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.
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.
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.