Camilo José Cela Cela, Camilo José (Vol. 4)

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Cela, Camilo José (Vol. 4)

(Contemporary Literary Criticism)

Cela, Camilo José 1916–

Cela is a Galician with Italian and English ancestors. He has written many short stories and travel books about Spain in addition to the novels for which he is well known. The Family of Pascual Duarte, according to one critic, "brought new preoccupations and language to the Spanish novel." (See also Contemporary Authors, Vols. 21-22.)

Camilo José Cela, like the other members of his generation in Spain,… reacted violently against the "dehumanizing" tendencies so pronounced in the post-World War I novelists such as Ramón Pérez de Ayala, Jarnés, Unamuno and Miró. Seeking a foothold in traditional Spanish realism, [the more recent] novelists eschew intellectualized figures and abstractions, preferring to focus their attention on flesh-and-blood characters and the realities of the world which surrounds them. In spirit their works are probably closest to the late nineteenth-century realistic masters such as Galdós, Pereda, Blasco Ibáñez.

The history of the Spanish novel records few cases of such stern and merciless realism as Cela's. [This] Galician has little to say in favor of mankind. Few if any rays of sunshine penetrate his pages, in which ugliness, brutality, selfishness and the principle of "homo homini lupus" predominate. Cogent reasons exist for classifying him as a full-fledged naturalistic writer. From the very beginning of his career, Don Camilo has exhibited a predilection and a genius for portraying life, man and society at their worst.

In his first novel, La familia de Pascual Duarte (1942), Cela adopted the form and even the archaic style of the Golden Age picaresque novel to present the autobiography of a criminal awaiting execution. Born into the most squalid and loveless of environments, Pascual is incapable of rising above his milieu. Despite a basically kind disposition, his life is a series of brutalities and killings. He kills in turn a dog which always appeared to regard him reproachfully, a horse which had thrown his wife and caused her to abort, his wife's lover and finally his hateful, nagging mother. The novel, to a large extent a succès de scandale, abounds in shocking incidents. Pascual Duarte merits comparison with some of Dostoevsky's psychopathic protagonists. It is difficult to find in Spanish literature a novel which approaches La familia de Pascual Duarte in its sustained atmosphere of impending catastrophe, its powerful portrayal of human malevolence, and in nightmarish effects.

Cela's second novel, Pabellón de reposo (1943) consists of a series of letters by supposed tuberculosis patients in a sanatorium. The young writer dips his pen in blood to portray the anguished and tortured soul-states of his protagonists, in the last stages of consumption. So realistically convincing were the letters, which first appeared in serial form in El Español, that Cela received a letter from a physician imploring him to discontinue the series, since his patients were identifying themselves with the hapless characters in Pabellón de reposo and this was retarding their progress!

In Nuevas andanzas y desventuras de Lazarillo de Tormes (1946), the novelist presents a modern Pícaro. The new Lazarillo, of no more illustrious parentage than his sixteenth-century forerunner, successively serves a trio of wandering musician-sharpers, a hermit, a group of French acrobats and finally a witch-healer. The twentieth-century Spanish rogue is less a caricature, more a flesh-and-blood character than the Golden Age prototype.

A careful and conscientious workman, Don Camilo devoted five years to the writing of his fourth and most recent novel, La colmena, published in 1952 in Argentina. As if manipulating a powerful camera, Cela focusses upon one after another of the habitués who frequent Doña Rosa's bar, located in a shabby section of Madrid. La colmena is the collective tragedy of pathetic individuals existing in a material and spiritual vacuum and devoid of any altruism of idealism. Spanish criticism has been almost...

(The entire section is 3,232 words.)