Azaña, Manuel

[Brief biography]

Manuel Azaña is born in Alcalá de Henares (35 km from Madrid) on 10 January 1880, in a house next to what is presumed to be (or at least someone did in 1948) Cervantes’ birth place. Only a few moths prior, Azaña’s father, the mayor, inaugurated a monument dedicated to the author of El Quixote, which makes the country’s future president and the statue in Alcalá the same age. (Esteban Azaña, author of the two volumes of History of Alcalá de Henares, also ordered the construction of two small gardens, which would become adult Manuel’s most pleasant memory of the village.) His mother and father die young, from the flu, so Manuel (aged ten) and his two brothers are left in the care of some aunts. He studies in Alcalá at Los Agustinos de El Escorial, which inspired his novel El jardín de los frailes (The Friars Garden). By this point he is already an inveterate reader and goes on regular strolls through the highlands. At seventeen he teams up with some friends to create a magazine, Brisas del Henares (Breezes of Henares), which would become his first literary venture, to which others would follow. He graduates in Law. He prepares his doctorate with Francisco Giner de los Ríos, founder of the Free Education Institution and the ‘moral cleanliness model’, whom he always considered to be one of his most positive influences. He titles his doctorate thesis The Responsibility of Crowds, a mysterious premonition of the narrator who, during the war days, would congregate around him over half a million people. In 1910, he obtains a position as a civil servant in the General Directory of Registers and Notaries. He studies in Paris on a scholarship granted by the Further Education Board. He writes articles for the El Imparcial and El Sol newspapers. In 1913, he is appointed secretary of the Ateneo de Madrid, of which he will be the director from 1930 to 1932. He translates literary texts from English and French: for example, exerts from George Borrow’s The Bible in Spain and The Zincali. In 1917, he travels as an observer and chronicler to the fronts of World War I. Being a theatre enthusiast, on 27 March 1920 he attends his first Dada evening in the Théâtre de l’Oeuvre in Paris, where the avant-garde theatre of Ribemont-Dessaignes, Picabia, Breton, Soupault, and Tzara is presented (a fact less absurd than it seems, dedicated to those who enjoy these curiosities). In 1920, alongside his friend and future brother-in-law Cipriano Rivas Cherif, he founds the literary magazine La Pluma in Madrid. In 1923, he directs the weekly publication Spain. After Primo de Rivera’s coup d’état, he leaves Melquiades Álvarez’s Reform Party, which he had been a member of since 1913, and founds Acción Republicana (Republican Action) in 1925. In 1926, he is awarded the National Literature Award for Vida de Don Juan Valera (The Life of Don Juan Valera). He is part of the Revolution Committee that promotes the Republic’s implementation (which, for those of you who are distracted, is proclaimed —with public outcry— on 14 April 1931). The Provisional Government of the Second Spanish Republic first tackles the War and then the Presidency. In 1932, there is another coup d’état. After the 1933 elections, in which the right-wing is victorious, he moves over to the opposition and founds the Republican Left Party. In 1934, he is imprisoned on a ship, accused of encouraging the revolution. In February 1936, the Popular Front, the coalition he leads, wins the elections and he becomes once again Prime Minister. On 10 May he is elected as President of the Republic. On 18 July 1936, the military uprising that sparks the Spanish Civil War takes place. To understand Azaña’s activities during these years one should read his diary, which the titled Memorias politicas y de guerra (Political and War Memoirs), as well as his speeches and the articles compiled in the volume Causas de la guerra de España (Causes of Spain’s War). Also, the conversation The Evening in Benicarló, which he writes over two months in Barcelona in 1937. Azaña is President of the Republic until 27 February 1939, day in which he announces his resignation in response to France and England’s recognition of General Franco’s coup government. (This leads us to the letter Azaña wrote to Ángel Ossorio, dated 18 June 1938, subject of our edition. To know what happened after that date —which is no mystery— we refer readers to the prologue of Farewell to the Future.)