Modernism arose in Europe and America during the last years of the 19th century. The incipient movements of the end of the century wanted to change the social and political situation, as well as the artistic tendencies of the period (Realism and Naturalism). At the beginning, the term "modernist" was used in a pejorative way by those who didn't want any changes, but as time went on it became the name of those who developed this movement. The main author of the Modernist movement in the Spanish language is the Nicaraguan poet Ruben Dario.
Modernism was a way of rebelling against the prevailing literature of the period. Modernists innovated to find different topics and literary forms that were closer to their ideals and concerns. The origin of this break between Realism and Modernist literature has its origin in the spiritual crisis present during the last years of the 19th century. There are two French literary movements that influence Modernism:
Independent and nationalist feelings were quite common in Latin America during the period, since they had only just obtained their independence from the Spanish Empire. The memories of the Spanish oppression made them reject any movement coming from Spain, so most of their influence comes from the European, especially French, Modernist writers. However, this changed after the Latin American writers visited Spain and they found there were literates there who were also sensible to the necessary aesthetic and social changes. Spain did receive a strong influence from the Latin American writers from the beginning of the Modernist literature movement, although they were also influenced by the French Parnasian and Symbolist writers.
The common topics of the Modernist literature are:
The style of the Modernist literature is a very characteristic one. Modernists choose their words very carefully to produce colorful and musical effects. The use of phonic resources like onomatopoeias and alliterations is quite common, as well as figures of speech like metaphors, allegories, parallels and synesthesia. Adjectives and exotic, foreign or peculiar sounding words are also used often, and they recover some types of verses used in the past, like the alexandrine verses. Old stanzas are brought back and new ones are created.
In Spain there's a parallel movement called "Generation of '98", which shares some of the characteristics of Modernist literature, but which is also quite different in some other aspects. When being taught in Spanish Schools, both movement are normally put together into one, but there are differences that have to be acknowledged.