DON JUAN VALERA Y ALCALÁ GALIANO was born on October 18, 1824, at Cabra, Cordova, Spain. His father was an admiral, his mother a marchioness in her own right, and his sister became Duchess of Malakoff. He studied at Malaga and the University of Granada, at the latter of which he took a degree in law. After a boisterous youth he entered the diplomatic service, and was attached to the Spanish embassies at Naples, Lisbon, Rio de Janiero, Dresden, and St. Petersburg. In 1858 he published a volume of poems, and the next year he returned to Spain and entered politics, taking his seat in the Cortes as an advanced liberal, and writing for the press. For a short time he was Minister of Agriculture and Trade, and later was appointed Minister at Frankfort. Meantime he did not abandon literature. His contributions to periodicals won him election to the Spanish Academy in 1861. In 1864 appeared three volumes of criticism, which were followed by translations from the Greek and German.
When, at the age of fifty, he published his first novel, Pepita Jiménez, his political and intellectual prominence insured it attention; but the book met with a success that raised his reputation to a much higher level. It at once took rank as the principal, the typical Spanish novel of our days. Pepita Jiménez, says the author himself, was written when Spain was agitated to its center and everything thrown out of its regular course by a radical revolution that at the same time shook to their foundations the throne and religious unity. It was written when everything was in fusion, like molten metal, might readily amalgamate, and be molded into new forms. It was written when the strife was raging fiercest between ancient and modern ideals; and, finally, it was written in all the plenitude of my powers, when my soul was sanest and most joyful in the possession of an enviable optimism and an all-embracing love and sympathy for humanity, which, to my misfortune, can never again find place within my breast. He followed up his success with three other novels, The Illusions of Doctor Faustino (1876), Commander Mendoza (1877), and Doña Luz (1878), and a volume of Dramatic Experiments.
Meantime the Bourbon dynasty had been restored, and in 1881 Valera reentered diplomacy as minister at Lisbon. From 1884 to 1886 he represented his country at Washington, and later at Brussels and Vienna, finally retiring in 1896. After some years of private life, he died on April 18, 1905. His later works include some highly laudatory criticisms of Spanish American literature and a volume of Tales, Dialogues, and Fancies.
Valeras inexperience in the writing of novels at the date at which he produced Pepita Jiménez is shown by its somewhat amateurish construction, but the extraordinary merits of the work have more than compensated for structural flaws. A translation cannot convey a just impression of the beauty of the Spanish style of the original, but neither can it disguise the vividness and lifelikeness of the character drawing. The four chief figures of the story compare with the creations of masters of the art of fiction in the illusion of reality which they produce and in the subtlety of the psychology employed in portraying them. In the treatment of the delicate theme of the novel Valera shows an agility and tact that are truly marvelous. Though issued at a time of passionate controversy, he succeeded in handling the issue between the church and the world without offending either party. And in doing this he has presented the foreign reader with a picture of SpainSpain with its fervor, its sensual piety, its rhetoric and hyperbole, its superficial passion, its mysticism, its graceful extravagance.