In this work Iris M. Zavala presents a scholarly and well documented account of underground literature and writing in Spain during the first six decades of the eighteenth century. She shows that along with the restraints imposed by the Inquisition and by other policies of the state, there was emerging a restless, divided, and turbulent Spain. Many of these authors whose writings were printed or circulated in Spain during this period show familiarity with the literature in science, philosophy, politics, and economics that were prevalent elsewhere in Europe at that time.
The themes treated in the underground literature of the first sixty years of eighteenth-century Spain related to various internal and external problems of the country. The life of a powerful and aristocratic minority was contrasted with a majority living in poverty and hunger. There were claims that “commerce languished,” that factories and industries were paralyzed, that trade with the Americas was neglected, and that the high state officials were greedy and corrupt (p. 330). Other topics discussed include protectionism, the development of agriculture, the reliance on the methods of science as a means of eradicating superstition and of improving the economic well-being of Spain, the reform of the tribunals, the increasing of the population, the lowering of rents, the restoration of liberty together with the abolition of the Inquisition, and the dismissal of the foreign ministers of the king.
The work also discusses some of the literature officially approved for publication in this period. These include the works of Padre Benito Gerónimo Feijóo who sought to incorporate the insights of the sciences and philosophies of that day into his theological views. Padre Feijóo later became influential in various Latin American universities. He remains as one of the major representatives of the Gallegan culture for many Latin Americans.
There were equally rigorous laws imposed on the printing and importation of books in the Spanish colonies in the Americas. Although there was greater difficulty in circulating banned books in the Spanish colonies, ways were found to secure and to circulate on a limited basis some of these forbidden works. But severe penalties were inflicted on persons found to have such works in their possession. In most instances wider access in Hispanic America to the ideas of eighteenth and nineteenth-century Europe came about through the changes that occurred during and after the wars of independence.