Miguel de Unamuno y Jugo (September 29, 1864 – December 31, 1936) was a Spanish writer. He worked in all major genres: essays, novels, poetry, and theater, and, as a modernist, did much to dissolve the boundaries between genres and create new ones. He was part of the Generation of 98, a literary group of Spanish intellectuals and philosophers, with Machado, Azorín, Baroja, Valle-Inclán, Maetzu and Ganivet. The group aimed to reconstruct the spirit of the spanish after the crisis of Spain in the 19th century.
In addition to writing, Unamuno played an important role in intellectual life, serving as rector of the University of Salamanca from 1900 – 1914 and 1930 – 1936, during a period of great change and upheaval. Unamuno was removed from his post by the government in 1914, to the protest of Spanish intellectuals, and did not return until the fall of General Primo de Rivera's dictatorship in 1930. He was effectively removed from his post again by Franco during the Spanish Civil War. In 1936 in Salamanca he had a brief quarrel with Millán Astray. Some time time after that, he was placed under house arrest, where he remained until his death.
For Unamuno, art was a means to express spiritual dilemmas. In his poetry and in his novels, he developed the same themes: spiritual anguish, the pain provoked by the silence of God, time and death.
Another important concept for Unamuno was "intrahistoria". He thought that history could best be understood by looking at the small histories of anonymous people, rather than by focusing on major events such as wars and political pacts. In his own work, Unamuno tried to portray the lives of unknown, unimportant people.
His narrative production, in chronological order, is as follows:
Paz en la guerra (Peace in War) (1895), a work that explores the relationship of self and world through the familiarity with death.
Amor y pedagogía (Love and Pedagogy) (1902), which unites comedy and tragedy in an absurd parody of positivist sociology.
Niebla (Fog) (1914), one of Unamuno's key works, which he called a nivola to separate it from the fixed form of the novel.
El espejo de la muerte (The mirror of death) (1913, a book of stories.
Abel Sánchez (1917), a novel that uses the Cane and Abel story to explore envy.
Tulio Montalbán (1920), a short novel on the threat of a man's public image undoing his true personality, a problem familiar to the famous Unamuno.
Tres novelas ejemplares y un prólogo (Three Exemplary Novels and a Prologue), a much-studied work with a famous prologue.
The final extensive narration is La tía Tula (Aunt Tula) (1921), a work about maternity.
Teresa (1924) a narrative work that contains romantic poetry, achieving an ideal through the re-creation of the beloved.
Cómo se hace una novela (How to Make a Novel) (1927), the autopsy of an Unamuno novel.
Don Sandalio, jugador de ajedrez (Don Sandalio, Chess Player) (1930).
San Manuel Bueno, mártir (Saint Manuel the Good, Martyr) (1930), a brief novel that unites all of the Unamuno's thought.
The novel centers on a heroic priest who has lost his faith in God.
Unamuno's philosophy was not systematic; it was, rather, a negation of all systems and an affirmation of faith "in itself." He developed intellectually under the influence of rationalism and positivism, but during his youth he wrote articles which clearly show his sympathy for socialism and his great concern for the situation in which he found Spain, and the influence of philosophers such as Adolf Van Harnack eventually led Unamuno to reject rationalism. His meditations focus on the sense of human life, the most important aspect of which is the idea of immortality. For Unamuno death is something definitive, the end of human life; he thought that the belief that our mind will survive death is necessary to be able to live.
In his meter and rhyme, he was always attracted to traditional meters and, though his first poems eliminated rhyme, he returned to them later in life.
Among his outstanding poetic works are: Poesías (Poems), (1907), Rosario de sonetos líricos (Rosary of Lyric Sonnets) (1911), El Cristo de Velázquez (The Christ of Velazquez) (1920), Andanzas y visiones españolas (1922), Rimas de dentro (Rhymes from Within) (1923), Rimas de un poeta desconocido (Rhymes from an Unknown Poet) (1924), De Fuertevenra a París (From Fuertevenra to Paris) (1925), Romancero del destierro (Ballads of Exile), (1928), y Cancionero (Songbook), (1953), published posthumously.
From his first book, Poesías, he outlined the themes that would dominate his poetics: religious conflict, Spain, and domestic life.
El Cristo de Velázquez is a religious work, divided in four points, where Unamuno analyzes the figure of Christ from different perspectives: as a symbol of sacrifice and redemption, as a reflection on his Biblical names (Christ the myth, Christ the man on the cross, Christ, God, Christ the Eucharist), as poetic meaning, as painted by Velázquez, etc.
Andanzas y visiones españolas is something of a travel book, in which Unamuno expresses profound emotion and experiments with landscape both evocative and realistic (a theme typical of his generation of writers).
Unamuno's dramatic production presents a philosophical progression. These such as individual spirituality, faith as a "vital lie", and the problem of a double personality were at the center of La esfinge (1898), La verdad (Truth), (1899), and El otro (The Other), (1932). In 1934, he wrote El hermano Juan o El mundo es teatro (Brother Juan or The World is a Theater).
Unamuno's theater is schematic: he did away with artifice and focused only on the conflicts and passions that affect the characters. This austerity was influenced by classical Greek theater. What mattered to him was the presentation of the drama going on inside of the characters, because he understood the novel as a way of gaining knowledge about life.
By symbolizing passion and creating a theater austere both in word and presentation, Unamuno's theater opened the way for the rennaisance of Spanish theater undertaken by Ramón Valle-Inclán, Azorín, and, later, Federico García Lorca.