Although Azaña the President and statesman has overshadowed Azaña the essayist and novelist, this tragic figure of Spanish liberalism never retreated from the belief that rational public action, like art, must arise from an all-embracing aesthetics which he referred to as a collective “style.” But if his driving intellectual passion was to be the architect of this new order characterized by rhetorical excellence and rational cordiality, his introspective aloofness as a writer often placed him at a remove from his own grand design. Toward the end of his life in his Memorias (Memoirs) he drifted finally into personal detachment in ironic and self-conscious musings over his failures.
In several essays Azaña professed a special fondness for the writings of 19th-century novelist and essayist Juan Valera. Critics J.Ferrer Solà and Francisco Daudet, among others, claim to detect in his own prose a certain imitative resemblance to his predecessor in the archaic overtones, impeccable lexical purity, and classical tenor of his phrasing.
Yet unlike Valera, Azaña resisted the lure of belletrism for its own sake; for him art and ideology remained inseparable, although one must add that they did so as an unresolved personal conflict. For if Azaña leaned intellectually toward ideology, his art and oratory remained grounded in vibrant aesthetic instincts. Thus in El jardín de los frailes (1927; The friars’ garden), a partially autobiographical novel of his student days in the Escorial, the young protagonist finds consolation for his prison-like confinement in the pleasurable, almost erotic contemplation of pure beauty, a beauty suggested by the interplay of real and imaginary light reflecting a baroque and sometimes grotesque material world. His vision is at once sensuous and sensitive yet defined at more or less regular intervals by introspective rational markers tinged with occasional self-doubt and, for his opponents, frequent sarcasm. As a result of these binary swings between lyric exuberance and critical scrutiny his style exhibits a syncopated cadence that suggests both a predisposition to psychological testimonialism and an affinity for baroque syntax, qualities that seemed to serve him better as an orator than as a novelist or essayist.
The essays of Azaña veer closer in style to his oratory than to his novels. In the latter his penchant for detachment and distance seemed to prevail over the fundamental realism which, generally speaking, was predominant in the other genres he cultivated. It is particularly significant in this regard that for Azaña the creation of a style involved not only the search for a relevant ideological and literary posture before the world but also the means of escaping from it. At his dialectical best in the essay, Azaña achieves a superior level of persuasive communicativeness by the precise logical structure of his prose and by the rigorously clear exposition of arguments informed by a unique view of Spain.
Azaña has been described as “a man without a generation,” but even though he publicized his disagreements with the Generation of 1898, he shared with his older compatriots much of their “landscape lyricism” and the literary temperament that informs their work. Furthermore, within his own generation he exhibited with José Ortega y Gasset, Eugenio d’Ors, Ramón Pérez de Ayala, and Juan Ramón Jiménez a Modernist penchant for metaphorical precision and conceptual elegance.
In the Memorias and other essays an ironic note serves Azaña as a means of distancing himself from the technical incompetence, backwardness, and bad faith of certain contemporaries. As a general rule, his procedure consists of creating a spiral of contrasting images before suddenly demolishing them with a verbal contre-coup that reveals in unmistakable clarity not only the person’s shortcomings but the author’s contempt for mediocrity. Irony in the essays often introduces moments of sarcastic humor which serve to counterbalance the somber intervals of private reflections. Thus he delights in ridiculing the pompous speeches of other political figures, in caricaturing professional groups such as medical doctors, and, occasionally, in poking fun at himself.
In a general way, these moments of irony and humor serve to alleviate a style that tends toward the transcendent. Functionally, therefore, they act as humanizing components by making the text more accessible and, ultimately, more understandable.
Nevertheless, the same acerbity of this irony and humor may also point to personal flaws.
At times the hauteur that slips into his language seems to betray an impatient, supercilious intellectual who, though sincere and intimate with an anonymous public, scorned his less gifted peers.
Both the style and the person of Manuel Azaña raise contradictory questions.
Undeniably of classical, even elitist propensities in his native literary preferences, he nevertheless sought to create a democratic ideological style for the Spanish masses. He inclined naturally to art for art’s sake yet stubbornly insisted publicly that art must be subservient to ideology. And although as President of the Republic he kept watch over Spanish liberalism during its most tragic period, he also jealously guarded and cultivated an inner personal domain remote from politics and devastation, though replete with sympathies for the human condition at the nadir. It was a personal region of ideal hues and sensuous resonance articulated by the aesthetic sentiments of a literary purist. Most likely there, beyond his ideological obsessions, is where one must seek his most enduring legacy.
Manuel Azaña y Díaz. Born 10 January 1880 in Alcalá de Henares. Studied at the Real Colegio de Estudios Superiores, San Lorenzo de El Escorial, 1893–97; University of Saragossa, law degree, 1898; University of Madrid, Ph.D., 1900; also studied in Paris.
Secretary, 1913, and president, 1930, Ateneo cultural center, Madrid. Founder, with José Ortega y Gasset, League of Political Education, 1913. Joined the Reformist Party, 1913.
Cofounder, La Pluma (The pen), 1920–23, and España, 1923–24. Founder, Political Action republican group, 1925. Married Dolores Rivas Cherif, 1929. Minister of war, 1931, Prime Minister, 1931–33, and President of the Republic, 1936–39; then exiled to France.
Awards: National Literature Prize, 1926.
Died in Montauban, France, 3 November 1940.
Essays and Related Prose
Don Juan Valera, 1926
Valera en Rusia, 1926
La novela de Pepita Jiménez, 1927
Valera en Italia, 1929
Plumas y palabras, 1930
Una política (1930–1932) (speeches), 1932
En el poder y en la Oposición (1932–1934) (speeches), 2 vols., 1934
La inυencion del Quijote y otros ensayos, 1934
Discursos en campo abierto (speeches), 1936
Memorias intimas, 1938
La velada en Benicarló (dialogue), 1939; edited by Manuel Aragón, 1974; as Vigil in Benicarló, translated by Josephine and Paul Stewart, 1982
Ensayos sobre Valera, 1971
Memorias políticas y de guerras, 4 vols., 1976–81
Antología 1: Ensayos, edited by Federico Jiménez Losantos, 1982
Antología 1: Discursos, edited by Federico Jiménez Losantos, 1983
Apuntas de memoria (inédito), edited by Enrique de Rivas, 1990
Discursos parlamentaros, edited by Javier Paniagua Fuentes, 1992
Other writings: the autobiographical novel El jardín de los frailes (1927), two plays, diaries, and correspondence.
Collected works edition: Obras completas, edited by Juan Marichal, 4 vols., 1966–68.
Rivas, Enrique de, Comentarios y notas a “Apuntes de memoria” de Manuel Azaña y a las cartas de 1938, 1939, 1940, Valencia: PreTextos, 1990:187–244
Alpert, Michael, La reforma militar de Azaña (1931–1933), Madrid: Siglo XXI, 1982
Aragón, Manuel, “Manuel Azaña: Un intento de modernización política,” Sistema 2 (May 1973): 101–04
Arias, Luis, Azaña o el sueño de la razón, Madrid: Nerea, 1990
Espín, Eduardo, Azaña en el poder: El partido de Acción Republicana, Madrid: Centro de Investigaciones Sociológicas, 1980
Ferrer Solà, Jesus, Manuel Azaña: Una pasión intelectual, Barcelona: Anthropos, 1991
Giménez Caballero, Ernesto, Manuel Azaña (Profecías Españolas), Madrid: Turner, 1974 (original edition, 1932)
Jackson, Gabriel, Costa, Azaña, el Frente Popular y otros ensayos, Madrid: Turner, 1976
Jiménez Losantos, Federico, “El desdén con el desdén: Manuel Azaña,” in his Lo que queda de España, Saragossa: Alcrudo, 1979
Juliá, Santos, Manuel Azaña: Una biografía política, del Ateneo al Palacio Nacional, Madrid: Alianza, 1990
Mainer, José-Carlos, “El retorno de Azaña,” Insula 342 (May 1975): 4
Marco, José María, La inteligencia republicana, Manuel Azaña, 1897–1930, Madrid: Biblioteca Nueva, 1988
Marco, José María, Azaña, Madrid: Mondadori, 1990
Marichal, Juan, La vocación de Manuel Azaña, Madrid: Alianza, 1982
Marichal, Juan, El intelectual y la política, 1898–1936: Unamuno, Ortega, Azaña, Negrín, Madrid: Publicaciones de la Residencia de Estudiantes, 1990
Montero, José, El drama de la verdad en Manuel Azaña, Seville: University of Seville, 1979
Peña González, José, Los ideales políticos de Manuel Azaña, Madrid: University of Madrid, 1981
Rivas, Enrique de, Comentarios y notas a “Apuntes de memoria” de Manuel Azaña y a las cartas de 1938, 1939, 1940, Valencia: PreTextos, 1990
Rivas Cherif, Cipriano, Retrato de un desconocido: Vida de Manuel Azaña, Barcelona: Grijalbo, 1979
Sedwick, Frank, The Tragedy of Manuel Azaña and the Fate of the Spanish Republic, Columbus: Ohio State University Press, 1963
Serrano, Vicente-Alberto, and José-María San Luciano, editors, Azaña, Madrid: Edascal, 1980
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