Cela, Camilo José (11 May 1916 - 17 January 2002)
Camilo José Cela (11 May 1916 - 17 January 2002)
Lucile C. Charlebois
University of South Carolina
This entry was expanded by Charlebois from her Cela entry in DLB 322: Twentieth-Century Spanish Fiction Writers. See also the Cela entry in DLB Yearbook: 1989.
BOOKS: La familia de Pascual Duarte (Madrid & Burgos: Aldecoa, 1942); translated by John Marks as Pascual Duarte’s Family (London: Eyre & Spottiswoode, 1946); translated by Anthony Kerrigan as The Family of Pascual Duarte (Boston: Little, Brown, 1964);
Nuevas andanzas y desventuras de Lazarillo de Tormes (Madrid: La Nave, 1944); revised as Nuevas andanzas y desventuras de Lazarillo de Tormes, y siete apuntes carpetovetónicos (Madrid: Airon, 1952);
Pabellón de reposo (Madrid: Afrodisio Aguado, 1944); bilingual edition, with English translation by Herma Briffault as Rest Home (New York: Las Américas, 1961);
Pisando la dudosa luz del día: Poemas de una adolescencia cruel (Barcelona: Zodíaco, 1945; revised and enlarged edition, Palma de Mallorca: Papeles de Son Armadans, 1963);
Esas nubes que pasan (Madrid: Afrodisio Aguado, 1945);
Mesa revuelta (Madrid: Ediciones de los Estudiantes Españoles, 1945; enlarged edition, Madrid: Taurus, 1957);
El bonito crimen del carabinero, y otras invenciones (Barcelona: José Janés, 1947); republished in part as El bonito crimen del carabinero (Barcelona: Picazo, 1972);
Las botas de siete leguas: Viaje a la Alcarria, con los versos de su cancionero, cada uno en su debido lugar (Madrid: Revista de Occidente, 1948); translated by Frances M. López-Morillas as Journey to the Alcarria (Madison: University of Wisconsin Press, 1964); revised as Nuevo viaje a la Alcarria (Barcelona: Plaza y Janés, 1986);
San Juan de la Cruz, as Matilde Verdú (Madrid: Hernando, 1948);
El gallego y su cuadrilla y otros apuntes carpetovetónicos (Madrid: Ricardo Aguilera, 1949; revised and enlarged edition, Barcelona: Destino, 1967);
Avila (Barcelona: Noguer, 1952); translated by John Forrester as Avila (Barcelona: Noguer, 1952);
Santa Balbina, 37, gas en cada piso (Melilla: Mirto y Laurel, 1952);
Del Miño al Bidasoa: Notas de un vagabundaje (Barcelona: Noguer, 1952);
Timoteo el incomprendido (Madrid: Rollán, 1952);
Baraja de invenciones (Valencia: Castalia, 1953);
Café de artistas (Madrid: Tecnos, 1953);
Mrs. Caldwell habla con su hijo (Barcelona: Destino, 1953); translated by J. S. Bernstein as Mrs. Caldwell Speaks to Her Son (Ithaca, N.Y.: Cornell University Press, 1968);
Ensueños y figuraciones (Barcelona: G. P., 1954);
Historias de Venezuela: La catira (Barcelona: Noguer, 1955);
Vagabundo por Castilla (Barcelona: Seix Barral, 1955);
Judíos, moros y cristianos: Notas de un vagabundaje por Avila, Segovia y sus tierras (Barcelona: Destino, 1956);
El molino de viento y otras novelas cortas (Barcelona: Noguer, 1956);
Mis páginas preferidas (Madrid: Gredos, 1956);
Cajón de sastre (Madrid: Cid, 1957);
Nuevo retablo de don Cristobita; invenciones, figuradonesy alucinariones (Barcelona: Destino, 1957);
La rueda de los ocios (Barcelona: Mateu, 1957);
Historias de España: Los ciegos, los tontos (Madrid: Arión, 1957); enlarged as volume 1 of A la pata de palo (Barcelona: Noguer, 1965);
La obra literaria del pintor Solana (Madrid: Papeles de Son Armadans, 1957);
Recuerdo de don Pío Baroja (Mexico City: De Andrea, 1958);
La cucaña: Memorias (Barcelona: Destino, 1959); republished as La rosa (Barcelona: Destino, 1979; revised edition, Madrid: Espasa-Calpe, 2001);
Primer viaje andaluz: Notas de un vagabundaje por Jaén, Córdoba, Sevilla, Segovia, Huelva y sus tierras (Barcelona: Noguer, 1959);
Cuadernos del Guadarrama (Madrid: Arión, 1960);
Los viejos amigos, 2 volumes (Barcelona: Noguer, 1960, 1961);
Cuatro figuras del 98: Unamuno, Valle-Inclán, Baroja, Azorín, y otros retratos y ensayos españoles (Barcelona: Aedos, 1961);
Tobogán de hambrientos (Barcelona: Noguer, 1962);
Gavilla de fábulas sin amor (Palma de Mallorca: Papeles de Son Armadans, 1962);
Obra completa, 25 volumes (Barcelona: Destino, 1962-1990);
Garito de hospicianos; o, Guirigay de imposturas y bambollas (Barcelona: Noguer, 1963);
El solitario, published with Rafael Zabaleta, Los sueños de Quesada (Palma de Mallorca: Papeles de Son Armadans, 1963);
Toreo de salón: Farsa con acompañamiento de clamor y murga (Barcelona: Lumen, 1963);
Once cuentos de fútbol (Madrid: Nacional, 1963);
Las compañís convenientes y otros fingimientos y cegueras (Barcelona: Destino, 1963);
Izas, rabizas y colipoterras: Drama con acompañamiento de cachondeo y dolor de corazón, text by Cela, photographs by Juan Colom (Barcelona: Lumen, 1964);
Páginas de geografía errabunda (Madrid: Alfaguara, 1965);
Viaje al Pirineo de Lérida: Notas de un paseo a pie por el Pallars, Sobirá, el Valle de Arán y el Condado de Ribagorza (Madrid: Alfaguara, 1965);
Nuevas escenas matritenses, 7 volumes (Madrid: Alfaguara, 1965-1966); republished in one volume as Fotografías al minuto (Madrid: Sala, 1972);
A la pata de palo, 4 volumes (Madrid: Alfaguara, 1965-1967)—comprises volume 1, Historias de España; volume 2, La familia del héroe; o, Discurso histórico de los últimos restos (ejercicios para una sola mano); volume 3, El ciudadano Iscariote Reclús; and volume 4, Viaje a U.S.A.; o, El que la sigue la mata; republished in one volume as El tacatá oxidado: Florilegio de carpetovetonismos y otras lindezas (Barcelona: Noguer, 1973);
Madrid (Madrid: Alfaguara, 1966);
Calidoscopio callejero, marítimo y campestre (Madrid: Alfaguara, 1966);
María Sabina (Madrid: Papeles de Son Armadans, 1967); republished with El carro de heno; o, El inventor de la guillotina (Madrid: Alfaguara, 1970);
Diccionario secreto, 2 volumes (Madrid: Alfaguara, 1968, 1972);
La bandada de palomas (Barcelona: Labor, 1969);
Víspera, festividad y octava de San Camilo del año 1936 en Madrid (Madrid: Alfaguara, 1969); translated by John H. R. Polt as San Camilo, 1936 (Durham, N.C.: Duke University Press, 1991);
Homenaje al Bosco, I: El carro de heno; o, El inventor de la guillotina (Madrid: Papeles de Son Armadans, 1969);
Al servicio de algo (Madrid: Alfaguara, 1969);
Barcelona (Barcelona: Alfaguara, 1970);
La Mancha en el corazón y en los ojos (Barcelona: EDISVEN, 1971);
Obras selectas (Madrid: Alfaguara, 1971);
La bola del mundo: Escenas cotidianas (Madrid: Sala, 1972); oficio de tinieblas 5; o, novela de tesis escrita para ser cantada por un coro de enfermos (Barcelona: Noguer, 1973);
A vueltas con España (Madrid: Semanarios y Ediciones, 1973);
Balada del vagabundo sin suerte y otros papeles volanderos (Madrid: Espasa-Calpe, 1973);
Cuentos para leer después del baño (Barcelona: La Gaya Ciencia, 1974);
Prosa, edited by Jacinto Luis Guereña (Madrid: Narcea, 1974);
Rol de cornudos (Barcelona: Noguer, 1976);
Enciclopedia del erotismo (Madrid: Sedmay, 1977); expanded as Diccionario del erotismo, 2 volumes (Barcelona: Grijalbo, 1988);
La insólita y gloriosa hazaña del cipote de Archidona (Barcelona: Tusquets, 1977);
Los sueños vanos, los ángeles curiosos (Barcelona: Argos Vergara, 1979);
Album de taller (Barcelona: Ambit, 1981);
El espejo y otros cuentos (Madrid: Espasa-Calpe, 1981);
Los vasos comunicantes (Barcelona: Bruguera, 1981);
Vuelta de hoja (Barcelona: Destino, 1981);
Mazurca para dos muertos (Barcelona: Seix Barral, 1983); translated by Patricia Haugaard as Mazurka for Two Dead Men (New York: New Directions, 1992);
El juego de los tres madroños (Barcelona: Destino, 1983);
El asno de Buridán (Madrid: El País, 1986);
Las orejas del niño Raúl (Madrid: Debate Literatura Infantil, 1986);
Dedicatorias (Madrid: Observatorio, 1986);
Conversaciones españolas (Barcelona: Plaza y Janés, 1987);
Cristo versus Arizona (Barcelona: Seix Barral, 1988);
Los caprichos de Francisco de Goya y Lucientes (Spain: Silex, 1989);
El hombre y el mar (Barcelona: Plaza y Janés, 1990);
Galicia, text by Cela, illustrations by Laxeiro, photographs by Víctor Vaqueiro (Vigo, Spain: Ir Indo, 1990);
Discurso para unha xove dama amante dos libros (Vigo, Spain: Ir Indo, 1991);
Cachondeos, escarceos y otros meneos (Madrid: Temas de Hoy, 1991);
Desde el palomar de Hita (Barcelona: Plaza y Janés, 1991);
Páginas escogidas, edited by Darío Villanueva (Madrid: Espasa-Calpe, 1991);
Torerías: El gallego y su cuadrilla, Madrid, Toreo de salón y otras páginas taurinas, edited by Andrés Amorós (Madrid: Espasa-Calpe, 1991);
El camaleón soltero (Madrid: Grupo Libro 88, 1992);
El huevo del juicio (Barcelona: Seix Barral, 1993);
Memorias, entendimientos y voluntades (Barcelona: Plaza y Janés/Cambio 16, 1993);
El asesinato del perdedor (Barcelona: Seix Barral, 1994);
La cruz de San Andrés (Barcelona: Planeta, 1994);
La dama pájara y otros cuentos (Madrid: Espasa-Calpe, 1994);
A bote pronto (Barcelona: Seix Barral, 1994);
El color de la mañana (Madrid: Espasa-Calpe, 1996);
Poesía completa (Spain: Galaxia Gutenberg / Barcelona: Círculo de lectores, 1996);
Diccionario geográfico popular de España (Madrid: Comunidad de Madrid/Fundación de Camilo José Cela, Marqués de Iria Flavia/Noésis, 1998);
Historias familiares (Barcelona: Macia & Nubiola, 1998);
Madera de boj (Madrid: Espasa-Calpe, 1999); translated by Haugaard as Boxwood (New York: New Directions, 2002);
Homenaje al Bosco, II: La extracción de la piedra de la locura; o, El inventor del garrote (Barcelona: Seix Barral, 1999);
Cuadernos de El Espinar: Doce mujeres con flores en la cabeza (N.p.: L. Estal de Lletres, 2002).
PLAY PRODUCTIONS: María Sabina, libretto by Cela, translated by Luz Castaños and Theodore S. Beardsley, score by Leonardo Balada, New York, Carnegie Hall, 17 April 1970;
La sima de las penúltimas inocencias, by Cela and José María Subirachs Barcelona, Palacio de Pedralbes, 30 November 1993; Madrid, Hotel Ritz, 14 December 1993.
OTHER: Homaneje y recuerdo a Gregorio Marañón (1887-1960), edited by Cela (Madrid: Papeles de Son Armadans, 1961);
Fernando de Rojas, La Celestina puesta respetuosamente en castellano moderno por Camilo José Cela quien añadió muy poco y quitó aun menos, adapted by Cela (Barcelona: Destino, 1979);
Miguel de Cervantes Saavedra, El Quijote, edited by Cela (Alicante: Rembrandt, 1981).
TRANSLATION: Bertolt Brecht, La resistible ascensión de Arturo Ui (Madrid: Júcar, 1975).
In 1942 Camilo José Cela published his first major work of narrative fiction, the novel La familia de Pascual Duarte (translated as Pascual Duarte’s Family, 1946), which signaled the reemergence of Spain’s tradition of excellence relative to the modern European novel. This book secured for him a place alongside other young Spanish novelists whose works were indicators of Spain’s gradual recovery from the civil war their country had endured from 18 July 1936 through 1 April 1939. Cela’s reputation grew rapidly, and because he remained in Spain instead of going into exile, his works give testimony to his country’s struggle through the thirty-six years of Francisco Franco’s rule and the eventual emergence in 1975 of Spain as a democracy. Despite the controversies that have always surrounded his chosen themes and stylistic devices and his opinions about such matters as democracy, homosexuality, prostitution, technology, and younger Spanish writers, Cela’s unwavering dedication to the profession of writing was recognized toward the end of his career when he was awarded important Spanish literary prizes, such as the Premio Nacional (1984), the Príncipe de Asturias (1987), the Planeta Prize (1994), and the Cervantes Prize (1995). In 1989 he was awarded the Nobel Prize in Literature. He received the Pluma de Oro (Golden Pen) in 1995 and the Premio Gallegos del Mundo de las Letras (Galicians of the World of Arts Prize) in 2001 for his lifetime literary achievements.
Cela wrote short stories, essays, poetry, drama, travel books, and newspaper columns, but his novels in particular pay tribute to the strength of the Spanish spirit. They also attest to Cela’s self-imposed goal of renewed experimentation with narrative style. Cela’s works confirm his dissatisfaction with conformity. Decades of repression and censorship, which had become a way of life for Spaniards since 1936, were cat alysts for Cela’s literary audacity, his penchant for scandal, and a purposeful disregard for historical accuracy, as well as a rejection of in-depth psychological character portrayals. In light of the public scrutiny to which he had been subjected when censors deemed La familia de Pascual Duarte the product of a depraved mind, Cela intentionally fashioned the offensive public persona to which his only son, Camilo José Cela Conde, attests in Cela, mi padre (1989, Cela, My Father). Such acrimony culminated in Cela’s chosen epitaph: “El que resiste, gana” (He who withstands, wins).
Cela was born Camilo José Manuel Juan Ramón Cela y Trulock in Iria Flavia (O Coruña), Spain, on 11 May 1916, of Italian, British, Welsh, and Spanish ancestry. His parents were Camila Emmanuela Trulock y Bertorini and Camilo Cela y Fernández. He had four siblings: Jorge, Rafael, Juan-Carlos, and Teresa María. Cela often boasted of his lineage, believing that it gave him a special objectivity with which to understand his country, its history, and traditions. His father worked as a customs official, and in 1933 the family established permanent residence in Madrid. In his autobiographical volume La cucaña: Memorias (1959, The Greasy Pole: Memoirs; republished as La rosa , The Rose), Cela depicts himself as a difficult child, and his eccentricities began to take root in his university years (1934-1935 and 1939), during which he began and abandoned studies of medicine and law at the Central University of Madrid. In 1934 the first of two bouts with tuberculosis changed his life: his convalescence afforded him the opportunity to read the seventy-one-volume collection of the Biblioteca de Autores Españoles (Library of Spanish Authors), thereby fostering his budding literary aspirations. Cela did not take a university degree. Instead, his friendship with Pedro Salinas, a leading Spanish poet and critic, inspired him to start writing poetry.
Cela’s first work was Pisando la dudosa luz del día: Poemas de una adolescencia cruel (Treading the Dubious Light of Day: Poems of a Cruel Adolescence), written in 1936 but not published until 1945 because of his feelings of insecurity as an inexperienced writer and because of wartime hardships that limited publication of works by unknown authors. It is a collection of virulently expressive poems written at the height of the aerial bombings of Madrid in the first phase of the civil war. From 1940 on, when Cela began to frequent the prestigious Café Gijón tertulia (literary discussion group) in Madrid, the way was paved for the unflagging literary output of the six decades of his life as a writer.
In 1937 he was drafted into the Nationalist army and was discharged two years later for wounds received in the line of duty. Those of his critics who have been less than favorable have made a practice of emphasizing the fact that Cela fought on the side of the insurgents in addition to having worked for a brief period as a censor for various publications in the early days of the Francoist regime.
Cela’s first novel, La familia de Pascual Duarte, is about a disadvantaged man who was born to a violent, alcoholic father and an unschooled, promiscuous, and loveless mother in the early part of the twentieth century in Extremadura, one of the poorest regions of Spain. Pascual is a criminal who, while imprisoned, writes a first-person account of the events of his life. He continually assures the anonymous señor (sir) to whom his discourse is directed of his repentance, but ultimately the reader must make the final judgment concerning Pascual’s sincerity and the cause of his murderous acts and the matricide with which his narration ends. Playing right into the predetermined innocence of his symbolic name (the Paschal lamb sacrificed at the first Passover), he casts himself in the role of victim, all the while narrating his crimes in distorted chronological fashion. His inherited bad blood is underscored by the first lines of his written confession: “Yo, señor, no soy malo aunque no me faltarían motivos para serlo. Los mismos cueros tenemos todos los mortales al nacer y sin embargo, cuando vamos creciendo, el destino se complace en variarnos como si fuésemos de cera” (I am not, sir, a bad person, though in all truth I am not lacking in reasons for being one. We are all born naked, and yet, as we begin to grow up, it pleases Destiny to vary us, as if we were made of wax [translated by Anthony Kerrigan]). As he begins to recount the events of his life (and the lives of his parents, sister Rosario, retarded brother Mario, and wives Lola and Esperanza), contradictions, gaps, and enigmas surface. His recollection is spotty and replete with an accompanying rationale that is meant to condone his repeated acts of violence.
As John Kronik has pointed out, Pascual re-creates himself through his memoirs and thus permits his narrative to vacillate between the points of view of one who is sentenced to death and of the young man from Extremadura whose manhood was constantly brought into question. Five of his chapters are self-proclaimed moments of poetic and existential insight more befitting a poet than a murderer. On the other hand, his memory is tainted with colloquialisms, folk sayings, and a crudely scatological depiction of those events he selected to include in the episodic plotting of his story. In the same breath with which he excuses his bad memory, he nevertheless provides ample descriptions that can only be credited to fabrication and/or outright self-contradiction. In sum, his retrospection is lucid and graphic, as are his well-phrased jailhouse meditations on life and its meaning.
Cela frames Pascual’s words in a context of subversion, beginning with a “Preliminary Note by the Transcriber,” who claims to have “found the pages here transcribed in the middle of 1939 in a pharmacy at Almendralejo (God knows who put them there in the first place!). And from that day to this I have … brought some order into them, transcribed them, and made them make sense.” The note is followed by other quasi-official documents: “Duarte’s letter to the First Recipient of His Manuscript” (don Joaquín Barrera López, who was a good friend of the Count of Torremejía, don Jesús González de la Riva, whom Pascual murdered); an “Extract from the Last Will and [Handwritten] Testament of don Joaquín Barrera López”; and lastly, Pascual’s own tongue-in-cheek dedication to his victim, “don Jesús … who, at the moment when the author of this chronicle came to kill him, called him Pascualillo, and smiled.” As Pascual ends his confession with the words he uttered after having killed his mother (“I could breathe”), more documents are appended by the Transcriber, including a further explanation about the perplexing chronology of Pascual’s life after the matricide and the murder of don Jesús, the lack of information concerning the crime for which Pascual received the death sentence, and the fate of the manuscript of his confession. Included are also two letters, dated 9 and 12 January 1942, from eyewitnesses, both of which are at odds regarding Pascual’s demeanor at the time of his death by garrotte. These materials further confound Pascual’s veracity while purposefully exacerbating the ambiguities that plague the discourse.
The shocking and sordid details in La familia de Pascual Duarte were condemned by censors and critics alike on the first publication of the novel. The second edition was seized by government censors in 1943 and held for two years until it could be published again in Spain. Since then, however, La familia de Pascual Duarte has gone through more than 250 editions, second only to Miguel de Cervantes’s Don Quixote. It has been translated into thirty-three languages and continues to generate much debate, particularly concerning the pathology of criminality. The novel launched a series of works, such as Nada (1944, Nothing) by Carmen Laforet, that shared in Pascual’s graphic depiction of the conditions of life in Spain in the time preceding and following 1939. Studies in historiography have made it possible to view Cela’s Paschal lamb as the first of many disavowals of the Francoist regime’s sanitization of Spanish history.
In “Algunas palabras al que leyere” (A Few Words to Whoever Might Read This), his prologue to Mrs. Caldwell habla con su hijo (1953; translated as Mrs. Caldwell Speaks to Her Son, 1968), Cela classifies his second novel, Pabellón de reposo (1944; translated as Rest Home, 1961), as the antithesis of La familia de Pascual Duarte. Even those harsh critics of Cela’s first novel praised Pabellón de reposo for its lyrically sensitive treatment of seven patients who are dying of tuberculosis as well as for its use of their narrating voices in what constitutes a new beginning for them in the face of death. The work is admittedly tied to Cela’s firsthand experience with the same illness, itself the invisible protagonist to whom reverence is paid by way of the diary entries, letters, and other modes of narrative discourse in which these ailing men and women express their innermost fears and longings.
Except for one character named Felisa, all of the patients are identified by numbers (52, 37, 14, 40, 11, 73, and 103 [Felisa]). An authorial voice is heard sparingly over the course of the otherwise fragmented narrative discourse, breaking forth only to inform readers of a letter received from a “well-known physician and specialist in tuberculosis, Dr. A. M. S.,” who begged its recipient to stop publishing the novel in weekly newspaper installments. Overall, the commentaries of the sanatorium residents are what provide the details of their profiles: for example, number 37 says that her “friend in 52” is “a dreamer and a romantic”; and number 40 says of number 14 that “His eyes are more burning than ever, his smile more bitter, his nose more pinched in his face that is whiter. He looks like an amorous romantic poet, triumphant and suicidal, and scarcely twenty-five years old.” Their lives give poignancy to their illness as they attempt to find happiness, plan for the future, attend to business, and mend broken family relationships from within their confinement. A masterpiece of structural symmetry, the novel is divided into two equal parts, each one subdivided into seven chapters that in turn correspond to their respective patient-narrators. The refrain-like appearance of a redheaded gardener, pulling his rusted green wheelbarrow, marks the end of each chapter in the second part of the novel, thereby signaling the objective correlative of death carting away its victims one by one with unrelenting predictability.
This symmetry substantiates Cela’s preference for aesthetics over stylistics in dealing with the topic of tuberculosis. William David Foster comments that Pabellón de reposo represents “the first… of Cela’s many attempts to order the chaos of the universe into a meaningful pattern.” Other critics, such as J. M. Castellet, point to the determinism and sustained tremendista modality as indicative of Cela’s commitment to technical innovation. This work, which appears milder than La familia de Pascual Duarte, is in reality shockingly intimate, however lyrical, regarding the insidious power of death over the characters, whose blood-spattered bed-clothes are a constant reminder of their impending fate.
Interspersed with the publication of Cela’s first two novels are the picaresque adventures he created for Spain’s archetypal rogue, Lazarillo de Tormes (Nuevas andanzas y desventuras de Lazarillo de Tormes [1944, New Adventures and Misfortunes of Lazarillo de Tormes]), and the first of many short stories that are an important segment of his work. Among these collections of short works of prose fiction are Esas nubes que pasan (1945, Those Clouds that Go Past and Disappear), El bonito crimen del carabinero, y otras invenciones (1947, The Tidy Crime of the Armed Policeman and Other Tales), and Las botas de siete leguas: Viaje a la Alcarria, con los versos de su cancionero, cada uno en su debido lugar (1948, The Boots of Seven Leagues: Journey to the Alcarria, with Verses from Its Songbook of Poems, Each One in Its Due Place; translated as Journey to the Alcarria, 1964). The latter was one of the products of Cela’s ardent desire to fathom the essence of Iberian Spain through a series of walking tours. In 1949 he published more short prose works under the heading of El gallego y su cuadrilla y otros apuntes carpetovetónicos (The Galician and His Troupe and Other Thoroughly Spanish Notes). These tales led to the creation of a subgenre known as the apunte carpetovetónico, which, in a fashion similar to the hybrid prose works of his literary forebears of the “Generation of 1898” and José Ortega y Gasset (in his “walking and seeing” essays), is likened by Cela to a slice-of-life sketch, in either narration or drawing, of a character type or way of life that is specific to a certain time and place in Spain and whose particular pathos is derived from its own bittersweet quality.
Cela’s apuntes flourished throughout the 1950s and 1960s, as evidenced in Del Miño al Bidasoa (1952, From The Miño to the Bidassoa Rivers), Judíos, moros y cristianos (1956, Jews, Moors and Christians), Cuadernos del Guadarrama (1960, Guadarrama Notebooks), and Páginas de geografía errabunda (1965, Pages about Wandering). Within this same time frame he also published the novellas Timoteo el incomprendido (1952, Timoko the Misunderstood), Santa Balbina, 37, gas en cada piso (1952, Santa Balbina Street, or Gas in Every Apartment), El molino de viento y otras novelas cortas (1956, The Windmill and Other Short Novels), and Café de artistas (1953, Artists’ Café), as well as more collections of short stories: Baraja de invenciones (1953, Pack of Tales), Nuevo retablo de don Cristobita (1957, Don Cristobita’s New Tableau), La rueda de los ocios (1957, The Chorus of Those who Possess Leisure Time), Cajón de sastre (1957, Hodgepodge), and Historias de España: Los ciegos, las tontos (1957, Stories about Spain: The Blind Ones, the Foolish Ones). His literary fecundity of the 1950s was enhanced by three new novels: La colmena (1951; translated as The Hive, 1953), Mrs. Caldwell habla con su hijo, and Historias de Venezuela: La catira (1955, Stories of Venezuela: The Blonde).
La colmena was first published in Buenos Aires, because the Spanish censors objected to its themes of hunger, depravity, promiscuity, violence, and repression. The novel takes up the desperation and sense of hopelessness felt by the sickly characters in Pabellón de reposo. This time, the emotions are seen through the quasi-objective style of a roving journalist who injects his narration with slice-of-life conversations among more than 350 characters who live in Madrid in early 1940, during a time of severe shortages as the Spanish capital struggled through the aftermath of its civil war. Characterized technically by qualities of simultaneity, cinematography, fragmentation, and deconstruction, La colmena is one of its author’s most accomplished works. In writing about the novel as literary genre in “Algunas palabras al que leyere,” Cela refers to La colmena as a “clock novel … made of multiple wheels and tiny pieces which work together in harmony so that it [the clock] works.” The novel moves around the actions of a two-day period. Of the six parts of the novel, chapters 1, 2, and 4 constitute the first day, with the second day being spread out over chapters 3, 5, and 6. Everything occurs from afternoon through late night, with only the “Finale” taking place in the morning three or four days later.
Readers are plunged midstream into the mundane conversations of Madrid’s teeming masses, with particular emphasis on doña Rosa’s café “La Delicia,” don Celestino’s bar “Aurora,” brothels, and the apartments of married couples, as well as the open space of streets and the empty lot outside Madrid’s bullring. The novel opens with a timely reminder from doña Rosa: “Don’t let’s lose our sense of proportion,” an admonition that is immediately muted by the swell of the buzzing voices of the “hive.” Against the backdrop of incessant coughing (implying tuberculosis) and music, one soon gets the impression of overhearing private matters (clandestine sexual encounters, financial problems, and illicit propositions of various kinds) amid the nervousness of a society just getting used to a regime in which suspicious behavior or criticism of the new government warranted prosecution. Little of what is presented makes sense (in any true narrative fashion) until the dead body of donña Margot is found in the early evening hours of the first day (chapter 2). From that point on, various individuals’ names begin to provide direction, as characters such as her son, his homosexual partner, and the itinerant Martín Marco subtly are connected with other characters, incidents, and bits of information, thus forming story lines that hold the promise of solving the murder.
The descriptions of people and places are pointedly realistic, and all-encompassing abject poverty is depicted with genuine pathos evoked for children and young women such as Elvira, who is lucky to have a stale orange and a fistful of roasted chestnuts for supper. Much of the action involves liaisons between relatively affluent married men and less-fortunate women, such as Merceditas (sold into bondage at the age of thirteen), Purita (in charge of five younger siblings), or Victorita (who will go to any lengths to get money for the medicine that her boyfriend needs if he is to survive the tuberculosis from which he suffers). Among the more helpless is a six-year-old gypsy boy who lives under a bridge and eats sporadically, depending upon how many coins he collects from people who like to hear him sing. Just when tensions converge concerning donña Margot’s murder (and other illicit activities), the action is brought to an irregularly open-ended conclusion, as friends and family of Martín Marco read in the morning newspaper that he is being sought for questioning, at the same time that he, happier than ever before, is on his way to the cemetery to pay his respects at his mother’s grave.
La colmena received resounding praise from such respected critics as Ricardo Gullón, Gonzalo Torrente Ballester, Dámaso Alonso, Gregorio Marañón, and González Ruano; yet, many of the more conservative literary critics of the time condemned its radical departure from the prevailing literary realism of the 1950s. Eugenio de Nora, for example, whose seminal La novela contemporánea (1968, The Contemporary [Spanish] Novel) assured his place as a voice of authority, branded Cela a rebellious author whose works, like La familia de Pascual Duarte, were hyperrealistic, crudely offensive, and unacceptable for the literary and moral sensibilities of Franco’s conservative Catholic Spain. Even present-day Hispanists, such as biographer Ian Gibson, persist in denigrating Cela’s achievement in La colmena by underscoring the precedent set by John Dos Passos’s novel Manhattan Transfer (1925) and hence casting aspersions on the originality of La colmena and the revolutionary point of departure it heralded for the Spanish novel.
Mrs. Caldwell habla con su hijo shocked the Spanish reading public of its day by way of its taboo-driven theme of incest. The implied dialogue of the title is embedded in a narrative discourse of bawdy double entendres and heightened fragmentation. In a foreword to the novel, Mrs. Caldwell is identified by a friend and the editor of her papers as someone who has “died in the Royal Insane Asylum” of London; the 213 segments of her written tribute to her son, Eliacim (who died a sailor while on a training mission in the Aegean Sea), are irregular in length and coherence, matching perfectly the grieving mother’s self-centered, schizophrenic discourse. Because this mother-son relationship could only have been handled indirectly by way of the surrealistic images that break forth from Mrs. Caldwell’s writings, their conversation had to be equally evasive. Her narrative consciousness aside, Eliacim’s mother is fully aware that she is treading new ground and provides a cleverly veiled rationale for her statements: “It’s a long and strange story, Eliacim darling, that I don’t think ought to be told entirely.” In addition, a chapter titled “The Devil’s Presence” proffers strong evidence that Mrs. Caldwell was probably sexually abused as a child by her father, hence transferring her sexual deviance to her only child.
Mrs. Caldwell follows Pascual Duarte’s need to bare her soul in writing, while at the same time sharing with the reporter-narrator of La colmena an understanding of the tragedy of the human condition: “The people who pass in the street, my son, are … boring, resigned, monotonous … With their debts, their stomach ulcers, their family problems, their insane, miraculous plans, etc., walk with their spirits cowed, in no particular direction, with the secret hope that death will catch them by surprise, like the ax murderer who waits in ambush at the doors of schools.” She also resembles her predecessors in Pabellón de reposo, for she too awakes with increasing regularity to a blood-stained pillow. Her fragmentary messages are encoded in contradiction and ambiguity, at times sworn to her son to be truthful yet at the same time outrightly “lying.” Mrs. Caldwell creates her own and her son’s characters, together with episodes related to their friends, habits, and lives, all of which are based solely on her distorted perception of reality. What makes good sense to her comes across as absurd, as in the titles of her scribbles (“In the Swimming Pool” [chapter 13], “Lord Macaulay” [chapter 42], and “China and Crystal” [chapter 114]). Contrary to Cela’s previous novels, Mrs. Caldwell habla con su hijo offers no sustained editorial interference except the “Letters from the Royal Insane Asylum” and a concluding “Editor’s Note” that provides a keen tongue-in-cheek exegesis of her final statement: “In Mrs. Caldwell’s original, there follow two blurred, and completely undecipherable pages with obvious signs of moisture, showing unmistakable signs of having spent hours and hours under water, like a drowned sailor.”
By allowing a mentally and physically ill character such freedom of expression, Cela introduced the way for a repertoire of subjects that had, for the most part, been off-limits for Spanish readers. Mrs. Caldwell attests to marital infidelity, suicide, vice, fetishism, sexual abuse, violence, and hatred. In keeping with the prudence that was still required of Spanish writers in the early 1950s, Cela purposefully conferred upon his female narrator a name that was obviously not Spanish, bestowing her with autonomy but at the same time offering pointed, stylized commentary about Spanish mothers: “In far-off Spain, mothers bite their sons on the neck, drawing blood, to demonstrate their tenacious, unchanging love.” Such public national self-scrutiny, in turn, facilitated more criticism relative to such sacred institutions as “Family Life” (chapter 110) and marriage (in chapter 199, “The Well-Matched Married Couple”), all of which served as metaphors for the hypocrisy of the rules of etiquette and social decorum. It is not surprising that overall the novel has generated scant critical attention.
Similar outrage among critics was expressed when Cela was promised a sizable amount of money in 1953 by the Venezuelan government to spend time in that country in order to write a novel (La catira) that would accurately depict the nation’s spirit. Like Nuevas andanzas y desventuras de Lazarillo de Tormes of 1944, La catira has never been considered one of Cela’s major works; yet, it earned him the Critics’ Prize and the Andrés Bello Medal of Honor, which was conferred upon him by Venezuelan president Ramón José Velásquez. Also at this juncture in his career, Cela was inducted into the Royal Spanish Academy of the Language (1957); since then, he has been looked on as a leading literary figure and pioneer in post-Spanish Civil War prose fiction.
Cela moved to Majorca in 1956. He named the journal he founded that same year Papeles de Son Armadans (Papers from Son Armadans), after the neighborhood in Palma where he lived with his wife, María del Rosario Conde Picavea, whom he had married in 1944, and their son, born in 1946. Papeles de Son Armadans grew to be one of the only viable publishing outlets available to international writers and artists whose works would be otherwise banned by the regime on the Iberian Peninsula. With his brother Jorge, Cela also established the Alfaguara publishing house, which became one of the leading presses in Spain for the contemporary Spanish novel. Until 1989, when he returned to Spain to live (outside of Madrid in Guadalajara), he spent what were perhaps the most productive years of his career in his beloved Balearic house in La Bonanova. There he was instrumental in starting the Conversaciones Poéticas de Formentor, a colloquium for artists and writers such as Joan Miró and Robert Graves. There he also became friends with Pablo Picasso, who contributed various drawings to illustrate Papeles de Son Armadans that were later incorporated into Cela’s Gavilla de fábulas sin amor (1962, Bundle of Loveless Fables). In his 1964 pictorial essay Izas, rabizas y colipoterras: Drama con acompañamiento de cachondeo y dolor de corazón (the title words are neologisms without a suitable translation; the subtitle is Drama Accompanied by Joking and Heartache), Cela collaborated with the photographer Juan Colom, whose striking images of streetwalkers and other destitute Spanish women of the time boldly raised public consciousness about prostitution.
Cela continued to write such varied works as La cucaña, the first part of his autobiography; La obra literaria del pintor Solana (1957, The Literary Works of the Painter [José Gutiérrez] Solana), which originated as his acceptance speech for membership in the Royal Spanish Academy of the Language; tributes to Spanish intellectuals such as Pío Baroja and Gregorio Marañón; and more travel journals, such as Primer viaje andaluz: Notas de un vagabundaje por Jaén, Córdoba, Sevilla, Segovia, Huelva y sus tierras (1959, First Andalusian Trip: Notes of a Traveler through Jaén, Córdoba, Sevilla, Segovia, Huelva and Their Lands), Viaje al Pirineo de Lérida: Notas de un paseo a pie por el Pallars, Sobirá, el Valle de Arán y el Condado de Ribagorza (1965, Journey to the Pyrenees of Lérida: Notes of a Passage on Foot through Pallars, Sobirá, the Valle de Arán and the Condado de Ribagorza), Madrid (1966), and Barcelona (1970). His repertoire of short stories also expanded with Garito de hospicianos (1963, Gambling Den of Hospiced People), El solitario (1963, The Recluse), Toreo de salón (1963, Armchair Bullfighting), and La bandada de palomas (1969, The Flock of Pigeons).
During the 1960s Cela’s propensity for innovation resulted in increasing diversity and critical acclaim. In 1961 he wrote Cuatro figuras del 98 (Four Important People of the Generation of 1898) in tribute to his literary and spiritual mentors. This volume was followed by short works including Nuevas escenas matritenses (1965-1966, New Scenes from Madrid) and Tobogán de hambrientos (1962, Toboggan of Starving People), which critics such as Jorge A. Marbán consider to mark the apex of his excellence as an apuntes writer. Cela’s iconoclasm advanced his radical departure from literary conventions, as evidenced in such titles as Cuentos para leer después del baño (1974, Stories to Read after One’s Bath) and Enciclopedia del erotismo (1977, Encyclopedia of Eroticism). His works became markedly layered with scatology and sexual innuendos, as, for example, in Diccionñario secreto (1968, 1972; Secret Dictionary) and Rol de cornudos (1976, Catalogue of Cuckolds). This period of experimentation also yielded Cela’s debut as a playwright with María Sabina (1967) and Homenaje al Bosco, L: El carro de heno; o, El inventor de la guillotina (1969, Homage to Bosch, I: The Haywain; or, The Inventor of the Guillotine).
Spanish readers became familiar with Cela’s thoughtful yet unflinchingly provocative side when his essays about the state of affairs in Spain as the Franco dictatorship waned began appearing in Spanish dailies such as El País, El Independiente, and ABC. These essays were later republished in such collections as Al servicio de algo (1969, In the Service of Something), A vueltas con España (1973, Again Talking about Spain), Vuelta de hoja (1981, Next Page), Los vasos comunicantes (1981, Communicating Vessels), El camaleón soltero (1992, The Unmarried Chameleon), El huevo del juicio (1993, The Egg of Judgment), and El color de la mañana (1996, The Color of the Morning).
In Cela’s widely misunderstood Spanish Civil War novel, Víspera, festividad y octava de San Camilo del año 1936 en Madrid (1969, Eve, Feast and Octave of St. Camillus’s Day 1936 in Madrid; translated and commonly referred to as San Camilo, 1936, 1991), an anonymous narrator attempts to appease his guilt and sense of cowardice for not having participated in the events of the outbreak of the civil war and in particular in the siege of the Montaña Barracks in Madrid, which took the lives of many of his friends. He feels obliged to keep a written account of the events, and his most useful writing tool is a looking glass that fuels his introspection and serves as a metaphor for the stream-of-consciousness mode of storytelling in the novel. Maryse Bertrand de Muñoz speaks of the “river-paragraphs” that overtake a fluctuating second- and third-person narration of fact and fiction surrounding 18 July 1936, as the narrator “write[s] and write[s] telling God what’s happening on earth” while also pleading for an explanation concerning why “in Spain only the dead are important.” Cela’s concern for symmetry is again manifested in the subtitles and pertinent epigraphs that emphasize the upheavals of a country on the brink of civil war. San Camilo, 1936 is divided into three parts: structured around “The Eve of St. Camillus’s Day,” “St. Camillus’s Day,” and “The Octave of St. Camillus.” Also included is a somewhat dissonant epilogue in which the young narrator and his mentor-uncle, Jerónimo, discuss how to survive the impending catastrophe. The narrator’s hallucinatory verbal odyssey is meticulously punctuated by a numerical ordering of things in twos and threes and a carefully orchestrated progression of events in harmony with precise clock time, radio news bulletins, and conversations in bars throughout Madrid. The urban landscape is similar to that of La colmena, but the sustained focus on the city brothels gives the impression that the Spanish capital has nothing else with which to provide refuge for its politicians and ordinary citizens.
San Camilo, 1936 is also propelled by the constant movement set in motion in part 1 as a result of the deaths of the prostitute Magdalena and two important political figures from opposing sides: Lieutenant Colonel José Castillo and Joaquín Calvo Sotelo. As the syncopated narration of their funeral corteges fuels the action, other characters emerge and posit a future of further destruction, such as the young woman Virtudes, who dies in childbirth, and the frightened homosexual Matiítas, who commits suicide in a spectacularly grotesque manner once the war begins. The horror of the war notwithstanding, the narrator finds solace in his uncle Jerónimo’s words of wisdom: “don’t squander your twenty years in the service of anybody… look out for the Spaniard you carry inside you … even though you think this is the end of the world it’s not… it’s only a purgation of the world, a preventive and bloody purgation but not an apocalyptic one.”
As with much of Cela’s work after La colmena, criticism of San Camilo, 1936 has been varied. Those who view it positively, such as David Herzberger, Pierre Ullman, and Bertrand de Muñoz, share a postmodern orientation. Paul Ilie, on the other hand, exemplifies less-favorable commentaries in his assessment of “the politics of obscenity” that underscore the novel. Still others fail to discern that the kernels of Cela’s life that are integrated into the novel disparage Cela by attributing to him the narrator’s cowardice. The stridency of this response, however, culminated with the publication in 1973 of Cela’s outlandish novel oficio de tinieblas 5 (office of darkness 5), which is written entirely in lowercase letters, with minimal punctuation. It borrows from Gottfried Wilhelm Leibniz in its division of the narration into 1,194 “monads” (short text fragments) that confirm the first of three epigraphs to the work: “naturally, this is not a novel but rather the purge of my heart.”
The irregular structure of oficio de tinieblas 5 is clarified by a long subtitle: novela de tesis escrita para ser cantada por un cow de enfermos (thesis novel written to be sung by a choir of sickly people). It is intended to take place on the first of April, when ecclesiastical homage is rendered to those people who have successfully passed through the process of canonization on their way to official sainthood. Sarcasm and parody of church rituals and belief aside, the date is significant because it marks the official proclamation in 1939 of the end of the Spanish Civil War and the beginning of Franco’s rule. In addition, the thematics of the novel and the criticism it levels on modern society signal the pinnacle of Cela’s career in terms of breaking with tradition. Taboos are unleashed in an unceasing litany of sexual freedom and deviance. The characters (more than 120 of them), whether real (Napoleon Bonaparte, the Roman emperor Trajan, Picasso) or fictitious, are spared no mercy as the stylized sketches of their lives are converted into deconstructed stories that are grouped together as fiction, sometimes in sequenced monads, for example, numbers 939-941 (El Cid and Charlemagne). As with Cela’s use of the titular number 5 to indicate an absence of logic, a poetics of deceit governs every absurdity coming from the narrator-author as he is reminded that people love to be entertained with lies (monad 372). He understands that his existence, like that of the narrator of San Camilo, 1936, is one of negation and self-destruction facing emotional and spiritual bankruptcy (monad 449). For him, his “office of darkness” facilitates searching for what holds humankind hostage: “it is magic in the service of evil struggling against mankind” (monad 1097).
The narration, in the first and second persons, flows from introspection about “defeat... at twenty-five years of age” to the certainty of death. The narrator’s anonymity is carried over to those family members whose antics and bizarre relationships become an integral part of his written testimony: they are referred to as “yourcousin” (written as one word), “your father don’t mention his name,” “your little grandmother,” and “your mother.” Because “yourcousin” bears on his forehead a signature wrinkle in the shape of an inverted question mark (unique to Spanish orthography), it is clear that the family is of Spanish-speaking lineage. Such nonsensical practices as the grandfather’s obsession with making tape recordings of chirping dead birds confound every aspect of the narration and any semblance of a story. In contrast to the anonymity within the narrator’s family, however, is a panoply of invented and real names, such as “monseñor metrófanes david peloponesiano” (monad 1186), “sir Joshua nehemit” (monad 1189), James Meredith, Fred Hampton, and Martin Luther King Jr., all of which lift the narrative from its Spanish origins and catapult it into a universal realm where it is not uncommon to hear references to the Holocaust, Vietnam, or Bosnia.
In sum, the story in oficio de tinieblas 5 is about the life and death of humankind as it is refracted in characters such as Napoleon, El Cid, “yourcousin,” or “your father don’t mention his name,” whose endeavors respond to a dynamics of negation and annihilation. For that reason the narrative axis (beginning with monad 794) follows along the lines of fourteen death notices (of some of the more cohesively sustained characters) and ends with the minute-by-minute account of the narrator’s own demise at “23h, 59’ 59" yes, it would have been more convenient to be defeated on time Oh O’ O"” (monad 1194).
The broadened scope and increasingly uninhibited tenor of Cela’s literary undertakings during the 1970s prompted even critics and enthusiasts who had praised La familia de Pascual Duarte and La colmena as premier examples of post-Spanish Civil War fiction to proclaim that his career as a novelist had come to an end. Cela continued nonetheless to write short fiction (collected in Balada del vagabundo sin suerte y otros papeles volandews [1973, The Luckless Vagabond’s Ballad and Other Loose Papers], El espejo y otros cuentos [1981, The Mirror and Other Short Stories], and Las orejas del niño Raúl [1986, Young Raul’s Ears]), essays, and Nuevo viaje a la Alcarria (1986, New Journey to Alcarria), a revised version of his acclaimed 1948 travel book. Two years after Franco’s death in 1975, Cela was named by King Juan Carlos I as a senator to the Spanish parliament, a service that prompted him to write a series of essays about Spain’s transition to democratic rule. In 1980 he was inducted into the Galician Academy, and, much to his critics’ surprise, in 1984 he was awarded the country’s Premio Nacional (National Prize) for his novel Mazurca para dos muertos (1983; translated as Mazurka for Two Dead Men, 1992), which was a resounding success, selling more than 180,000 copies in 1984 and another 235,000 in 1990.
Mazurca para dos muertos marks a return to more traditional storytelling while also implementing a new discursive model. With perhaps the exception of La colmena and oficio de tinieblas 5, the fictive truths around which Cela’s novels revolve are disclosed at the outset: Pascual is a criminal; the patients in Pabellón de reposo know they are going to die; Mrs. Caldwell’s son has already died; and the Spanish Civil War is an historical fact. The same unveiling applies in Mazurca para dos muertos despite its protracted account of the full details of the story. Someone with obvious narrative omniscience begins by explaining that “In that whorehouse where he earned his living, Gaudencio would play a fairly wide repertoire of tunes but there is one mazurka, Ma Petite Marianne, that he played only twice: in November 1936 when Lionheart [Afouto] was killed, and in January 1940 when Moucho was killed. He never would play it again.” Because nobody understands much about what is taking the lives of so many of their men, the narration is dismissive of the significance of the war, and it is overshadowed by what remains foremost in the minds of the Gamuzo family: avenging the untimely deaths of two of their kinsmen, Afouto and Lázaro Codesal. Afouto was murdered by Fabian Minguela Abrogán (Moucho), while Lázaro Codesal died on military assignment “at the Tizzi-Azza post in Morocco,” where he “was treacherously killed by a Moor [from the Tafersit tribe].” The events pertaining to both are told to don Camilo on a visit to his family after years of having been away, with narrative and chronological time blending into “the prudent onward march of the world spinning and turning as the drizzle falls with neither beginning nor end.”
The typically lush landscape and bountiful legends and superstitions of Galicia support an atmosphere in which death and annihilation, vengeance, murder, violence, and family honor are the principle coordinates of a narrative grid of incidents that have made widows of most of the women. The voices of matriarchs such as Ramona and Adega are crucial to the discourse that expands with each retelling of basically the same events. Everything don Camilo hears centers around what happened before and after either the Spanish Civil War or Afouto’s murder.
The oscillating rhythm of past memory and present narration emphasizes the oral transmission of information, while references to the mazurka mark the musical substructure of circularity, repetition, and refrain in the novel: “I play whatever I like… That piece of music isn’t for any Tom, Dick, or Harry and I’m the only one that knows when to play it and what it means.” The alternating voices that carry on the oral tradition offer brief conversational vignettes that clarify previous utterances, introduce new characters, or explain linguistic peculiarities that are a part of the Galician lexicon that is intrinsic to the novel (Cela included in the Spanish edition a map of the area and a vocabulary of Galician terms). The discourse unfolds in ritualistic fashion as pieces of information are disseminated relative to the family’s plans for avenging Afouto’s murder. Moucho is eventually killed by Tanis Gamuzo’s two dogs, Sultan and Moor, and poetic justice is inversely conferred upon Lázaro Codesal, whose life was ended by a Moorish assassin.
The move away from Madrid as chosen fictive space for Cela’s later novels is most evident in Cristo versus Arizona (1988, Christ versus Arizona), which takes place in Tombstone, Arizona, and covers the years from 1895 through 1988 amid the desert flora and fauna of the southwestern United States, where Spain left an indelible mark on the diverse indigenous cultures. The narrator, Wendell España, offers what he repeatedly states to be a true report of the events he witnessed during his life in the “Sodom and Gomorrah” of Tombstone, where “law and order are worthless.” In contrast to his sworn truthfulness, his testimony is dotted with tongue-in-cheek insistence on the inaccuracies of the episodes included in his chronicle, primarily because he writes down what has been told him by word of mouth, thus following Mazurca para dos muertos in preferring oral over written transmission. Aware of the licentious and graphic quality of the stories, Wendell is insistent upon not publishing his chronicle until all of his sources are dead, a narrative strategy that calls to mind the confusing paratextual documents that frame Pascual’s confession-driven manuscript.
Unlike Pascual, however, Wendell is merely the chronicler of the hybridized time and place into which he was born and of which his identity bears all the signs (including the mark his father made on him with a branding iron to commemorate the beginning of the twentieth century). Wendell, at twenty-two years of age, haphazardly made his mother’s acquaintance in the brothel where she worked, after he had paid for her services. Whereas matricide forever seals Pascual’s fate, Wendell (like Eliacim in Mrs. Caldwell habla con su hijo) is plagued with the consequences of his implied incest. Perhaps for that reason he insists upon clarifying repeatedly that his name is “Wendell Espana, Wendell Liverpool Espana, maybe it is Span or Aspen instead of Espana, I never really found out,” despite the fact that “many people keep thinking that my name is Wendell Liverpool Lochiel, that was before knowing who my parents had been.”
He never reveals the real motive for keeping his written record, but at the same time he fills it with information, dates of events, and names of characters, such as the well-known prostitutes Big Nose Kate, Pumice Stone, Big Minnie, and Betty Pink Casey; the Earp and Clanton families; Sheriff Sam W. Lindo; Sitting Bull; and Cochise. His account models “the litany to Our Lady who is the armor that preserves us from sin,” which echoes rhythmically throughout the narration. In addition, the litany to the Mother of God also parallels a registry that the prostitute Cyndy keeps of her regular clients. Interspersed with the sordid background of barroom and brothel scenes, lynchings, and gunfights are legends (about snakes, desert plants, and elixirs) and indigenous mythologies (including the invocation of a litany to St. Joseph in order to stave off poisonous vipers). Once again, a chain of character-driven incidents holds the narration together.
Wendell’s story is made up of one hyperbolically long sentence. His is the prose of an unschooled individual, but it is, nevertheless, pointedly critical of the malevolence visited upon native America by the colonizing Spaniards (and, by extension, Europeans), and also remindful of certain themes that are in the forefront of Cela’s later novels, among them the depiction of twentieth-century life as a division between “winners and losers” whose actions square them off with a legal system in which poorly trained judges and executioners purportedly strive to achieve justice. Most visible in Cristo versus Arizona are the criminals and foreigners who make their way to Tombstone, where “more than half of the hanged were foreigners”; equally striking are the large numbers of Chinese and African Americans. The same applies to the Native American population: “the Sioux were defeated by the White Man at Wounded Knee, the heroic adventures of Chief Little Big Man had nothing to do with the movie.” For all of the incriminatory words about how “everything Yankee is bad,” no one bears the brunt of Cela’s chastisement more than the Spaniards themselves, as Wendell calls to mind his own ethnic background by naively explaining his use of Spanish: “one has to perpetrate the savage act in the same language and with the same tongue as the one with which one curses and blesses.” In full recognition and public admission of the many sins covering a “heart-shaped stone” that is a symbolic gathering point in the nearby Arizona desert as well as a metaphor for Europe’s expansion into the Americas by way of Tombstone, a serious “examination of conscience” precedes Wendell’s parting plea for mercy in the Agnus Dei litany with which he ends his chronicle. Luis Blanco Vila is correct in his assertion that Cristo versus Arizona enjoyed little popularity in Spain because its readers were unable to grasp the meaning of the Wild West and were therefore unwilling to accept Wendell’s invitation for self-scrutiny.
Cela received the Nobel Prize in Literature in 1989. That same year his divorce from his wife of forty-four years fueled a wave of public criticism, which intensified in 1991 when he wed Marina Castaño, a journalist several decades his junior. The fifth Spanish Nobel laureate since Vicente Aleixandre in 1973, Cela was overjoyed at having won this prize, which he admitted (in a 6 November 1989 El País interview) that he had sought since having written La familia de Pascual Duarte. In a 1996 Paris Review interview he pointedly stated that he “was one of the least awarded Spanish writers.” His candidacy had first been proposed to the Nobel committee in 1959, and again in 1975 (by Marcel Bataillon, a well-known French Hispanist), in 1982, and in 1987. The New York Times (20 October 1989) was quick to report that “Some scholars today question … the academy’s choice of Mr. Cela,” citing noted Hispanist Julio Ortega’s tepid acknowledgment that “Mr. Cela is a conventional, safe choice.” Notwithstanding diverse reactions to the selection of Cela over the 150 candidates presented for the award that year, the prize appeared to give tacit recognition to Spain’s peaceful transition to democracy and full partnership in Europe’s emerging profile as a united world power. On a more personal level, Cela’s friend and fellow writer Francisco Umbral summed it up best: “his triumph coincided with the separation from his wife, an illness, meeting Marina, and a change in city and home, the return to the Alcarria of his younger days, and his final move to [the fashionable] Puerta de Hierro” district in Madrid. Additionally, Umbral’s opinion about “the hard part of winning the Nobel being not so much winning as knowing how to cope with it” provides a veiled assessment of the effects such fame had on Cela.
There is general agreement that 1989 marked the diminution of Cela’s creativity. Until the time of his death in 2001, Cela’s private life and characteristic public gaffes, rather than his literary output, became the rallying points for commentary about him. When the long-awaited novel Madera de boj (translated as Boxwood, 2002), which he had been promising since at least 1994, finally appeared in October 1999, Jesús Ruiz Mantilla reported that Cela had said winning the Nobel Prize had so overwhelmed him that he threw away all of his previous notes for the novel and only began working on it in earnest years later. Madera de boj and other novels took second place to public appearances, interviews, and endorsements, which he claimed the Nobel legitimized. A few years before his death, a caustic public remark about homosexuality and the Spanish poet Federico García Lorca’s legacy led to a vociferous outcry from critics demanding that the Nobel commission consider rescinding its 1989 decision. While nothing ever came of it, the incident did little to bolster public or critical acceptance of Cela’s last three novels. When he won Spain’s most prestigious literary award, the Cervantes Prize, in 1995, there was little jubilation. From 1990 through 1991 and from 1993 to 1995, Cela wrote (almost) daily articles for the El Independiente and ABC newspapers, respectively. He also devoted an inordinate amount of time to such public venues as presiding over the panel of judges for the Príncipe de Asturias Prize in 1991 and giving lectures for the opening of the “Jornadas Semana del Seguro” in May 1991 and the International Congress on the Spanish Language (although the press criticized him for reading the same speeches).
For Cela the Nobel Prize was curiously misaligned with other events in his life that distorted his lifelong goal of nurturing the creative process through writing. According to a 2004 memoir by Cela’s last assistant and secretary, Gaspar Sánchez Salas, Cela had often said that “money in literature, if it comes along, is always icing on the cake”; but as Umbral points out, he will also be remembered as the Nobel recipient whose financial worries prevented him from writing. His lavish expenses included a Bentley automobile and a large house in Puerta de Hierro. Financial concerns were behind his entering his novel La cruz de San Andrés (1994, St. Andrew’s Cross) in the competition for the commercialized Planeta Prize, worth fifty million pesetas, which he won in 1994. Spanish newspapers frequently gave accounts of the corporate network that he and Castaño created in order to shield his personal assets. Both his son and his brother Jorge, in expressing regret that Cela had allowed himself to become fodder for the tabloid press, echoed Umbral’s comment concerning the utter loneliness that shrouded the Nobel laureate’s last years in Puerta de Hierro. For Cela, however, no reward was greater than the Nobel’s symbolic public repudiation of the scorn of his harshest and most unrelenting critics.
Despite his waning career, he composed the second part of his long-awaited autobiography: Memorias, entendimientos y voluntades (1993, Memories, Understandings and Wishes). In addition, he developed more apuntes-type works, such as Cachondeos, escarceos y otros meneos (1991, Jokes, Dabblings and Other Fidgeting), the play La sima de las penúltimas inocencias (1993, The Sinkhole of Penultimate Innocence), the play La dama pájara y otros cuentos (1994, Lady Bird and Other Tales), and Historias familiares (1998, Familiar Stories). Also among these works is a return (as with prior works devoted to Solana and Picasso) to the world of art: Los caprichos de Francisco de Goya y Lucientes (1989, Francisco de Goya’s Caprices). In 1999 Homenaje al Bosco, II: La extractión de la piedra de la locura; o, El inventor del garrote (Homage to Bosch, II: The Origins of the Source of Insanity; or, The Inventor of the Garrote), the second part of his 1969 play El carro de heno, was published but, despite having been commissioned for the celebration of the quincentennial discovery of the Americas, never staged because of its projected length (almost six hours) and proposed budget (millions of pesetas). He also wrote three novels of considerable length: El asesinato del perdedor (1994, The Murder of the Loser), La cruz de San Andrés, and Madera de boj, which all share the same themes as Cela’s fiction over the years: social deviance and rejection of authority and fanaticism.
In El asesinato del perdedor, Mateo Ruecas is jailed for having shown public affection to his girlfriend Soledad in a Spanish town called N.N. His case is emblematic of the many others in the novel whose “errors” form the mismatched episodic vignettes that destabilize an already dizzying, fragmented text for which several narrator-authors claim responsibility. It is made clear at the onset that any “concession to the collective good taste, to cunning and uneducated public good taste” is out of order. The novel opens with a soliloquy of sorts by Michael Percival, “el Agachadizo” (the Stooped-Over), who lived some two hundred years ago. He mumbles about how to deal with enemies, addressing some invisible listeners: “make every effort to infect them with some humiliating illness … AIDS or leprosy or nostalgia.” Even though Percival’s enigmatic figure resurfaces rarely over the course of the novel, he functions as a marker in an otherwise aimless narration of disconnected characters and events. He also becomes loosely associated with Mateo, a metaphor for those whom society has labeled as “losers.” Unlike Pascual, Mateo feels an overwhelming sense of shame for having spent time in jail, which causes him to take his own life. His “error” is juxtaposed with lascivious and scatological stories that mirror and at the same time minimize greatly his own. An array of silly characters (including Mrs. Belushi, Juan Grujidora, Estefanía Yellowbild, Zaqueo Nicomediano, Professor Maurus Waldawj, M.D., and Pamela Pleshette of Restricted Beach, Florida) underscores the ridiculousness of Mater’s faux pas, again attesting to Cela’s use of parody and sarcasm as a means of cutting down to size all societally sanctioned pretensions of greatness. In this way, Cela undermines even his own narratorial authority and, therefore, favors literary invention over historical accuracy. The masses, however, continue to be entertained by the misfortunes of such “losers” (prostitutes, beggars, people with physical impediments and little formal education), who end up in public executions for which people clamor to get tickets.
The discourse amounts to a catalogue of utterances and antics replete with gymnastics, pantomime, and Chaplinesque mimicry. The gossip that spreads in everyday life about people’s misfortunes runs current with the spontaneity of the text; short snippets of conversations parody the narration and allow the discourse to proceed along the same chatty lines. Periodic references are made to a “choir of beggars” who provide the music for the public executions. Also distinguishable is a constrained theatrical subtext that transforms El asesinato del perdedor into a linguistic, narrative, thematic, philosophical, and fictive spectale, not the least of which is the metamorphosis of Pascual Duarte into Esteban Ojeda, who confirms the transformation by claiming that he “was pretty famous years ago, when I wrote a few pages which began like this: I am not, sir, a bad person, though in all truth I am not lacking in reasons for being one, etc.” Later, Ojeda says that he “would like to write in the first person, it is always easier. It’s as if I were Mateo Ruecas, I close my eyes and I feel like I am Mateo Ruecas, the loser about whom they speak in this true story. My girlfriend is called Soledad.” Continuing Cela’s fondness for accompanying documents, readers are also presented with a letter written by Juana Olmedo, coordinator of the Mateo Ruecas Effort, to Mr. Sebastián Cardeñosa López of O Coruña (Galicia), reminding him of the harm that was done to Mateo because of his modest social status and the “errors” of the Spanish judicial system; she cites a need to change “article 431 of the Penal Code, referring to public scandals” and asks that he write a formal condemnation of the matter so that, as petitioned her by Mateo’s mother, no other poor Spanish family ever again has to suffer the abuses of a legal system that is rife with poorly trained judges.
El asesinato del perdedor provoked ire, frustration, and disillusionment among readers accustomed to the more traditional storytelling format to which Spanish novels had returned in the 1980s, and it has been given little critical attention. Nevertheless, Pascual Duarte’s late-twentieth-century reincarnation is evidence of Cela’s lifelong commitment to artistic invention. The same can be said of La cruz de San Andrés, which intertwines elements of theater and narrative in keeping with its author’s goal of constant renewal. This novel deals with multiple themes ranging from metafiction to philosophy, feminism, religious fanaticism, historiography, literary invention, and life at the end of the millenium. It chronicles the collapse of the López Santana family, which is celebrated as a “black Mass of confusion” and is unabashedly thrown, like “rotten entrails,” to its readers as transcribed from the original “manuscript” of sorts, which was boastfully written by narrator Matilde Verdú (under whose name Cela published the book) on rolls of toilet paper.
The structure of the novel, like that of Mazurca para dos muertos, echoes a more traditional manner of writing; yet, the chapters are given subtitles that are befitting of plays: “Dramatis personae,” “Plot,” “Exposition,” “Complication,” and “Denouement/Ending, Final Coda, and Internment of the Last Puppets.” The dramatic vicissitudes of the López Santana family are highlighted by myriad references to icons of pop culture (Betty Boop, Ava Gardner, Marilyn Monroe, Robert Taylor, and L. Ron Hubbard). There is one prevailing third-person voice that comments on the other narrators. Additionally, recognition is given to the source document that was written by the character Pilar Seixón, but Matilde Verdú, who sometimes also refers to herself as Matilde Lens and Matilde Meizoso, remains the primary chronicler.
Matilde tells her story based on cues from her own conversational interludes with an unnamed interrogating voice who occasionally says things such as “Take a short break and continue,” or “Do you believe that history has to be told in detail and stopping for minutiae and nuisances?” Matilde also embellishes her tale with parts of her own life, principally claiming that she and her husband, because of their political affiliation with the Republican faction of the Spanish Civil War, were crucified on St. Andrew’s crosses. When, however, it is revealed that Matilde is simply satisfying the editorial demands of her literary agent, Paula Fields, in order to earn the $600,000 she has been promised for her manuscript, the noble undertaking of her chronicle turns as farcical as the toilet paper on which it is written. As Fran, the last of the López Santana family members, slits his wrists in obedience to the leader of the secret cult of the “Community of the Daybreak of Jesus Christ,” so too disintegrates the family and, by extension, the ignoble chronicle.
Madera de boj is both a tribute to those who drowned in the waters off the coast of Spain’s north-western promontory and a narrative elegy to that portion of the Atlantic Ocean that bathes Galicia’s “Coast of Death” and finisterre (land’s end). The litany-like narration is intentionally mired in sentences that go on for pages, interrupted by casual conversational exchanges, a Galician register of terms and expressions, recipes, legends and superstitions, aphorisms, punctilious references to the area’s maritime topography, flora and fauna, and a blend of foreign names (Knut Skien, Juanitojorick, James and Hans E. Allen, and Marco Polo). The endless tossing of the discourse is a metaphor for a sea that is an “open book in which everything was written and could be read with ease” and also the source of a “never-ending list of shipwrecks” that populate a virtual world of dead people. Both narrator and reader assume the role of “sailors” and, as such, have scant assurance that the compass that the narrating voice inherited will be of use because of the disquieting, yet alluring, submerged gold from the teeth of all the sailors who drowned there—which, seafarers say, throws reliable navigational instruments wildly off course.
The anonymous narrator shows extensive knowledge of the maritime and the English-speaking worlds. Having developed a successful whaling industry (which ended up dividing them), his ancestors were also tied to water: his Norwegian uncle, Knut Skien, hunted whales and the mythical Marco Polo ram; his cousin, Vitiño Leis Agulleiro, was the captain of the shipwrecked Arada; and his grandfather founded the Royal Regatta Club of Galicia in 1902. Their favorite pastimes included playing rugby, tennis, and cricket, and reciting Edgar Allan Poe’s poetry in Galician while facing the sea. The most wealthy among them, Uncle Dick, spent an entire lifetime aimlessly pursuing his dream of building a house out of boxwood, a shrub that is used decoratively in gardens but unsuitable for the construction of large structures. Given the clearly enunciated premise that legend and fantasy are “more powerful than the truth,” Madera de boj constitutes an allegorical superstructure about struggling to attain what is beyond reach.
In 2000 Camilo José Cela University was founded on the outskirts of Madrid. It is a small, private institution that offers computer-based instruction with an emphasis on research and critical inquiry.
Cela died on 17 January 2002. He bequeathed his small forest resort along the coast of Sant Elm in Majorca to the Grup d’Ornitologia Balear (Balearic Ornithology Group). He also left several unfinished projects, among them a novel to be called “Dry sicuta” (Dry Hemlock). In November 2002 his widow appeared at the Reina Sofía Museum in Madrid to unveil Cuadernos de El Espinar: Doce mujeres con flores en la cabeza (Notebooks from The Espinar Residence: Twelve Women with Flowers on Their Heads), facsimiles of twelve etchings by Cela. Public scrutiny of his work continued, focusing on an accusation of plagiarism in La cruz de San Andrés, of which he was posthumously found not guilty, and an alleged prior agreement with the Planeta publishing house to submit the novel for the 1994 Planeta Prize, which Cela had won. Sánchez Salas has asserted that the Nobel laureate is innocent of these charges, as well as of using ghostwriters toward the end of his career. Cela’s death also drew attention because of questions of inheritance, the legal rights to his literary legacy, and the future direction of the Cela Foundation, which he had established some years before in Iria Flavia, Galicia, as the repository for his manuscripts and relevant papers. The degree to which Cela’s life and works have generated both praise and criticism is brought home by several biographical accounts of his life: Cela: Un cadáver exquisito (2002, Cela, an Exquisite Corpse) by Umbral; Desmontando a Cela (2002, Dismantling Cela) by journalist Tomás García Yebra; Cela, el hombre que quiso ganar (2003, Cela, the Man Who Wanted to Win) by Gibson; and the two published works of Sánchez Salas, Cela: El hombre a quien ví llorar (2002, Cela: The Man I Saw Cry) and Cela: Mi derecho a contar la verdad (2004, Cela: My Right to Tell the Truth).
As has often been stated, Camilo José Cela’s works of prose fiction do not placate the painful soul-searching of the human condition. To quote the Nobel committee, his is a “rich and intensive prose, which with restrained compassion forms a challenging vision of man’s vulnerability.” Cela’s novels far surpass capturing the spirit of Spain in the twentieth century; they lay bare the workings of the human species over the course of time. Cela’s disjointed language parallels the truncated bond between people of all places and walks of life. The shocking imperfections and personal failings of his characters are exponentially equivalent to Cela’s disdain for the entrapment of politically constrained social and literary correctness. In the words of the anonymous narrator of Modera de boj, “the model is Emile Zola or doña Emilia Pardo Bazán, now it’s not anymore like before, now people have discovered that the novel is a reflection of life and life has no ending other than death, that pirouette that is never the same.”
“Un escritor sin miedo,” El País, Suplemento Mensual de las Letras, 6 November 1989, International Edition, 1-3;
Valerie Miles, “Camilo José Cela: The Art of Fiction CXLV,” Paris Review, 139 (Summer 1996): 124-163.
Camilo José Cela Conde, Cela, mi padre (Madrid: Temas de Hoy, 1989);
Francisco Umbral, Cela: Un cadáver exquisito (Barcelona: Planeta, 2002);
Gaspar Sánchez Salas, Cela: El hombre a quien ví llorar (Barcelona: Carena, 2002);
Tomás García Yebra, Desmontando a Cela (Madrid: Libertarias, 2002);
Ian Gibson, Cela, el hombre que quiso ganar (Madrid: Aguilar, 2003);
Sánchez Salas, Cela: Mi derecho a contar la verdad (Barcelona: Belacqva, 2004).
Maryse Bertrand de Muñoz, “El estatuto del narrador en San Camilo, 1936,” in Crítica semiológica de textos literarios hispánicos, edited by Miguel Angel Garrido Gallardo (Madrid: Consejo Superior de Investigaciones Científicas, 1986), pp. 579-589;
Luis Blanco Vila, Para leer a Camilo José Cela (Madrid: Palas Atenea, 1991);
Silvia Burunat, “El monólogo interior en Camilo José Cela,” in her El monólogo como forma narrativa en la novela española (Madrid: José Porrúa Turanzas, 1980), pp. 57-82;
“Camilo José Cela, a Spanish Novelist, Wins Nobel Prize,” New York Times, 20 October 1989;
J. M. Castellet, “Iniciación a la obra narrativa de Camilo José Cela,” Revista Hispánica Moderna, 28 (1962): 107-150;
“Cela creó con Marina Castaño una red de sociedades para blindar su patrimonio,” El País, 5 February 2002;
“Cela repitió su discurso de Zacatecas de 1997, que erai gual a otro de 1992,” El Pais, 19 October 2001;
Lucile C. Charlebois, Understanding Camilo José Cela (Columbia: University of South Carolina Press, 1998);
Javier Cuartas, “El pueblo de Puerto Rico recibe el Premio Príncipe de Asturias de las Letras,” El País, 22 April 1991, p. 19;
William David Foster, Forms of the Novel in the Work of Camilo José Cela (Columbia: University of Missouri Press, 1967);
Paul Ilie, La novelística de Camilo José Cela (Madrid: Gredos, 1961);
Ilie, “The Politics of Obscenity in San Camilo, 1936,” Anales de la Novela de Posguerra, 1 (1976): 25-63;
ênsula, special Cela/Nobel Prize in Literature issue, 518-519 (February-March 1990);
Robert Kirsner, The Novels and Travels of Camilo José Cela (Chapel Hill: University of North Carolina Press, 1964);
John Kronik, “Pascual’s Parole,” Review of Contemporary Fiction, 4, no. 3 (1984): 111-118;
Jorge A. Marbán, “Fases y alcance del humorism en los apuntes carpetovetónicos de Cela,” Hispanic Journal, 2 (Spring 1981): 71-79;
Eloy E. Merino, El nuevo Lazarillo de Camilo J. Cela: Política y cultura en su palimpsesto (Lewiston, N.Y.: Edwin Mellen Press, 2000);
Janet Pérez, Camilo José Cela Revisited (New York: Twayne, 2000);
José Luis S. Ponce de León, La novela española de la Guerra Civil (Madrid: ênsula, 1971);
Olga Prjevalinsky, El sistema estético de Camilo José Cela (Valencia: Castalia, 1960);
Review of Contemporary Fiction, special Cela issue, 4, no. 3 (1984);
Jesús Ruiz Mantilla, “Con el Nobel cogí miedo a Madera de boj; El País, 28 September 1999;
Darío Villanueva, “La intencionalidad de lo sexual en Cela,” Los Cuadernos del Norte, 51 (October-November 1988): 54-57.
Camilo José Cela’s papers are at the Cela Foundation in Iria Flavia, Galicia, Spain.
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