Sunday, June 18, 2017

Fortnightly Book, June 18

If only for this life we have hope in Christ, we are of all people most to be pitied. (1 Corinthians 15:19)

The next fortnightly book is Miguel de Unamuno's San Manuel Bueno, mártir. It is quite short, but I will be reading it in Spanish. Although I will not be doing it officially for the fortnightly book, I will also be reading (in translation) Unamuno's major philosophical work, The Tragic Sense of Life, on the lookout for connections between the two.

Miguel de Unamuno y Jugo (1864-1936) wanted to be a philosophy professor, but couldn't get an appointment, so he went into Classics instead, and took a position at the University of Salamanca, of which he eventually became the rector. In 1924, he was removed from his position and exiled by Miguel Primo de Rivera, the general Prime Minister who essentially functioned as a dictator at the time; he spent some time in the Canary Islands, but eventually escaped to France. After the collapse of Primo de Rivera's government, he returned to Spain and to his university positions. Very pro-Spanish, he originally welcomed Franco's unapologetic insistence on maintaining Spanish culture, but soured very quickly on Francoist methods. Always the moderate, he fearlessly criticized the extremes of both the Republicans and the Francoists, and inevitably was removed from his university positions again. He died shortly afterward under house arrest.

During his career, he became one of Spain's most internationally known literary greats, and San Manuel Bueno, mártir is perhaps his most famous fictional work. It is not quite a novel, a novela; rather, it is a nivola, a neologism invented by Unamuno to describe a short work that uses novelistic techniques but is otherwise almost entirely unlike a typical novel. A nivola is more concerned with ideas than with realism, rejects any interest in psychological complexities beyond what is strictly required by the story told, insists on limited-perspective narration, and is more like a sketch than an intricate drawing of life. It tells the story of Don Miguel, a Catholic priest who is loved by the people of his parish, who consider him a saint. He spends his days doing good for people and preaching the faith -- but he is burdened by the fact that he no longer believes in immortality of the soul or resurrection of the body. Thus the epigraph for the book, which I have quoted above.

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