Authors: Camilo José Cela

  • Last updated on December 10, 2021

Spanish novelist, short-story writer, and poet


Camilo José Cela (SAY-lah) was born May 11, 1916, in Iria Flavia del Padrón, Spain. His father, Camilo Cela, was a customs official who wrote during his spare time. Young Cela attended the University of Madrid from 1933 to 1936, interrupting his higher education to enlist in the rebel army of Francisco Franco. He served for three years and rose to corporal. After the conclusion of the Spanish Civil War he returned to Madrid, attending the university from 1939 to 1943. His first novel, The Family of Pascual Duarte, was published in 1942 and brought him immediate renown. He was widely called Spain’s greatest twentieth century writer of fiction and is considered a master of Castilian prose, with an infallible ear for the language as it is lived and spoken.{$I[AN]9810000246}{$I[A]Cela, Camilo José}{$I[geo]SPAIN;Cela, Camilo José}{$I[tim]1916;Cela, Camilo José}

Cela is also known for his formal experimentation. The Family of Pascual Duarte is the memoir of a convicted murderer awaiting execution; it is remarkable for its sustained atmosphere of brooding horror and for its insights into the character Duarte, a psychopath who has been compared with certain of Fyodor Dostoevski’s creations. Although it may be classed as an example of the traditional novel, succeeding works have gradually dispensed with most conventional novelistic devices in an effort to produce an imitation of life as Cela comprehends it. The Hive, the second novel to appear in English translation and the work that confirmed his reputation in the English-speaking world, is a relatively unstructured work. It is an impression of the swarming life of a city. Its pages are filled with a multitude of characters, some of whom reappear from time to time, but there is no sustained narrative thread, and the many incidents depicted are not necessarily connected. In his later novels, such as San Camilo, 1936 and Mazurka for Two Dead Men, Cela’s use of free form is even more pronounced. His characters are not the well-developed, fully rounded individuals traditionally expected in first-class fiction; instead they are largely depersonalized, gaining whatever importance they may have through identity with the society to which they belong.

Cela’s view of humankind and the world is strongly pessimistic, and his works form a general indictment of human society. He sees people as moral and ethical degenerates upholding institutions that are invariably rotten. Nevertheless, upon his being awarded the 1989 Nobel Prize in Literature, the Swedish Academy cited his “rich and intensive prose, which with restrained compassion forms a challenging vision of man’s vulnerability.” After winning the Nobel Prize he returned to the Spanish mainland to live (he had lived on the Mediterranean island of Mallorca for many years), and in 1991 he divorced his wife of almost fifty years, María del Rosario Conde Picavea, to marry Marina Castaño.

Cela was an enormously prolific writer for many years, and the list of his works is a long one. In addition to his many novels he produced short stories, poetry, books of travel, and various works of nonfiction, including several lexicons of sexual and vulgar language. Widely admired throughout the Spanish-speaking world, he nonetheless felt the pressure of censorship in his own country; it was largely for that reason that he adopted Mallorca as his home for many years.

BibliographyBusette, Cedric.“La Familia de Pascual Duarte” and “El Túnel”: Correspondences and Divergencies in the Exercise of Craft. Lanham, Md.: University Press of America, 1994. Busette compares and contrasts the debut novels of Cela and Ernesto Sábato, analyzing their narrative, language, protagonists, and other aspects of the two novels.Cela, Camilo José. “Eulogy to the Fable.” The Georgia Review 49 (Spring, 1995): 235-245. The text of Cela’s speech upon receiving the Nobel Prize, December 8, 1989.Cela, Camilo José. Interview by Valerie Miles. Paris Review 38, no. 139 (Summer, 1996): 124-163. A lengthy interview in which Cela discusses his personal life and career, including his family and academic background, literary training, some of his works, and thoughts on censorship.Charlebois, Lucile C. Understanding Camilo José Cela. Columbia: University of South Carolina Press, 1998. A thorough but difficult study of Cela’s progressively difficult novels. Each chapter focuses on one of the novels, beginning with The Family of Pascual Duarte through La cruz de San Andres. Includes a chronology and a select bibliography.Henn, David. C. J. Cela: La Colmena. 1974. Reprint. London: Grant & Cutler, 1997. An eighty-page brief study of The Hive, usually recognized as Cela’s masterpiece. Part of the Critical Guides to Spanish Texts series. This reprint includes an updated bibliography.Hoyle, Alan. Cela: “La familia de Pascual Duarte.” London: Grant & Cutler, with Tamesis Books, 1994. Another book in the Critical Guides to Spanish Texts series, providing an analysis of Cela’s first and best-known novel.Kerr, Sarah. “Shock Treatment.” The New York Review of Books, October 8, 1992. A review and article discussing Cela’s novels The Family of Pascual Duarte, Journey to Alcarria, The Hive, Mrs. Caldwell Speaks to Her Son, and San Camilo, 1936.Kirsner, Robert. The Novels and Travels of Camilo José Cela. Chapel Hill: University of North Carolina Press, 1963. An early survey notable for its consideration of Cela’s travel works.McPheeters, D. W. Camilo José Cela. New York: Twayne, 1969. An accessible, though dated, overview of Cela’s work, part of the Twayne World Authors series. Includes a chronology and a useful bibliography of secondary sources.Mantero, Manual. “Camilo José Cela: The Rejection of the Ordinary.” Georgia Review 49, no. 1 (Spring, 1995): 246-250. Mantero provides an appreciation of Cela’s most representative works, describing the author’s use of humor and names, characterization, and refusal to accept the routine or ordinary.Peréz, Janet. Camilo José Cela Revisited: The Later Novels. New York: Twayne, 2000. Peréz updates and expands McPheeters’s 1969 overview. Concentrates on Cela’s novels. Includes biographical material, an index, and an annotated bibliography for further study.Turner, Harriet, and Adelaida López de Martínez, eds. The Cambridge Companion to the Spanish Novel: From 1600 to the Present. New York: Cambridge University Press, 2003. Cela’s work is discussed in several places, particularly in chapter 11, “The Testimonial Novel and the Novel of Memory.” Helps to place Cela’s work within the broader context of the Spanish novel.
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