Camilo José Cela Cela, Camilo José - Essay


(Short Story Criticism)

Camilo José Cela 1916–-2002

(Also known as Camilo José Manuel Juan Ramón Francisco Santiago Cela) Spanish novelist, short story and novella writer, poet, travel writer, nonfiction writer, memoirist, author of children's books, and editor.

The following entry presents criticism on Cela's short fiction from 1955 through 1992.

Considered the most important prose writer of contemporary Spain, Cela was best known for his stylistically diverse works of fiction that chronicle the political, social, and psychological legacy of the Spanish Civil War. He was also credited with broadening the range of the Spanish language through his meticulous reproduction of working-class speech and his continuous experimentation with revolutionary modes of expression. Although he wrote a number of short stories and novellas, these works have received much less critical attention than his novels and very few have been translated into English.

Biographical Information

Cela was born on May 11, 1916, in the small town of Iria-Flavia in the Galacian region of Spain. After graduating from high school in 1933, Cela studied medicine at the Central University of Madrid for one year; later, in 1939, he enrolled in law school at the same institution. Cela's love for literature, however, overshadowed both attempts to find a suitable career. In 1937, Cela began a two-year stint as a Nationalist soldier in the Spanish Civil War, an experience that has served as the foundation for much of his work. His first novel, La familia de Pascual Duarte (The Family of Pascual Duarte), was published in 1942 and has been called the most translated Spanish novel since Miguel Cervantes's Don Quixote. Despite Cela's early affiliation with the Falange, the official political party of fascist Spain, the regime of Generalissimo Francisco Franco frequently banned his provocative works and attacked his literary periodical, Papeles de Son Armadans, for publishing the works of authors condemned by the dictatorship. He proved to be an influential and prolific author, publishing novels, short fiction, travelogues, and various works of nonfiction. King Juan Carlos appointed Cela to the Spanish Senate in 1977. He also worked as a lecturer in England, France, Latin America, Belgium, Sweden, Italy, and the United States. He received several prestigious awards for his fiction, including the Premio Principe de Asturias in 1987, the Nobel Prize for literature in 1989, and the Cervantes Prize in 1994. He died from heart disease on January 17, 2002.

Major Works of Short Fiction

Critics note that Cela's stories range from humorous to melancholic and tend to focus on Spanish life after the tumultuous events of the Spanish Civil War. Many of his early short stories were originally written for newspapers and meant for light entertainment. Yet the incorporation of “tremendista” elements—extreme brutality or horror—is also a defining characteristic of his short fiction. For example, “El misterioso asesinato de la Rue Blanchard” (“The Mysterious Murder on Blanchard Street”) exhibits black humor when one-legged Joaquin Bonhome accidentally kills himself and his wife when he goes to kick her and falls on his head; she is killed by a falling piece of jagged glass that was dislodged by his movement. At the end of the story, his despised brother-in-law is unjustly convicted of murder for the two deaths. In “Don Homobono y los grillos” (“Mr. Goodfellow and the Crickets”), the kindly protagonist saves a cricket from a small boy, only to kill it later when it disturbs his sleep. “Claudius, professor de idiomas” (“Claudius, Professor of Love”) is considered one of Cela's finest short stories. Based on a series of chance meetings between two old acquaintances, one of the men reveals that he is in Spain on vacation. He bemoans the fact that his work must be piling up in his absence, but he clearly enjoys his time attending cultural and social events. At one point in the story, the vacationing man is identified as an executioner—the hangman of Batavia in the Dutch East Indies. In later short stories and sketches, called “apuntes carpetovetónicos,” Cela chronicles the normal, everyday events of life in small Spanish towns in the years following the Spanish Civil War. His use of local settings and well-chosen details to explore the monotony and uncertainty of life was regarded as a significant influence on other Spanish writers.

Critical Reception

Scant critical attention has been paid to Cela's short fiction. Yet commentators view these works as a noteworthy aspect of Cela's oeuvre. Critics have applauded the broad subject range of his stories, noting that he had the ability to create entertaining tales from a wide range of inspirations and sources. However, they have derided the improbable plots and unrealistic dialogue of some of his short fiction and view his stories as superficial and too sentimental. His short stories have been unfavorably compared with his novels, which have received a preponderance of the critical attention. In addition, very few of Cela's short stories have been translated, which has hindered greater consideration of his short fiction.

Principal Works

(Short Story Criticism)

*Esas nubes que pasan 1945

*El bonito crimen del carabinero y otras invenciones 1947

El gallego y su cuadrilla y otros apuntes carpetovetónicos 1949

Santa Balbina 37: Gas en cada piso (novella) 1952

Timoteo, el incomprendido (novella) 1952

*Baraja de invenciones 1953

Café de artistas (novella) 1953

El molino de viento, y otras novelas cortas 1956

Cajón de sastre 1957

Historias de Espana: Los ciegos, los tontos 1957

Gavilla de fábulas sin amor [illustrated by Pablo Picasso] 1962

Obra completa. 17 vols. (novels, novellas, short stories, essays, memoirs, and poetry) 1962-1986

Las compañías convenientes, y otros fingimientos y cegueras 1963

Once cuentos de futbol 1963

Toreo de salon 1963

El ciudadano Iscariote Reclús 1965

La familia del héroe; o, Discurso histórico de los últimos restos; ejercicios para una sola mano (novella) 1965

Nuevas escenas matritenses 1965-66; also published as Fotografias al minuto, 1972

Cuentos para leer después del baño 1974

Rol de...

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Terrell Louise Tatum (review date winter 1955)

(Short Story Criticism)

SOURCE: Tatum, Terrell Louise. Review of Baraja de invenciones, by Camilo José Cela. Books Abroad 29, no. 1 (winter 1955): 45.

[In the following review, Tatum calls the pieces in Baraja de invenciones shocking and gloomy.]

Spain's distinguished “inventor” prefaces this collection [Baraja de invenciones] with a brief, but striking Autobiografía in which he says: “Me considero el más importante novelista español desde el 98.”

Thirty-three “invenciones” comprise the collection and their impact is often shocking. Old and young Celaesque types, principally Spanish, stalk starkly and tragically through the poetry-impregnated pages. They move like peasants plodding before their oxen along the roads and through the villages of Spain. Or like earlier Cela madrileños, hurrying to their swarming or lonely pisos, bending against the winter wind from the Guadarramas. Closely identified with these people are the animals which serve them and the violent, but unforgettable Spanish landscape that surrounds them. Death and the cemetery often hover near.

David William Foster (review date summer 1966)

(Short Story Criticism)

SOURCE: Foster, David William. Review of La familia del héroe, by Camilo José Cela. Books Abroad 40, no. 3 (summer 1966): 318.

[In the following review, Foster offers a thematic and stylistic analysis of La familia del héroe.]

As a work of fiction, La familia del héroe demonstrates Cela's continued inspiration by the European new novel, a tendency in his fiction which began with Mrs. Caldwell habla con su hijo (1958) and matured with Tobogán de hambrientos (1962). Garito de hospicianos (1963) seems to be more a collection of unrelated essays, a few with narrative overtones, than a novel, although the style and thematics are identical to Cela's works of fiction. The most prominent characteristic of Cela's work is the new novel's substitution of pattern for plot. In the novel under review, Evangelino Gadoupa Faquitrós, grandson of the hero, don Samuel Faquitrós, relates to a group of contertulianos the history of his illustrious family. The novel is divided into nine sections, each one occasioned by the vermouth which don Evangelino has ordered in the preceding chapter: “Primer vermú, Segundo vermú … Noveno y último vermú.” Don Evangelino describes the grotesque descendants of his heroic grandfather in a monologue which forms the bulk of the text. In terms of pattern, it is significant that Cela interrupts to describe don Evangelino in “Quinto...

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D. W. McPheeters (essay date 1969)

(Short Story Criticism)

SOURCE: McPheeters, D. W. “Years of Transition.” In Camilo José Cela, pp. 72-82. New York: Twayne Publishers, Inc., 1969.

[In the following essay, McPheeters surveys Cela's short fiction and sketches published between the years 1944 and 1951—a very productive period in the author's literary career.]

Studies of Cela's works have not considered the writings of the seven years between 1944 and 1951—the dates of the novels Nuevas andanzas y desventuras de Lazarillo de Tormes and La colmena—in relation to his developing novelistic style. During this period he published six volumes of sketches and short stories, the first of the books of...

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Thomas R. Franz (essay date March 1973)

(Short Story Criticism)

SOURCE: Franz, Thomas R. “Cela's La familia del héroe, the nouveau roman, and the Creative Act.” MLN 88, no. 2 (March 1973): 375-77.

[In the following essay, Franz challenges the perception of La familia del héroe as objective or neutral.]

In his study, Forms of the Novel in the Work of Camilo José Cela, David W. Foster points out many ways in which Cela's La familia del héroe appears to embody techniques employed in the French “new novel.”1 Among these are the substitution of pattern for plot, the denial of character “depth,” the restriction of subject matter to observable phenomena, and an “objective”...

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Fred Abrams (essay date spring 1973)

(Short Story Criticism)

SOURCE: Abrams, Fred. “Tremendismo and Symbolic Imagery in Cela's ‘Marcelo Brito’: An Analysis.” Romance Notes 16, no. 3 (spring 1973): 439-44.

[In the following essay, Abrams considers “Marcelo Brito” to be a “unique synthesis of the tremendista technique and cleverly devised symbolic imagery.”]

Jerónimo Mallo has defined tremendismo as a literary term applicable to “relatos novelescos relativos a personas, hechos y situaciones verdaderamente terribles de los que unas veces por la magnitud y otras por la acumulación de motivos de horror se recibe al leerlos una impresión tremenda.”1 “Marcelo Brito,” the third...

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Kenneth G. Eller (essay date September 1989)

(Short Story Criticism)

SOURCE: Eller, Kenneth G. “Cela's ‘Anti-Novelette’: Café de artistas.Hispanofila 97 (September 1989): 23-31.

[In the following essay, Eller regards Café de artistas as an “anti-novelette” and argues that the narrative technique, thematic concerns, and structure of this short novel complement each other.]

When Camilo José Cela was beginning his literary career in the early forties right after the Spanish Civil War, creative activity in Spain was in a paralyzed state. Oppressed by extensive governmental censorship, the few novelists who had not already left the country had little incentive and virtually no inspiration to produce anything of...

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Thomas R. Franz (essay date October 1992)

(Short Story Criticism)

SOURCE: Franz, Thomas R. “Cela's La familia del héroe.Revista de Estudios Hispánicos 26, no. 3 (October 1992): 435-51.

[In the following essay, Franz finds parallels between La familia del héroe and Pío Baroja's La feria de los discretos.]

In a recent interview (“Camilo José Cela: ‘Español del Año’” 5) upon the occasion of his winning the 1989 Nobel Prize for Literature, Camilo José Cela stated that he would cede his award to only one other Spanish novelist, Pío Baroja. That a Spanish writer of Cela's or subsequent generations should admire Baroja is not surprising (Cela Conde, Cela 22, 41, 82, 92), but that Cela should...

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