Pío Baroja, considered one of the most prolific novelists of twentieth century
Spanish literature, was born on December 28, 1872, to Serafin Baroja y Zarnoza
Carmen Nessi y Goni. Baroja had two brothers, Dario and Ricardo, and a sister,
Carmen. The family eventually moved from San Sebastian, located on the northern
Basque coast of Spain, to Madrid, where Baroja, at age fifteen, began to study
medicine. He received his degree in 1893 after presenting his doctoral thesis
psycho-physical aspects of pain and moved to Cestona to work as a country doctor.
left the practice after only a year--tired, he said, of small-town life and the
trivial rivalries of the profession--and moved back to Madrid to manage his aunt's
bakery. In Madrid he began writing more seriously, contributing regularly to a
journal called Revista Nueva. When the bakery failed
in 1902, Baroja devoted himself full-time to writing, often publishing more than
books a year until his death in 1956.
Baroja published Vidas sombrías (Dark Lives), a collection of short stories, and La casa de Aizgorri (The House of
Aizgorri), his first novel, in 1900. La casa de
Aizgorri, El mayorazgo de Labraz (The Lord of Labraz), and Zalacaín
el aventurero (Zalacaín the Adventurer)
form Baroja's first trilogy, Tierra Vasca (Basque Country), completed in 1909. Baroja clustered
many of his novels into cycles and series, the largest being the twenty-two volume
Memorias de un hombre de acción (Memories of a Man of Action). Most consider El árbol de la ciencia (first published in 1900, and
translated as The Tree of Knowledge in 1922) to be
Baroja's greatest work. The semi-autobiographical bildungsroman details the life
Andres Hurtado, a young medical student who searches for meaning, confronts life's
injustices, and ultimately commits suicide.
Like many Spanish novelists, Baroja wrote in a pessimistic and picaresque style. Most
critics agree that Baroja belonged to the Generation of 1898, a loosely linked
of young writers preoccupied with Spain's social and political deterioration at
turn of the century. Much of Baroja's writing--characterized by its simplicity,
directness, and use of colloquial language--focuses on the difficulties of modern
city life for the Spanish underclass. Although Baroja practiced medicine for only
short time, his medical experiences left deep and abiding impressions. Baroja
scholars estimate that 200 physicians appear in his collected works.
Baroja lived a fairly quiet and sedentary life in Spain, but would occasionally
travel through Europe, especially to France, England, and Italy. During his travels
he met other literary luminaries like Oscar Wilde and Spanish poet Antonio Machado,
and he accumulated an impressive library of books about witchcraft and the occult.
In July 1936, at the start of the Spanish Civil War, Baroja was imprisoned as
enemy of tradition." Even though a member of the army recognized Baroja as a famous
author and released him after a single night in jail, Baroja was outraged and
to France. He didn't return until the end of the war in 1939.
Back in Madrid, Baroja published his memoirs. The six volume Memorias (Memories) appeared between
1944 and 1949. In his old age Baroja suffered from arteriosclerosis and memory
He died in Madrid on October 30, 1956, and family, friends, and writers attended
funeral. Ernest Hemingway, an admirer, was asked to be a pallbearer but declined,
saying he felt unworthy of such an honor.