Camilo José Cela

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The novels of Camilo José Cela (SAY-lah) constitute but a fraction of his literary production. He excelled as a short-story writer and author of travel books, having published more than half a dozen volumes in each of these genres. Esas nubes que pasan (1945; passing clouds) contains twelve tales previously published in periodicals. It was followed by El bonito crimen del carabinero y otras invenciones (1947; the patrolman’s nice crime and other inventions), El gallego y su cuadrilla (1949; the Galician and his team), Baraja de invenciones (1953; deck of inventions), El molino de viento (1956; the windmill), Gavilla de fábulas sin amor (1962; bag of loveless fables), Once cuentos de fútbol (1963; eleven soccer tales), and others.

Cela’s early travel books were superior to the later ones, the better ones including Viaje a la Alcarria (1948; Journey to Alcarria, 1964), Del Miño al Bidasoa (1952; from the Miño to the Bidasoa), Judíos, moros, y cristianos (1956; Jews, Moors, and Christians), Primer viaje andaluz (1959; first Andalusian trip), Viaje al Pirineo de Lérida (1965; trip to the Lérida Pyrenees), Páginas de geografía errabunda (1965; pages of vagabond geography), and Viaje a U.S.A. (1967; trip to the U.S.).

Cela has many volumes of essays to his credit, including Mesa revuelta (1945; messy table); La rueda de los ocios (1957; wheel of idleness); Cajón de sastre (1957; tailor’s box); La obra literaria del pintor Solana (1958; the literary work of the painter Solana), which was Cela’s entrance speech to the Royal Spanish Academy; Cuatro figuras del ’98 (1961), on four writers of the Generation of ’98; Al servicio de algo (1969; in service to something); A vueltas con España (1973; around again with Spain); Vuelta de hoja (1981; turning the page); and El juego de los tres madroños (1983; the shell game).

Cela’s miscellaneous prose works include his unfinished memoirs, La cucaña (the cocoon), of which the first volume, La rosa (the rose), published in 1959, spans his childhood. Cela also cultivated what he called apuntes carpetovetónicos (carpetovetonic sketches), a term alluding to the mountains of central Spain. These brief literary etchings or vignettes—Historias de España: Los ciegos, los tontos (1958) and Los viejos amigos (1960, 1961)—combine humor, irony, anger, pity, and a bittersweet affection, and portray beggars, the blind, village idiots, prostitutes, and a host of the poor and indigent. His short stories and novellas range from the exquisitely crafted stylistic tour de force, in which popular language or regional dialect is captured in all of its inimitable regional flavor, to the condensed, violent shocker, the prose poem, and the ironic vignette. The itinerant wanderings of the narrator of picaresque novels are updated in his travel books, as Cela adapted the form to covert sociopolitical commentary. He was also a refreshingly frank, if somewhat arbitrary and arrogant, critic.

During the 1960’s, Cela published several limited-edition works for the collectors’ market, some with illustrations by Pablo Picasso and others featuring artistic photography, most of them short onnarrative and long on the visual, including Toreo de salón (1963; living room bull-fighting), Las compañías convenientes (1963; appropriate company), Garito de hospicianos (1963; poorhouse inmates), Izas, rabizas, y colipoterras (1964; bawds, harlots, and whores), El ciudadano Iscariote Reclús (1965; citizen Iscariot Reclus), La familia del héroe (1965; the hero’s family), and a series of seven Nuevas escenas matritenses (1965-1966; new Madrid scenes). His Obra completa (complete works) first appeared in 1962 and was finished in 1983.


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With the death and exile of many writers of previous generations, Spanish literature languished during and after the Spanish Civil War (1936-1939). The first sign of rebirth was Camilo José Cela’s novel The Family of Pascual Duarte

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The Family of Pascual Duarte, which sparked a host of imitators and set the pattern for the novel during much of the 1940’s, a movement known as tremendismo. His next novels were successful, if less imitated, and his fame was assured with The Hive, which became the prototype for the social novel of the 1950’s and 1960’s. It is extremely rare that a Spanish writer is able to live by his or her pen, and Cela managed to do so. He was elected to the prestigious Royal Spanish Academy in 1957 and was appointed independent senator to represent intellectual interests and views by King Juan Carlos in 1978. In 1989, he was awarded the Nobel Prize in Literature. Many of his works have been translated, and for nearly four decades he was considered one of Spain’s foremost novelists. Cela was a trendsetter, interesting as an innovator, stylist, and caricaturist but not as a creator of memorable characters or plots.


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Busette, 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.


Critical Essays