Pío Baroja Biography

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(Great Authors of World Literature, Critical Edition)

The father of Pío Baroja y Nessi (bah-RAW-kah ee NAYS-ee) may have been responsible for his son’s writing career. Though a mining engineer by profession, he was also a poet and author of the libretto for perhaps the only opera in the Basque language, and he brought up his son on Spanish and Basque ballads and legends. Young Pío Baroja, who disliked discipline and rules, hated school. In one autobiographical work, he describes satirically his uninspired teachers. He did, however, read widely, including translations of Edgar Allan Poe, Charles Dickens, Friedrich Nietzsche, Honoré de Balzac, and the great nineteenth century Russian writers, and he trained himself in observation and self-analysis.{$S[A]Nessi, Pío Baroja y;Baroja, Pío}

Because of his antipathy toward textbooks, he twice failed his final examinations in the medical school of Valencia, but he finally earned a degree in Madrid in 1893. After one or two dull years spent practicing medicine in Cestona, a small Basque town, Baroja gave up that career and joined his brother in Madrid to run the family bakery. Lack of customers gave him leisure to wander the streets of the Spanish capital and to get acquainted not only with the laboring classes but also with the derelicts of back streets and gutters who figure in his trilogy of novels, The Struggle for Life.

A lucky financial investment allowed him to give up commerce and concentrate on writing. In 1899, Baroja made his first move to Paris, where he initially wrote articles for newspapers. Fiction remained his chief love, however. In 1900, he published a volume of short stories, Vidas sombrías, then started on the first of his trilogies, three novels written in dramatic form and portraying the once healthy Basque culture as it succumbed to alcohol and industrial progress. He returned to Spain in 1912, to divide his time between his home in the Basque village of Vera del Bidoasoa and his mother’s apartment in Madrid. Although he grudgingly gave his support to Francisco Franco as the lesser of two evils at the outbreak of the Spanish Civil War, he left Spain voluntarily for Paris in the summer of 1936 and did not return until 1940.

Baroja composed his works rapidly, and he produced sometimes as many as three or four novels a year. He tended to give greater attention to action than to characterization or style. Life has no plan, he said, so a novel that imitated life need have no plot. After reading Balzac, he was seized by the ambition to fictionalize the Spanish scene in several series of novels. He also began a long series called Memorias de un hombre de acción (recollections of a man of action), which consisted of semihistorical novels with one of his ancestors as the chief character.

Baroja’s novels, powerful in their restraint and understatement, won him election to the Spanish Academy in 1936. The chief flaw of his novels is considered to be lack of structural unity. He had a marvelous gift for describing people and scenes, but a sudden idea could lead him into reflections unconnected with the plot, digressions which reveal him as a sincere, open-minded liberal. His typical theme is the life of a physical or spiritual vagabond, maladjusted because of his early life and seeking to break out of the ironic trap of civilization. To Baroja, action is a cure for all ills. Let human beings will, and they can recover whatever they have lost, from health to dignity. He criticizes the degeneracy of Spain and shows pessimism about the possibility of improvement. For someone with those convictions, it was easy to revive the picaresque novel of Golden Age Spain, as he did in Zalacaín el aventurero.

Baroja never married. He seemed to know little about love, and few of his novels can be classified as love stories. All but one of his nearly one hundred books were banned when Francisco Franco took over Spain. From then on until his death in Madrid, October 30, 1956, Baroja lived under the dictatorship, publishing inoffensive novels and...

(The entire section is 1,279 words.)