Miguel de Unamuno y Jugo Biography


(Survey of World Philosophers)

Article abstract: Unamuno, an existentialist, described his struggle for faith and longing for immortality in his poetry, novels, drama, cultural criticism, and philosophy. He depicted a world in which people’s desire for meaning and faith comes into conflict with science and rationality.

Early Life

Miguel de Unamuno y Jugo was born September 29, 1864, in Bilbao, Spain, the first son and third of the six children of Félix de Unamuno and Salomé de Jugo. His father had gone to Mexico as a young man, accumulated some money, and then returned to marry his much younger niece, Salomé. He had also acquired several hundred books on philosophy, history, and the physical and social sciences, which helped form his son’s mind. From an early age, death preoccupied Miguel. His father, two of Miguel’s sisters, and a school friend died by 1873, producing fear in the young boy. Unamuno’s struggle to accept his own mortality became one of the major themes of his religious, philosophical, and literary work.

Miguel completed a traditional Catholic secondary education at sixteen and then was enrolled in the Central University of Madrid, torn between his love for his childhood sweetheart, Concepción (“Concha”) Lizárraga, and a mystical belief that God wanted him to become a priest. Fascinated with language since listening to his father talk with a man in French, Unamuno wrote his doctoral dissertation on the origins and prehistory of the Basque race. In Madrid, he applied reason to his religious faith and lost his faith. He struggled for the remainder of his life to overcome his doubt. After receiving his doctorate in 1884, he returned to Bilbao, competed for a university teaching position, taught private classes, and wrote for local periodicals. Impatient to wait until securing a permanent teaching position, he married Concha on January 31, 1891, and, under the influence of his wife and his mother, began religious observance again. In 1891, he also won a competition for the chair in Greek language and literature at the University of Salamanca.

Life’s Work

In the provincial university town of twenty-three thousand, with the faded glory of its medieval university and magnificent, café-lined central plaza, Unamuno found the tranquillity to read voraciously and widely, ponder the human condition, write insatiably, and rear his family. Yet he soon lost interest in teaching Greek: Given the desperate problems facing Spain, he decided that the nation really did not need more Hellenists. Although he conscientiously met his pedagogical responsibilities, Unamuno devoted the rest of his time to writing novels, poetry, and essays intended to illuminate the solution to Spain’s problems and his own concerns about the human condition. He also associated himself with Spanish socialism, believing it offered the best hope of liberty through a religion of humanity, but refused to join the party. In fact, his interest in socialism was primarily religious and ethical; Unamuno in his heart was an anarchist.

Transcendental questions troubled Unamuno. In 1896, Raimundo Jenaro, the third of his nine children, was born, but shortly after birth the infant contracted meningitis, which produced fatal encephalitis, although the child lingered until 1902. His child’s condition agonized Unamuno. Why was God punishing an innocent child? Was it because of Unamuno’s own sins, perhaps for having abandoned his Catholic faith? He was desperate for consolation, spent days in meditation and prayer, yet remained anguished. God did not answer, and Unamuno was obsessed with suicide and beset with angina, insomnia, and depression. Not only was reason unable to bring him to a knowledge of God, but it told him that God did not exist, that death brought the finality of nothingness. Yet Unamuno’s despair at the inevitability of death forced him to hope and led him to the paradoxical solution of creating God for himself through his own faith. When he began reading the works of Søren Kierkegaard in 1900, he discovered a kindred being, although Unamuno had already developed the fundamentals of his own thought.

Meanwhile, Unamuno poured forth articles for Spanish and Latin American periodicals, as well as novels, plays, and criticism to supplement his meager academic salary. In 1895, he published a series of essays, later reedited as En torno al casticismo, which urged a return to the bedrock of tradition, to the study of the Spanish people, as the first step in confronting the nation’s decadence. Peace in War, sometimes called the first existentialist novel, reflected his experiences during the Carlist siege of Bilbao (1874-1876). Two plays, La esfinge and La venda, and an analysis of Spanish higher education, De la enseñanza superior en España, soon followed, as did Nicodemo el fariseo, which used Saint John’s account of Nicodemus’s meeting with Christ as a dramatic vehicle for stating the basic theme of all his remaining work: human beings’ desire for God and their existential will to believe.

In 1900, Unamuno became rector of the university, despite opposition from conservatives who disliked the outsider from Bilbao for his socialist rhetoric and his unorthodox religious views. On taking office, he appointed himself to a new chair of the history of the Spanish language, declared that Spain was ready to be discovered, and urged that the students study popular culture. Dressed idiosyncratically in his...

(The entire section is 2267 words.)

Miguel de Unamuno y Jugo Biography

(Critical Edition of Dramatic Literature)

Miguel de Unamuno y Jugo, the third of six children, was reared as a strict Catholic in Bilbao. His father died when he was six. Deeply religious as a child and adolescent, he began in 1880 his studies at the University of Madrid. There, under the influence of the skepticism in vogue at the time, he lost faith in some of his most cherished religious beliefs. The bulk of his vast literary production during the rest of his life stems from his anguished efforts to recapture the comfort and strength of his earlier faith through his own powers of reason rather than through humble acceptance of the Church’s dogma. Fiercely rejecting all positivistic modes of thinking that denied transcendental meaning in life, he nevertheless maintained open conflict with the Catholic Church until his death.

In 1883, Unamuno received his licentiate degree from the University of Madrid; in 1884, his doctorate. In 1891, he married and assumed the chair of Greek at the University of Salamanca, becoming rector of the University nine years later, a post in which he remained until 1914. In 1924, the Primo de Rivera dictatorship exiled him to the Canary Islands. From there, he fled to France, where he remained until 1930, when he returned to Spain. In 1931, he was reappointed rector of Salamanca, being granted lifelong tenure as rector when he retired from the faculty in 1934. Yet, his lifelong tenure was short-lived: He was dismissed because of his criticism of Francisco Franco. Unamuno died in his home on December 31, 1936.

Miguel de Unamuno y Jugo Biography

(Literary Essentials: Short Fiction Masterpieces)

Miguel de Unamuno y Jugo was born on September 29, 1864, the third of six children. He attended a private school where he was educated in the strict Catholic traditions of the day. As an adolescent, Unamuno experienced a spiritual crisis that led him into readings of such Catholic philosophers as Jaime Balmes and Juan Donoso. In 1880, he entered the University of Madrid, where he studied under progressive dons and read philosophers like Immanuel Kant, René Descartes, and Georg Wilhelm Friedrich Hegel. He took a licentiate degree in 1883 and a doctorate in 1884 with a thesis on the origins of the Basque people.

Unamuno assumed the chair of Greek language at the University of Salamanca in 1891. That same year, he married his childhood sweetheart, Concepción Lizárraga, with whom he would father nine children. From the mid-1880’s onward, Unamuno published articles for local newspapers. His first novel, Paz en la guerra (Peace in War, 1983), appeared in 1897, and in 1900, he was named rector of the university. Unamuno’s literary output grew as the decades passed, as did his reputation as a heretical thinker.

In early 1924, Unamuno left Spain for exile in the Canary Islands, moving on to Paris later that year. He remained in France for six years, awaiting the establishment of the Spanish Republic. He returned to Spain in 1930 and was reappointed to his post in Salamanca the following year. Unamuno died on December 31, 1936, months after the breakout of the Spanish Civil War.

Miguel de Unamuno y Jugo Biography

(Survey of Novels and Novellas)

Miguel de Unamuno y Jugo was born in Bilbao, Spain, an important industrial center of the Basque province, on September 29, 1864, the third of six children. His father died when he was six years old. Womanhood exerted a great influence on his work. His early religious training shaped his mind toward a career as a priest, but other influences won out, not the least of which was his childhood sweetheart, Concepción Lizárraga (Concha), who seems never to have had a rival, before or after matrimony, for Unamuno’s loyalty.

In Recuerdos de niñez y de mocedad (1908; memories of childhood and adolescence), Unamuno recalls highlights of his early years, especially the bombardment of Bilbao in 1874 during the...

(The entire section is 639 words.)

Miguel de Unamuno y Jugo Biography

(Poets and Poetry, Complete Critical Edition)

Other Literary Forms

Miguel de Unamuno y Jugo wrote prolifically throughout his life and produced numerous novels, short stories, dramas, and essays, as well as volumes of poetry. A mediocre dramatist who, under the influence of Henrik Ibsen, created talky stage works with uninspired characters, Unamuno achieved his greatest success with fiction, poetry, and the essay. His outstanding works of fiction include Niebla (1914; Mist: A Tragicomic Novel, 1928); Abel Sánchez: Una historia de pasión (1917; English translation, 1947); and San Manuel Bueno, mártir (1931; Saint Manuel Bueno, Martyr, 1956). A philosophical author, Unamuno explored rich and complex ideas in all...

(The entire section is 3290 words.)

Miguel de Unamuno y Jugo Biography

(Critical Survey of Ethics and Literature)

Author Profile

Subjectivity, individualism, an acknowledgment of the role of irrationality, and a sense of life’s anguish and tragedy were among the existential values that Miguel de Unamuno y Jugo shared with Søren Kierkegaard, Martin Heidegger, and Friedrich Nietzsche. Although he gave his own distinctive accent to their concept of the tragic sense of life, Unamuno rejected their idea that life was nothingness. He found meaning in his own passionate desire to escape annihilation by questing for the immortality of body and soul, and he concluded that this quest was common to all people. This perception was not derived from the principal philosophical systems of the day. Those systems were too abstract for...

(The entire section is 794 words.)

Miguel de Unamuno y Jugo Biography

(Great Authors of World Literature, Critical Edition)

Miguel de Unamuno y Jugo (ew-nah-MEW-noh ee HEW-goh) is one of the most significant and controversial figures in the history of modern thought. He was known primarily as an essayist at the beginning of his career, but later criticism has focused on his renovation of the novel and on his poetry. Although he has become inseparably associated with the area of Castile, especially Salamanca, Unamuno was a Basque, born in Bilbao on September 29, 1864. His father, a baker, who died when Unamuno was only six years old, had settled in that city upon his return from Mexico, where he had hoped to win fame and fortune. In his first novel, Peace in War, Unamuno admittedly describes himself in his portrayal of the young orphan, Pachico,...

(The entire section is 1217 words.)