This Day In Literary History
On May 11th, 1916, the famous Spanish writer Camilo José Cela was born in Iria Flavia, Padrón, in Galicia, Spain. Half Spanish and half English, he was born Don Camilo José Cela Trulock.
Raised to be a devout Catholic and virulent anti communist, after briefly studying law at the University of Madrid, Cela fought on the side of the fascists during the Spanish Civil War. He was discharged after being wounded in action.
After recovering from his injuries, Cela took up journalism and dedicated himself to newspaper work. He would later become a civil servant, working in different civil service positions.
One of those positions was that of a government censor - an ironic position, as he would reject fascism and become an outlaw writer, battling the censors to get his novels published in his native Spain.
In 1942, at the age of 26, Camilo José Cela published his first novel, La Familia de Pascual Duarte (The Family of Pascual Duarte), which was set in Spain during the years 1888-1937.
The novel opens with its main character and narrator, Pascual Duarte, on death row awaiting execution. He tells the story of his life and how he became a murderer, a homicidal path culminating in the murder of his mother - a sadistic, perverted alcoholic.
Strongly rooted in the Spanish realist school of writing, (and often grotesquely realistic) La Familia de Pascual Duarte is also a classic of existential fiction.
Unable to feel remorse, Pascual Duarte believes that Fate is controlling his life, (which has always been full of pain and bad luck) and no matter what he does, it will never change. The novel caused an uproar and was banned in Spain less than a year after its first edition was published. The ban would be lifted in four years.
In 1951, Cela published a novel that is considered by most to be his masterpiece. La Colmena (The Beehive) was set in Madrid in 1942, after the end of the Spanish Civil War. The 350-page novel contained six chapters and an epilogue.
Each chapter contained a number of fragments called sequences, where various characters described their unhappy lives in their newly fascist homeland. The novel's 300+ characters and the events in their lives work together to form the conclusion, much like bees work together in a hive.
Although La Colmena was the most important novel written in post civil war Spain, Cela was unable to get it published there. General Franco's Catholic Church-affiliated fascist government decried the novel as immoral.
Banned in Spain, it was published in Argentina instead. Six years later, in 1957, Cela was appointed to the Real Academia Española and made the Marquis of Iria Flavia by King Juan Carlos I.
Beginning in the late 1960s, Camilo José Cela's writings grew more experimental in nature and more subversive. In 1969, he scandalized Spanish society with his Diccionario Secreto, (Secret Dictionary) a dictionary of obscene words and phrases.
He followed that with his Enciclopedia del Eroticismo, (Encyclopedia of Eroticism) a four-volume survey of sexual practices in Spain.
His best known (and boldest) experimental novel was Cristo versus Arizona (Christ versus Arizona). Published in 1988, it was a retelling of the shootout at the OK Corral - in one single sentence that's more than a hundred pages long.
After General Franco died in 1975, Spain made the transition from fascist dictatorship to democratic republic. Camilo José Cela was made a Royal Senator in the Constituent Cortes, (Spanish Parliament) where he helped write and draft the Spanish Constitution of 1978.
In 1989, he won the Nobel Prize in Literature. As he entered his golden years, old age failed to temper his outrageous personality. During one TV interview, he claimed that he could drink an entire liter of water in one sitting - through his anus!
Six years later, in 1995, he was awarded Spain's Cervantes Prize for Literature, despite the fact that he had described the award as being "covered with shit."
Camilo José Cela died of chronic heart disease in January 2002 at the age of 85. Cela, who remains one of Spain's most important and influential writers, once said that the epitaph on his tombstone should read "Here lies someone who tried to screw his fellow man as little as possible."
Quote Of The Day
"Literature is the denunciation of the times in which one lives." - Camilo José Cela
Today's video features rare interview footage of Camilo José Cela. Unfortunately, it's in Spanish with no English translation. I couldn't find any footage of this amazing writer with English subtitles.