First published in Spanish in 1931, San Manuel Bueno, Mártir (English title: Saint Emmanuel the Good, Martyr) is a nivola by Miguel de Unamuno. The nivola is a literary genre of Unamuno’s own design, longer than a short story but shorter than a novella. Unamuno intended for the nivola to place an emphasis on content over form; in fact, according to Unuamuno, his nivolas were written quickly, without the meticulously planning and organization of his longer works. As such, the narrative progresses at a much more rapid, stream-of-conscious pace, as opposed to the slower, more literary style of genres like the novel. The genre is a direct response to the realism and extended length of novels that were prevalent among Spanish fiction at the time.
San Manuel Bueno, Martyr was written by Unamuno during a period of great upheaval as the Spanish Republic was about to begin and Unamuno’s six-year exile in France was about to end. The author had been exiled for openly opposing the previous Spanish dictator, General Primo de Rivera.
Limited in action and philosophical in scope, San Manuel Bueno, Martyr is the story of a priest named Don Manuel, who is being considered for canonization. The novel is structured in a way that recalls the Gospels of Jesus in that it takes the form of a “confession” written by the priest's longtime attendant, Angela Carballino. The confession itself is based on her brother's written record of discussions he had with Don Manuel. The book is also an inversion of the story of Jesus, in the sense that Angela’s “confession” is stimulated by the bishop’s consideration of canonization, even though, according to Angela, Don Manuel did not actually believe in the Catholic dogma of eternal resurrection.
Just five years after the nivola appeared, Unamuno would be dead and San Manuel Bueno, Martyr would be listed on the Vatican index of books which Catholics were forbidden to read.