The sense of reality

Get up close to the influential feminine universe that enveloped the life and work of Miguel de Unamuno

Group portrait with Salomé Jugo and Félix de Unamuno, among others (c.1870)Unamuno House-Museum, Salamanca University

The premature death of his father, when he was just a young boy, meant that Miguel de Unamuno grew up surrounded by women. From that moment on, the feminine influence was key to the writer's life, enriching his mind, and strongly inspiring his work.

One of the most important of these women was Concha Lizárraga, his wife. She was a vital and constant support to the writer, and he greatly valued her opinion.With the advent of the Republic, the writer would become an important defender of women's rights, and would doggedly champion votes for women. Intellectuals, housewives, artists, mothers, workers, actresses, anonymous or famous women … The time has come to meet them.

Portrait of Salomé Jugo (c.1900)Unamuno House-Museum, Salamanca University

The maternal figure

Salomé de Jugo gave birth to Unamuno at 24 years old. She was widowed at the age of 30, with six children to look after. One of her daughters later died. These sad events underlined her serious nature. In spite of everything, she was a caring mother, who profoundly affected the writer's personality.

"My mother was a women as severe in body as in spirit, tall, dry, tender within a hard exterior …"

Portrait of Concha in adulthoodUnamuno House-Museum, Salamanca University

In heaven and on Earth

Concha Lizárraga was born in Guernica in 1864. She met Unamuno as a young girl, and they were married in 1891. From that point on she was a constant source of life and comfort to the writer. Her death in 1934 was a loss from which he would never recover.

"If there is one thing that has served as a counterweight to my hypochondriac tendencies and the sadness in my soul, it is my wife. She has provided me with joy, life, and health. She is the same age as me, 36, and seems both in body and soul a young girl, but she is always happy, always confident, always calm. Perhaps she is my sense of reality."

Felisa, Salomé and María in Versailles (March 1925)Unamuno House-Museum, Salamanca University

Daughters of the soul

Unamuno had three daughters. His eldest, and favorite, daughter, Salomé, died aged 36 following a long period of illness. María worked as a professor of Spanish Literature in the United States, and Felisa was the first Managing Director of the Unamuno House-Museum (Casa-Museo Unamuno).

"As I aged, you, my daughters, were my main concern. I meditated on your future. And when I saw you happy, with the joy of your mother, I asked myself if it was true, or if deep down you stored some of my legacy. In your games, in your vacations, I took comfort in your carefree attitude to the future."

Women´s drawing by Miguel de UnamunoUnamuno House-Museum, Salamanca University

Feminine plural

Unamuno had such a fondness for drawing, which was clear in the many sketches the author made from the reality surrounding him. These include various sketches depicting female figures, of different ages and social classes, reflecting the society of the period.

Portrait of María de Maeztu (December 31, 1908)Unamuno House-Museum, Salamanca University

Who's that girl?

One of Unamuno's students at the University of Salamanca, the teacher María de Maeztu, broke down barriers. Being a woman, she had to put up with insults from her classmates, and disapproval from some professors. The writer defended her attendance in class, and invited her into his family home.

In 1921, the first edition of Aunt Tula (La Tía Tula) was published. The protagonist of this novel is a woman determined in the establishment of her lifestyle despite the conflict it entails. In the prolog, Unamuno speaks of sorority, an essential term when talking about solidarity between women.

Cover page of the 1st edition of Aunt Tulla, Miguel de Unamuno, 1921, From the collection of: Unamuno House-Museum, Salamanca University
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"In the same way that we have the words paternal and paternity, deriving from pater (father), and maternal and maternity from mater (mother), it is strange that we have fraternal and fraternity, from frater (brother), yet we do not use sororal and sorority, from soror (sister)."

Portrait of Celeste Seydel with her daughterUnamuno House-Museum, Salamanca University

Women without borders

Celeste Seydel was a German schoolteacher, and the wife of Unamuno's childhood friend, Pedro de Múgica. Settled in Germany, Celeste was the director of the Spanish Primary School in Berlin, where she delivered classes alongside her husband. The portrait shows Celeste with their only daughter, Ina.

On January 7, 1921, the Hungarian actress Raymonde de Back performed Miguel de Unamuno's work The Bandage (La Venda), in the Bretón theater in Salamanca. Her admiration for the writer clearly shows in this photograph, which she dedicated to him in 1910.

Portrait of Raymonde de Back, c.1910, From the collection of: Unamuno House-Museum, Salamanca University
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Female figures adorn the covers of Mist (Niebla) and Aunt Tula (La Tía Tula) in their Swedish translations. They are depictions of women wearing a comb and mantilla, whose features mirror those of a traditional Spanish woman of the period.

Cover page of Aunt Tulla, swedish edition, Miguel de Unamuno, 1927, From the collection of: Unamuno House-Museum, Salamanca University
Cover page of Mist, swedish edition, Miguel de Unamuno, 1928, From the collection of: Unamuno House-Museum, Salamanca University
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Merida, Roman Theater (2008-05-01) by JMNGetty Images

A myth on stage

On June 18, 1933, Margarita Xirgu presented Seneca's Medea in the Roman Theater of Mérida. Unamuno translated the work with Xirgu in mind as the protagonist. The show was a success. Xirgu had starred in other plays by Unamuno, and was a close friend of the author.

Top Euro Spain Types Women And ChildrenLIFE Photo Collection

Championing votes for women

The arrival of the French Second Republic sparked the debate surrounding votes for women. Unamuno defended this right, to grant women full capacity to have their own identity. Women were eventually allowed the vote in the polls of November 1933.

Letter from Enriqueta Carbonell to Miguel de Unamuno (October 1936) by Enriqueta CarbonellUnamuno House-Museum, Salamanca University

From anguish to challenge

Once war broke out, Unamuno received a letter from Enriqueta Carbonell begging him to intercede on behalf of her husband, Pastor Atilano Coco, who had been captured by the national troops. This letter was his stimulus to confront the barbarity, and to proclaim "to win is not to win over" on October 12, 1936

Drawing of an actress by Miguel de UnamunoUnamuno House-Museum, Salamanca University

Quite a woman

Unamuno offered his opinions on the situation of women and the roles for which they were destined. Over numerous articles, he defended their status as people with minds of their own. His work dealt with a number of gender conflicts which were rarely considered by society at the time.

"And the woman is always doing, always doing something, without ever finishing, indefinable, indescribable. Which is just like life."

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