Saint Emmanuel the Good, Martyr

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Saint Emmanuel the Good, Martyr

Author Biography
Plot Summary
Historical Context
Critical Overview
Further Reading

Miguel de Unamuno


Miguel de Unamuno was one of the most highly celebrated and widely influential Spanish intellectuals of the twentieth century. In "San Manuel Bueno, martir" (1933; "Saint Emmanuel the Good, Martyr"), the story of a priest without faith, Unamuno grapples with his lifelong questioning of received religious and philosophical ideas.

"Saint Emmanuel the Good, Martyr" is narrated as a memoir of Angela Carballino, a woman in her fifties who reflects back upon her family's experiences with Don Emmanuel, the priest of their remote mountain village. At the time of her writing, the Catholic Church has begun the process of proclaiming Don Emmanuel a saint. In her confessional story, Angela reveals Don Emmanuel's true attitudes about religion. Over the years, during which she and her brother Lazarus become close associates of Don Emmanuel, his secret loss of faith in God is revealed to them. Angela's memoir reveals a complex paradox at the heart of the priest's outward devotion and inner loss of faith.

"Saint Emmanuel the Good, Martyr" explores religious and philosophical questioning about the meaning of life and death. Unamuno describes the experience of the man without faith as one of solitude, loneliness, and despair, while he suggests that religious faith is merely an illusion, maintained by the common man as a means of comfort against the desolation of a world without God or Heaven.

Author Biography

Miguel de Unamuno (y Jugo) was born September 29, 1864, in the port city of Bilbao, located in the Basque region of Spain. When he was six years old, his father died. At sixteen, he enrolled in the University of Madrid, completing his Ph.D. in philosophy by the age of twenty. Unamuno obtained a position as professor of Greek at the University of Salamanca in 1891. At this time, he married a young woman from his home town, with whom he had ten children. In 1901, he was appointed to the prestigious position of rector of the University of Salamanca.

While continuing to teach and serve as rector, Unamuno published numerous stories, poems, and essays. He became associated with the Generation of 1898, a set of writers whose works grapple with questions of Spain's national identity in the modern world. Unamuno's first volume of essays, En torno al casticismo (On Authentic Tradition), was published in 1902. Vida de Don Quixote y Sancho (1905; The Life of Don Quixote and Sancho), a literary analysis, is one of his greatest works. The essay collection Del sentimiento tragico de la vida en los hombres y en los pueblos (1913; The Tragic Sense of Life), his best known work, expresses the fundamental ideas of his personal philosophy. Unamuno's greatest novel, Abel Sanchez (1917), is a modern retelling of the biblical story of Cain and Abel. His greatest work of poetry, El Cristo de Velazquez (1920; The Christ of Velazquez), is a book-length blank verse poem based on a painting of the crucifixion of Christ by the seventeenth-century Spanish artist Diego Velazquez.

During World War I, when Spain claimed official neutrality, Unamuno was an outspoken supporter of the Allied forces. Because of his political differences with conservative pro-German elements within the university, he was removed from his post as rector in 1914 but was later reinstated. Unamuno again met with trouble over his political views in 1924, soon after the dictator Primo de Rivera rose to power in Spain. Because of his outspoken opposition to Rivera, Unamuno was forced into exile, without his family, on Fuerteventura, one of the Canary Islands. Friends soon arranged for him to secretly escape to France, where he lived until Rivera was removed from power in 1930. As a writer in political exile, Unamuno became a cause célèbre, and his international reputation as an important contributor to modern thought and letters increased. Upon returning to Salamanca, he soon

resumed his post as professor and rector of the university.

During the period of Spain's Second Republic, from 1931 to 1936, Unamuno worked at the university and published his writings without encountering political difficulties. His story "Saint Emmanuel the Good, Martyr" (1933) was published during this period. In 1936, in the early stages of the Spanish Civil War, Unamuno was in favor of the Nationalist rebel forces, led by Francisco Franco. However, when he changed his political views and publicly criticized the Nationalist rebellion, Franco had him put under house arrest. Two months later, on December 31, 1936, the seventy-two-year-old Unamuno died of a heart attack.

Plot Summary

"Saint Emmanuel the Good, Martyr" is narrated by Angela Carballino. In a private memoir, Angela describes her changing perceptions of Don Emmanuel, the parish priest of a small mountain village in Spain, where she grew up and lived throughout most of her life. Angela explains that the bishop of the diocese of Renada is initiating the process of beatification of Don Emmanuel, now that he is dead. Over the course of the story, Angela describes how she came to learn the secret of Don Emmanuel's soul.

Angela explains that Don Emmanuel was her "spiritual father." Her mother, like everyone in the village, worships and loves Don Emmanuel. Angela's brother Lazarus lives and works in America, and sends money to support Angela and her mother. When she is ten years old, Angela is sent to a convent school.

Angela leaves the convent school at the age of sixteen and returns to her village. She notes that the whole life of the village by this time revolves around Don Emmanuel. Don Emmanuel is a very active participant in the daily life of the community, sometimes working in the fields alongside the peasants, sometimes accompanying the doctor on his rounds, sometimes helping to teach at the village school. He counsels troubled families, comforts the sick, aids the poor, cares for the children, and attends to the dying. Blasillo, a man in the village who is mentally retarded, becomes especially attached to Don Emmanuel.

As a young woman, Angela helps Don Emmanuel with his various tasks and duties in the church and the community. When she is almost twenty-four, her brother Lazarus returns from America. Lazarus has been influenced by his experiences away from the village and is disdainful of the religious faith of the peasants and their reliance on Don Emmanuel. Lazarus openly expresses atheistic, anti-religious sentiments. But after he goes to hear one of Don Emmanuel's sermons, and learns of his role in the community, Lazarus comes to respect the priest.

Simona, the mother of Angela and Lazarus, becomes mortally ill. As she is on her deathbed, she asks Lazarus to promise that he will pray for her after she is gone. Lazarus is at first resistant, because he is a non-believer, but Don Emmanuel convinces him to make this promise to his mother. After his mother's death, Lazarus begins spending more and more time with Don Emmanuel, taking walks with him along the lake and discussing questions of religious faith and doubt. Before long, Lazarus starts to attend mass on a regular basis.

Lazarus eventually takes holy communion from Don Emmanuel, which the villagers happily interpret as a sign that his atheism has been converted to faith. After the communion, however, Lazarus confesses in private to Angela the true nature of Don Emmanuel's attitudes about religion. He explains that Don Emmanuel convinced him to pretend to believe in God for the sake of the villagers and to keep his religious doubts to himself. When Lazarus asked Don Emmanuel if he truly believes in God, the priest indicated that he does not. Angela describes this revelation of Don Emmanuel's lack of faith as the "tragic secret" of his soul. She is deeply saddened to learn that Don Emmanuel only pretends to believe in God and prays that he and Lazarus will experience a true conversion to genuine faith.

Lazarus further explains to Angela what Don Emmanuel has told him regarding his true attitudes about religion. Don Emmanuel asserted that, although he himself does not have faith, it is important to maintain the faith of the community because without their faith they would be lost. He regards religion as an illusion held by the villagers that gives them comfort in life. He thus encourages Lazarus to do everything he can to maintain the illusion of faith in the community for the sake of their happiness.

After revealing Don Emmanuel's secret to Angela, Lazarus becomes more and more active in helping the priest with his various tasks and duties, both in the church and in the community. He continues to spend much of his time alone with Don Emmanuel, walking along the lake and pursuing his line of questioning, in order to learn the true nature of the priest's attitudes about religion.

The years go by, and Don Emmanuel becomes ill. Knowing that he will soon die, the priest has himself carried to the church, where he gives his final sermon to the people of the village. After the death of Don Emmanuel, Lazarus begins to write down conversations he had with the priest over questions of faith and doubt. Angela later refers to these recorded conversations in the process of writing her memoir. In the absence of Don Emmanuel, Lazarus seems to lose his will to live. Eventually, he grows ill and dies.

Angela, now in her fifties, explains that the story she relates is her private memoir of her life with Saint Emmanuel the Good. She explains that the bishop who has initiated the process of naming Don Emmanuel a saint is writing a biography of the priest. This bishop has asked Angela for information about Don Emmanuel's life. While she has given him plenty of factual information about the priest, she does not reveal the "tragic secret" of Don Emmanuel's lack of faith.


Bishop of Renada

After the death of Don Emmanuel, the bishop of Renada begins the process of applying to the Catholic Church to proclaim him a saint. The bishop is also in the process of writing a biography of Don Emmanuel and approaches Angela for information about the life of the priest. Although Angela provides the bishop with plenty of factual information, she does not tell him about Don Emmanuel's secret loss of faith.


Blasillo is described as a "congenital idiot" and later referred to as "the fool." Blasillo becomes emotionally attached to Don Emmanuel, who pays a lot of attention to him and patiently teaches him things no one else thought he was capable of learning. After a particularly moving sermon, Blasillo repeats the words from the Psalms, "'My God, my God, why hast Thou forsaken me?'" Over the years, Blasillo can often be heard repeating this quotation, although it is not clear if he has any idea what it means. During Don Emmanuel's last church sermon, Blasillo holds tightly onto his hand; when Don Emmanuel dies during this sermon, Blasillo's eyes close and he, too, dies at the same moment.

Angela Carballino

Angela Carballino, nicknamed Angelita, is the narrator of "Saint Emmanuel the Good, Martyr." Her name means "angel" in Spanish. The story itself represents Angela's memoirs, written while she is in her fifties, of her experiences with Don Emmanuel. Angela is sent to a convent school when she is ten years old and returns to her village at the age of sixteen. She becomes especially devoted to Don Emmanuel and helps him with various church activities. She describes him as a man who "pervaded the most secret life of my soul, who was my true spiritual father, the father of my spirit, the spirit of myself."

When Angela is twenty-four, her brother Lazarus reveals to her Don Emmanuel's "tragic secret": he does not actually believe in God or an afterlife. Angela is shaken and upset by this revelation. Although her brother explains to her the details of Don Emmanuel's attitudes about religion, Angela herself never seems to lose faith. While she at first regards Don Emmanuel as a father figure, she later develops a maternal attitude toward him, feeling that she must serve as his spiritual caretaker. On one occasion, Angela goes to make her confession to Don Emmanuel, and seek his forgiveness; however, it is Don Emmanuel who indirectly confesses his lack of faith to Angela, begging her forgiveness, which she gives him. After the death of Don Emmanuel and of her brother, Angela records in a memoir her understanding of the complex religious attitudes of this saint.

Lazarus Carballino

Lazarus Carballino is Angela's brother. As a young man, Lazarus leaves his small village in Spain to live and work in America. He regularly sends enough money back to his mother and sister to support them in relative comfort. When he returns from America, Lazarus is full of new ideas that he has acquired while away from the village. He does not believe in God or religion and is disdainful of the villagers, whose lives are centered around the church. However, he soon gains respect for Don Emmanuel, whom he feels is not like other priests.

Lazarus grows closer and closer to Don Emmanuel, helping him with church and community activities. Eventually, he decides to take holy communion, an outward sign that he has been converted from non-belief to faith in the tenets of the church. However, Lazarus explains to Angela that neither he nor Don Emmanuel truly believes in God or an afterlife. Rather, Lazarus comes to believe, based on the teachings of Don Emmanuel, that religion is a vital source of comfort to the people of the village, who would fall into despair if they lost their faith.

The name Lazarus is that of a biblical figure who was raised from the dead by Jesus Christ four days after he had been buried. The name Lazarus has thus come to symbolize one whose life has been renewed. In Unamuno's story, Lazarus, referring to his biblical name, tells Angela, "'I was a true Lazarus whom [Don Emmanuel] raised from the dead.'" He does not mean that the priest literally brought him back from the dead but that he helped to renew Lazarus's faith in "'the charity of life, in life's joy.'" After Don Emmanuel dies, Lazarus seems to lose his desire to live, and he soon grows ill and dies.

Simona Carballino

Simona Carballino is the mother of Angela and Lazarus. Simona's husband died young, and she was left to care for her two children. Simona is deeply devoted to Don Emmanuel, to the point that her memory of her husband has been eclipsed by her emotional attachment to the priest. When Lazarus claims that he wishes to move his mother and sister to the city, Simona refuses to go, insisting that she cannot leave the lake, the mountain, or Don Emmanuel. As she lies dying on her bed, Simona begs her son, Lazarus, to promise that he will pray for her after she is gone. Although Lazarus is known to be a nonbeliever, the priest encourages him to make and keep this promise, which is his mother's dying wish.

Don Emmanuel

Don Emmanuel is a Catholic priest who presides over the church in the small mountain village of Valverde de Lucerna. Don Emmanuel is deeply loved by all of the villagers, and the entire community centers on him. He is extremely active in the life of the community, personally engaging in their work, their family lives, their physical wellbeing, and their religious needs. Angela's memoir of the experiences of her family with Don Emmanuel reveals his "tragic secret": that he was without faith in God or heaven. Don Emmanuel begins to spend much of his time with Lazarus, who is openly atheistic. He convinces Lazarus to maintain the outward appearance of faith, even if he does not believe. When Don Emmanuel dies, the people of the village, who consider him a saint, mourn their loss. After his death, the bishop of the diocese of Renada, in which the village is located, initiates efforts to officially name Don Emmanuel a saint.


Existential Thought

Unamuno was an important precursor to the branch of philosophy that came to be known as existentialism. While the term existentialism did not gain currency until the World War II era, the philosophical questioning subsequently regarded as existentialism has roots deep in Western culture. Existentialism, broadly speaking, addresses the nature of human existence. Existentialism is in essence concerned with the human condition, insofar as the human condition is defined by the birth and inevitable death of every individual. Existentialism focuses on the unique qualities of each individual and emphasizes the fact that each person is faced with a multitude of choices by which to conduct her or his life.

Existential thinking has influenced such diverse fields of inquiry as philosophy, psychology, theology, atheism, humanism, literature, metaphysics, and phenomenology. Many important modern thinkers have examined existential questions. Among the most important may be included Friedrich Nietzsche, Søren Kierkegaard, Albert Camus, Jean-Paul Sartre, Martin Heidegger, and Karl Jaspers. In Spain, Unamuno and his contemporary José Ortega y Gasset are regarded as important early existential thinkers.

The characters in "Saint Emmanuel the Good, Martyr" explore some of the basic questions posed by existential thought. In this story, Don Emmanuel's preoccupation with death is characteristic of existential thought. Because he does not believe in an afterlife, Don Emmanuel is painfully aware of the limitations placed on the existence of each individual by the fact of death. This awareness leads him to make specific choices as to how he conducts himself as the priest of a small village. Don Emmanuel's primary concern is to help the people around him by easing their suffering and facilitating the experience of joy and happiness. He regards it as his duty to distract the villagers from thinking about the fundamental reality of human existence (as he sees it): that each individual must one day die.

Because of its focus on death as the end of existence for the individual, it may seem that existentialism is by definition an atheistic philosophy. However, existentialism is not necessarily incompatible with religious faith, and existential theology is an important branch of religious thought. Thus, Unamuno has been regarded as a Catholic existentialist, in that he grapples with the apparent contradictions between Christianity and existentialism. Unamuno regards the act of confronting one's faith and doubt as more important than finding absolute answers to age-old questions regarding the human condition.

The New World and the Old World

Through the character of Lazarus, Unamuno creates a set of oppositions that serve as a central thematic focus of his story. Lazarus, upon first returning from America, represents a set of values associated with the New World, the city, and modern society. The villagers, on the other hand, represent a set of values associated with the Old World,

Topics for Further Study

  • Unamuno lived through many important events in the history of Spain. Research one of the following major events or eras in Spain's history: the Carlist Wars, the Spanish-American War, the dictatorship of Primo de Rivera, the Second Republic, or the Spanish Civil War. What form of government did Spain have during the period you have chosen? What changes took place in Spanish government over the course of this period? What major social and political issues were of concern to Spanish citizens during this period? What role did the Catholic Church play in social and political conflicts in Spain during this time?
  • In "Saint Emmanuel the Good, Martyr," the narrator describes her experiences with a man who exerted a tremendous influence on her life. Think of someone in your own life who has been an important influence on you, such as a teacher, parent, religious leader, older sibling, friend, or perhaps a famous person you have never met. Write an essay describing this person's outstanding characteristics, and how this person has influenced your life. Give specific examples of circumstances in which you made an important decision inspired by the influence of this person.
  • Unamuno was one of the writers of Spain's Generation of 1898. Write a report on one other important Spanish writer of the Generation of '98, such as the essayists Azorín and José Ortega y Gasset, the novelists Pío Baroja, Vicente Blasco Ibáñez, and Ramón María del Valle-Inclán, or the poets Juan Ramón Jiménez, Antonio Machado, and Manuel Machado. What significant historical or cultural events in Spain influenced this writer's thinking? What central ideas did this author stress in his writings? In what ways was this author an important influence on Spanish thought and literature?
  • Some of the world's greatest artists have lived and worked in Spain. Research an important Spanish artist, such as Bartolomé Murillo, Diego Velázquez, Francisco de Goya, Pablo Picasso, Joan Miró, or Salvador Dali. Where and when did this artist live in Spain? Name some of the major works of this artist, and describe key characteristics of his work. Pick one major work by this artist; in a library book, find a photo reproduction of a drawing, painting, print, or sculpture by this artist. Describe the work of art in specific detail, then discuss your own interpretation of this work.
  • Unamuno is regarded as an early existentialist writer, whose ideas were formulated a generation before existentialism emerged as a prominent intellectual movement in philosophy and literature. Learn more about a key figure in existential thought, such as Søren Kierkegaard, Albert Camus, Jean-Paul Sartre, Martin Heidegger, Karl Barth, Paul Tillich, Rudolph Bultman, or Karl Jaspers. What major works of existential thought did this writer publish? Learn about the basic ideas put forth by this existentialist, and explain the ideas to the best of your ability. Then discuss your own response to these ideas. To what extent do you find them convincing? Why are they convincing or why are they not?
  • One of the themes of "Saint Emmanuel the Good, Martyr" is the importance of actively participating in one's community as a way of giving meaning to the life of the individual. Make a list of all the different communities which you are a part of, such as your neighborhood, your town, your ethnic group, your church, as well as any extracurricular groups or organizations you are a part of (a sports team, band, or orchestra, etc.). Pick one of these communities that you consider to be especially important to you. Write an essay describing this community. What is your role in this community, and why is it important to you? Give specific examples of how your participation in this community has influenced your life.

the country, and medieval society. Lazarus associates the New World with logic, reason, and atheism, while he associates the Old World with ignorance, cultural backwardness, and outmoded religious beliefs.

When he first returns from America, Lazarus plans to move with his mother and sister to the city, which he considers to be more culturally enlightened than the country. However, the two women refuse to leave their village, because they are so strongly attached to the spiritual life of their rural community, as well as to their priest Don Emmanuel. When Angela goes to visit a school friend in the city of Madrid, she feels stifled by the spiritual emptiness of the urban world and rushes back to the village as soon as possible. With the influence of Don Emmanuel, Lazarus comes to appreciate the values of this devoutly religious Old World community.


Unamuno places a strong emphasis on the life of the remote village community in "Saint Emmanuel the Good, Martyr." The villagers as a group are portrayed as if they were a single composite character. The narrator rarely names or describes individuals within the community but often describes the thoughts and desires of the village as if its people were a homogenous body. After Don Emmanuel and Lazarus die, Angela finds that she is able to go on living through her active engagement in the life of her community. In the end, Angela realizes that Don Emmanuel has taught her the meaning of life, which she interprets as a spiritual merging of her self with the spiritual life of her community.

The Catholic Faith in the Modern World

In "Saint Emmanuel the Good, Martyr," Unamuno explores questions about the role of the Catholic Church in the modern world. The narrative of the story includes many references to Catholic rituals, saints, prayers, and biblical figures. The village in which the story takes place is focused on the activities of their local church, and all of the characters in the story were raised Catholic. This remote village and its rural community in this story come to represent the age-old traditions of the Catholic faith. The challenges Lazarus raises to Catholicism represent the challenges facing the Catholic church in the modern world of the twentieth century. While Lazarus at first regards the religious devotion of the villagers as a sign of ignorance and backwardness, he eventually comes to appreciate the value of a faith deeply rooted in the age-old traditions of the Catholic Church.


The Nivola

Unamuno coined the term "nivola" to describe his own style of fiction writing. Unamuno considered a nivola to be a work of fiction in which the setting and events of the plot are less important than the ideas expressed by the characters. "Saint Emmanuel the Good, Martyr" is an example of Unamuno's concept of the nivola. In this story, the fictional characters are portrayed primarily in terms of their spiritual struggles, with most other character traits and life events left out of the story. Unamuno thereby foregrounds the story's central theme of religious and philosophical questioning, and the characters in the story are only developed insofar as they express specific ideas about religious faith and doubt.

Narrative Voice and Confessional Fiction

"Saint Emmanuel the Good, Martyr" is written in the first person narrative voice, meaning that the story is told exclusively from the perspective of one character. In the form of a memoir, Angela tells the story of Don Emmanuel from her own perspective. Angela's memoir may also be categorized as "confessional" fiction, meaning a story in which the narrative emerges as an expression or admission of particularly private feelings or experiences. Angela has withheld the "tragic secret" of Don Emmanuel's lack of faith from the bishop who is writing a biography of him. However, she feels the need to record the story of his secret, although she claims that she does not wish her memoir to fall into the hands of the bishop. Thus, Angela confesses to her knowledge that Don Emmanuel, who is regarded as a saint, in fact harbored grave doubts about his faith.

Metaphor and Symbol

Unamuno makes use of recurring metaphors in "Saint Emmanuel the Good, Martyr" through references to the story's setting in a village that is nestled "like a brooch between the lake and the mountain reflected in it." Throughout the story Angela, as narrator, utilizes metaphors comparing Don Emmanuel and the village to the lake and the mountain. The figure of Don Emmanuel is frequently described with reference to this setting, as a man who "carried himself the way our Buitre Peak carries its crest, and his eyes had all the blue depth of our lake." The voices of the villagers reciting from the Bible in unison are described as "a kind of mountain whose peak … was Don Emmanuel." Yet Don Emmanuel's voice is sometimes "drowned in the voice of the populace as in a lake." Through this use of metaphor, the mountain and the lake come to symbolize the spiritual life of the community, with Don Emmanuel as its spiritual leader.

A folk myth believed by the villagers states that there is an ancient city submerged in their mountain lake. Lazarus compares the city submerged in the lake to Don Emmanuel's spiritual state, asserting that "at the bottom of Don Emmanuel's soul there is a city, submerged and inundated." This submerged city symbolizes the secret of Don Emmanuel's soul, his complex set of beliefs and non-beliefs about the true nature of religion. The submerged city also symbolizes the age-old spiritual life of the village community. In this sense, the timelessness and immortality of the natural landscape symbolize the everlasting life promised by the Catholic faith.


Unamuno adds an epilogue to the story of "Saint Emmanuel the Good, Martyr." An epilogue is a short section at the end of a story that is meant to stand apart from the content of the central story, while commenting on the story itself. While the fictional Angela is the narrator of the central story, Unamuno narrates the epilogue as himself, Miguel de Unamuno, the author of "Saint Emmanuel the Good, Martyr." In his epilogue, Unamuno asserts that he cannot reveal the secret of how Angela Carballino's memoir fell into his hands. He goes on to question the idea that his fictional characters are not real, suggesting that perhaps the fictional story is more real than the author who created it. Unamuno concludes his epilogue with the assertion that he hopes the characters in this story will live on forever, although its author will one day die.

Historical Context

Spain in the Nineteenth Century

Spain in the nineteenth century experienced a number of tumultuous changes in its form of government. At the time of Unamuno's birth in 1864, Spain was a constitutional monarchy under Queen Isabella II. However, the revolution of 1868 forced Queen Isabella II into exile. With the end of the revolution in 1870, Amadeo (a son of the king of Italy) was chosen to rule as king of Spain in a constitutional monarchy. In 1873 Amadeo abdicated, under pressure of a revolt, and Spain was declared a republic. This short-lived First Republic lasted until 1875, when Alfonso XII, son of Isabella II, was declared king of Spain. The Constitution of 1876 reinstituted a constitutional monarchy. When King Alfonso XII died in 1885, his young son, Alfonso XIII, was declared the new king of Spain.

The Spanish-American War

Unamuno was in his thirties during the period of the Spanish-American War, which lasted from 1895 to 1898. The Spanish-American War concerned Cuba, which had been a Spanish colony. Cubans wishing to gain national independence from Spain started a rebellion which Spanish forces were unable to put down. After the United States decided in 1895 to support the Cuban rebellion with military force, the Spanish suffered a humiliating defeat. In the peace treaty that followed, Spain lost most of its remaining colonial holdings, which included Puerto Rico as well as Cuba. As part of the treaty, Spanish holdings in the Philippine Islands were sold to the United States. Spain, once the most powerful colonial force in the world, was left with colonial control of only the Canary Islands and Morocco.

Spain in the Twentieth Century

During World War I (1914–18), Spain remained officially neutral, thus avoiding the turbulence that ravaged much of Europe in the early part of the twentieth century. The Spanish government remained a relatively stable constitutional monarchy from 1885 until 1923, when King Alfonso XIII allowed Miguel Primo de Rivera to take power as dictator of the country. The king, though remaining head of state, deferred to the rule of Rivera. In 1930, however, King Alfonso XIII forced Primo de Rivera to resign. In 1931, amidst growing unpopularity, the king left Spain, in effect abdicating his power. With the king gone, Spain declared the Second Republic and adopted a new constitution. This Second Republic lasted until the outbreak of civil war in 1936.

The Spanish Civil War pitted the right-wing rebel Nationalists, under the leadership of General Francisco Franco, against Loyalists to the left-liberal Republican government. While the Nationalists were aided by military supplies from the fascist states of Hitler's Germany and Mussolini's Italy, the Republicans were aided by supplies from the Soviet Union. In addition, many foreigners, particularly Americans, volunteered to fight in support of the Republican cause. The Nationalists under Franco achieved victory in 1939, thus initiating the Franco dictatorship. With the death of Franco in 1975, King Juan Carlos I was named head of state and oversaw Spain's peaceful transition to a democratic constitutional monarchy.

Compare & Contrast

  • 1930s: Spain experiences several major transitions in government. The dictatorship of Primo de Rivera, begun in 1923, is ended in 1930. The Second Republic lasts from 1931 to 1936. The Spanish Civil War begins in 1936. With the end of the Civil War in 1939, Francisco Franco rises to power as dictator of Spain.
    Today: Spain is a constitutional monarchy. King Juan Carlos I serves as head of state. Based on a constitution ratified in 1978, the prime minister oversees a parliament (known as the Cortes Generales), which includes a Congress of Deputies and a Senate. Members of parliament are elected primarily by popular vote via universal suffrage.
  • 1930s: With the outbreak of World War II in 1939, Spain retains a stance of official neutrality. However, Spain secretly supports the Axis forces of Germany, Italy, and Japan during most of the war. Toward the end of World War II, Spain switches unofficial allegiances to the Allied powers.
    Today: Spain is an active member of the international community, with membership in the United Nations (since 1955), the North Atlantic Treaty Organization (since 1982), and the European Union (since 1993) after being part of the European Community (joining in 1986).
  • 1930s: During the era of the Second Republic (1931–1936), the Spanish government institutes a separation of church and state. The Spanish education system, once the realm of the Catholic Church, is secularized. With the conclusion of the Spanish Civil War in 1939, Franco quickly restores the powers of the Catholic Church as the state-sponsored national religion of Spain. Franco also reinstates a church-sponsored education system.
    Today: The Spanish government maintains a complete separation of church and state, although the majority of Spaniards are members of the Roman Catholic Church. Public schools in Spain are completely secularized.

Spanish Literature

Unamuno was one of the most influential Spanish writers and thinkers of his generation. His place in the history of Spanish letters is associated with a group of writers known as the Generation of 1898. With Spain's humiliating defeat in the Spanish-American War and the resultant demise of the Spanish empire, these writers began to question Spanish national identity and the role of Spain in the modern world. Writers associated with the Generation of '98 include critics Azorin and José Ortega y Gasset, novelists Pio Baroja, Vicente Blasco Ibanez, and Ramon Maria del Valle-Inclan, and the poets Juan Ramon Jimenez, Antonio Machado, and Manuel Machado, as well as Unamuno.

Unamuno lived to see the emergence of another generation of Spanish writers, known as the Generation of 1927. The writers of the Generation of '27, most of whom were poets, were influenced by movements in early twentieth century European literature, such as Futurism, Surrealism, and Symbolism. The best known writers of the Generation of '27 are Rafael Alberti, Vicente Aleixandre, Damaso Alonso, Luis Cernuda, Gerardo Diego, Angel Ganivet, Jorge Guillen, Federico Garcia Lorca, and Pedro Salinas.

The Roman Catholic Church in Modern Spain

During the twentieth century, the question of what role the church should play in national government was a major source of conflict among Spaniards. Throughout most of the history of modern Spain, the Roman Catholic Church was the official state religion, endorsed by the Spanish monarchy. However, many Spaniards, referred to as anticlericalists, favored a separation of church and state. Popular resentment of the political powers wielded by the Catholic Church led to public outbursts in 1909 and 1931, during which people burned churches and monasteries, killing priests and nuns in the process.

During the era of Spain's Second Republic (1931–36), anticlerical laws were instituted, proclaiming a separation of church and state. However, during the Spanish Civil War (1936–39) the church backed the Nationalist forces under Franco. Thus, Franco's victory in the civil war and his ascendance as dictator of Spain resulted in the reinstitution of the Catholic Church as the state religion. With Franco's death in 1975 and the ratification of a new constitution in 1978, the Spanish government once again declared a separation of church and state.

Critical Overview

Unamuno was one of the most influential Spanish writers of his generation. His stories, poems, and essays garnered an international readership, and were translated into many languages. Although he regarded himself as a poet above all else, Unamuno is remembered primarily as an important writer of essays and stories that grapple with religious and philosophical questioning in the modern world.

Unamuno's fictions are regarded primarily as stories of ideas, with a minimum focus on traditional elements of narrative. In his Introduction to Abel Sanchez and Other Stories (1956), in which "Saint Emmanuel the Good, Martyr" is published, Anthony Kerrigan described Unamuno's stories as

sparse, unstylistic, the bare bones of narratives; but then they are also hot-spirited, intent on righting injustice, and terribly serious about the matter of death. As regards a terrible and troubled honesty, their like is seldom seen.

Unamuno is regarded as an early existentialist thinker, whose works explore themes that were to become the defining concerns of the existentialist movement. In an Encyclopedia Britannica article on Unamuno, his fictions are described as "intensely psychological depictions of agonized characters who illustrate and give voice to his own philosophical ideas." These philosophical ideas form the basis of his widely influential contributions to modern thought.


Liz Brent

Brent holds a Ph.D. in American culture from the University of Michigan. In this essay, Brent discusses the religious philosophy of the priest in Unamuno's "Saint Emmanuel the Good, Martyr."

Unamuno's central concern in "Saint Emmanuel the Good, Martyr" is with religious faith and religious doubt. As a young woman, Angela expresses complete devotion to the Catholic faith, fully accepting its religious tenets. Her brother Lazarus, on the other hand, returns from America confident in his lack of religious faith. Through their association with Don Emmanuel over a period of years, Angela and Lazarus learn of the priest's secret loss of faith,

which he conceals with an outward display of devotion. Through the writing of her memoir, Angela comes to understand and appreciate the complexity of Don Emmanuel's lack of faith, as well as his conviction that people need religion in order to live.

Don Emmanuel tells Lazarus that he does not believe in God or an afterlife; however, he believes it is his duty to maintain the religious faith of the villagers. Lazarus comes to understand the reasoning behind Don Emmanuel's seemingly hypocritical stance of leading the villagers to believe that he is a devout worshipper of God, while secretly harboring a complete lack of faith. Lazarus is thus "converted" to Don Emmanuel's religious philosophy, making it his duty to display outward devotion and encourage devotion among the villagers, while privately maintaining the conviction that God does not exist.

When Angela learns through Lazarus of Don Emmanuel's secret lack of faith, she confronts the priest directly with her own religious doubts and questions. She asks if he believes in the devil, in hell, and in heaven. While Don Emmanuel asserts that he does, Angela knows that he is lying. Indirectly admitting to her his lack of faith, the priest finally insists that she should keep her religious questioning to herself and never reveal it to others. Angela continues to harbor her own private doubts, while praying that Lazarus and Don Emmanuel will one day be converted to a true faith in God and belief in an afterlife.

Don Emmanuel believes that to live without faith is to live in agony. His own lack of faith causes him to experience lifelong feelings of sadness, lone-liness, and despair. As he explains to Lazarus, a man who does not believe in God suffers unbearable torment. He asserts, "The truth, Lazarus, is perhaps something so unbearable, so terrible, something so deadly, that simple people could not live with it!"

Through his characterization of Don Emmanuel, a priest who does not believe in an afterlife, Unamuno explores the significance of death to religious faith. Because he does not believe in heaven, hell, or an afterlife, Don Emmanuel anguishes over thoughts of death. He confesses to Lazarus that his greatest temptation is the urge to commit suicide by drowning himself in the lake. He explains that he has struggled against a lifelong urge to commit suicide, so that his life "is a kind of continual suicide, or a struggle against suicide, which is the same thing."

Because Don Emmanuel himself does not believe in an afterlife and suffers despair over his awareness of his own mortality, he does his best to maintain the belief of the villagers that they will go to heaven when they die. He feels it is his duty to encourage religious faith in the villagers, because he feels that belief in an afterlife is the only thing that keeps people from falling into despair and committing suicide. Angela asserts that Don Emmanuel, who was always called to the bedside of the dying, "helped everyone to die well." That is, he did his best to comfort the dying with the promise of an afterlife, although he himself was tormented by his lack of belief in an afterlife.

From an early age, Angela intuitively perceives Don Emmanuel's despair and thus regards him with "profound pity." Aware of Don Emmanuel's "infinite, eternal sadness," Angela regards herself as the caretaker of his soul, as if he needs her strong sense of faith in order to keep him from descending into utter despair over his own lack of faith. Over the years, however, this sense of despair takes its toll on Don Emmanuel, and the "deep rooted sadness which consumed him" causes his health to fail.

What Do I Read Next?

  • The novel La Lucha por la vida (The Struggle for Life, 1904), by Pío Baroja, a Basque novelist and one of the Generation of '98, concerns the living conditions of the poor in Madrid.
  • Don Quixote (Vol. 1, 1605; Vol. 2, 1615), by Miguel de Cervantes, is considered to be the first great modern Spanish novel. Don Quixote is a country gentleman who recruits his faithful servant Sancho Panza to "sally forth" into the world and seek adventures requiring knightly chivalry. Don Quixote is in fact a deluded older man who sees a windmill as a giant, a roadside inn as a castle, and a slovenly peasant girl as a beautiful princess.
  • One of the strongest novels by Vicente Blasco Ibáñez, one of the Generation of '98, is Sangre y arena (Blood and Sand, 1908), the story of a bullfighter victimized by the forces of society and tradition.
  • Antonio Machado, one of the writers of the Generation of '98, is known for his poetry and essays exploring existential themes. The volume Poesias Completas (Complete Poems, 1928) is among his best works.
  • Meditaciones del Quijote (Mediations on Quixote, 1914), by José Ortega y Gasset, was inspired by Unamuno's writings on Don Quixote. In this collection of essays, Ortega y Gasset reflects upon Cervantes' Don Quixote in terms of existential questions about the meaning of human life.
  • The Lone Heretic (1963), by Margaret Thomas Rudd, is a biography of Unamuno that focuses on his struggles with religious faith and philosophical questioning.
  • Abel Sanchez (1917), considered to be Unamuno's greatest novel, is a modern retelling of the biblical tale of Cain and Abel. Unamuno's story describes the relationship between two brothers, Joaquin and Able. Joaquin suffers from intense envy of his brother who, as a successful painter, possesses the possibility of becoming immortal through his art.
  • Don Quijote y Sancho (Don Quixote and Sancho, 1905) is a collection of Unamuno's essays on the novel Don Quixote. Unamuno argues that the fictional characters of Don Quixote and Sancho Panza transcend the limitations of Cervantes' narrative. Unamuno regards these two characters as representative of distinct strands of thought in Spanish culture.
  • El Cristo de Velazquez (The Christ of Velazquez, 1920), Unamuno's greatest work of poetry, is a book-length blank-verse poem that contemplates a painting of the resurrection of Christ by the seventeenth-century Spanish painter Diego Velazquez.
  • Unamuno's Del sentimiento tragico (The Tragic Sense of Life, 1913) is a collection of his essays expressing his personal philosophy as he grapples with questions of religious faith and existential doubt in the modern world.

Don Emmanuel believes that religion is a dream, fantasy, or illusion, by which the common people stave off their fear of death. In private conversation with Lazarus, he refers to God as "our supreme dream." Don Emmanuel feels that his task as the village priest is to do everything he can to maintain the illusion of God and heaven among the villagers. He thus believes it is in the best interests of the people for him to conceal his lack of faith; he advises Angela and Lazarus, also, to conceal their questioning and doubts about religion. Lazarus, repeating Don Emmanuel's lesson, tells Angela, "The people should be allowed to live with their illusion"—that is, the illusion supplied by religious faith.

At one point, Don Emmanuel quotes the socialist theorist Karl Marx, saying, "religion is the opiate of the masses." Marx intended this statement as a criticism of religion, implying that religion distracts people from protesting against unfair economic systems, by lulling them into a false sense of contentment. Don Emmanuel, however, believes that providing people with the fantasy of religion is a positive act, for "We should give them opium, and help them sleep, and dream."

Don Emmanuel particularly feels that it is important to maintain the dream of an afterlife in heaven, to keep the people from falling into despair over the idea that they will one day die. He regards it as his duty to the villagers to "make them dream they are immortal." He goes on to say that all religions serve the same purpose of consoling the people "for having been born only to die."

Don Emmanuel repeatedly asserts that the most important thing is for the people to live, and to go on living. He believes that religious faith gives life meaning, thereby providing people with a reason to go on living. Because he himself has no faith in God, he feels that life is meaningless, and this sense of meaninglessness causes him great despair. Don Emmanuel thus regards it as his duty to promote joy and happiness among the villagers, so that they will be motivated to go on living and will not give in to the despair that comes with realizing that they are "born only to die." Don Emmanuel asserts, "the village must be happy; everyone must be happy to be alive. To be satisfied with life is of first importance." He tells Lazarus, "let them console themselves for having been born, let them live as happily as possible in the illusion that all this has a purpose." As he is dying, Don Emmanuel advises Angela and Lazarus to continue his mission of maintaining the fantasy of religion in the villagers, to "Let them dream, let them dream."

Toward the end of her memoir, Angela develops a more complex understanding of Don Emmanuel's "tragic secret," which is ultimately a paradox. She begins to wonder if Don Emmanuel secretly did have faith in God, and yet merely told Lazarus that he secretly did not have faith in God, as a means of indirectly bringing the young man to have faith in the priest's lack of faith. On the other hand, Angela speculates, perhaps Don Emmanuel truly believed that he lacked faith in God, not knowing that, deep down inside, he in fact did have faith. Thus, Angela asserts that she believes both Don Emmanuel and her brother "died believing they did not believe, but that, without believing in their belief, they actually believed." She adds, "I believed then, and I believe now, that God—as part of I know not what sacred and inscrutable purpose—caused them to believe they were unbelievers."

Angela ultimately asserts that Don Emmanuel, religious doubt and all, was a saint, and that her brother, too, was a saint. She further suggests that perhaps all of the saints harbored doubts similar to those expressed by Don Emmanuel and that they were no less saintly for their doubt. In fact, Don Emmanuel tells Lazarus that he believes many of the saints, and perhaps even Jesus Christ himself, had also died without truly believing in an afterlife. Angela comes to believe that it is this very doubting of faith, coupled with a commitment to promote religious faith in others, that makes a person saintly. Unamuno thus poses to the reader a philosophical and religious paradox on the nature of faith and doubt, putting forth the notion that, while it is possible to doubt one's faith, it is also possible to have faith in one's doubt.

Source: Liz Brent, Critical Essay on "Saint Emmanuel the Good, Martyr," in Short Stories for Students, Gale, 2005.

Gregory Peter Andrachuk

In the following essay, Andrachuk argues that Lázaro, Don Manuel, and Ángela form a trinity for an "alternative religious system," which is the Church of Valverde de Lucerna.

At the thematic and structural centre of Unamuno's San Manuel Bueno, mártir (1931), lies a passage whose significance has been completely overlooked. Here, the narrator, Ángela Carballino, describes her brother's reception of the Holy Communion:

Y llegó el dia de su comunión, ante el pueblo todo, con el pueblo todo. Cuando llegó la vez a mi hermano pude ver que Don Manuel, tan blanco como la nieve de enero en la montaña y temblando como tiembla el lago cuando le hostiga el cierzo, se le acercó con la sagrada forma en la mano, y de tal modo te temblaba ésta al arrimarla a la boca de Lázaro, que se le cayó la forma a tiempo que le daba un vahido, y fue mi hermano mismo quien recogió la hostia y se la llevó a la boca. (Valdés 120)

Until this point Ángela's narrative has concentrated the reader's attention on the actions and thoughts of Don Manuel, but now the focus of the novel broadens to include both Lázaro and Ángela as more active participants. Don Manuel ceases to be the sole source of interest because Lázaro, and to a lesser extent, Ángela, privy now through her brother to the priest's spiritual anguish, adopt the motives and responsibilities once borne by him alone. While the behaviour and beliefs of this trinity appear to be thoroughly Christian to all observers (apparently even to the bishop of Renada), the reader sensitive to indicators Unamuno has placed in the text will see that they form the hierarchy of an alternative religious system. It is one whose goal is not the salvation of the faithful in an eternal afterlife, worked out in a contemplative earthly existence. Its aim is, rather, the happiness of the people of Valverde de Lucerna here on earth, achieved through an active involvement in their lives. Although it is essential to the purpose of Don Manuel, Lázaro and Ángela that the faithful believe them to be orthodox Roman Catholics, the reality is that these three are maintaining a fiction. Through this fiction they provide the people with the "opiate" of a religion which is active rather than contemplative, and which allows them and their flock to bear the pain of life. The creation and maintenance of this fiction is motivated by what Mario Valdés has termed their "santa misión de proteger y nutrir la fe" (75). I intend to show that by means of the experiences and interactions of Don Manuel, Lázaro and Ángela, Unamuno has prepared the reader to accept the priest's declaration of the existence of an alternative Church, that of Valverde de Lucerna.

As Manuel prepares for death he calls Ángela and Lázaro to his side, and in words which recall Christ's injunction to Peter that he should feed the sheep (John 21:17), he encourages them to remain steadfast in the faith, and to care for their people. He thus explicitly and succinctly defines their function as pastors within a new construct:

Oíd: cuidad de estas pobres ovejas, que se consuelen de vivir, que crean lo que yo no he podido creer. Y tú, Lázaro, cuando hayas de morir, muere como yo, como morirá nuestra Ángela, en el seno de la Santa Madre Católica Apostólica Romana, de la Santa Madre Iglesia de Valverde de Lucerna, bien entendido. (137)

For Manuel, Lázaro and Ángela, the theology and liturgy of the Roman Church serve as an appropriate screen, because they are identical in almost all respects to those of the Church of Valverde de Lucerna.

But if this is the only specific mention of the alternative Church, it is not the only indication of its existence. There are, in fact, throughout the novel indicators of ambiguity and alternativity, so that Manuel's statement comes simply as the confirmation of what we should have already discovered. The concept of ambiguity pervades the novel from beginning to end; it is expressed in the description of Manuel as "aquel varón matriarcal" (85), in the existence of another Valverde de Lucerna beneath the waters of the lake, and in Ángela's relationship with the priest. Manuel's confirmation of the alternativity of the Roman Church and the Church of Valverde de Lucerna is the most important example of ambiguity in the novel. The novel itself, in fact can be seen to be alternative construction. Ángela writes in reaction to the bishop's proposed Vita of Manuel, and her entire narrative is launched by the phrase: "Ahora que el obispo.… " In other words, had the bishop not undertaken the cause of Manuel's beatification, Ángela's story, her "confession," might never have been told. Furthermore, her tale ends with a declaration that although the bishop had solicited from her many details of Manuel's exemplarity as a parish priest for his Vita, she has hidden from him the "secreto trágico de Don Manuel y de mi hermano" and she declares her hope that what she now writes will never come into his hands because "les temo a las autoridades de la tierra, a las autoridades temporales aunque scan las de la Iglesia" (48). She is fearful because in writing an alternative Vita to that prepared by the bishop she acts as a sort of "advocatus diaboli" or "promotor fidei"; in casting doubt on Manuel's orthodoxy, she does so on her own as well.

Don Manuel's Christ-like behaviour (semiotically suggested in the name Manuel/Immanuel) is an apparently selfless effort to make his flock secure in their hope of the afterlife, and therefore content as members of the Church militant. But to the orthodox theological concept of the Church militant he adds an intrahistorical interpretation of the Church expectant and triumphant, that is, of the people of Valverde de Lucerna. Together with the living, the dead who inhabit the Valverde de Lucerna submerged in the lake form the "comunión de los santos" (103). Thus Manuel says to Lázaro and Ángela's mother as she lies dying: "usted no se va; usted se queda. Su cuerpo aquí en esta tierra, y su alma aquí también, en esta casa viendo y oyendo a sus hijos, aunque éstos ni le vean ni le oigan" (118).

The fostering of "community" is largely achieved by Don Manuel's personal charisma; it is the focus for the practice of the faith in Valverde in terms of works of mercy as well as the liturgical and extra-liturgical services. One of the latter is the recitation of the Creed by all the townspeople as a separate service. Ángela insists on the unanimous quality of this recitation: "reuniendo en el templo a todo el pueblo, hombres y mujeres, viejos y niños, unas mil personas, recitábamos al unísono, en una sola voz, el Credo" (103). This is the Creed of the Church of Valverde as well, except for the omission of the clause "creo en la resurrección de la carne y la vida perdurable." For this is what Manuel cannot bring himself to believe, despite his desire to do so. Manuel's altruistic work is as much the result of his own anguish, his sense of the futility of life, as it is of his concern for others. His overwhelming desire that his people escape his fate, and that they live this life happily (because to his mind it is the only one which exists) leads him to do things which in another priest of the Roman Church would be considered deficiencies. Thus he does not preach against the humanistic tendencies of the times, he refuses to participate in bringing a criminal to justice lest he be punished for his crime, and he takes an active part in secular pastimes, which as Ángela remarks "en otro hubiera parecido grotesca profanación del sacerdocio, en él tomaba un sagrado carácter y como de rito religioso" (107). In the light of the theology of the Church of Valverde such activities are indeed liturgical in nature because the Church has as its end the salvation and happiness of its people, not in heaven, but here on earth. In Manuel's own words "Lo primero es que el pueblo esté contento, que estén contentos de vivir" (111).

Ángela first becomes aware of the concept of an alternative Church in the course of a conversation with Don Manuel, although she is as yet unaware of her role in it. As he explains to her that he has never felt attracted to the contemplative life of the cloister, where the solitude would be life-threatening for him, he states that his monastery is Valverde de Lucerna; that is, it is a visible community of believers in which he acts as spiritual superior. Ángela immediately accepts this metaphor of Valverde de Lucerna, for in the very next paragraph she states: "volví del colegio de religiosas de Renada a nuestro monasterio de Valverde de Lucerna. Y volví a ponerme a los pies de su abad" (111). In writing her narrative Ángela describes her work during the early years before Lázaro's return as that of a deaconess, and this indeed is what Don Manuel calls her. The traditional duties of a deacon are described in Ángela's own account of her activities: "Yo le ayudaba cuando podía en sus menesteres, visitaba a los enfermos, a las niñas de la escuela, arreglaba el ropero de la iglesia, le hacía, como me llamaba él, de diaconisa" (114). Her ministerial work is not limited to that of a deaconess, but if Ángela never comes to share in the fullness of sacerdotal ministry, she does exercise at least one priestly function, that of confessor.

The theme of confession appears repeatedly in the novel, and is, in fact, the vehicle for the narrative, for in the first paragraph Ángela claims that she writes "a modo de confesión" (85). Her first real knowledge of Don Manuel comes as she confesses to him, and it is here that she first becomes aware of the ambiguity of her position. Rather than confessing to him, she feels that she has heard his confession: "al encontrarme en el confesionario junto al santo varón, senti como una callada confesión suya en el susurro sumiso de su voz" (112). The confession theme is linked to Ángela's ministerial function most clearly after Lázaro's "conversion." As she continues to act as Don Manuel's deaconess, the ambiguity of her role is now resolved into an "alternativity": "en el tribunal de la penitencia—¿quién era el juez y quién el reo?" (125). Now the emotional turmoil with which Ángela at first confessed to Manuel is shared by him: "no sé ya lo que me digo desde que estoy confesándome contigo" (126). And Manuel recognizes in her a priestly authority as he asks absolution in the name of the Church of Valverde de Lucerna, that is, in the name of the people. Ángela "como penetrada de un misterioso sacerdocio" (127) complies, but grants absolution in the name of the Trinity. In her rejection of the Valverdian formula proposed by Manuel, and her use of the Catholic formula, Ángela demonstrates her attachment to the "faith of the charcoal-burners." For while she has come to share in some of Don Manuel's anguish, she is one of those who does believe in an afterlife. Thus hers is an incomplete priesthood.

But Lázaro's case is different. He returned from the New World imbued with anticlerical, and liberal ideas, and efforts are made to show us that he is an unbeliever. Nevertheless he soon recognizes that Manuel is not as he supposed him to be. Although he does not know any other priests, he is certain that Manuel is different. Even he, Lázaro, is attracted by Manuel's charisma, and feels pulled to hear him preach. From the beginning he intuits that Manuel does not believe what he professes: "es demasiado inteligente para creer todo lo que tiene que enseñar" (118), which is nothing less (as the reader has already learned) than "todo lo que cree y enseña a creer la Santa Madre Iglesia Católica, Apostólica, Romana" (114). It is the death of his mother which acts as a catalyst in Lázaro's conversion. As Manuel asks Lázaro to tell his mother that he will pray for her so that she may die contented, Lázaro comes face to face with the practical application of Manuel's theology, and he sees its effectiveness. From this time forward Lázaro becomes a disciple of Manuel. While Ángela's narrative does not explicitly reveal it, we are led to believe that the reason Manuel concentrates so much effort on Lázaro is that he recognizes in him a potential co-religionist, that is, someone who can wholeheartedly share his ideas. There is no one in the village apart from Lázaro who can fulfill this function, because to convert any of the others to his ideal of service would undermine their belief in the eternal life, and thus cause them to share Don Manuel's anguish. In Lázaro's case, however, the situation is clearly different, because he enters the narrative already in a state of agnosticism. It is a relatively simple matter for Manuel to show him the benefits of feigning belief in order to promote unity and tranquility in the community. With the happy death of his mother, Lázaro has proof positive of the efficacy of this system of action. Lázaro's sympathy with Don Manuel's goals leads to his regular attendance at Mass, and to a promise that he will take Communion.

The importance of the Communion episode has been overlooked, perhaps because critics have not read it in the light of Catholic eucharistic practice. If we take into account the prevailing attitudes towards the sacrament at the time the novel was written, it becomes clear that Unamuno intended this passage to affect the reader's interpretation of the work. Lázaro's announcement that he will take Communion, not privately, but publicly, indicates an apparent solidarity with the people, a joining in communion with them: "se dijo que cumpliría con la parroquia, que comulgaría cuando los demás comulgasen" (120). The public or liturgical aspect of this act is emphasized in the narrative: "Y llegó el día de su comunión, ante el pueblo todo, con el pueblo todo" (120). As he prepares to administer the sacrament, Don Manuel is so moved by Lázaro's reception of the Holy Communion that he drops the Host.

Until the Vatican II Council (1962–65), the eucharistic doctrine of the Roman Church was essentially that developed by St. Thomas Aquinas, codified in the decrees of the Lateran IV Council (1215) and reaffirmed in the decrees of the Council of Trent (1545–63). According to this doctrine of transubstantiation, the bread and wine are changed in substance into the Body and Blood of Christ, leaving only the "accidents" or appearances of the original elements. Thus the bread and wine, after consecration, are in a real sense the sacramental Presence of Christ. Emphasis on this physical change (as opposed to the exclusively spiritual change allowed by the Reformers) led to a fastidious observance of propriety with regard to the handling of the consecrated elements. Thus only a priest could normally touch the Host; the laity were most certainly not permitted any contact with the Host except on the tongue. The use of the houselling cloth and the communion plate or paten held beneath the chin of the communicant was designed specifically to prevent such contact. Lázaro's act of retreiving the Host and administering it to himself can only be seen as an act of sacrilege, which would normally cause scandal in a public ceremony. Yet the syntax used in Ángela's reporting of this act is designed to draw the reader's attention to Lázaro's role here: "Y fue mi hermano mismo quien recogió la hostia y se la llevó a la boca" (120).

It follows that if laymen were not permitted to touch the Host, then Lázaro, in touching it, must in some sense have acquired sacerdotal privileges. In administering the sacrament to himself, Lázaro, in effect, demonstrates that ordination in the Church of Valverde de Lucerna is open to anyone who whole-heartedly embraces its beliefs. The reality of his ordination is made clear to the reader in the "confession" he makes to Ángela immediately afterwards. When Ángela commends him for the joy he has brought to the whole "communion of saints" ("a todos, a todo el pueblo, a todo, a los vivos y a los muertos, y sobre todo a mamá" [120]), he reveals that he has done it for this reason, and not because of his belief in the sacrament. His sharing of priest-hood with Manuel is emphasized when Ángela describes him as "mi hermano, tan pálido y tan tembloroso como Don Manuel cuando le dio la comunión" (120). After revealing Don Manuel's theology to Ángela, Lázaro shows his full acceptance of it: "me rendí a sus razones, y he aquí mi conversión" (122), and his entrance into the hierarchy of the Church of Valverde de Lucerna when he says: "y ahora hay otro más para consolar al pueblo … para corroborarle en su fe" (123). From this point on, Lázaro takes a full share in the works of Manuel, even liturgically: "le acompañaba en sus visitas a los enfermos, a las escuelas, y ponía su dinero a disposición del santo varón. Y poco faltó para que no aprendiera a ayudarle a misa" (128).

The aspects of community-building and sharing inherent in the liturgical act of Communion are emphasized not only in Lázaro's reception of the sacrament, but in that of Ángela. Her Communion provides the opportunity for Don Manuel to share with her his most daring and heretical thought: that even Jesus Christ is needful of intercession. Ángela, greatly disturbed by this idea, later asks Manuel to identify the people's "sin" and their resultant need for prayers. Manuel's answer is a first attempt to identify an alternative Church, here called the "Iglesia, Católica, Apostólica, Española" whose theology has been defined by its premier theologian, Pedro Calderón de la Barca:

¿Cuál?—me respondió.—Ya lo dijo un gran doctor de la Iglesia Católica, Apostólica, Española, ya lo dijo el gran doctor de La vida es sueño, y dijo que "el delito mayor del hombre es haber nacido." Ése es, hija, nuestro pecado: el del haber nacido. (136)

The very next passage tells of Manuel's approaching death, and his charge to his fellow ministers that they care for the faithful, consoling them with the theology and sacraments of the Church of Valverde de Lucerna.

The intrahistorical "theology" which underlies the entire novel finds expression in the Church of Valverde de Lucerna. The creation of this alternative Church is a natural result of Unamuno's anguish of doubt and at the same time of his recognition of the potential of the Church to mitigate that anguish. San Manuel Bueno, mártir is the narration of the theology of the Church of Valverde de Lucerna at work in the life of one of its saints.

Source: Gregory Peter Andrachuk, "'He That Eateth of This Bread Shall Live Forever' (John 6:58): Lázaro's Communion," in Romance Notes, Vol. 31, No. 3, Spring 1991, pp. 205–13.

M. Gordon

In the following essay, Gordon argues that "San Manuel Bueno, Mártir" does not represent a new direction in Unamuno's concept of personality.

Unamuno's fictional writings, widely recognised as among the most original and innovative of their time, are, paradoxically, more often approached from a philosophical, rather than a strictly literary point of view. In view of Unamuno's own insistence on the centrality of existential problems, his oftrepeated scorn for all forms of aestheticism and literariness, and his cultivation of a rather stark prose style which can easily—too easily, perhaps—encourage us to believe that his fictions wear their heart upon their sleeves, this is not too surprising. There are, however, dangers in approaching Unamuno's novels in this way, dangers which are graphically illustrated by San Manuel Bueno, mártir. Those who approach this work from a primarily philosophical point of view are apt to assume that its eponymous hero is yet another mouthpiece or fictional alter ego of his creator and to concern themselves with the nature and extent of his belief or unbelief. Since the hero in question is an unbeliever who nonetheless wishes to preserve his flock from the painful implications of the existential uncertainty by which he himself is assailed, such critics are left with the problem of trying to account for what, on the face of it, is a radical volte-face on the part of Unamuno, much of whose life and work was devoted to shaking his readers out of their complacency and forcing them to face the tragic contradictions of the human condition—to confront, in other words, precisely those truths which Don Manuel so assiduously suppresses.

One explanation often adduced to account for this apparent change is the crisis allegedly under-gone by Unamuno in his later years and which is often held to be reflected in works like Cómo se hace una novela and San Manuel Bueno, mártir. A. Sánchez Barbudo is perhaps the best known, as well as the most radical, exponent of this point of view, regarding these works as a kind of repudiation or retraction of all that had gone before—as Unamuno's final disavowal of his earlier agonista self. Sánchez Barbudo's view seems to be shared, at least to some extent, by José Luis Abellán, who speaks of 1925 (the year of Unamuno's Paris exile and the first version of Cómo se hace una novela) as having produced "una auténtica conversión de la personalidad," the result of a profound crisis in which "se plantea la lucha entre dos Unamunos que eran cada día más irreconciliables: el histórico, el de la leyenda, el de la novela, que de sí mismo había hecho, y el real, el íntimo y profundo, que llevaba sus vicisitudes por el mundo." The outcome is a "giro total" in Unamuno's concept of personality: "aunque sigue considerando que la personalidad es una manifestación histórica, y no trata de absolutizarla, ni de suplantar a Dios por el yo. Unamuno ha centrado su preocupación en torno al sentimiento divino y se despreocupa de la historica, del sueño y de la personalidad, en suma."

While Cómo se hace una novela may indeed reflect the agonised search for a self which is "real, íntimo y profundo," it is debatable, to say the least, whether that complex work represents anything like its discovery. Terms like Dios and sentimiento divino are even more questionable. Yet even C. Blanco Aguinaga, in an article which is far more sensitive than most to the literary complexity of San Manuel Bueno, mártir, seems to share the view that this work somehow represents a turning of the page:

La vida de don Manuel, si en efecto fue como Angela cree recordarla, debió ser, indiscutiblemente, una tragedia agónica; pero lo sorprendente para quien conoce otros agonistas creados por Unamuno es que el relato de esa vida—la novela San Manuel Bueno, mártir—no tiene dimensiones trágicas precisamente porque la narradora ha logrado hablar de sí misma, de su personaje central y de su mundo desde "más allá de la fe y la desesperación," desde "fuera de la historia," única fuente y origen constante de la agonía. (p. 586)

Tragedy and agonía, in other words, are not so much repudiated as transcended, a kind of final peace being achieved through an essentially intrahistoric view of life.

Yet this sense of difference—the feeling that San Manuel Bueno, mártir and other later novels represent new directions in Unamuno's attitudes and concerns—does not appear to have been shared by Unamuno himself. In his Prologue to San Manuel Bueno, mártir y tres historias más, he writes: "tengo la conciencia de haber puesto en ella todo mi sentimiento trágico de la vida cotidiana." He also explicitly goes out of his way to repudiate the idea that these stories (or at least three of them, since Una historia de amor—a much earlier work—is treated somewhat as an afterthought) were written in a new and different frame of mind. What unites them is "el pavoroso problema de la personalidad, si uno es lo que es y seguirá siendo lo que es" (p. 19). He then goes on:

Claro está que no obedece a un estado de ánimo especial en que me hallara al escribir, en poco más de dos meses, estas tres novelitas, sino que es un estado de ánimo general en que me encuentro, puedo decir que desde que empecé a escribir. Ese problema, esa congoja, mejor, de la conciencia de la propia personalidad—congoja unas veces trágica y otras cómica—es el que me ha inspirado para casi todos mi personajes de ficción. (p. 19)

The same idea—of a continuity, rather than a discontinuity, of outlook and preoccupation—surfaces again in the Prologue to the second edition of Amor y pedagogía (written in 1934):

En esta novela está en germen—y más que en germen—lo más y mejor de lo que he revelado después en mis otras novelas: Abel Sánchez, La tía Tula, Nada menos que todo un hombre, Niebla, y, por último, San Manuel Bueno, martir y tres historias más. (Magisterio ed. [Madrid, 1970], p. 34)

Unamuno, I suspect, is closer to the truth than the critics aforementioned: San Manuel Bueno, mártir is indeed about the problem of personality—the problem which haunts the greater part of Unamuno's fiction—and its implications, so far from transcending the tragedy of the human condition, point insistently towards it. Unamuno's frequent disavowals of literary artifice—his claim to be writing in a direct, unstructured and even haphazard way ("a lo que salga")—should not be taken at face value, for his wayward approach to literary convention often masks a considerable artistry. San Manuel Bueno, mártir is no mere ideological transparency, but a complex literary artefact, much of whose meaning does not lie readily accessible on the surface, but is locked into the very structure of the novel and, in particular, in the implications of the first-person narrative mode in which it is cast.

In San Manuel Bueno, mártir, form and content are inextricably intertwined. However, if purely philosophical approaches to the novel are poor guides to its meaning, we are nonetheless not likely to get very far by dispensing with philosophy altogether and treating the novel as some kind of self-contained verbal artefact. A recent article by C. A. Longhurst does precisely this. His argument is too complex for summary to do it much justice, but what it boils down to is this: Angela's narrative is largely unreliable, since her own emotions (and in particular her repressed and sublimated love for Don Manuel) colour it at almost every turn; we thus know very little about Don Manuel, only what Angela thinks, or wants us to think, about him; even the evidence of his lack of faith is dubious and stems more from Angela's disturbed consciousness (a mixture, possibly, of subconscious resentment and the desire to project on him her own religious doubts) than from any objectively verifiable source; the novel is thus less about the nature and origins of Don Manuel's supposed unbelief than "an exploration of the nature of perception and belief" (p. 594). As important as Longhurst's analysis of the novel are the critical assumptions about post-Realist fiction which underpin it, and which appear to exclude not only philosophy or ideas as useful instruments for apprehending the meaning of the novel, but the very idea of its having a meaning at all:

An approach to Unamuno's fiction based on a theological, philosophical or biographical search for the meaning or the message is unlikely to get to the hub of Unamuno's art. Most novelists after all do not write novels to voice meanings; they turn to novels in order to construct artefacts out of language. In Western fiction of the post-realist mode, of which Unamuno is a prime example, the clear tendency was to allow the narrative to speak with its own voice. The meaning or the message was banished as something extra-literary; but what remained had its own kind of truth, its poem-like structure, its internal justification for existing. (p. 597)

We are clearly a long way here from traditional approaches to the so-called "Generation of 1898" and to Unamuno's fiction. That is in itself by no means necessarily to be deplored: the concept of a Generation of 1898 is in many ways a rather parochial and limiting one and there is much to be said for attempting to set early twentieth-century Spanish fiction in a wider European context. Yet the model of Modernism implied in the above quotation seems to me to be a debilitatingly narrow one. True, post-Realist fiction shows a marked tendency towards aesthetic self-consciousness and formal experimentation and a distinct preoccupation with its own problematical status. However, though questions of form—and the adventurous exploration of its possibilities—lie somewhere close to the centre of much of the fiction which Unamuno produced after 1897, he was no believer in the autonomy of art. Moreover, it is important to remember that if writers around the turn of the century had lost faith in Realism, it was in large measure because they no longer believed in the stable, objective reality with which Realism purported to deal. Increasingly, therefore, objective reality is supplanted by subjective realities and by a concern with individual consciousness, whether as the mode of apprehending these realities or as itself the ultimate, if somewhat problematical, reality. It is this latter aspect of Modernism which is more directly relevant to San Manuel Bueno, mártir.

Angela's memoir, apparently so simple, is in fact a deeply ambiguous document, the style of whose narrative is apt to undercut its surface meaning. Even the reasons why she is writing it at all are far from clear, least of all, one suspects, to Angela herself. On the one hand, it is written ("a modo de confesión," she says in the opening paragraph) as a counter to the version of Don Manuel's life being prepared by the local bishop (with beatification in view). On the other hand, we are told at the end of the story of her efforts to conceal Don Manuel's secret from this self-same bishop and her anxiety lest her memoir get into the wrong hands. Similarly, there is an obvious tension between her desire to tell all and her anxiety to shore up the legend of Don Manuel. Angela visibly recoils from the truth which she has to tell, seeking to convince herself that Don Manuel, if only in extremis, believed somehow in spite of himself (a belief, incidentally, which his dying words do little to support). Angela's glowing testament to the public Don Manuel and her awareness of the truth behind the façade thus sit rather uneasily together.

Much of this ambiguity undoubtedly stems from the nature of Angela's relationship with the priest. The precise nature of this relationship is, admittedly, not easy to pinpoint, for Angela, with the possible exception of the closing pages of the novel, is remarkably reticent about her own motives and feelings. We are thus obliged to read between the lines and, to that extent, her account may be said to be less than wholly reliable. However, enough is said, or implied, to make it clear that Don Manuel occupies a very important place in her life and that her relationship with him is inextricably bound up with her emotional and spiritual life. Angela is drawn, almost obsessively, to Don Manuel even when she is at school and the early part of her memoir is strongly coloured by starry-eyed adolescent hero-worship. She returns to Valverde "ansiosa de conocerle, de ponerme bajo su protección, de que él me marcara el sendero de mi vida" (p. 27). Their first direct encounter after her return is, on her part at least, a highly charged occasion:

Cuando me fui a confesar con él, mi turbación era tanta, que no acertaba a articular palabra. Recé el "yo pecador" balbuciendo, casi sollozando. (p. 35)

A similar emotional intensity is discernible in many of their subsequent encounters.

Longhurst is probably quite right in detecting in all of this symptoms of a form of repressed or sublimated love. Indeed, the following description of a period of her schooldays—which Longhurst interprets, correctly I think, as a form of psychological displacement—suggests as much:

Desde muy niña alimenté, no sé bien cómo, curiosidades, preocupaciones e inquietudes, debidas, en parte al menos, a aquel revoltijo de libros de mi padre, y todo ello se me medró en el colegio, en el trato, sobre todo, con una compañera que se me aficionó desmedidamente y que unas veces me proponía que entrásemos juntas en un mismo convento, jurándonos, y hasta firmando el juramento con sangre, hermandad perpetua, y otras veces me hablaba, con los ojos semicerrados, de novios y de aventuras matrimoniales. (pp. 26–27)

She then goes on to describe how her schoolfriend is fascinated by the figure of Don Manuel. What is interesting in this passage is how, in a particularly adolescent form, romantic and religious feelings are intertwined, suggesting that Angela's "curiosidades, preocupaciones e inquietudes" are not merely emotional, but intellectual and religious too. And in fact, while Angela may assert the orthodoxy of her belief in the face of Don Manuel's and Lázaro's lack of it, evidence of a nagging religious doubt surfaces time and time again in her narrative. All of which suggests not merely that she is unconsciously in love with Don Manuel, but that she needs him as some sort of bulwark for her own, evidently rather shaky, belief. It is this aspect of her character that accounts for the mixture of fascination and recoil with which she responds to the evidence of Don Manuel's lack of faith.

Angela's doubts make themselves felt in a more obvious and anguished form at the end of her narrative. Whether all this, however, makes that narrative itself unreliable, leastways in the conventional sense, seems to me to be somewhat debatable. There is little to suggest that the essential facts of the case (Don Manuel's public self and his inner doubts) are untrue. Longhurst's contention that they are seems to me to rest on a misunderstanding both of the principles of unreliable narration and of Angela as a character. It does not follow that because we rely on Angela for most of our information about Don Manuel, the information in question is ipso facto suspect: narrative techniques based on unreliable first-person narrators evolved out of a rather older convention—that of their reliable counterparts—and our natural instinct is to trust a first-person narrator unless we are given rather solid indications that we should not—more solid, I would venture to suggest, than Longhurst's rather adventurous interpretations of Angela's psychology. The significance of Angela's narrative, and its peculiarly complex and paradoxical quality, derives largely from the tension alluded to earlier: between the novel as testament (i.e. a work written in praise and endorsement of Don Manuel's intrahistoric "faith"), and the novel as confession (the revelation of Don Manuel's secret and its unsettling reverberations in Angela's own mind).

Angela's narrative is characterised by a carefully constructed inward progression. In the early stages of her story (the account of her childhood and schooldays), we are left in no doubt about Don Manuel's importance in her life, but as yet the view we get of him, though clearly tinged with hero-worship, is fairly remote. In the second phase of the story—between Angela's return from school and her first confession with Don Manuel—we begin to learn more, but even now the view we are offered is still an essentially external one. What this section does, and with remarkable economy, is to establish in our minds the image of the public Don Manuel. The section consists largely of habitual actions and representative anecdotes, with no definite chronology and a distinct emphasis on the imperfect tense, which not only serves to underline the generic quality of the actions and events described, but also, as Aguinaga has pointed out, to reinforce the impression of continuity which is so marked a feature of the portrayal of Valverde de Lucerna. Thus far there is little hint of the secret which is to come. Of course, the silence of Don Manuel at the crucial moment in the recitation of the creed and the identification of him with the crucified Christ crying out in anguish at being abandoned by His Father contain powerful hints to the reader who is at all familiar with Unamuno, but Angela herself appears to narrate them innocently, betraying no awareness of their significance.

With the episode of the puppeteer and his dying wife, all this begins to change. Hindsight, and with it the first overt hint of a mystery behind the public face of Don Manuel, makes its first significant appearance in Angela's narrative:

Y más tarde, recordando aquel solemne rato, he comprendido que la alegría imperturbable de don Manuel era la forma temporal y terrena de una infinita y eterna tristeza que con heroica santidad recataba a los ojos y a los oídos de los demás. (p. 34)

This is immediately reinforced by the reference to Don Manuel's fear of solitude and his mysterious walks by the side of the lake, as well as by his own remarks about being unable to bear alone the burden of "la cruz del nacimiento" (p. 34). As the focus of the narrative shifts to the increasingly highly charged encounters between Angela and the priest, to her challenges to him on matters of doctrine and his corresponding discomfort and evasiveness, her—and our—sense that Don Manuel is concealing some kind of inner doubt and suffering grows apace. The still withheld revelation is now clearly casting its shadow before, and Blasillo's aping of Christ's cry on the cross is charged with ominous, if still unspecific, meaning.

Yet the use of hindsight in producing our sense of Don Manuel's hidden inner self remains rather sparing. In other words, Angela's knowledge of the future is seldom projected backwards into her text. Rather, we are encouraged to see Don Manuel through her eyes, to experience directly her changing awareness of him. Hence that inward progression alluded to earlier: from an initially remote and external view of Don Manuel, we are drawn ineluctably towards his inner core. The power with which that inner core seizes our imagination and comes to dominate the narrative derives in part from its inherent mysteriousness and in part from the fact that these encounters between Angela and her confessor have an immediacy and intensity which the earlier portrait of the public Don Manuel largely lacked.

All of which gives rise to some rather interesting paradoxes. To begin with, in a work which purports to be an endorsement of Don Manuel's "faith" and of the charms of the intrahistoric way of life of Valverde de Lucerna, our sense of Don Manuel's inner agonía looms inconveniently large. And yet at the same time, and despite the fact that that agonía comes to dominate the narrative, its precise nature and origins remain disconcertingly elusive. We are of course given some insight into it through Don Manuel's conversations with Lázaro in the third phase of the narrative, but those are still mere gobbets. Our glimpses of the inner Don Manuel are precisely that—mere glimpses, given a further imprecision by being seen at two removes (i.e. Lázaro's recollections as filtered through Angela's). Again, the reader familiar with Unamuno may feel that he can deduce something of the reasons for Don Manuel's lack of belief, but Angela does not (and, perhaps more importantly, cannot) supply them. The "real" Don Manuel remains beyond our grasp. Thus Angela's narrative leads us inescapably towards Don Manuel's inner self, while at the same time condemning that inner self to recede into unknowability.

In doing so, it illustrates with particular sharpness that problem alluded to by Unamuno himself in his Prologue—"el pavoroso problema de la personalidad, si uno es lo que es y sigue siendo lo que es." Implicit in Angela's narrative is that double question: who and what is Don Manuel and what is he destined to become? The answer to these questions is not a matter of whether or not Angela is lying about him—consciously or otherwise—but whether he, she, and we can find in Don Manuel a solid self to which to cling. The ultimate inscrutability—and, one might add, irrevocable loss—of Don Manuel's yo íntimo is an index of its insubstantiality. What we are left with is the self as external projection, the self condemned to time and history. In other words the public Don Manuel, the Don Manuel who is projected upon the world through his acts, whose legend survives to become incorporated into the intrahistoric continuity of Valverde and who, like Lázaro (or so Angela would have us believe), becomes "otra laña más entre las dos Valverdes, la del fondo del lago y la que en su sobrehaz se mira" (p. 56).

To Unamuno's double question, therefore, Angela's narrative appears to return a double answer: that man is inescapably his public (or historic) self, and that he can find ultimate meaning and survival (of a sort) in the collective continuity of intrahistoria. This is precisely the kind of survival to which Don Manuel himself clings, for his activities are not merely directed towards sustaining the intrahistoric life of Valverde, but to losing himself within it, to finding refuge in it for his own ravaged soul. As Unamuno puts it in the Prologue, Don Manuel "busca, al ir a morirse, fundir—o sea salvar—su personalidad en la de su pueblo" (p. 19).

And yet Angela's answers—or at least such answers as one might cull from the surface of her narrative—are fatally undercut by that narrative's underlying implications. For if the record of Don Manuel's life—his "obras" and the public self embodied in them—ultimately squeezes out the yo íntimo, the latter nonetheless remains a powerful and haunting presence which, from the margins of the novel, calls the usurper false, for the Don Manuel whom the other inhabitants of Valverde see and whose legend lives on in their collective memory (and is shortly to be pressed between the covers of the bishop's book), is not the "real" Don Manuel. And when Lázaro comments on his deathbed that "conmigo se muere otro pedazo del alma de don Manuel" (p. 56), we are reminded that even legends wither and die. In short, Angela's narrative, by virtue of the subjective (and therefore limited) vision to which it is inescapably tied and the confusions and uncertainties in her own mind which inform it, is successful neither as hagiographical testament nor intimate record, for the "real" Don Manuel is destined forever to elude us. Thus we have a novel which is not simply about belief and unbelief, death and immortality, but about the tragic paradox of human personality, torn between a public self which is the prisoner of history and external image, and an intimate self which is condemned to insubstantiality. So, far from transcending the tragedy of the human condition, therefore, Unamuno's novel would seem to enshrine it.

One reason why that tragedy is less conspicuous than it otherwise might be is the gentle mist of intrahistoria which shrouds the portrait of Valverde and Don Manuel, and in which Angela seeks to envelop herself at the end. Valverde, with its lake and mountain, is presented by Angela as the living embodiment of that intrahistoric continuity to the contented continuation of which Don Manuel, and subsequently Lázaro and Angela, bend their endeavours. As portrayed by Angela, the village, and its attendant symbols of mountain and lake, is suffused with a sort of poetic glow. The mountain symbolises the life and faith of the living Valverde; the lake, and the mythical village beneath its waters, the accumulated sediment of its "tradición eterna"—"el cementerio de las almas de nuestros abuelos," to use Angela's description (p. 41). Both symbols are identified insistently with Don Manuel and appear more often than not together—"el lago y la montaña que se mira en él"—thus continually reminding us that past, present and future are all aspects of the intrahistoric continuity that Valverde represents and in which Don Manuel seeks to submerge himself as a refuge from his inner agonía.

The note of celebration of this intrahistoric continuity—and with it of ringing endorsement of the gospel according to San Manuel—comes through clearly at the end of Angela's narrative:

¡Hay que vivir! Y él me enseñó a vivir, él nos enseñó a vivir, a sentir la vida, a sentir el sentido de la vida, a sumergirnos en el alma de la montaña, en el alma del lago, en el alma del pueblo de la aldea, a perdernos en ellas para quedar en ellas. El me enseñó con su vida a perderme en la vida del pueblo de mi aldea, y no sentía yo más pasar las horas y los días y los años, que no sentía pasar el agua del lago. Me parecía como si mi vida hubiese de ser siempre igual. No me sentía envejecer. No vivía yo ya en mí, sino que vivía en mi pueblo y mi pueblo vivía en mí. Yo quería decir lo que ellos, los míos, decían sin querer. (p. 57)

Yet one of the more intriguing features of the novel is the way in which these symbols, so generously used by Angela, are invested with implications of which she seems largely unaware and which, while not basically altering their meaning, serve to undercut the poetic glow with which she surrounds them. A less comforting use of these symbols can be seen in the following comment of Don Manuel, as reported by Lázaro: "¿Has visto, Lázaro, misterio mayor que el de la nieve cayendo en el lago y muriendo en él mientras cubre con su toca a la montaña?" (p. 47). The snowflakes are individuals: clustered together on the mountaintop (an image of the communal life and faith of Valverde), they acquire a kind of substantiality, albeit a collective rather than an individual one. Yet in the lake, for all that it symbolises continuity, they are doomed to perish. The symbol of the lake is two-edged, a symbol of intrahistoria, certainly, but also of its inescapable corollary, individual death. We can see, then, a deeper meaning in the reiterated association of Don Manuel's secret with the image of the lake and the narrator's comment that, when Don Manuel falls silent at the crucial part of the creed, "la voz de don Manuel se zambullía como en un lago" (p. 30), and she herself hears the bells of the submerged village ringing out.

As in the passage quoted above, therefore, there is in Angela's apparently resounding endorsement of Don Manuel's "gospel"—the claim that he taught them to "sumergirnos en el alma de la montaña, en el alma del lago"—an implication of which she herself is unaware. Moreover, there is more than a suggestion here of the lady protesting too much: seen in context, its air of confident certainty takes on the appearance of an attempt to still the anguished questions which immediately precede it:

Y ahora, al haber perdido a mi San Manuel, al padre de mi alma, y a mi Lázaro, mi hermano aún más que carnal, espiritual, ahora es cuando me doy cuenta de que he envejecido y de cómo he envejecido. Pero ¿es que los he perdido? ¿es que he envejecido? ¿es que me acerco a mi muerte? (pp. 56–57)

We return to the "ahora" where the narrative began, but it is a rather different Angela whom we now see. The story which commenced with a confident assertion of her identity, ends on a note of puzzlement and insecurity. Those doubts of hers, which have been so central to the construction of her strange narrative, now overtake it and her completely, for Angela, despite her best efforts to convince herself otherwise, cannot really live the intrahistoric gospel according to San Manuel. The still, small voice of consciousness will not be silenced. Almost inadvertently, she lets slip the difference between her and the intrahistoric souls who inhabit Valverde and whom she has sought to resemble: "Yo quería decir," she says, "lo que ellos, los míos, decían sin querer," and between her "quería decir" and their "decían sin querer" yawns the gulf between genuine inconsciencia and one which, being willed, is inevitably incomplete.

The last pages of Angela's narrative show us the last flickerings of a consciousness which senses its own imminent dissolution. Alone before the page on which she writes, Angela feels everything receding into insubstantiality, or, as she puts it, echoing Don Manuel's image earlier on, disappearing beneath the snow:

Y al escribir esto ahora, aquí, en mi vieja casa materna, a mis más que cincuenta años, cuando empiezan a blanquear con mi cabeza mis recuerdos, está nevando, nevando sobre el lago, nevando sobre la montaña, nevando sobre las memorias de mi padre, el forastero; de mi madre, de mi hermano Lázaro, de mi pueblo, de mi San Manuel, y también sobre la memoria del pobre Blasillo, de mi Blasillo, y que él me ampare desde el cielo. Y esta nieve borra esquinas y borra sombras, pues hasta de noche la nieve alumbra. Y yo no sé lo que es verdad y lo que es mentira, ni lo que vi y lo que sólo soñé—o mejor lo que soñé y lo que sólo vi—, ni lo que supe ni lo que creí. (p. 58)

Even the paper on which she writes, and the story which she has written, take on the quality of snow:

Ni sé si estoy traspasando a este papel, tan blanco como la nieve, mi conciencia, que en él se ha de quedar, quedándome yo sin ella. ¿Para qué tenerla ya …? (p. 58)

Angela, in short, is filled with doubts as to the reality of her own story:

¿Es que sé algo? ¿Es que creo algo? ¿Es que esto que estoy aquí contando ha pasado y ha pasado tal y como lo cuento? ¿Es que pueden pasar estas cosas? ¿Es que todo esto es más que un sueño soñado dentro de otro sueño? ¿Seré yo, Angela Carballino, hoy cincuentona, la única persona que en esta aldea se ve acometida de estos pensamientos extraños para los demás? ¿Y éstos, los otros, los que me rodean, creen? ¿Qué es eso de creer? Por lo menos, viven. Y ahora creen en San Manuel Bueno, mártir, que sin esperar la inmortalidad los mantuvo en la esperanza de ella. (p. 58)

She still asserts the value of Don Manuel's life-sustaining gospel, but the assertion is more than ever half-hearted, its applicability now limited to "ellos" rather than herself.

This evolution in Angela from the confident assertion of her personality at the start of the novel to the anguished sense of its dissolution at the end, should give pause to those who believe that in San Manuel Bueno, mártir Unamuno has somehow risen above the dualities and contradictions of the human condition through the reconciling vision of intrahistoria. It is no coincidence, moreover, that Angela's doubts about what she has written should bulk so large in her final agony, for Don Manuel has not merely challenged her beliefs in a conventional sense (i.e. by his own belief), but the ultimate mystery and elusiveness of Don Manuel—the gaping absence at the heart of her tale—challenge them in a more radical way. "Un sueño soñado dentro de otro sueño" is not merely as good a description as any of the tale she has told, it is also a no less accurate description of the precariousness of human personality which that story reflects.

Angela's situation at the end of her narrative, poised between agonised consciousness and the dissolution of that same consciousness in the mists of intrahistoria, was, it could be argued, Unamuno's own for much of his life. In that sense, San Manuel Bueno, mártir represents no radical new departure, no new conversion or consoling balm conjured from the intrahistoric mist. To understand why it does not, one must be attuned not merely to the intrahistoric vision which sits readily accessible on the surface of the book, but to the tragic implications which are locked into the novel's very structure and the consciousness of its narrator. San Manuel Bueno, mártir is no mere ideological skeleton. Nor is that most fashionable of objects—the novel—studiously engaged in the contemplation of its own navel. Hispanism's conventional distinctions between modernismo and the so-called "Generation of 1898" may well be somewhat suspect, and there may well be a case for giving Unamuno the place in Modernist fiction that he deserves. We shall, however, have to ensure that our model of Modernism is adequate to accommodate him. Simplifications about a largely mythical novelistic autonomy (however brightly that ideal may have shone in the minds of certain writers of the period), about mediums rather than messages, will not do. As San Manuel Bueno, mártir shows, the message is not something extraneous to the medium: the medium and the message are one.

Source: M. Gordon, "The Elusive Self: Narrative Method and Its Implications in 'San Manuel Bueno, Mártir,'" in Hispanic Review, Vol. 54, No. 2, Spring 1986, pp. 147–61.

Further Reading

Basdekis, Demetrios, Unamuno and Spanish Literature, University of California Press, 1967.

Basdekis provides critical discussion of the ways in which Unamuno's stories, poems, and essays have influenced, and been influenced by, Spanish literature.

Enders, Victoria Loree, and Pamela Beth Radcliff, eds., Constructing Spanish Womanhood: Female Identity in Modern Spain, State University of New York Press, 1999.

Enders and Radcliff offer a collection of essays by various authors on the social conditions of women in Spain during the nineteenth and twentieth centuries. These essays are organized into broad thematic categories, such as socio-cultural roles, work, and political conditions.

Esdaile, Charles J., Spain in the Liberal Age: From Constitution to Civil War, 1808–1939, Blackwell Publishers, 2000.

Esdaile provides a history of Spain from the Spanish War of Independence in 1808 to the end of the Spanish Civil War in 1939.

Shaw, Donald L., The Generation of 1898 in Spain, Barnes & Noble, 1975.

Shaw provides an overview of the major works of literature by writers of Spain's Generation of '98 and discusses the influence of this group of writers on Spanish literature and culture.

Smith, Bradley, Spain: A History in Art, Doubleday, 1971.

Smith provides a history of Spain from its early civilization through the twentieth century, focusing on pictorial documentation through painting, sculpture, and photography.

Valdes, Mario J., Death in the Literature of Unamuno, University of Illinois Press, 1964.

Valdes examines the recurring theme of death in the poems, stories, and essays of Unamuno, focusing on Unamuno's existential questioning of religious faith regarding the afterlife.

Vincent, Mary, Catholicism in the Second Spanish Republic: Religion and Politics in Salamanca, 1930–1936, Oxford University Press, 1996.

Vincent examines the intersection of Roman Catholicism and the political climate of Spain's Second Republic, focusing on the cultural and political context of the university town of Salamanca, where Unamuno lived and worked for much of his life.

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Saint Emmanuel the Good, Martyr

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Saint Emmanuel the Good, Martyr