Camilo José Cela Biography


(Great Authors of World Literature, Critical Edition)

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.

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...

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(Survey of Novels and Novellas)

Born Camilo José Cela Trulock in 1916, Camilo José Cela occasionally made literature of his life, and many biographies of him contain apocryphal data. Although his mother grew up in Spain, she was a British citizen; his father was a customs official, and the family moved often.

Young Cela was an indifferent student in religious schools. He attended the University of Madrid from 1934 to 1936, during which time he published his first poems. In 1936, he dropped out of school to serve on the side of General Francisco Franco and his rebels in the Spanish Civil War. He returned to the university from 1939 to 1943, a period during which he published his first articles and short stories as well as his famous first novel, The Family of Pascual Duarte. Although Cela studied law, medicine, and philosophy, he did not complete a degree. His literary knowledge was largely self-taught, the fruit of reading the Spanish classics while recovering from bouts of tuberculosis as a young man. Cela likewise became a serious student of regional Spanish history and folkways and an untiring lexicographer of sexual and scatological speech. Cela married María del Rosario Conde Picavea in 1944; their only child, a son, was born in 1946.

Over the years Cela involved himself in several publishing enterprises, and in 1957 he founded the influential journal Papeles de Son Armadans. This was the first Spanish periodical of its kind to circumvent the censorship of the Franco regime, possible in large part because of Cela’s having fought on the winning side during the Spanish Civil War. Despite his connections, Cela found it expedient to avoid the political limelight by moving to the Balearic Islands during the 1960’s. There he counted among his friends such luminaries as artist Joan Miró and poet Robert Graves. Only after winning the Nobel Prize in 1989 did he return to the Spanish mainland. Cela and his first wife were divorced in 1991, at which time Cela married journalist Marina Castaño.