Miguel de Unamuno, was a Spanish philosopher, poet, author, journal, scholar, journalist and writer, who is best known for his novel “Abel Sánchez”, a modern adaptation of the biblical story of Cain and Abel. Unamuno’s life was embroiled in serious controversies due to his open criticism of Spanish dictator Miguel de Rivera, and later, his condemnation of Francisco Franco’s Falangists.
Miguel de Unamuno was born on September 29, 1864, in Bilbao, Spain, to parents, Felix de Unamuno and Salome Jugo. He was a descendent of the Basque heritage, and he had inherited the independent spirit and self-pride of his ancestors. Miguel’s father passed away when he was six years old, and he, along with his mother, began living with his grandmother. He was raised in a devout catholic household, and for quite some time, Miguel aspired to become a priest.
In 1880, Unamuno was accepted at the University of Madrid, where his religious fervour was soon replaced by an intellectual search, he began devouring books on psychology, philosophy and history. By the age of 20, Miguel had learnt 11 languages, and he was able to read foreign literature with great ease. Soon, he began frequenting “Generation of 1898”, a popular literary society dedicated to the revival of the intellectual society of Spain. He enrolled in a four year degree for a doctorate in philosophy.
In 1890, Unamuno returned to his native city Bilbao, and began working as a tutor and essayist. Later, he was appointed as a professor at the University of Salamanca. In 1891, he married his childhood fiancée, Concepcion Lizarraga, and they went on to have 10 children.
In 1895, Unamuno published his first compilation, a collection of essays that analysed Spain’s ancient position and influence in Western Europe, titled “En torno al casticismo” (Around Reason). In 1901, he was appointed the rector at the University of Salamanca. In 1913, he published “Del sentimiento trágico de la vida en los hombres y en los pueblos” (The Tragic Sense of Life in Men and Peoples), which dealt with the contrasts between logic and faith. In 1917, he published his hugely applauded and widely read novel, “Abel Sanchez”, a modern day take on the biblical story of Cain and Abel. A common trait identified in all publications by Unamuno is the trial and contest faced by his characters to retain and safeguard their honor against the societal forces of compliance and allegiance.
In later 1924, Spain became embroiled in a political turmoil as General Miguel Primo de Rivera overthrew the parliamentary government, and declared himself a dictator. This political turmoil soon took over Miguel’s life as well, as Unamuno began composing and publishing a series of essays criticizing Rivera’s government and harsh tactics. Rivera took serious notice of this, and Unamuno was estranged from his family and exiled to the Canary Island. Miguel succeeded in escaping to France, where he lived for the next six years, engaged in publishing caustic and brutally critical articles directed against the King and Rivera.
In 1930, the fall of General Miguel provided Miguel a chance to return home to Bilbao, where he was offered back his position as a rector at the University of Salamanca. However, the advent of Francisco Franco’s revolt dragged his life into the midst of controversy. Although, initially Unamuno was in favour of Franco’s revolt, soon he became disillusioned by the movement’s harsh tactics to gain power, and began openly opposing their practices. In 1936, Unamuno publicly denounced Franco and his movement, whereupon, he was removed from his position as the rector.
Franco gave orders for Miguel de Unamuno’s execution, however, he later choose to banish him to house arrest. Miguel passed away from a heart attack two months later, on December 31, 1936, at the age of 72.