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Ramón María del Valle-Inclán

Personal information
Surname: Valle-Inclán
First name: Ramón María del
Commonly known as: Valle-Incán
Other versions of the name: Ramón José Simón Valle Peña; Ramón María del Valle-Inclán y Montenegro
Born: 28 October 1866, Villanueva de Arosa, Galicia, Spain
Died: 5 January 1936

Ramón María del Valle-Inclán (1866-1936) is one of Spain’s most ground-breaking playwrights. Born in the Galician town of Villanueva de Arosa, he spent his childhood in relative poverty, even though his parents were of noble ancestry. In 1885 Valle-Inclán started a Law degree at the University of Santiago de Compostela. His interest in the subject was limited, however, having begun the course on his father’s instructions. During his time at university, he attended tertulias and contributed articles to local newspapers. He also began writing poetry. In 1890 Valle-Inclán’s father died. No longer obliged to continue his university studies, Valle moved to Madrid, hoping to gain experience as a journalist. He also involved himself in the cultural life of the city, gaining a reputation as a contributor to various magazines and attending tertulias there.

After two years in Madrid, Valle-Inclán spent a year in Mexico. It was during this time abroad that he adopted his distinctive look – long hair and beard, small round spectacles, loose-fitting clothes and cape. On his return to Madrid, this idiosyncratic appearance marked Valle-Inclán out in literary circles, as did his Galician accent and the fierce arguments he had with other writers. In fact, despite having already published two novels, in 1898 Valle-Inclán’s reputation as an animated participant in tertulias led him to consider a career in acting and he took to the stage in a play by his friend Jacinto Benavente (1866-1954). However, in 1899 his acting career was cut short after he lost his left arm following an argument with a journalist. That same year his first published play Cenizas (Ashes) premiered in Madrid.

Valle-Inclán’s reputation as a literary figure grew throughout the 1910s and 1920s. His novels and short stories were popular, but he often struggled to get his plays performed. This was in part due to the fact that they were considered either too shocking or too difficult to stage. It was also down to Valle-Inclán’s reputation among the Spanish theatre community. He was considered by many to be eccentric and erratic – his extreme dislike for the work of José Echegaray (1832-1916), for example, led at one point to him locking his wife, the actress Josefina Blanco (whom he married in 1907) in her hotel room to prevent her appearing in one of Echegaray’s plays.

In 1921 Valle-Inclán returned to Mexico at the personal invitation of Álvaro Obregón, President of the Mexican Republic. Returning to Madrid in 1922, however, Valle-Inclán existed with his large family in poverty, despite his literary success. He was imprisoned twice for non-payment of fines. His financial situation was not helped by the fact that he often attacked Primo de Rivera’s regime in his work, leaving it vulnerable to censorship or outright ban. Despite gaining a reputation in Italy and in France as one of Spain’s leading writers, Valle-Inclán continued to have financial problems and suffer rejection by the literary establishment in his own country. His marriage eventually broke down, and his ill health worsened to the point that he was unable travel abroad to fulfil lecturing obligations.

Valle-Inclán died in Santiago de Compostela on 5 January 1936. He was buried after a simple, non-religious funeral. After his death his reputation as a significant playwright grew exponentially, and he is now considered one of the greatest and most innovative figures in modern Spanish theatre.


Valle-Inclán’s plays attack institutions of authority, such as the Catholic Church, patriarchy and patriotism. He exposes the inadequacies of such institutions to contain the desires – and indeed behaviour – of his characters, who are frequently impelled by sexual lust and greed to act in ways that run contrary to conventional societal norms. Rather than criticise such decadent behaviour, Valle-Inclán’s work often celebrates it as a vital and instinctive part of being human (Ling 1972). Nevertheless, a more sombre sense of death and cruelty marks out much of his later work, particularly his esperpento dramas, in which characters become grotesque distortions of humanity.

  • Ling, David. 1972. ‘Greed, Lust and Death in Valle-Inclán’s Divinas Palabras’, The Modern Language Review, 67.2, 328-39


While it is difficult to encapsulate Valle-Inclán’s style, his dramas are marked by an irreverent detachment through which he presents the audience with a world populated by cruel, greedy and lustful characters who are nevertheless appealing and capable of eliciting our sympathies. Maria Delgado calls attention to the ‘atmosphere, mood, ritual, myth, non-linearity, and multiplicity of language’ in Valle-Inclán’s drama, noting that these stylistic elements – rather than plot – are the ‘crucial hinges’ around which the playwright’s work revolves (Valle-Inclán 1997: xxiv). Valle-Inclán is probably best-known for his esperpento-style dramas. These present a nightmarish, grotesque vision of the world. The effects of the esperpento style are often disturbing and shocking, suggesting the ‘essentially manipulated condition’ (Lyon 1983: 7) of humanity through a depiction of the world as an ‘absurd carnival of marionettes’ (Ling 1972: 339).

  • Ling, David. 1972. ‘Greed, Lust and Death in Valle-Inclán’s Divinas Palabras’, The Modern Language Review, 67.2, 328-39

  • Valle-Inclán, Ramón María del. 1997. Three Plays: Divine Words, Bohemian Lights, Silver Face, trans. Maria Delgado. London, Methuen

Plays in the database
Useful reading and websites
  • Lyon, John. 1983. The Theatre of Valle-Inclán. Cambridge, Cambridge University Press

Entry written by Gwynneth Dowling. Last updated on 9 December 2010.

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