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The birth of writer Miguel de Unamuno

Miguel de Unamuno believed he was superior to Cervantes.
Miguel de Unamuno believed he was superior to Cervantes. / SUR
  • 29 September 1864

  • As well as a writer and philosopher Unamuno was rector of Salamanca University

Born in Bilbao on 29 September 1864, Miguel de Unamuno y Jugo was a Spanish essayist, poet, playwright and philosopher. His most famous novel, Abel Sánchez: The History of a Passion, was considered a modern reworking of the Cain and Abel story.

One of his key works was published in 1914. Our Lord Don Quixote was perceived one of the earliest works applying existential elements of Don Quixote. Unamuno felt that Cervantes had not told the story very well and he believed that his version was the way it should have been written. He also believed he was far superior to Cervantes, who was born on the same day as Unamuno in 1547.

Unamuno's theatre was schematic, focusing only on the conflicts and passions that affect the characters, an austerity influenced by classical Greek theatre. Unamuno's works opened the way for the renaissance of Spanish theatre undertaken by the likes of Federico Garcia Lorca.

Unamuno was a well-respected connoisseur of Portuguese language and culture and he believed it was important for Spaniards to become familiar with the masters of Portuguese literature. He was also a supporter of Iberism, an ideology that developed during the beginning of the twentieth century and supported the federation into a single state of Portugal and Spain.

He was a member of the Generation of 98, a group of well-known Spanish intellectuals active in Spain at the time of the Spanish-American War.

In addition to his writing, he played an important role in the intellectual life in Spain and served as rector of the University of Salamanca. He first acquired the post in 1900, but was removed from the position by the dictator, Miguel Primo de Rivera, in 1924.

He lived in exile in Fuerteventura and from there escaped to France, living in Paris for one year. He then moved to Hendaye, a border town in the French Basque Country, in order to be as close to Spain as possible.

Unamuno returned to Spain after the fall of General Primo de Rivera's dictatorship in 1930 and took up his position again as rector at Salamanca University. It is claimed that the day he returned to the University, Unamuno began his lecture by saying “As we were saying yesterday...”

Unamuno gradually became convinced of the universal values of Spanish culture, feeling that Spain's essential qualities would be destroyed if influenced too much by outside forces. It was for this reason that he initially welcomed Franco's revolt as necessary to rescue Spain; however, the harsh tactics employed by the Francoists caused him to oppose both the Republic and Franco.

Shortly afterwards, Unamuno was removed for a second time from his university post and placed under house arrest. He died in his sleep on 31 December 1936.