Pío Baroja

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Pío Baroja
BornPío Baroja y Nessi
(1872-12-28)28 December 1872
San Sebastián, Spain
Died30 October 1956(1956-10-30) (aged 83)
Madrid, Spain
Resting placeMadrid, Spain
  • Author
  • novelist
  • biographer
  • physician
Literary movementGeneration of '98
RelativesSerafin Baroja (father)
Carmen Nessi y Goñi (mother)
Seat a of the Real Academia Española
In office
12 May 1935 – 30 October 1956
Preceded byLeopoldo Cano
Succeeded byJuan Antonio de Zunzunegui [es]

Pío Baroja y Nessi (28 December 1872 – 30 October 1956) was a Spanish writer, one of the key novelists of the Generation of '98. He was a member of an illustrious family. His brother Ricardo was a painter, writer and engraver, and his nephew Julio Caro Baroja, son of his younger sister Carmen, was a well-known anthropologist.


Pío was born in San Sebastian, Guipuzcoa, the son of Serafin Baroja, also a noted writer and opera librettist.[1][2][3]

The young Baroja studied medicine at University of Valencia and received a doctorate at the Complutense University in Madrid at 21. Although educated as a physician, Baroja practiced only briefly in the Basque town of Cestona.[4] His memories of student life became the raw material for his novel The Tree of Knowledge.[5] He also managed the family bakery for a short time, running unsuccessfully on two occasions for a seat at the Cortes Generales (the Spanish parliament) as a Radical Republican. Baroja's true calling, however, was always writing, which he began seriously at the age of 13.

Baroja's first novel, La casa de Aizgorri (The House of Aizgorri, 1900), is part of a trilogy called La Tierra Vasca (The Basque Country, 1900–1909). This trilogy also includes El Mayorazgo de Labraz (The Lord of Labraz, 1903), which became one of his most popular novels in Spain.

Baroja is best known internationally for another trilogy, La lucha por la vida (The Struggle for Life, 1922–1924), which offers a vivid depiction of life in Madrid's slums. John Dos Passos greatly admired these works and wrote about them.

Another major work, Memorias de un Hombre de Acción (Memories of a Man of Action, 1913–1931), offers a depiction of one of his ancestors who lived in the Basque region during the Carlist uprising in the 19th century.

Another of Baroja's trilogies is called La mar (The sea) and comprises La estrella del capitán Chimista, Los Pilotos de altura and Los mercaderes de esclavos. Baroja also wrote the biography of Juan Van Halen, a Spanish military adventurer.

Baroja's masterpiece is considered to be El árbol de la ciencia (1911) (translated as The Tree of Knowledge), a pessimistic Bildungsroman that depicts the futility of the pursuit of knowledge and of life in general. The title is symbolic: the more the chief protagonist, Andres Hurtado, learns about and experiences life, the more pessimistic he feels and the more futile his life seems.

In keeping with Spanish literary tradition, Baroja often wrote in a pessimistic, picaresque style. His deft portrayal of the characters and settings brought the Basque region to life much as Benito Pérez Galdós's works offered an insight into Madrid. Baroja's works were often lively but could be lacking in plot. They are written in an abrupt, vivid, yet impersonal style. He was accused of grammatical errors, which he never denied.

While young, Baroja believed loosely in anarchism, like others in the '98 Generation. He later admired men of action, similar to Nietzsche's superman. Catholics and traditionalists denounced him, and his life was at risk during the Spanish Civil War (1936–1939). In Youth And Egolatry (1917), Baroja described his beliefs as follows:

I have always been a liberal radical, an individualist and an anarchist. In the first place, I am an enemy of the Church; in the second place, I am an enemy of the State. When these great powers are in conflict I am a partisan of the State as against the Church, but on the day of the State's triumph, I shall become an enemy of the State. If I had lived during the French Revolution, I should have been an internationalist of the school of Anacharsis Cloots; during the struggle for liberty, I should have been one of the Carbonieri.[6]

Ernest Hemingway was greatly influenced by Baroja and told him when he visited him in October 1956, "Allow me to pay this small tribute to you who taught so much to those of us who wanted to be writers when we were young. I deplore the fact that you have not yet received a Nobel Prize, especially when it was given to so many who deserved it less, like me, who am only an adventurer."[7]

Baroja died shortly after this visit on 30th October[8] and was buried in the Old Civil Cemetery of Madrid.[9]

An Iberia Airbus A340-642, EC-JPU (in service between 2006-2020) was named after him.[10]

Portrait by Joaquin Sorolla (1914)

Works available in English[edit]

  • The City of the Discreet (1917). A.A. Knopf
  • The Quest (1922) A.A. Knopf
  • Weeds (1923). A.A. Knopf
  • Red Dawn (1924). A.A. Knopf
  • The Lord of Labraz (1926). A.A. Knopf
  • The Restlessness of Shanti Andía, and other writings (1959). University of Michigan Press
  • The Tree of Knowledge (1974). Howard Fertig: ISBN 0-86527-316-2
  • Caesar or Nothing (1976). Howard Fertig: ISBN 0-86527-224-7
  • Zalacain the Adventurer (1998). Lost Coast Press: ISBN 1-882897-13-7
  • Youth And Egolatry (2004). Kessinger Publishing: ISBN 1-4191-9540-9
  • Road to Perfection (2008). Oxbow Books: ISBN 978-0-85668-791-4 (pbk.)


  1. ^ Pío Baroja The city of the discreet – Page 1 1917 Introduction: "He composed the libretto of the first Basque opera ever produced, the music of which was by Santesteban. He is said to have been responsible for the libretto of one other opera — a Spanish one.
  2. ^ Samuel Edward Hill Initiation, satiation, resignation: the development of Baroja's... – Page 10 1964 "His father was a mining engineer and, by avocation, a writer of popular cantos in the Basque language as well as Spanish. Prudente, written by Baroja's father, is the first Basque opera known. Baroja himself attributed his interest in literature to..."
  3. ^ Obituaries from the Times, 1951–1960 Page 45 Frank C. Roberts – 1979 "His father was the author of the first Basque opera and of popular songs in the Basque language."
  4. ^ Puerta, José Luis (2006). "El doctor Pío Baroja (1872-1956)" (PDF). Ars Medica. Revista de Humanidades. 2: 198–215 – via Fundación Pfizer.
  5. ^ Baños, J.E.; Rico, M.; Guardiola, E. (2020). "La universidad y los estudios de medicina en El árbol de la ciencia, de Pío Baroja". Revista de la Fundación Educación Médica (in Spanish). 23 (4): 167. doi:10.33588/fem.234.1071. ISSN 1579-2099. S2CID 226679483.
  6. ^ Baroja, Pío (1920). Youth and Egolatry. A. A. Knopf. p. 219.
  7. ^ "People, Oct. 29, 1956". Time. 29 October 1956. Archived from the original on 14 December 2008.
  8. ^ "PIO BAROJA DIES; SPANISH NOVELIST; Noted and Much-Translated Realist, 83, Wrote of the Miseries of Humanity More Honored Than Read Disagreed With Franco". The New York Times. 31 October 1956. ISSN 0362-4331. Retrieved 24 May 2022.
  9. ^ Sol, Carreras (1 November 2014). "El cementerio de los ateos ilustres". La Vanguardia (in Spanish). Retrieved 24 May 2022.
  10. ^ "Aircraft Photo of EC-JPU. Airbus A340-642. Iberia". AirHistory.net. Retrieved 24 May 2022.

Further reading[edit]

  • Azurmendi, Joxe. 2006: "Pio Baroja: esencia española, cultura vasca" in Espainiaren arimaz, Donostia: Elkar. ISBN 84-9783-402-X
  • Sogos, Sofia, "El árbol de la ciencia e la leyenda de Jaun de Alzate: L’espressione del pessimismo in Pío Baroja". Hrsg. von Giorgia Sogos. Bonn: Free Pen Verlag, 2017. ISBN 978-3-945177-52-5.
  • Sáenz, Paz, ed. (1988). Narratives from the Silver Age. Translated by Hughes, Victoria; Richmond, Carolyn. Madrid: Iberia. ISBN 84-87093-04-3.


External links[edit]