Critical Context

(Literary Essentials: World Fiction)

Unamuno wrote Saint Manuel Bueno, Martyr in 1930, six years before his death. It is one of his best and most mature works. Encompassing so many contradictory aspects of human nature—the saintly and the diabolical, the magnanimous and the manipulative, the tolerant and the self-serving, the reasonable and the intuitive—Don Manuel has become a towering character in contemporary Spanish literature. Because of the work’s complexity,it lends itself to diverse interpretations and has attracted much critical attention.

Unamuno called his prose fiction nivolas. Like everything in Unamuno’s world, the nivola defies definition. Unamuno explains in Niebla (1914; Mist, 1928) that a nivola transcends genre and blurs the line between reality and fiction. For example, Saint Manuel Bueno, Martyr consists of a mere thirty-five pages and so is neither a novel nor a short story. At the end of the work, the author transcends his role of invisible storyteller to comment on the significance of the characters, especially Angela. By introducing a personal interpretation of his own work, Unamuno eradicates the boundary between reader and writer. He uses an even more radical technique at the end ofMist, in which the author enters the work and is confronted by one of his characters.

Unamuno has often been called a pre-existentialist. Like characters in existentialist novels, Unamuno’s protagonists grapple with...

(The entire section is 422 words.)