is defined as an “art and criticism sheet” in defense of the freedom of art from extra-artistic conditioning). The first phase, which aims to give a “literary scandal” with controversial and provocative positions, soon assumes the aspect of the prevalence of poetic creation over critical activity: its main representative, F. Pessoa, has the right to be counted among the great world poets of the century. Alongside Pessoa, in this first phase of which the ephemeral but sensational avant-garde point is the Futurist experience (the poet-painter-prose writer J. Almada Negreiros, 1893-1970, is its auctioneer), is M. de Sá-Carneiro (1890-1916, suicide in Paris), brilliant interpreter, in poetry, of a distressed world. In the second stage, Presença, on the other hand, the critical activity prevails over the creative one, although among the initiators of the magazine there is a very valid personality also from the poetic point of view, J. Régio: next to him, in addition to B. da Fonseca (1905-74) who an eminent place is acquired in short stories, they are writers who assert themselves more precisely in criticism than in literary production proper, albeit often notable, both in poetry (A. Casais Monteiro, 1908-72) and in prose (JG Simões, born in 1903). For others, the Presença label is in fact worth more for the chronological coincidence than for the actual participation in the magazine, as is the case, for example, of the poet, narrator and critic v. Nemésio (1901-1978): for still others Presen ç a it served as a starting point, as for M. Torga (pseud. of A. Correia da Rocha, born in 1907), in whose narrative a happy coexistence of realism and symbolism is realized.
With the formal end of modernism, prose narrative over lyric poetry prevails in the activity of literary creation: the year of the end of Presença it is that of the official birth of neorealism with the first novel by A. Redol; in the production of this neorealism, moreover in a clear overcoming of its programmatic presuppositions, F. Namora (born in 1919) is essential, the psychological deepening of whose characters is facilitated to the author by the profession of doctor. In the meantime, we are moving at an increasingly rapid pace in the footsteps of the experiences and the -isms of beyond the borders, among other things with the detached psychological examination of the stories of J. Rodrigues Migueis (born in 1901), with the refined ease of the most modern expressive originality of the novels by D. Monteiro (born in 1903), with the inclusion in the literature of the “existential anguish” of V. Ferreira (born in 1916). In the meantime, the two novelists who have already established themselves on an ultranational level already in the first decades of the century have disappeared; in 1963 A. Ribeiro (App. II, 11, p. 705) and in 1974 JM Ferreira de Castro (App. II, 1, p. 533); the first had continued in a fruitful narrative with an unmistakable lexicon and style, thanks to the transfer to the written language of the speeches of people from the mountainous interior of the country and the realistic presentation of the things and people who would have influenced, no less than the attention given to the regionalist world, on the choices of the neorealist narrators; the second had returned to the Brazil of his first great novels with the last, O instinto supremo (1968), inspired by the problem of the indigenous people of central Brazil.
The contribution of female writers is remarkable. The woman, having returned to the center of fiction with the greatest novelist in Portuguese literature, Eça de Queiroz, has ceased to be a mere object: her problems, expanded and deepened, appear to be treated in works of growing interest. And while they are characterized by the balance between the courageous analysis of the female soul and the preservation of a basic modesty J. Navarro (born in 1910), N. Freire (1920), N. Nunes (1921), MJ de Carvalho (1921), made a qualitative leap in the narrative prose A. Bessa Luís (1922), whose work proceeds in a progressive enrichment of themes and in a continuous innovation of the exhibition structure. Also worthy of mention are F. Botelho (1926) and S. de Mello Breyner Andresen (1919) – both notable also in poetry. For Portugal 2006, please check computergees.com.
The lyric that is usually defined by post-modernist simplification, also tending to explicitly extra-artistic purposes (in the first place in terms of social claims) without however neglecting the controlled and refined expressive forms acquired from previous poetic experiences, often ‘sign of cenacles and magazines. They are the poets of the “Novo Cancioneiro” (1941-44: among others C. de Oliveira, born in 1921), of the three series of the “Cadernos de Poesia” (1940-53: among others T. Kim, 1915-67 ; J. de Sena, 1919-78); E. de Andrade (1923), of the “Grupo Surrealista de Lisboa” (1947: among others A. Pedro, 1909-67), of the “Távola Redonda” (1949: among others D. Mourão-Ferreira, 1927) , of “Poesia 61” (1961: among others G. Cruz, 1941), gradually up to those of “experimental poetry” and “concretism”. Among the poets who have been part for themselves is S. da Gama (1924-52), who left a lyric – from traditional meters – suggestive for a naturalistic mysticism full of heartfelt forebodings of the premature end.
In the clash between tradition and innovation, the theater has been technically crafty, often thanks to the initiative of experimental groups (from the “Teatro Estudo Rua do Salitre” created in Lisbon by the Italian scholar G. Saviotti – from 1891 – to the “Teatro Experimental do Porto “), on the one hand with openness to innovations encouraged from beyond the frontier, up to the theater of surrealism and the absurd, for example. with the light-hearted presentation of the anxieties of today’s life in the work of A. Abelaira (1926), on the other with a return to local motifs, eg. by insisting on the elementary and passionate existence of seafarers in the work of B. Santareno (1924).
The twentieth century has denied the traditional accusation of a poor attitude to criticism, of the Portuguese (and Spanish) way of being and thinking. This was already verified in the first decades of the century with important magazines, from Nação Portuguesa, organ of the also political movement “Integralismo Lusitano” (its main animator A. Sardinha, 1888-1925) to Seara Nova which has been published since 1921, brought to high prestige from one of the strongest personalities of Portuguese thought, A. Sérgio (1883-1969), whose many Ensaios, addressing the most varied historical-literary-social problems, they offer for the first time a sort of “essay” that does not look bad in comparison with that of the great Spaniards of the “98 generation”. And another of the great scholars of the century, F. de Figueiredo (App. II, 1, p. 939; died in 1967) continued his activity as a critic of history and literature, whose personality as a writer completed with pages of courageous inner investigation (carried out in dramatic health conditions similar to those of a Papini), in the withdrawal of man on himself in a pathetic need to identify between culture and the life of the spirit.
At the same time, the more strictly academic criticism has been expanding and deepening in the method, from that in the philosophical context of L. Coimbra (1883-1936), J. de Carvalho (1892-1958), F. Vieira de Almeida (1888- 1962), D. Santos (1907-1966), to that in the literary context of H. Cidade (1887-1975), AJ da Costa Pimpão (1902), J. do Prado Coelho (1920), gradually up to the top level of philological and linguistic rigor of M. Rodrigues Lapa (1897), M. de Paiva Boléo (1904), LF Lindley Cintra (1923).