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Miguel de Unamuno: biography of this writer and thinker

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Miguel de Unamuno was a Spanish poet, writer, philosopher and politician with a restless, rebellious and critical personality towards the society in which he lived. A great Spaniard, he wanted his country to overcome certain attitudes that he attributed as causing the ills of Spain.

Never comfortable with the governments in which he had to live, Unamuno was condemned, exiled and dismissed both by kingdoms and dictatorships and republics, despite the fact that he was a supporter of the Second Republic Spanish.

The Spanish literature of the 20th century cannot be understood without reviewing the figure of this writer, his work, the topics he addresses in it and, also, his personality and history characteristics. Here We will address these issues through a biography of Miguel de Unamuno.

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Brief biography of Miguel de Unamuno

Miguel de Unamuno y Jugo was born on September 29, 1864 in Bilbao. He was the third of the six children born to Félix de Unamuno, a humble merchant who had made a fortune in Mexico, and his wife Salomé Jugo. From a very young age, the young Unamuno would have to experience two experiences that would mark his character and that would be well reflected in the style of his works:

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the death of his father and the outbreak of the Third Carlist War (1872-1876), besieging the city of Bilbao.

Academic training

In his adolescence he moved to Madrid to begin his studies in Philosophy and Letters at the university. At this time he published his first article, at the same time that he was forming a more intimate and affective relationship with Concha Lizárraga, who would end up being his wife and the mother of his X children.

In 1883 he finished his university studies and obtained his doctorate. with his thesis “Critique of the problem of the origin and prehistory of the Basque race”. After that, Miguel de Unamuno went into the world of work teaching classes, as well as collaborating in different national newspapers. Also, he focuses on preparing the oppositions to obtain the Institute and University chairs, convened in different cities in Spain to fill vacancies.

Professor in Salamanca

After several unsuccessful attempts, Unamuno obtained a position as Professor of Greek Language at the prestigious University of Salamanca. He arrives in this city already married to his wife, Concha, and lives in several rented residences. It would be around this time that his first child, Fernando, would be born. He would manage to move to a house in the Plaza de Gabriel y Galán in that same city, the place where Pablo, Raimundo, Salomé and Felisa would be born.

It is during these years that he publishes various works, introducing his concern for Spain and its destiny. Among the texts that came to light around this time we can highlight "Around traditionalism", "Peace in war", "the Esfinge” and “La Venda”, in addition to having the opportunity to publish several articles in the Spanish press and Hispanic American. But to all this good news was added a very bad one: his son Raimundo falls seriously ill, which causes him a deep personal and religious crisis.

Beginning of the new century

At the beginning of the academic year of 1900 Uamuno, as a professor, had to deliver the inaugural speech. His educational proposals raised in his speech were so innovative that shortly after he would end up being elected as rector of the university. After his appointment, Unamuno moved to the rector's residence, right next to the Patio de Escuelas of the University of Salamanca. The rest of his children will be born instead: José, María, Rafael and Ramón, but it will also be where his son Raimundo dies.

The rectory of the University of Salamanca will see how Miguel de Unamuno writes "Three essays", "Landscapes", "From my country", "Life of Don Quixote and Sancho", "Poems", "Of the tragic feeling of life" and "Fog". It will also be the same place where in 1914 he will see how Unamuno is dismissed and has to move to Bordadores street. It is then that he begins to show a committed attitude towards Spanish society, beginning an intense and active political life.

During the First World War (1914-1918) he showed support for the allies against the Germanophiles, visiting the Italian front with Manuel Azaña and Américo Castro. Unamuno ran as a candidate for deputy for the Vizcaya Republican Party around this time. He had no qualms about confronting King Alfonso XIII himself, which earned him to be prosecuted for insults against the crown, being convicted although, later, he ended up being pardoned.

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Primo de Rivera dictatorship

By showing himself to be very contrary to the monarchy and the military Directory imposed by Primo de Rivera, Miguel de Unamuno ended up in exile. He first traveled to Fuerteventura, but later he ended up fleeing to France, despite the fact that he had already been pardoned. He promises not to return to his country until Primo de Rivera leaves the government, a promise he keeps. He shares his exile with other great Spanish figures, such as Eduardo Ortega y Gasset and Vicente Blasco Ibáñez.

Once Primo de Rivera was no longer in power, Miguel de Unamuno finally returned to Spain. His return was tremendous, passing through Hendaye to reach the city of Salamanca, where he recovered the university chair, although this time it would be the History of the Spanish Language. These are years of theatrical production, publishing works such as “El Otro”, “Sombras de sueño” and “Medea”.

Second Republic and last years

He is running for the municipal elections for the Republican-Socialist coalition, obtaining a council and proclaiming the Republic from the balcony of the Salamanca town hall. He is named President of Honor of the municipal corporation in perpetuity, President of the Council of Public Instruction, Deputy to the Cortes, Rector of the University of Salamanca and later Rector life.

Also, already in times of the Second Spanish Republic, he was named an Honorary Citizen of the Republic and was nominated for the Spanish Academy and for the Nobel Prize. However, despite his Republican affiliation, he soon begins to be critical of the government, adhering to the military uprising of 1936. Although he had been retired since 1934, his dislike for the Republic led the rebellious government of Burgos to reappoint him rector of the University of Salamanca.

However, it should be noted that Miguel de Unamuno was neither a fascist nor a Falangist, quite the contrary. He soon came out against the rebels and confronted General Millán Astray during the celebration of "Día de la Raza" in 1936 in the Auditorium of the University of Salamanca. The words that he uttered to his Falangist audience are famous: "You will win, but you will not convince." Thus he ended up being dismissed, confined in his house on Calle Bordadores under police surveillance. He would die there suddenly on December 31, 1936, at the age of 72.

Themes in the work of Unamuno

Miguel de Unamuno was always a restless and rebellious man, as well as paradoxical and contradictory. Based on his personal life, we can see how he had no qualms about confronting the authorities when he didn't like what they were doing, whether it was the monarchy, the dictatorship or the republic. His individualistic character made him worship himself, not as an egocentric act but, rather, as a way of expressing and putting his ideas in order. He himself said "I speak of myself because he is the man closest to me".

Miguel de Unamuno was an intellectual who cultivated all the genres of his time. His theatre, poetry, essays and novels can be encompassed based on the two recurring thematic axes in his literary production: concern for Spain and the meaning of human life. In both themes existential nuances emerge, which makes Unamuno one of the first modern existentialists in Spain.

Spain's problem

Miguel de Unamuno was a great lover of Spain, something that we can understand with what he himself said: "Spain hurts me"; “I am Spanish, Spanish by birth, education, body, spirit, language and even by profession and trade; Spanish first and foremost”. He is interested in its literature, its past and its future, and he intends to find a solution to the ills that afflicted Spanish society, highlighting the need for a spiritual renewal that gets rid of two attitudes, according to him, deeply rooted in Spanish society: chronic laziness and lethargy.

With the intention of vividly capturing the essence of what is Spanish, Unamuno toured the country's towns to understand first-hand what characterized them. He wanted to capture what Spain really was beyond intellectual circles and official history books.

For him it was essential to learn “intrahistory”, that is, real and popular history, in order to have a reliable idea of ​​what Spain's past had been like. These claims and interest in what is Spanish are shown in works such as "En torno al casticismo" (1895), where raises the idea of ​​intrahistory.

In addition, his "Life of Don Quixote and Sancho" (1905) is very important, where he claims that it is the work of Miguel de Cervantes the maximum expression of the Spanish soul, in addition to the dichotomy between madness and reason, fiction and reality. In "For the lands of Portugal and Spain" (1911) and "Andanzas y visiones españolas" (1922) he also shows his concern for the destiny of the country.

Originally, Miguel de Unamuno he considered that the evils that affected Spain would vanish once the country had become Europeanized, catching up with France, Germany or the United Kingdom. However, with the passage of time he changed his position, considering that what really had to happen was that Europe he would Spanishize, grasp some of the best customs of Spain, and adopt some of the attitudes proper to the peninsular.

The meaning of human life

The other characteristic theme of Unamuno's work is his interest in the meaning of human life. As an existentialist writer that he is, he shows interest in the man of flesh and blood, delving into the tragic sense of his existence through his experiences, tragedies, problems and anguish. In his literature we can see his interest in the immortality of our existence: when we die, do we cease to exist or is there life beyond? Herbert Spencer, Sören Kierkegaard, William James and Henri Bergson influence his work.

How personal contradictions and the paradoxes of his thought prevented him from developing a coherent philosophical system she used his writings as a vehicle of expression and, also, as a kind of therapy to put her ideas in order. He expresses his personal anguish and his way of thinking in works such as the aforementioned "En torno al casticismo" (1895) as well as "My religion and other essays" (1910), "Soliloquies and conversations" (1911) or "Of the tragic feeling of life in men and in towns" (1913).

Main works

Miguel de Unamuno cultivated all kinds of genres, although the novel and essays were his strong points.

poetry and theater

As a poet, Miguel de Unamuno was quite undervalued for a long time, despite the fact that he is currently considered one of the greatest representatives of 20th century Spanish poetry. Both his poems and plays show a great wealth of thought, mainly addressing intimate, religious and political dramas through the conflicts of the characters and his own sensitivity to reality.

Among the main collections of poems we have "Poesías" (1907), "Rosario de sonnetos líricos" (1911), "El Cristo de Velázquez" (1920), "Rhymes from within" (1923) and "Romancero of exile ”(1928), the latter being a portrait of his experiences on the island of Fuerteventura after being deported for opposing the government of Miguel Primo de Rivera. After his death, "Posthumous Songbook" was published, a book that contains the poems written between 1928 and 1936.

As for Unamuno's theater we have "Fedra" (1924), "Sombras de sueño" (1931), "El otro" (1932) and "Medea" (1933) and "El hermano Juan" (1934). In this genre it does not seem that he stood out much, since it has been considered that his work has rather little dramatic action and ends up resulting in excessively schematic compositions.

novels

The novel is the strong point of Miguel de Unamuno, being considered one of the most determined innovators of this genre at the beginning of the 20th century. The novel is the main tool of this writer to convey his existential conflicts and personal experiences, taking as the first of his "Peace in war" (1897) in which he describes the historical events that occurred during the last war carlist.

Already in the 20th century, he published his well-known “Niebla” (1914) which gave rise to a new literary genre founded by himself: the nivolas. "Nivola" is a neologism of Unamuno that he uses to refer to his narrative fiction novels, trying to distance himself from the realistic novels that dominated the literary scene from 1900. In “Niebla” Unamuno presents the confrontation of souls and human passions without resorting to landscapes, environments or customs.

His most representative nivola became a reference in 20th century literature for how innovative it was. The protagonist of it, Augusto Pérez, breaks the fourth wall by rebelling against Unamuno himself. Augusto realizes that he is nothing more than a fictional being, whose destiny, experiences and even his feelings are determined by Unamuno's will. But, also, Augusto reminds the writer that he is also under the will of an entity superior to him: God.

In 1917 he published "Abel Sánchez" and in 1921 "La tia Tula". His masterpiece would arrive in 1931 with “San Manuel bueno mártir”. It is the dramatic story of a parish priest from a town lost by the hand of God who, giving himself as an example to his village and manifesting himself as if he were a saint, hiding a deep inner tear of doubt about what lies beyond the death.

Of special mention is his "Three exemplary novels and a prologue" (1920), considered by some experts as an autobiographical novel.. It has nothing to do with the facts of his life, but rather his spiritual biography and his essential vision of reality. It is the affirmation of his individual identity and the search for the binding elements that underlie human relationships.

Bibliographic references:

  • Abellan, Jose Luis (1964). Miguel de Unamuno in the light of psychology; an interpretation of Unamuno from individual psychology. PhD thesis. Madrid: Tecnos.
  • Ruiza, M., Fernandez, T. and Tamaro, E. (2004). Biography of Miguel de Unamuno. In Biographies and Lives. The online biographical encyclopedia. Barcelona, ​​Spain). Recovered from https://www.biografiasyvidas.com/biografia/u/unamuno.htm on September 22, 2020.
  • Garrido Ardila, Juan Antonio (ed.) (2015). The eternal Unamuno. Barcelona: Anthropos
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