Top of page

Collection Puerto Rico at the Dawn of the Modern Age: Nineteenth- and Early-Twentieth-Century Perspectives

A Puerto Rican Literature

The period between 1868 and 1898 was crucial to the development of Puerto Rican political institutions: it witnessed a pro-independence rebellion, colonial reform, the establishment of the first national political parties, the abolition of slavery (in 1873), and a short-lived experiment in autonomy under Spanish rule. These events occurred at a time when Puerto Rico had become a heterogeneous society with a well-established national culture manifested in vernacular language, music, architecture, and other arts. The majority of its approximately seven hundred thousand inhabitants lived in extreme poverty, and agriculture--the island's main source of income--was severely limited by poor infrastructure (lack of adequate roads, railroads, and seaport facilities) along with lack of modern equipment and machinery to support the sugarcane industry. While some 85 percent of the population remained illiterate, the intellectual minority was relatively active within the limitations imposed by the local Spanish authorities.

Puerto Rican writers made significant contributions in journalism and other literary genres throughout the second half of the 1800s, creating works that have become part of Puerto Rico's national cultural endowment. They particularly cultivated poetry; the novel; and political, economic, and historical essays emphasizing the Puerto Rican national character and Puerto Rican traditions. Manuel Alonso's El Gíbaro (1849) and Manuel Zeno Gandía's La Charca (1894) are among the most important novels to emerge from Puerto Rico in the nineteenth century. Other important nineteenth-century contributions to the corpus of Puerto Rican letters came from writers such as Alejandro Tapia y Rivera (1862-1882), José Gautier Benítez (1851-1880), Lola Rodríguez de Tió (1843-1924), José Julián Acosta (1825-1892), and Salvador Brau (1842-1912).

"The Public Fountain in Aguadilla, a Favorite Rendezvous for Runaway Lovers." [Detail] A recent campaign in Puerto Rico by the Independent Regular Brigade under the command of Brig. General Schwan. General Collections, Library of Congress.

Major works by Acosta and Brau are part of Puerto Rico at the Dawn of the Modern Age. The collection includes an annotated edition Acosta published in 1866 of the first history of the island, Fray Iñigo Abbad's 1782 work Historia Geográfica, Civil y Natural de la Isla de San Juan Bautista de Puerto Rico. Brau, who led the liberal political party (the Partido Autonomista Puertorriqueño) during the 1890s, is best known for the political essays he published in local newspapers. Of these the collection includes a broad selection, published in Ecos de la Batalla, Artículos Periodísticos and Lo Que Dice la Historia. However, Brau's major contribution to the study of Puerto Rican history is his Puerto Rico y Su Historia, written in 1888 and published in 1894, which also appears in this online collection. The collection also includes Brau's classic historical study La Colonización de Puerto Rico (1907) and Acosta's 1875 work Los Partidos Políticos.