During the colonial period, Peru experienced the splendors of its viceroyalty, which also contributed to maintaining and consolidating the culture. It is understood that the first literary manifestations are limited to romances anonymous and descriptive chronicles even if composed in the form of poems. Together with Mexico, Peru was the Spanish colony which kept the most alive and continuous contacts with the motherland not only through books, but also and especially through the direct intervention of the Castilian writers. In the second half of the sixteenth century the university flourished in Lima and the press was organized; and at the end of the century one of the most personal and profoundly American works of colonial literature was also published: the story of Garcilaso Inca de La Vega, a half-caste and a native of Cuzco. Of his three compositions, more than the Florida del Inca and the Historia general del Perú, that of the Comentarios reales que tratan del origen de los Incas ; prose of a narrative and short story that for the first time evokes the ancient Peruvian civilization with a utopian and pre-romantic attitude, with a taste for local tradition that often turns into lyric imagination. Unfortunately the experience of Garcilaso was lost, and during the century. XVII raged an overflowing lyrical-occasional flowering according to the Spanish fashion and in correspondence with the spiritual inertia of the colony. Those writers who detach themselves from the anonymous crowd are to be considered on the sidelines of truly Peruvian life, mostly born and educated in Spain and only Peruvians by election or temporary residence. Of course, of all, the Dominican Diego de Ojeda, born and raised in Seville, offers a distinct personality, Cristiada, achieves a fusion of the classical cultural element with the seriously religious inspiration that has hardly been reached by others; but as far as colonial culture is concerned, it turns out to be quite secluded. In the decline of literary studies in Lima, the viceroy Francisco de Borja, prince of Esquilace, brought a certain awakening and a beneficial influence. From the Gongorist period only the production that draws more freely on the popular and instructive element, especially in the festive and good-natured aspects, is saved, as can be said of the poetic production of Juan del Valle y Caviedes (died in 1692). Overall, humanistic culture, secentist aesthetics and Arcadian academicism could not favor the autonomy of Peruvian literature,
According to Best-medical-schools, with the eighteenth century academies were formed and interests and curiosities for the scientific world in general widened, which in some way also served as a corrective to pure literature. However, only during the second half of the century, with the progressive penetration of philosophical, humanitarian and national ideals, was a ferment of thought aroused that entirely renewed the spiritual life, even if the wits spent their best energies in the most practical-political reality. than in literary activity.
Having achieved national independence, Peru did not immediately reveal itself ready to exercise political and civil liberties; in the absence of men of government and strong spiritual personalities, the culture of the country itself was unable to organize itself or to express literary works that reflected the new problems to which the nation was called. In the first years the energies were dispersed in the small struggles of the parties and in the alternative of unstable dictatorships. A phenomenon, in fact, general to almost all the young South American republics, but in Peru it assumed a character of profound crisis and spiritual sterility. A first discipline in political life, which had a favorable impact even in the more strictly literary activity, was given by the strong and continuous government of Ramón Castilla. Sure bookish production, in this first half of the nineteenth century, it still remained linked to political and journalistic controversy, and more often than not it limited itself to practical purposes: satire, invective, oratory are the most widespread forms and their attitude it also penetrates into the most explicitly poetic works. Moreover, the men of letters are for the most part politicians, diplomats, journalists, who do not always discriminate against their various activities; they found newspapers, direct parties, collaborate in constitutional reforms, know the ways of exile and sometimes even of prison, bring more vital experiences and currents from other American countries and not infrequently also from Europe. The most complex personality of this period, Felipe Pardo y Aliaga (1806-1868), although of classical culture, of the late eighteenth century, he does not escape those autobiographical and empirical characteristics so widely diffused. However, in him, more than in others, the satirical-pedagogical tendencies were able to reveal a particular lyrical temperament made up of composure, order, decorum. In both opera and comic theater, his moralizing aspirations are often perceived and overcome with a sense of art, although it is not difficult to trace the Spanish models in his production: Lista and Moratín above all, who were familiar to him. With Pardo y Aliaga, Peruvian literature introduced, or assumed greater consistency, content and various forms – lyrical, dramatic, narrative – including those costume pictures (El espejo de mi tierra, 1840) who will have so much luck: The satirical and comic sensibility was more lasting, especially in the work of Manuel A. Segura (1805-1871), of lower moral and artistic stature than the Pardo y Aliaga, but with a theatrical taste so jovial and cunning that he managed to create types and characters with the value of real masks, often derived directly from the popular and provincial strata, with a rich fertility of imagination and a happy sense of reality.
But the most decisive renewal came from the romantic culture, more apt to welcome and interpret that tumultuous, rebellious and dissatisfied moment that then passed through the young states of South America. And the Spanish models are replaced by the influence of French thought and poetry, which with more or less deployed energy will continue to act in determining the literary orientations of Peru and Latin America in general: romanticism, naturalism, Parnassianism and symbolism always penetrated from Paris. However, if it is evident that the impulses came from outside – and between all of them was Fernando Velarde (1821-1880), of life and of largely American spirits, but who lived several years in Lima, where he spread the taste for poetry – it is equally true that the indigenous writers adapted to it for a conformity of sentiments and aspirations, so much so that they were able to express personal voices and purely local aspects: the most solitary is Manuel Castillo (1814-1870), lived far from the city, and closed in its alpine Arequipa, with a historical-legendary intuition of the homeland and a melancholy and pictorial sense of nature. Open to various experiences is Manuel N. Corpancho (1830-1863), always moved by an anxiety of travel and distances, with a grandiose and troubled perspective of the life he expressed in the theater (El poeta cruzado, 1848), in the epic (the poem Magallanes, 1853) in the lyric (Ensayos poéticos, 1854); but in the large group of these poets, for the most part rich in temperament and content, such as Carlo A. Salaverry (1831-1890), Clemente Althaus (1835-1881), Arnoldo Márquez (1830-1904), Luis Benjamín Cisneros (1837-1904), Carlos G. Amézaga (died 1906), Ricardo Rossel (1841-1909), etc., Pedro Paz Soldán y Unanue (1839-1895) stands out, who signed himself with the pseudonym “Juan de Arona “, perhaps the most original, certainly the most vigorous. In him, the initial romanticism gradually tempered itself with a humorous attitude that allows a glimpse of a particular vision of life, basically dissatisfied and anxious to take refuge in an idyllic and bucolic existence: not for nothing did he translate Virgil and Ovid, after having reached the accents more bitter satirists with El Chispazo, a newspaper of political irony. He too, as happened to the most pensive spirits of the frank Peruvian reality, wrote some Cuadros y episos peruanos (gathered in 1867), made of wit and native simplicity. It is in this genre that Peru had its greatest writer: Ricardo Palma (1833-1919), who in his Tradiciones peruanas (1863-1899) created a particular type of narration, linked not only to the “traditional” life of his land, but also to those stylistic forms, between descriptive and humorous, which are customary in Peruvian literature. Palma, researching and collecting all the anecdotal-historical, legendary and local heritage of Peru, has revealed the most typical indigenous, social, psychological aspects, raising the largest and most original cultural monument to its homeland.
The autonomous narrative art, concluded in the stylistic unity of the short story and the novel, was especially attended by women; some writers are among the most vigorous of Peruvian literature and some have an experience that goes beyond the limits of their own land: Juana Manuela Gorriti (1818-1896), who divided her life and activity between Bolivia and Peru, but which in Lima matured its most exquisite pages, moves between a desire for historical-legendary re-enactment (La Quena, 1845) and an aspiration for political and civil liberties (Sueños – realidades, 1865). The prose of Clorinda Matto de Turner (1854-1909) is inspired by similar romantic predilections, especially in her well-known novel Aves de Nido., a moving and vigorous apology for the indigenous race. Perhaps the most personal style is that of Mercedes Cabello de Carbonero, who accepted the naturalist inspiration with strong adherence to the social and ethical problems of her land.
In recent years, the culture of Peru, moving away from the type of cuadros de costumbre and tradiciones that by now had exhausted their human content, has not managed to organize itself and create a particular literary environment: only through the critical activity of Francisco García Calderón they have been able to re-establish new contacts with international spiritual life, albeit still in a reflected state.