Miguel de Unamuno
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Miguel de Unamuno

Miguel de Unamuno, a man of strong character who worked in the University of Salamanca. He famously confronted General Milan Astray; while others stayed silent he was quoted as saying "At times to be silent is to lie. You will win because you have enough brute force. But you will not convince. For to convince you need to persuade. And in order to persuade you would need what you lack: Reason and Right." - Confrontation 1936 October the 12th

Biography of Miguel de Unamuno

Miguel de Unamuno was born in the northern Spanish city of Bilbao in 1864. He then went to study in Madrid where he read Philosophy and Literature from 1880 to 1884, in order to become a professor of the Greek language. After obtaining his doctorate, he then started working at the University of Salamanca, in which he later became the vice-chancellor and professor of History of the Spanish language. In the second half of the 1880s, Unamuno worked as a teacher before deciding to travel around Europe. In 1891, he gets married to Concha Lizárraga, with whom he later has 9 children, before returning to Spain.

While in Spain, he began to be very involved in cultural and political life in Salamanca; he became a regular face at various literary meetings as well as some socialist groups. Later, in 1914, he was let go from his positions as the vice-chancellor of the University of Salamanca for political reasons, leading Miguel de Unamuno to become a sort of martyr for the liberal political movement. As you can imagine he was quite outspoken when it came to his opinions and beliefs, speaking out against General Miguel Primo de Rivera's rule and the rule of Francisco Franco's falangists. This led him to be exiled to Fuertreventura in 1924 before he decides to leave for France.

After the fall of the Primo de Rivera dictatorship, Unamuno starts getting involved in Republican politics, returning to Salamanca in order to proclaim it free from the dictatorship, after which he was reinstated in his vice-chancellorship at the university in 1935. The Spanish Civil War starts the following year and Unamuno originally begins supporting the rebels. However, after his chosen side starts rounding up many of his friends to kill or imprison them, he quickly regrets his decision. He then tries to talk to the dictator in favor of his friends in vain.

Later, Miguel de Unamuno declares that he is no longer in favor of the fascist regime and the Franco dictatorship, which ends up with him as the destitute chancellor of the university. He is then placed under house arrest in October 1936, where he would spend the rest of his days, as he died in December of that year, aged 72.

Style and Works

Unamuno really liked to push his own skills as well as the literary boundaries, and he always challenged himself to be the best at whatever he wrote. Every time he wrote a piece, he wanted it to be the best. Hence his theatrical works had to be the best expressionist work of the time, his novelas were to be a more prestigious genre than the novel, his essays were highly personal, and his poetry was second to none. However, it was sometimes the case that the man himself overshadowed his work. For example, many of his contemporaries were not fans of his work, particularly his poetry, but admitted that he has a unique and interesting personality.

In terms of his writing style, his most common characteristic was that he liked to write in a fashion that imitated the spoken language. Although he did not like to use rhetoric, Miguel de Unamuno had a rich and highly developed syntax with a great vocabulary mixture that ranged from prestigious, higher register lexical items, to everyday words and phrases. Critics often comment that his written style was a result of him speaking Castilian Spanish as a second language; his mother tongue was Basque. His use of words is therefore a little strange and mysterious to a native Castilian Spanish speaker.

He had a combination of skills, though he was known more for his novels than for his poetry. One particularly notable work was Del sentimiento tragico de la vida en los hombres y en los pueblos. Other interesting pieces include Amor y Pedagogia, and Abel Sanchez: una Historia de Pasion (the story of Cain and Abel, the sons of Adam and Eve), which depicts the first murder and provides some interesting reading.

Unamuno's Notable Pieces

  • Del sentimiento trágico de la vida en los hombres y en los pueblos
  • Amor y pedagogía
  • San Manuel Bueno, mártir
  • Abel Sánchez: una historia de pasión
  • El Cristo de Velázquez
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