Miguel de Unamuno

Miguel de Unamuno Biography

Author, Poet, Scholar, Journalist, Philosopher, Educator (1864–1936)
Miguel de Unamuno was a Spanish philosopher and writer best known for his novel Abel Sánchez.


Miguel de Unamuno was born on September 29, 1864, in Bilbao, Spain. He served twice as rector of the University of Salamanca; he was dismissed, first for criticizing Spanish dictator Miguel de Rivera, and later for denouncing Francisco Franco's Falangists. His most famous novel is Abel Sánchez, a modern re-creation of the biblical story of Cain and Abel. Unamano died while under house arrest in 1936.

Early Life

Miguel de Unamuno was born in the port town of Bilbao, Spain, on September 29, 1864. His parents, Felix de Unamuno and Salome Jugo, were of Basque heritage, and Miguel possessed their independent spirit and proud personality. Felix died when Miguel was six, and his mother and grandmother raised him as a faithful Catholic. For a time, he aspired to become a priest.

In 1880, Unamuno entered the University of Madrid, where his religious zeal came in conflict with his intellectual passion. During his four-year quest toward earning his doctorate in philosophy, Unamuno voraciously read books on philosophy, psychology and history. By age 20, he had learned 11 languages so he could read foreign authors in their native tongue. He also became acquainted with the "Generation of 1898," a literary group dedicated to the renewal of Spain.

In 1890, Unamuno returned to Bilbao, working as a tutor and essayist and eventually as a professor at the University of Salamanca. A year later he married his childhood sweetheart, Concepción Lizárraga. The couple would have 10 children together.


A common theme that ran through Unamuno's works was the struggle to preserve personal integrity in the face of the pressures of social conformity. In 1895, he published his first work, En torno al casticismo (Around Reason), a collection of essays that critically examined Spain's archaic position in Western Europe.

In 1901, de Unamuno became the University of Salamanca's rector. 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), in which he examined the differences between faith and reason. He followed this with the novel Abel Sánchez (1917), an exploration of the bible's Cain and Abel story.

Intellectual Activist

In September 1924, Spanish politics crashed into Miguel de Unamuno's life. General Miguel Primo de Rivera overthrew the parliamentary government and became dictator. Unamuno published a series of essays critical of Rivera and was soon taken from his family and exiled to the Canary Islands. He later escaped to France and lived there for the next six years, writing scathing articles about the king and Rivera.

With the fall of General Rivera in 1930, Miguel de Unamuno returned to the University of Salamanca and his post as rector. Unamuno began to soften his critique of Spain as a self-isolated nation and began to accept its unique qualities. Initially, he welcomed Francisco Franco's revolt against the Spanish monarchy, but soon opposed the movement's harsh tactics to gain power. In 1936, Unamuno publically denounced Franco and was once again removed from his position as rector. Franco had given orders to have him executed but instead banished him to house arrest. Two months later, on December 31, 1936, in Salamanca, Unamuno died of a heart attack at age 72.

Fact Check

We strive for accuracy and fairness. If you see something that doesn't look right, contact us!