Camus, Albert (7 November 1913 - 4 January 1960)
Albert Camus (7 November 1913 - 4 January 1960)
Catharine Savage Brosman
See also the Camus entries in DLB 72: French Novelists, 1930–1960 and DLB 321: Twentieth-Century French Dramatists.
BOOKS: Révolte dans les Asturies, by Camus and others (Algiers: Chariot, 1936);
L’Envers et I’endroit (Algiers: Charlot, 1937);
Noces (Algiers: Charlot, 1939);
L’Etranger (Paris: Gallimard, 1942); translated by Stuart Gilbert as The Outsider (London: Hamilton, 1946);translation republished as The Stranger (New York: Knopf, 1946);
Le Mythe de Sisyphe (Paris: Gallimard, 1942); translated by Justin O’Brien as The Myth of Sisyphus (London: Hamilton, 1955);
Le Malentendu suivi de Caligula (Paris: Gallimard, 1944); translated by Gilbert as Caligula and Cross Purpose (New York: New Directions, 1947; London:Hamilton, 1947);
Lettres à un ami allemand (Paris: Gallimard, 1945);
La Peste (Paris: Gallimard, 1947); translated by Gilbert as The Plague (New York: Knopf, 1948; London: Hamilton, 1948);
L’Etat de siège (Paris: Gallimard, 1948);
Actuells: Chroniques 1944–1948 (Paris: Gallimard, 1950);
Les Justes (Paris: Gallimard, 1950);
L’Homme révolté (Paris: Gallimard, 1951); translated by Anthony Bower as The Rebel (London: Hamilton,1953; New York: Knopf, 1954);
Actuelks II: Chroniques 1948–1953 (Paris: Gallimard,1953);
Les Esprits, adapted from Pierre de Larivey’s play (Paris:Gallimard, 1953);
L’Eté (Paris: Gallimard, 1954);
Requiem pour une nonne, adapted from William Faulkner’s novel (Paris: Gallimard, 1956);
La Chute (Paris: Gallimard, 1956); translated by O’Brien as The Fall (London: Hamilton, 1956; New York: Knopf, 1957);
L’Exil et le royaume (Paris: Gallimard, 1957); translated by O’Brien as Exile and the Kingdom (London: Hamilton, 1958; New York: Knopf, 1958);
Réflexions sur lapeine capitals, by Camus and Arthur Koes-tler (Paris: Calmann-Lévy, 1957)—includes “Reflexions sur la guillotine,” translated by Richard Howard as Reflections on the Guillotine: An Essay on Capital Punishment (Michigan City, Ind.: Fridtjof-Karla, 1959);
Actuelks III: Chroniques algériennes, 1939–1958 (Paris: Gallimard, 1958);
Discours de Suède (Paris: Gallimard, 1958); translated by O’Brien as Speech of Acceptance upon the Award of the Nobel Prize for Literature, Delivered in Stockholm on the Tenth of December, Nineteen Hundred and Ffly-seven (New York: Knopf, 1960);
Les Possédés, adapted from Fyodor Dostoevsky’s novel (Paris: Gallimard, 1959); translated by O’Brien as The Possessed (London: Hamilton, 1960; New York: Knopf, 1960);
Carnets: mars 1935 - février 1942 (Paris: Gallimard, 1962); translated by Philip Thody as Carnets (London: Hamilton, 1963); translation republished as Notebooks, 1935–1942 (New York: Knopf, 1963);
Théâtre, récits, nouvelles (Paris: Gallimard, 1962);
Carnets: Janvier 1942 - mars 1951 (Paris: Gallimard, 1964); translated by O’Brien as Notebooks, 1942–1951 (New York: Knopf, 1965); translated by Thody as Carnets, 1942–1951 (London: Hamilton, 1966);
Essais (Paris: Gallimard, 1965);
Le Combat dAlbert Camus, edited by Norman Stokle (Quebec: Presses de l’Universite Laval, 1970);
La Mort heureuse, Cahiers Albert Camus, no. 1 (Paris: Gallimard, 1971); translated by Howard as A Happy Death (London: Hamilton, 1972; New York: Knopf, 1972);
Le Premier Camus, suivi de Ecrits de jeunesse d’Albert Camus, Cahiers Albert Camus, no. 2 (Paris: Gallimard, 1973); translated by Ellen Conroy Kennedy as Youthful Writings (New York: Knopf, 1976; London: Hamilton, 1977);
Fragments d’un combat: 1938–1940, Alger Républicain, Le Soir Républicain, 2 volumes, edited by Jacqueline Lévi-Valensi and André Abbou (Paris: Gallimard, 1978);
Journaux de voyage (Paris: Gallimard, 1978); translated by Hugh Levick as American Journals (New York: Paragon House, 1987; London: Hamilton, 1988);
Caligula, version de 1941, suivi de La Poétique du premier Caligula, edited by A. James Arnold (Paris: Gallimard, 1984);
Albert Camus, éditorialists à L’Express: mai 1955 -février 1956, edited by Paul-F. Smets (Paris: Gallimard, 1987);
Carnets: mars 1951 - décembre 1959 (Paris: Gallimard, 1989);
Le Premier Homme, edited by Catherine Camus (Paris: Gallimard, 1994); translated by David Hapgood as The First Man (London: Hamilton, 1995; New York: Knopf, 1995);
Camus à “Combat”: éditoriaux et articles d’Albert Camus, 1944–1947, edited by Lévi-Valensi (Paris: Gallimard, 2002).
Collection: (Euvres complétes d’Albert Camus, 5 volumes (Paris: Club de l’Honnête Homme, 1983).
Editions in English: The Myth of Sisyphus and Other Essays, translated by Justin O’Brien (New York: Knopf, 1955);
Caligula and Three Other Plays, translated by Stuart Gilbert (New York: Knopf, 1958)—comprises Caligula, Cross Purpose, State of Siege, and The fust Assassins;
Resistance, Rebellion and Death, translated by O’Brien (London: Hamilton, 1961; New York: Knopf, 1961)—includes “Letters to a German Friend” and excerpts from Actuelles: Chroniques 1944–1948, Actuelles II: Chroniques 1948–1953, and Actuelles III: Chroniques algeriénnes, 1939–1958;
Lyrical and Critical, edited and translated by Philip Thody (London: Hamilton, 1967)—includes “Betwixt and Between” [The Wrong Side and the Right Side], Nuptials, and Summer;
Lyrical and Critical Essays, edited by Thody, translated by Ellen Conroy Kennedy (New York: Knopf, 1968)—includes The Wrong Side and the Right Side, Nuptials, and Summer;
The Stranger, translated by Matthew Ward (New York: Knopf, 1988);
Between Hell and Reason: Essays from the Resistance Newspaper “Combat” 1944–1947, edited and translated by Alexandre de Gramont (Middletown, Conn.: Wesleyan University Press / Hanover, N.H.: University Press of New England, 1991);
The Plague; The Fall; Exile and the Kingdom; and Selected Essays, translated by Gilbert and O’Brien (New York: Everyman’s Library, 2004).
PLAY PRODUCTIONS: Le Malentendu, Paris, Théâtre des Mathurins, 24 August 1944;
Caligula, Paris, Théâtre Hébertot, 26 September 1945;
L’Etat de siège, Paris, Théâtre Marigny, 27 October 1948;
Les Justes, Paris, Théâtre Hébertot, 15 December 1949;
Les Esprits, adapted from Pierre de Larivey’s play, Angers, Festival d’Art Dramatique, 16June 1953;
Requiem pour une nonne, adapted from William Faulkner’s novel, Paris, Théâtre des Mathurins, 22 September 1956;
Les Possédés, adapted from Fyodor Dostoevsky’s novel, Paris, Théâtre Antoine, 30January 1959.
OTHER: Sébastien-Roch Nicolas [de] Chamfort, Maximes et anecdotes, preface by Camus (Monaco: Dae,1944);
André Salvet, Le Combat silencieux, preface by Camus (Paris: Portulan, 1945);
Jean Camp and others, LEspagne libre, preface by Camus (Paris: Calmann-Lévy, 1946);
Pierre-Eugène Clairin, Dix estampes originales, introduction by Camus (Paris: Rombaldi, 1946);
Jacques Méry, Laissez passer mm peuple, preface by Camus (Paris: Seuil, 1947);
Jeanne Héon-Canone, Devant la mart, preface by Camus (Angers: Siraudeau, 1951);
Daniel Mauroc, Contre-Amour, preface by Camus (Paris: Minuit, 1952);
“Herman Melville,” in Les Ecrivains célèbres, edited by Raymond Queneau and others, volume 3 (Paris: Mazenod, 1953);
A. Rosmer, Moscou sous Lénine—Les origines du communisme, preface by Camus (Paris: Editions de Flore, 1953);
Désert vivant: Images et couleurs de Walt Disney, adapted by Camus, Marcel Aymé, Louis Bromfield, Julian Huxley, François Mauriac, André Maurois, and Henry de Montherlant (Paris: Société Française duLivre, 1954);
Konrad Bieber, L’Allmagne vue par les écrivains de la Résistance frangaise, preface by Camus (Geneva: Droz, 1954);
“L’Enchantement de Cordes,” in Cordes-en-Albigeois, edited by C. Targuebayre (Toulouse: Privat, 1954);
Oscar Wilde, Ballade de la geôle de Reading, preface by Camus (Paris: Falaize, 1954);
Roger Martin du Gard, (Euvres complétes, 2 volumes, preface by Camus (Paris: Gallimard, 1955);
La Vérité sur I’affaire Nagy, preface by Camus (Paris: Plon, 1958);
Henriette Grindat, La Postérité du soleil, text by Camus (Geneva: Engelberts, 1965).
TRANSLATIONS: James Thurber, La Dernière Fleur (Paris: Gallimard, 1952);
Pedro Calderón de la Barca, La Dévotion à la croix (Paris:Gallimard, 1953);
Dino Buzzati, Un Cos intéressant, Avant-Scéne, no. 105 (1955): 1–25;
Félix Lope de Vega Carpio, Le Chevalier d’Olmedo (Paris:Gallimard, 1957).
When Albert Camus received the Nobel Prize in Literature in 1957, he was the ninth French writer so honored and (at not quite forty-four years of age) the youngest writer after Rudyard Kipling. The award projected the author to worldwide celebrity. He was already famous in France and elsewhere for works such as L’Etranger (1942; translated in England as The Outsider and in the United States as The Stranger, 1946), Le Mythe de Sisyphe (1942; translated as The Myth of Sisyphus, 1955), La Peste (1947; translated as The Plague, 1948), and La Chute (1956; translated as The Fall, 1956). In the highly charged political atmosphere of France during the 1950s, with opinion polarized over the Cold War and the Algerian colonial conflict, the award caused a furor; Camus’s moderate positions and refusal to endorse revolutionary action infuriated many of his compatriots. Remarks he made in Stockholm concerning Algeria became notorious and added to the controversy. The result was, in the eyes of many, a severely compromised author and award, although thousands on both sides of the Atlantic commended the choice: “He is one of the few literary voices that has emerged from the chaos of the post-war world with the balanced, sober outlook of humanism,” as a New York Times editorialist wrote.
Camus’s popularity has endured, in France and abroad. He had two titles (L’Etranger and La Peste) on a 1970 top-ten list of twentieth-century French bestsellers; he was outranked only by Antoine de Saint-Exupéry, who had three. More than six million copies of L’Etranger had been sold by 2000; it has been translated into more than forty languages and is said to attract two hundred thousand new readers each year. Camus’s work has drawn the attention not only of general readers and literary critics but also of intellectual historians, theologians, psychiatrists, and philosophers. His name occurs frequently in English-language publications, in a wide range of works, from mystery novels-The Moth (1993) and The Black Hornet (1994) by James Sallis—through journals of higher education such as Academic Questions to The Mew Yorker and The Nation.
It can even be suggested that Camus is too well known, cited carelessly and incorrectly for purposes and in senses foreign to the spirit of his work. To many people, the use of the words stranger and absurd in almost any contemporary literary context conveys, whether correctly or not, a Camusian note, even though other authors also have stressed the sense of alienation between man and the universe. Some are modern writers, such as André Malraux; some belong to earlier periods, such as Blaise Pascal. The ordeals of the Greek mythological hero Sisyphus are now known to many chiefly through their treatment by Camus, and mention of plague in a literary context often evokes Camus alone because readers overlook other works on the same subject. Few philosophies have been less well understood and yet more frequently mentioned than the existentialism with which he is persistently, if somewhat falsely, associated in the public mind.
Albert Camus was born on 7 November 1913 outside Mondovi, a village near Bône (now Annaba), in eastern Algeria, then a French territory. In his own eyes, his Algerian birth was the most important fact of his life. Acknowledging the Nobel Prize, he expressed gratitude to the committee “d’avoir voulu distinguer un écrivain français d’Algérie. Je n’ai jamais rien écrit qui ne se rattache, de près ou de loin, à la terre où je suis né” (for having wished to single out a French Algerian writer. I have never written anything that is not connected, closely or distantly, to the land where I was born). His attachment to his native territory sheds light on his entire life—not only his literary production but also his journalistic and political activities and particular unhappiness and public difficulties at the time of the Algerian war.
Camus’s father, Lucien Auguste Camus, born in Algeria in 1885, was a supervisor on a vineyard. The author’s mother, Catherine-Hélène Sintès Camus, born in Algeria in 1882, was, like many European Algerians, of Spanish blood; her ancestors came from Minorca. Camus had one brother, Lucien, born in 1910. Catherine-Hélène Camus was totally illiterate, doubtless in part because of family circumstances (she came from a large family that struggled to survive) but also because she was nearly deaf. Her hearing impairment created difficulties in the household and in her relationship with Albert; her illiteracy compounded the problem. She never read a word of his writings.
Being partly of Spanish blood presumably reinforced in Camus a tendency he shared with many Algerian compatriots: a powerful and obvious male pride. Commentators have viewed it as a Mediterranean trait, deriving from the large number of Algerian settlers of Mediterranean ancestry and from the native Arabs and Berbers, among whom the cult of the masculine is traditionally strong. Camus spoke of Algerians as “fiers de leur virilité, de leur capacité de boire ou de manger, de leur force et de leur courage” (proud of their virility, their capacity to drink or eat, their strength and courage). The term un homme (a man) was charged with meaning. During Meursault’s trial in L’Etranger, Céleste, a man who runs a neighborhood restaurant, tells the court that Meursault is “un homme” (a man); when asked what “being a man” means, Céleste answers that everyone knows what it means. This notion of masculinity included a strong element of honor and responsibility, albeit exercised in a narrow range: “on ne manque pas à sa mère” (you don’t let your mother down); “celui qui touche à mon frére, il est mort” (he who touches my brother is dead). It also involved vanity, a quick temper, and a passionate character. Men of this type saw or imagined insults easily and were quick to defend themselves, by their fists if necessary. Feminists have denounced this cult of male values and Camus’s particular male chauvinism or phallocratie, since, they argue, machismo contributes to ethnic and national aggression, and the principle of defending not only one’s mother but also women in general implies condescension and paternalism.
When World War I began in summer 1914, Camus’s father was called into military service; he was wounded in the Battle of the Marne and died in a hospital in autumn 1914. Thus, Camus never knew him; moreover, he learned little about him, principally because his deaf mother, though not literally mute, spoke infrequently and may herself have known little of her husband’s background. In Camus’s works, fathers are often missing or shadowy; only in his unfinished autobiographical novel Le Premier Homme (1994; translated as The First Man, 1995) does a father appear directly and extensively. In contrast, a mother is a recurring figure throughout Camus’s work. He wrote always of his own mother with respect and devotion, often connecting her to Algeria and the sense of home. In a letter to his friend Jules Roy, Camus commented, “Ce sont nos mères qui justifient la vie, c’est pourquoi je souhaite de mourir avant la mienne” (What justifies life is our mothers; that’s why I wish to die before mine)—a wish that was, in fact, granted. Textual evidence can be marshaled to show that he was haunted by the maternal idea; the word mother bears considerable weight in his prose, as when it is paired with truth: “ma mère et ma vérité.” There are suggestions, however, that the relationship was not an easy one; as Camus wrote in his Carnets: Janvier 1942 - man 1951 (1964; translated as Notebooks, 1942 - 1951): “J’aimais ma mère avec désespoir. Je l’ai toujours aimée avec dés-espoir” (I loved my mother despairingly. I have always loved her despairingly).
Family circumstances obliged Catherine-Hélène Camus to resettle with her own widowed mother, Catherine Sintès, in Belcourt, an outlying district of Algiers, a city with more than 150,000 inhabitants, according to the 1906 census. Camus’s mother first worked in a cartridge factory, then became a domestic, cleaning in houses and shops. As a war widow, she received only a small pension beginning late in the war and, later, extremely modest assistance for her sons, who also received scholarships and medical care. Though the income from Catherine-Hélène and her brother Etienne Sintès, who lived with them, was sometimes supplemented by another brother, the family lived on the edge of dire poverty. The small apartment had neither electricity nor running water, not even an oven—prepared dishes had to be taken to the baker’s for cooking. The sanitary facilities consisted of a toilette turque (a hole).
Catherine Sintès, an unbending, perhaps jealous person, ruled the household with an iron hand and managed the money. Poverty dictated, to some degree, her tyrannical ways; but she also had a hard character. Thus, discipline as well as poverty marked Camus’s childhood. Characters in his fiction are frequently of modest means, and his early series of newspaper articles, “Misère de la Kabylie” (1939, Misery in Kabylia), concerned economic hardship among the Kabyles, a Berber tribal people living to the east of Algiers. When challenged by Jean-Paul Sartre for being and thinking like a bourgeois—an unpardonable sin to the bourgeoisbaiting and often antagonistic Sartre—Camus observed that he had come from the humblest of backgrounds and had known genuine poverty, unlike Sartre, a son of the bourgeoisie. Yet, Camus said that his boyhood was not unhappy; he often depicted it as a time of joy, both “misérable et heureux” (poverty-stricken and happy). Upon learning he had won the Nobel Prize, he wrote in his Carnets: mars 1951 - décembre 1959 (1989, Notebooks: March 1951 - December 1959): “A 20 ans, pauvre, et nu, j’ai connu la vraie gloire. Ma mère” (At age 20, poor and miserable, I knew real glory. My mother).
As a boy, Camus liked the streets, with their varied activities and faces, and the busy port of Algiers. He was fonder still of the beach, where, violating his grandmother’s prohibition (she feared he would drown), he played on the sand and in the water. He learned to play European football (soccer), the street game of the period—though it was forbidden by his grandmother (shoes wear out quickly in rough play on pavement). Later, he was an enthusiastic team member, playing goalie for many years. He made friends easily, being of an open, cordial character. School, where he did well, was another counterworld that offset the silence, reprimands, and beatings at home.
Camus’s school success earned him a scholarship to the Grand Lycée, one of two high schools in Algiers, the only one that included the uppermost grades. Against the opposition of his grandmother, who wanted him to go to work full-time, but with the support of an uncle by marriage, Gustave Acault, Camus enrolled. The curriculum, which was entirely secular, emphasized intellectual skills and the French cultural tradition. Literature and history occupied a significant place at all levels. One of his teachers was Jean Grenier, later his philosophy professor at the University of Algiers, an author of lyrical essays and a longtime mentor and friend. Under Grenier’s guidance, Camus read the writings of the pre-Socratic philosophers, along with those of St. Augustine, Pascal, Søren Kierkegaard, and Friedrich Nietzsche. He had no religious belief: his family members were not practicing Catholics, and his first Communion was chiefly a symbolic step that left little mark on him.
Camus’s work illustrated the appeal and powerful imprint of the French school system. In his last decade, he paid homage to what he called “la puissante poésie de l’école” (the powerful poetry [poetic effect] of school) and the role of the schoolmaster; he dedicated his Nobel speech to his elementary-school teacher Louis Germain. Hostile critics, however, accuse Camus of intellectual weakness in never having progressed beyond the limitations of the republican humanism of the Third Republic. His disagreement with Sartre and other neo-Marxist thinkers over the use of violence to achieve political ends, and his obstinate attachment to Algeria, may be attributed in part to the imprint of his schooling.
During the winter of 1930–1931, when Camus was seventeen, he was diagnosed with tuberculosis in his right lung. Perhaps because of inadequate diet—likely deficiencies of proteins and vitamins—or conceivably because of fatigue resulting from excessive activity, he did not have the strength to fight off the infection. He was obliged to drop out of the lycée, and thenceforth he lived with the disease, for which there was neither cure nor reliable and noninvasive treatment until 1945. In the 1930s, clinical use of the antimicrobial agent streptomycin became common, but its effectiveness was uncertain, and for Camus it never succeeded. He was also treated repeatedly by pneumothorax (lung collapse therapy). Such an illness was an enormous shock to a young man who had a promising career ahead of him. He often believed that the disease would kill him. The absurd meant for him first of all the disparity between a young consciousness hungry for experience and crying out for meaning, and a body condemned to illness and ultimately death. Camus was taken in by Acault, who assumed responsibility for him, fed him a diet heavy in meat (Acault was a butcher by trade), and provided other material assistance. Camus’s uncle also lent him books.
Despite his illness, Camus, having returned to the lycée, retook his last year of courses, then spent a year in a university-preparatory class. He next enrolled (autumn 1933) in the University of Algiers. He attended lectures on Kierkegaard, Edmund Husserl, and Martin Heidegger and, in his third year, wrote a thesis on Christian metaphysics and Neoplatonism for the diplôme d ’études supérieures (diploma of advanced studies) and received his degree (1936). For the rest of his life, the ancient Greeks, and Greece itself, constituted part of his thinking. Greek philosophy, along with his Mediterranean outlook, led him to consider both life and death without illusion.
In 1934 Camus married Simone Hié, a beautiful but unstable young woman addicted to morphine. Although they practiced a rather open union, it was not a happy one. By the autumn of 1936, the two had separated; the union ended officially with divorce in 1940.
In 1935 he joined the Algerian Communist Party, remaining a member until 1937, when the party itself excluded him on political grounds. The match had not been right from the start, since he was interested mainly in advancing the status of Algerian Muslims and improving workers’ conditions, not in promoting the Stalinist platform for world revolution. While a party member, he worked at the Communist Maison de la Culture and, with friends, founded the Théâtre du Travail (Labor Theater), an amateur troupe that later, after it separated from party sponsorship, became the Theatre de l’Equipe (Team Theater). Its repertory included a stage adaptation by Camus of Malraux’s Le Temps du mépris (1935; translated as Days of Wrath, 1936) and an adaptation by Jacques Copeau of Fyodor Dostoevsky’s The Brothers Karamazov (1879–1880). Camus acted, helped to write or adapt texts, and assisted with production. The group also wanted to produce a drama conceived collectively (but written mostly by Camus, it was said later) titled Révoke dans les Asturies (Revolt in Asturias); the production was forbidden by the Algiers city government for political reasons, but the text was published in 1936. Thereafter, Camus always considered the theater the prime artistic experience, involving text, performance, and collaboration.
Camus’s first single-authored volume, L’Envers et I’endroit (translated as The Wrong Side and the Right Side, 1967), appeared in 1937 under the imprint of Edmond Chariot, an Algiers bookshop owner just launching a modest publishing venture. In these short sketches and narratives Camus treated such subjects as irony, love of life, “death in the soul” (inspired by his 1936 visit to Prague, where he had been unhappy), and a mother and child in Algiers. That same year he began a novel, reconstructed posthumously from manuscripts and published as La Mart heureuse (1971; translated as A Happy Death, 1972). Rather ill-formed and highly autobiographical, it deals with themes that recur in his later work and features a hero named Mersault (not Meur-sault, as in L’Etranger). There is considerable textual and organizational resemblance between the early novel and L’Etranger, although critics disagree on whether the latter should be considered a direct development or an offshoot or substitute. In 1939 Chariot published Noces (translated as Nuptials, 1967). This short collection of essays, praised by Andre Gide (by then an elder statesman of letters), includes some of Camus’s most beautiful writing, treating in a poetic yet sober manner the sea, the desert, and death.
In July 1937 Camus sailed for Marseille, visited Paris for the first time, and spent a month in the mountains in the hope of strengthening his lungs. He found a position as a journalist for a liberal daily newspaper, Alger Republicain, in which his articles on Kabylia appeared. Shortly after World War II began (September 1939), the paper was forced by the censors to close. In 1940 Camus and the editor in chief, Pascal Pia, moved to Paris, where they worked for France-Soir, a daily; there, Camus established ties with literary figures and members of the Gallimard publishing firm.
In 1937 Camus had become romantically interested in Francine Faure, a student of mathematics. She came from a family long established in Oran and was one-quarter Jewish. She too had lost her father early in World War I. In the spring of 1939, unable to finish her university studies in Algiers, she took a job as a substitute teacher in Oran. Camus was simultaneously involved with Yvonne Ducailar, a graduate student and later a journalist, perhaps one of the great passions of his life. Although Faure’s mother was not favorably impressed with Camus’s credentials—ill with tuberculosis, without family money, and not yet divorced from his first wife—Faure was determined to pursue the relationship and demanded marriage. In December 1940, after his divorce was final, Camus, who was working in Lyon, where Paris-Soir had moved, and Faure, who had crossed with difficulty to France, were wed in the Free Zone, in Vichy (the town where the government was based after the fall of France the previous June). They then sailed back to Oran. Although work of any sort was scarce, Camus eventually found a position in a private school, and Faure resumed substitute teaching.
In January 1942 Camus fell gravely ill, spitting blood; tuberculosis was found in his left lung. In late summer he and his wife traveled to the mountains of south-central France in the Free Zone. She shortly sailed back to Oran, and he expected to follow; but when the Germans overran the zone demarcation line in November 1942 and occupied the entire country, no exit passes could be obtained, and Camus remained in a village called Le Panelier throughout the autumn and into the following year.
Camus first knew celebrity in 1942 with the publication by Gallimard of L’Etranger and Le Mythe de Sisyphe. The former, a short novel told in the first person, has been called, variously, a classical work in the mode of Voltaire’s tales, an apologue, a symbolic narrative, and a bleak, Ernest Hemingway-like narrative. It attracted readers immediately by its style, its concision, and its themes of oppression and alienation. With few exceptions, its language is plain, characterized by parataxis (stringing sentence elements together sequentially without coordinating or subordinating connectives). In the first part, Meursault, an Algiers warehouse clerk, learns that his mother has died in a home for the elderly outside the city and travels there to attend her funeral. The day after returning, he goes swimming, picks up a girl, takes her to a comic movie, and invites her home. He shortly becomes involved with a neighborhood man of dubious character (apparently a pimp) named Raymond, who has had a dispute with his companion, an Arab woman. Meursault agrees to write for him a letter addressed to the woman, intended to lure her back. Some time later, Meursault joins Raymond and his friends at a beach party. During an encounter with a group of Arabs who seem to be the woman’s relatives and are apparently looking for a fight, Raymond pummels one of them, who then slashes his arm and face with a knife. After being bandaged, Raymond returns to the spot with Meursault, finds his attacker, and proposes to shoot him. To forestall him, Meursault takes the gun. Later, he wanders out alone and ends up killing the Arab with the revolver when the man flashes a knife threateningly.
In the second part, Meursault, in prison, is tried on a capital charge of murder. The prosecutor interprets the crime as a cold-blooded, premeditated plot of revenge, although it really resulted from a series of chance events and thoughtless conduct. Meursault is portrayed as a sociopath who showed indifference to his mother’s death by smoking and drinking coffee beside the coffin and later picking up the girl. His execution, the prosecutor argues, will rid the world of a dangerous man, both intelligent and morally monstrous. Meursault is condemned to death. While awaiting the outcome of his appeal, he receives a visit from the prison chaplain, who attempts to console him, on grounds that everyone dies eventually. Meursault, usually passive, loses his temper and shouts that such consolation is worthless and that the years of life he will lose are priceless—indeed, the only important thing. After this moment of illumination he discovers a kind of peace and feels at one with the world. At the end of the novel he anticipates his execution with a sense of exhilaration, wishing to be greeted with shouts of hatred; the crowd’s hostility will affirm his being. Critics have noted that the imagined scene suggests scenes of Christ’s judgment and death. While there is no clear-cut internal interpretation of the novel, in a foreword for a 1955 edition, Camus called Meursault “le seul Christ que nous mentions” (the only Christ we deserve).
Meursault’s status as a stranger (that is, foreigner) is initially social: although utterly ordinary in many ways, he does not act and react to others and to social structures as one is supposed to, according to custom, religion, and law; he is thus viewed as alien, threatening. To deal with him, society calls on the elaborate mechanism called justice; he is convicted of a capital crime, whereas in fact he is culpable only of second-degree homicide or manslaughter. His situation can, or could in 1942, be read also as representing the oppression of France by the German occupiers (the true strangers) and the semicollaborationist Vichy government. The hero’s alienation can, alternatively, be viewed as metaphysical: man is condemned to death in an incomprehensible and unforgiving universe. This quasi-existentialist interpretation is perhaps the most widespread. What is absent is any racial critique: postcolonial critics have noted that the Arabs and Berbers are nearly invisible, treated as “strangers,” without their inferior status being questioned, whereas the Algerians of European descent are the genuine foreigners. The title cannot thus be interpreted to suggest colonial alienation except by the irony of missing meaning.
Among those who recognized the great merit of L’Etranger were Francis Ponge, Malraux, and Sartre. In a long article published in Cahiers du Sud in 1943, Sartre asserted that the topic was the absurdity of the human condition—at once a state and the lucid consciousness of that state. Yet, he noted, the book was not a roman à thèse (thesis novel); its burden is expressed in images, not in reasoning. Meursault’s attitude toward his life— the present and a succession of presents—is, according to Sartre, the ideal of the absurd man. Sartre may have been the first critic to comment on the absence of causality in the book; paradoxically, once causality is limited, the smallest incident takes on weight, and everything contributes to the outcome. Gide expressed esteem for Camus’s thought, but acknowledged aversion toward the book itself.
Le Mythe de Sisyphe, a short philosophical treatise, is close in spirit to the works of many existential writers, since it focuses on the human predicament as felt by a thinking subject who has no absolute grounds for choice or divine reassurance and faces death as the inevitable end. It begins with what Camus calls the only true philosophical question—suicide—and then develops the notion of the absurd. The absurd is neither in the world as such nor in man, but in the copresence of the two. Men’s aspirations to immortality and the absolute are opposed by the world’s indifference and the fact of mortality. Since the absurd is the very condition of human existence, it must be maintained, not denied; one must not give in to hope, belief in the invisible, or any other irrational position, including the “existentialist leap” seen in the writings of such authors as Kierkegaard and Karl Jaspers, by which they “leap over” the difficulty of existential isolation and mean-inglessness. To maintain the absurd, one must remain conscious and in perpetual revolt. The essay ends with Camus’s version of the myth of Sisyphus pushing his rock: “La lutte elle-même vers les sommets suffit à rem-plir un coeur d’homme. II faut imaginer Sisyphe heu-reux” (The struggle toward the summits is itself enough to fill a man’s heart. One must imagine Sisyphus to be happy).
While many readers, especially undergraduates who first encounter Le Mythe de Sisyphe, are impressed by Camus as a thinker, his standing among professional philosophers and intellectuals was from the beginning much lower than his reputation among literary critics. Disparaging remarks made by Sartre and Simone de Beauvoir—the chief proponents of French existentialism—later contributed to the trend. Perhaps anticipating future criticism as well as defending himself against contemporary attacks, Camus often said that he was an artist or a moraliste, not a philosopher. Left-wing intellectuals have not ceased attacking Le Mythe de Sisyphe; in The Content of the Form: Narrative Discourse and Historical Representation (1987) Hayden White mocked Camus for “opposing ’totalitarianism’ and holding up the prospect of an amiable anarchy as a desirable alternative.” Handbooks and collections in modern philosophy often omit Camus, although selections from Le Mythe de Sisyphe were included in Existentialism from Dostoevsky to Sartre (1956), a major mid-century anthology edited by Walter Kaufmann.
In November 1943 Camus moved to Paris, where Pia had settled again after France-Soir had been obliged to close in Lyons. Camus found employment as a reader at Gallimard and also helped produce the underground Resistance paper Combat, then edited by Pia. Francine Camus was not able to join her husband until the autumn of 1944. Upon the liberation of Paris in August 1944, the paper, with Camus as editor in chief, appeared openly as the leading journal of opinion. He wrote many of the editorials, on such controversial issues as socialism, pacifist movements, punishment of Nazi collaborators, and Communist dictatorship. These pieces, many of which were collected in Aduelles: Chroniques 1944–1948 (1950), were widely viewed as the conscience of France. For health reasons he withdrew temporarily from the paper in the winter of 1945; there were also periods when, in apparent disagreement with the policies of the newspaper, he ceased writing for it. He finally resigned in 1947 over ideological differences and financial difficulties.
During the Combat period, Camus was a highly visible figure in the neighborhood of Saint-Germaindes-Prés—the French existentialists’ headquarters—and visited Sartre, Beauvoir, and some of their friends, including Arthur Koestler. Though she denied doing so, it is obvious that Beauvoir wrote him into her novel Les Mandarins (1954) as the character Henri Perron. In 1945 the Camus’s twins, Jean and Catherine, were born. In 1946 he visited North America, principally New York but also Montreal and other cities; he lectured, met writers and intellectuals, and was received as a famous man.
In 1944 Gallimard brought out two plays by Camus in one volume: Le Malentendu suivi de Caligula (translated as Caligula and Cross Purpose, 1947). Le Malentendu, staged that year, received a cool reception; its somber quality helped strengthen the supposition that Camus was a nihilist. The play is based on the story Meursault reads on a scrap of newspaper in prison. Jan, having left home—an unidentified European country marked by gloom and dark skies—to live in North Africa, returns long afterward with his wife, Maria. Leaving her elsewhere, he goes to the inn run by his mother and sister, Martha, but does not identify himself. It is an existential test: Jan wants to share his wealth with them and bring them happiness, but first they must recognize him. Over the years they have murdered strangers for their money, hoping one day to escape their dreary circumstances. Jan, too, is murdered; they then discover his identity. The mother drowns herself; Martha joins her in death. It is not a question of remorse; they are amoral. Rather, the mother says she is too weary to continue, and Martha kills herself as an act of protest against the absurd, which turns acts against their agent and deprives life of meaning and happiness. In her last sentences, Martha tells Maria, who has found her husband dead, “Je ne puis mourir en vous laissant l’ideée que... ceci est un accident. Car c’est maintenant que nous sommes dans l’ordre.... Priez votre Dieu qu’il vous fasse semblable a la pierre” (I cannot die leaving you with the idea... that this is an accident. For this is the normal order of things.... Ask your God to make you like stone). The title of the play, which translates literally as misunderstanding, refers not only to the crucial lack of recognition but also to the fundamental disparity between human aspirations toward fulfillment and the indifference of the world—that is, the absurd. Associated themes are exile, existential solitude, and the need for communication and its difficulty.
Caligula, staged in 1945, was received enthusiastically. Reworked more than any other text, it belongs, according to the author, along with L’Etranger and Le Mythe de Sisyphe, to the cluster of his absurd writings—constituting the first stage of his thought. The outline of the plot and many details come from the historian Suetonius, who reported how the Roman emperor Caligula was transformed by the death of his beloved sister Drusilla. In Camus’s version, the emperor discovers, upon the death of one he loved, that life is imperfect. Although not a new revelation, as his courtiers point
out, to him it is dramatic: “Ce monde, tel qu’il est fait, n’est pas supportable.... Les homines meurent et ils ne sont pas heureux” (This world, such as it is, is not bearable.... People die, and are not happy). Caligula wants to remedy this imperfection and achieve happiness by reaching the absolute and the impossible. He asks for the moon, an obvious symbol of the unattainable. Denied satisfaction, thenceforth he views all acts as morally equivalent, since neither heaven nor earth furnishes grounds for distinctions; he can pursue quantity and variety but not quality. He calls on the absolute political power that is his to turn his state upside down, confiscating the patricians’ fortunes, putting people to death arbitrarily, demanding servile homage and adulation for his wildest caprice, and relishing the pleasure of destruction. Though at times he seems intoxicated with a strange happiness, he continually requires more stimulation, since even the sacrificial deaths of others leave him dissatisfied. His final act before he is assassinated by the patricians is to strangle his mistress, Caesonia. Viewed in terms of Camus’s ideas in Le Mythe de Sisyphe, Caligula has not conquered the absurd but rather has given in to it.
Camus’s second published novel, La Peste, appeared in 1947. He viewed it, along with L’Homme révolté (1951; translated as “The Rebel, 1953), as constituting the second stage in his thought, sometimes called the humanist stage. It met with approval from many readers but with a cool reception from others, including Gide, who expressed disappointment, and Beauvoir, who in La Force des choses (1963) accused Camus of eluding true historical questions by fleeing into abstraction. Begun during the war, La Peste reflects Camus’s separation from Algeria and his wife during those dark years. The action—in five acts, like a classical tragedy—takes place in Oran and is recounted by an anonymous first-person narrator. It concerns an outbreak of bubonic plague—its initial appearance, spread, and decline—and reactions to it. Dr. Rieux, whose wife is away at a sanitorium, combats the disease energetically by medical means. Rambert, a visiting journalist, wants to leave, despite the quarantine, to rejoin the woman he loves; the plague does not concern him, he argues. Paneloux, a Jesuit, preaches a sermon on collective guilt and divine punishment. Cottard, an unsavory character who is under suspicion and may be arrested for an unspecified crime, takes advantage of the crisis to remain at large and even indulges in profiteering through the black market.
Tarrou, a loner who befriends Rieux, has been concerned with how to achieve pure conduct in a world of violence, where every act has repercussions on others and where schemes to achieve social justice end in tyranny and terror. He joins the struggle against the plague by organizing effective paramedical teams. Tarrou’s friendship means a great deal to Rieux; fraternity is a foundation on which to struggle. They are both present when a little boy dies. The child’s suffering seems particularly scandalous, a brute denial of Paneloux’s theology, founded on belief in a just God whose providential intervention in the world transforms evil into good. Paneloux himself is shaken by the death and moves toward a position of irrational submission to a divine power whose unfathomable will he must accept as the only possible explanation for the torture of children. Toward the end of the novel Tarrou falls ill; Rieux and his mother nurse him devotedly, but he too dies. Exhausted, Rieux, who has seen thousands die, learns also of his wife’s death. Yet, he does not yield to despair. Affirming that there is more to admire in mankind than to despise, he identifies himself as the author of the chronicle.
The novel may be read on three levels. Literally, it recounts the outbreak of a fatal disease that is a fact of nature, the ways of confronting it, and the conclusions that can be drawn about natural evil and human response. Metaphorically, the plague stands for the German occupation of France and other European countries during World War II and the brutality exercised on the population. The various characters’ responses illustrate the attitudes one can take toward tyranny. Allegorically, the plague represents moral and metaphysical evil viewed broadly. That is, it represents the human condition, in which—with the world and all its chances impinging upon them—people are born, suffer, make others suffer, and die, but in which the struggle with others against unhappiness, pain, and death provides a meaningful and authentic way of living.
In the late 1940s Camus’s personal life and public life alike were complicated. Although admired by a wide reading public, he was in a difficult ideological situation resulting from Cold War political polarization. His disapproval of Soviet rhetoric and practice, and his humanism, agnostic but warm, provoked hostility among the pro-Communists; yet, as a man of the Left, basically, he did not embrace the pro-Western, capitalist faction either. During his three-month visit to South America in 1949, he was both ill and deeply depressed; he appears to have seriously contemplated suicide. His liaison with actress Maria Casarès, who had major roles in some of his plays, caused friction in his household; another woman, Patricia Blake, whom he met in America in 1946, also played a role in his life. Women were enormously important to him, although if sexual love was a source of his inspiration, as it may have been, its effects were subterranean, and his work lacks obvious erotic material. Both his political malaise and his personal difficulties persisted and even increased throughout his remaining years.
The first of two plays produced late in the 1940s was a complete stage failure. L’Etat de siège (1948; translated as State of Siege in Caligula and Three Other Plays, 1958), which he called a morality play (as in medieval drama), is an allegory on freedom, related to La Peste. The disaster in this case is not, however, expressed realistically, but symbolically, by Plague (a character), who arrives, strikes people down at random, and installs the New Order. The references are clear: Nazi Germany and its occupation of France; the Soviet Union and its rule over its satellites; Fascist Spain; and, as Camus said, any country without freedom. The scourge may also stand for the human condition in general. The young hero, Diego, discovers the secret to combating Plague: to revolt, to go beyond fear and use human freedom in the struggle, rather than abandoning freedom for the sake of comfort.
Les Justes (performed in 1949, published in 1950; translated as The Just Assassins in Caligula and Three Other Plays), based on events in Russia in 1905, is similarly connected to L’Homme révolté through its considerations of whether violence and oppression can justify counterviolence and under what conditions. The play concerns a group of five revolutionary terrorists in Moscow who plan to assassinate the grand duke as a protest against czarist tyranny. While they agree on their purpose, their motives and understanding of political good differ. One member, Dora, wonders whether their desired end—a world of justice—can be attained by cruel, unjust means. Yanek, whom she loves, is to throw a bomb at the grand duke’s carriage. He does not, however, carry out the deed, because he sees two children in the carriage. He is told that sentimentality over children is foolish; only by spilling whatever blood is necessary, without concern for moral limits or consequences, can the revolution triumph. A second attempt is successful. After his arrest, Yanek is offered his life if he will furnish the names of his accomplices. He refuses, not only from loyalty but also because he believes justice requires him to pay for the life he took. When he is hanged, Dora asks to throw the next bomb; her desire to avenge her lover has overcome her political scruples. The play received mixed reviews.
The East-West confrontation in the Korean War (1950–1953) and the continuing French colonial war in Indochina, which ended in 1954, hardened Cold War positions and made the political middle ground almost untenable. Joseph Stalin’s death in 1953 did not alter the situation materially. In France, an active Communist press, including the daily L’Humanite, attacked without respite the various governments of the Fourth Republic, Western policies, and all who did not subscribe to Communist party tenets. Sartre was one of many who, while not enrolled in the party and often critical of its positions, generally sided with it anyhow and violently condemned the United States. Camus’s political predicament and malaise increased upon publication in 1951 of L’Homme revolte. The essay—which marked him in leftist radicals’ eyes as ideologically sim-pleminded, utopistic, lacking in philosophical rigor, and essentially a traitor—takes as its point of departure the arguments on the absurd in Le Mythe de Sisyphe and reinforces the arguments of Rieux and Tarrou in La Peste. Camus’s thesis is that the absurdist man must, by the logic of his position, rebel or protest. Since the eighteenth century, however, rebellion has had tragic consequences, including violent revolution, tyranny, and enslavement, all in the name of freedom:”La terreur, petite ou grande, vient alors couronner la revolution“(Terror, on a small or grand scale, then comes along to crown the revolution). Camus traces this phenomenon through the political and metaphysical protests of the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries, treating such thinkers and practitioners as Jeanjacques Rousseau, Louis de Saintjust, Georg Wilhelm Friedrich Hegel, and Nietzsche. The supreme agents of terror, beside the radicals of the French Revolution, were the Nazis and the Soviets, whose tyranny Camus condemns as a monstrous distortion of rebellion in the name of historical efficacy.
When a disciple of Sartre, Francis Jeanson, reviewed the essay unfavorably in a 1952 issue of Sartre’s monthly Les Temps Modernes, attacking its faulty thinking, Camus replied by an open letter in the magazine. The letter occasioned a retort by Sartre, which set out their differences for all to see. The result was a permanent falling-out between the two former associates. Camus was not the only eminent figure formerly in Sartre’s circle who broke with him. Maurice Merleau-Ponty, a philosopher of note, long a champion of Soviet policy, finally denounced it and gave his vocal support to the West; Raymond Aron, another philosopher and former friend of Sartre, had already left the Sartrean pale. These Cold War polarizations affected literary life throughout the decade.
Increasingly, Camus knew also the dilemma of fame, which, originating with the public, depends on continued public approval and often finds renewal difficult. Being lionized at a young age rarely helps a writer, even one who appears to prosper in it. One result of his predicament was recurring writer’s paralysis; current theories about creative inhibition, or writer’s block, identify great praise as a contributing factor. Camus’s involvements in the theater in the 1950s, while reflecting a lifelong interest, may have been a way of deflecting the imperative to write and write well. During much of the decade he was engaged in attempts to find a theater of his own, where he could be the director. Despite friends’ assistance and intervention with the French government (which subsidized theaters then as now) and his own persistence, the enterprise did not succeed. He did, however, take over one summer (1953) as director of the Festival d’Art Dramatique in Angers, where he staged two of his adaptations. Later, his highly successful 1956 adaptation of William Faulkner’s Requiem for a Nun (1951) was followed in 1959 by his adaptation, which he also directed, of Dostoevsky’s The Possessed (1871).
To the discomfort of working in a fractious, ideologically charged atmosphere, the burden of fame, and his theatrical involvements were added health problems and domestic tension throughout the 1950s. In 1953 Francine Camus, already depressed, fell into deeper mental difficulties, almost surely brought on by marital strife, itself resulting partly from having to share her husband with Casarés. The spouses lived apart for months; then, together, apparently without harmony; then again separately. Camus became involved with other women in addition to his wife and Casarès.
The greatest burden of all on Camus from the mid 1950s until his death was the Algerian war, which historians have generally agreed to date from 1 November 1954, when nationalist Algerian insurgents launched attacks against several police outposts and other government offices. The uprisings spread through the countryside and into the cities, where both police and army battled against the rebels. Official policy was that Algeria would remain French, and residents of French ancestry were assured repeatedly that the government would eliminate the guerrillas and terrorists and protect their lives and properties. Terrorism grew, however, frequently justified by the principle that Tunisian novelist and sociologist Albert Memmi later enunciated, that the violence of the oppressed merely reflects the violence of the oppressor. By 1957 French forces and rebels were engaged in a full-scale urban conflict called the Battle of Algiers. The army was able to destroy the terrorists’ network in the city, but its brutal methods lost much public support for the idea of Algérie française (as the slogan went). Although the government denied it, there was ample evidence that torture was used to extract information from captured rebels. It was the Algerian crisis that brought down the Fourth Republic in May 1958, when Charles de Gaulle was called to power with a mandate to rule by decree for six months.
Before November 1954 Camus had written on the Algerian situation, and in the summer of 1955 he published an article on terrorism and repression. He subsequently contributed (to the weekly L’Express and other publications) articles proposing both immediate measures and long-term solutions for a reorganization of Algeria on a new footing, with improved status for Muslim residents. His vision of a society built on justice allowed him to have great understanding and sympathy for both Algerian communities (European and Muslim), even as tensions grew; it also dictated his stand against independence and especially the terrorist methods used eventually to achieve it, and it made him persona non grata among the many French intellectuals who pronounced colonialism an unconscionable evil. His 1956 visit to Algiers to speak on behalf of a civil truce was a total failure: his vision was dismissed as Utopian, his sense of justice as warped, and “Camus le juste” was called a phony. Again, the tendency of absolute political thought toward extremism and totalitarianism—precisely what he had denounced in L’Homme révolté—made compromise impossible. His speech denouncing the 1956 Soviet invasion of Hungary provided further excuse for attacks from the left wing. Pressed to condemn not only French measures against the insurgents but also the very principle of Algérie française, he turned silent.
Notwithstanding his occasional writer’s paralysis, Camus published in the 1950s a volume of lyrical essays, L’Eté (1954, Summer), which includes beautiful writings on Algeria, some composed earlier, and an essay on Prometheus, whose heroic sufferings in chains recall the punishment of Sisyphus. Two more collections of journalistic writings also appeared during the decade: Actuelles II: Chroniques 1948–1953 in 1953 and Actuelles III: Chroniques algériennes, 1939–1958 (including the civil truce speech) in 1958. Réflexions sur lapeine capitale (1957, Reflections on Capital Punishment), by Camus and Koestler, includes Camus’s essay “Reflexions sur la guillotine” (translated as Reflections on the Guillotine: An Essay on Capital Punishment, 1959). His position is that capital punishment is as morally revolting as the crime that supposedly warrants it, and that it should be abolished in France and elsewhere. He argues that supposed justifications for the death penalty (including its role as a deterrent) lack validity and that it is really vengeance taken by society.
Two works of fiction also date from the 1950s. La Chute, perhaps Camus’s best novel, reflects his sense of alienation. The last of his novels published during his lifetime, it is an ironic masterpiece, analyzing the human heart and examining mid-twentieth-century attitudes and mores. Irony can be viewed as constituting a final stage in his thought, but the schema is approximate, and he never abandoned his earlier humanistic thinking. The novel is presented in the form of a first-person monologue spoken by a former lawyer from Paris who has renounced his profession and friends and gone into exile in Amsterdam. The monologue is directed toward an unnamed and unseen interlocutor who visits the bar where the former Parisian awaits his “clients.” The theological suggestions of the title are reinforced by the concentric circles of the Amsterdam canals, suggesting the circles of hell in Dante’s “The Divine Comedy; by reminders of great evil in the form of Nazi persecution of the Jewish community; and especially by the name the protagonist has taken. He calls himself Jean-Baptiste Clamence, suggesting John the Baptist, who preached repentance, with his “voice... crying [vox clamantis] in the wilderness.” Although the interlocutor is never heard directly, his comments can sometimes be guessed from Clamence’s words, which also remind readers there is a listener and subtly involve them in the text. The we of the narrative (by which Clamence refers to himself and his listener) implicates, of course, the reader also.
Having personally practiced a wide variety of hypocrisies and seen much in others, having witnessed great crimes visited on Europe in the name of political ideals, and knowing, thanks to his profession, the human heart at its worst, Clamence is well placed to denounce the evils of his century and preach on the theme of culpability. He pronounces himself culpable first of all, of course. Marvelous little scenes evoked from the past illustrate the skill with which, by cultivating a false persona, he disguised his real character, filled with envy and will to power. But by acknowledging his failings, he raises himself above others; beating his breast, accusing himself, he becomes superior and can pass judgment. Thus, he explains his new profession, that of juge-pénitent (judge-penitent).
In the last section of the novel Clamence, suffering from a fever, speaks to the interlocutor from bed. It is—if not a pretext—at least a convenient way for Clamence to reveal his secret: a stolen fifteenth-century painting, Jan van Eyck’s Les juges intégres (The Honest Judges), kept in his cupboard. The thematic interconnections among the subject of the painting (an historic object, actually stolen in 1934 and never recovered), Clamence’s earlier and present profession, and his judgments on others are enriched by his discovery that his visitor is also an attorney—perhaps a fellow spirit who will practice self-mortification with him. Awaiting his friend’s confession, Clamence is a judge without mercy, a prophet without religion, and a confessor without God.
In 1957 Camus published his collection of short fiction, L’Exil et le royaume (translated as Exile and the Kingdom, 1958). The six stories, often anthologized, are among his best writing. The “exile” of the title is chiefly that of the human condition (as well as Camus’s separation from his native land); the “kingdom” is the nearly unattainable happiness toward which all strive, or possibly some higher, spiritual dimension. Among major themes are alienation from others and inability to communicate. One story is called “Les Muets” (translated as “The Silent Men”); in “Le Renegat” (translated as “The Renegade”), a man’s tongue is cut out; and in “La Pierre qui pousse” (translated as “The Growing Stone”), the hero, a French engineer, travels to a Brazilian jungle town, where he feels isolated and out of place until he undergoes what amounts to an initiation and becomes part of the community.
The same themes of separation and difficulty in communication recur in the other stories. In “La Femme adultere” (translated as “The Adulterous Woman”), however, Camus subtly brings out the emotional connections between human beings and the material world. The story deals not with physical adultery but with a spiritual communion established between Janine, the wife of a traveling salesman from coastal North Africa, and a severe but inviting landscape that she discovers on a visit to the south—a landscape with a strange appeal, reinforced by the presence of silent, solitary Arabs who seem mysteriously connected to the world. Looking over the desert at night, Janine feels a powerful sense of freedom and union with the world and experiences an illumination that contrasts with the pettiness and dullness of her life.
“L’Hôte” (translated as “The Guest”) is set in a mountainous area of Algeria during the insurrection. The story illustrates the antagonisms between communities that nevertheless share a common land and love for it. Daru, a teacher in an isolated school, is told by a rural gendarme that he must hold overnight an Arab prisoner accused of killing a man and then deliver him to the authorities farther on. Reluctantly, Daru agrees to keep the prisoner for the night, but he is loath to turn him in, despite his brutishness. The next day Daru leads the Arab to a point where he may choose between two directions, one leading to nomads who will take him in without asking questions, the other to the French authorities in town. The prisoner is freed and allowed to choose; the teacher sees him walking toward the town. Later, on the blackboard, Daru finds a message telling him that he will pay for giving up the Arab. The story is both a political and an existential parable. It dramatizes the wartime dilemma of many Algerians—both colonials and indigenous residents—who did not want to get involved and yet were drawn into the conflict. Likewise, the story illustrates the impossibility of choosing satisfactorily—whatever Daru does will bring him trouble—and the solitude of the thinking and suffering subject.
“Jonas ou l’artiste au travail” (translated as “Jonas or The Artist at Work”), set in Paris, clearly reflects Camus’s own dilemmas. After Jonas, a gifted painter, achieves great success, his life becomes contaminated by public recognition; he has become a commodity. People impinge so much on his time that work becomes difficult. Similarly, his personal life is complicated, in part by the awkward design of the apartment where he lives with his wife and children. Gradually, he withdraws from society and his family and spends all his time in a loft built into the apartment. At the end, he is found unconscious in the darkness, with a new canvas on which is visible only one unclear word, either solidaire or solitaire. Both words underline the ambiguity of the human condition and the position of the artist, who must feel solidarity with others and yet can create only in solitude.
Also in 1957 Camus was awarded the Nobel Prize in Literature. He had earlier received the Resistance Medal (1946) and the Prix des Critiques for La Peste, though he persistently rejected the Legion of Honor. Upon learning of the Nobel, he told a journalist that he felt rather young for the honor, and that he would himself have voted for Malraux. In his notebooks he expressed the hope that what he had said might be useful to others, but that it could not be so to himself, “livré maintenant à une sorte de folie” (given over now to a sort of insanity). His December Nobel speech in Stockholm included a moving statement of the artist’s relationship to his audience:
Je ne puis vivre personnellement sans mon art. Mais je n’ai jamais placé cet art au-dessus de tout. S’il m’est nécessaire au contraire, c’est qu’il ne se sépare de personne et me permet de vivre, tel que je suis, au niveau de tous. L’art n’est pas à mes yeux une réjouissance solitaire. Il est un moyen d’émouvoir le plus grand nombre d’hommes en leur offrant une image privilégiée des souffrances et des joies communes. Il oblige donc l’artiste à ne pas s’isoler; il le soumet à la vérité la plus humble et la plus universelle.
(Personally, I cannot live without my art. But I have never placed this art above everything else. If it is necessary to me, indeed, it is because it is not separate from anyone and allows me to live, such as I am, on everyone’s level. Art is not in my eyes a solitary enjoyment. It is a means of moving the greatest number of people by offering them a privileged picture of common sufferings and joys. It thus obliges the artist not to become isolated; it submits him to the most humble and most universal truth).
In Stockholm, Camus also made, during a question-and-answer session at the university, what became his most famous, or infamous, statement (reported by Dominique Birmann in Le Monde) on the Algerian war. Questioners raised various political issues, including freedom of speech and censorship in France. Then words from a Muslim militant concerning Camus’s reluctance to intervene further in the Algerian conflict led to confused exchanges. After being subjected to a barrage of accusations and insults, Camus, visibly upset, finally retorted that he had always condemned terrorism—meaning terroristic repression of Algerian insurgents by French forces but also violence exercised by rebels against the French and fellow Muslims who would not cooperate with the rebellion. He denounced blind terrorism exercised in the streets and finally stated that while he believed in justice, he would also defend his mother (still alive in Algeria) before justice. This statement caused the greatest uproar and was seized upon by his political adversaries as evidence of his hypocrisy and incorrigible colonial attitudes.
Camus’s last years were not tranquil. The prize itself contributed to his difficulties, since it created a tremendous stir around him, made him more of a public figure than before (thus reducing further his privacy), and caused unintentional alienation between him and old friends. He spoke of having “mal aux poumons” (being ill from Algeria as he was in the lungs). Yet, he worked on his dramatic adaptations and on Le Premier Homme, the manuscript of which was in his briefcase when he was killed in an automobile accident on 4 January 1960.
Camus feared speed, contrary to some reports. He had been with his family for the Christmas holiday in Lourmarin, in the south of France, at his vacation home, purchased with the Nobel money. There he had experienced some moments of morbidity worse than usual and had spoken of what sort of burial he wanted. Francine Camus and the twins took the train back to Paris. He also had planned to do so, but instead accepted the invitation of Michel Gallimard and his wife, who had spent New Year’s with the Camus family, to drive back. On the second day of the journey, with Gallimard driving, the car swerved off the road and hit a plane tree, then another. Camus died instantly; Gallimard survived a few days; his wife and children were not gravely injured. Camus had written in his note-books in 1951 that he sometimes wished to die a violent death. The event was widely treated as a supremely ironic manifestation of the absurd. Many newspapers and other publications devoted the whole or part of an issue to Camus and his place in French literature. In France-Observateur (7 January 1960), Sartre stressed the contradictions in Camus’s position but praised him as the current heir of a long line of moralists whose works constituted perhaps the most original contribution of French letters. These memorial issues, produced with great haste, some as early as February, were the first stage in what became a tremendous Camus industry, still thriving.
Le Premier Homme was published from the manuscript left at his death. The title may be seen as having mythic suggestions; Algeria is viewed retrospectively as “la terre de l’oubli ou chacun était le premier homme” (the land of forgetfulness, where each was the first man). There may be a reference to colonization, or to the Edenic quality, as Camus saw it, of the Mediterranean life, under “la lumiére des premiers matins du monde” (the light of the world’s first mornings). The title has contrasting connotations of Cain, the first biblical murderer, and, at the same time, of Camus’s father, the first and only paternal ancestor whose life he imagines in detail. Finally, the title may refer to Everyman. As Camus observed in a notebook entry of 1954, “Tout homme est le premier homme, personne ne l’est” (Everyone is the first man; no one is). The work is dedicated to Camus’s mother, portrayed as an extraordinary, Christ-like figure through her goodness and silent suffering.
The highly autobiographical narrative begins with the birth in Algeria of Jacques Cormery (J.C., like Jesus Christ). It then jumps ahead to a visit the adult Jacques pays to his father’s grave in France, followed by a conversation with his former schoolmaster, who lives nearby. The narrative then returns to Jacques’s childhood and young manhood, with flash-forwards to later periods. Certain passages clearly refer to the Algerian rebellion. Themes in the novel or announced in the accompanying notes include some of Camus’s favorites: games and sports, school, exile, solitude, guilt, the natural world and its pleasures, and “un grand cri de joie et de gratitude envers l’adorable vie” (a great cry of joy and gratitude toward life, lovable life). One consequence of the publication of the novel was to invite critics to identify overlaps between it and other works, thus creating the image of a writer less distant from his fiction than had been assumed.
While Camus has remained widely read following his death, he has, nevertheless, lost some status among critics and in the academy. There has been a decline in his popularity on postgraduate reading lists, for instance, and, to judge by publications and sessions at scholarly meetings, a sharp fall in his prestige among professors, many theory-oriented. Camus-bashing persists, partly on philosophical grounds but chiefly on political and cultural grounds, including his machismo, Eurocentrism, and “humanism”—that is, holding the values of the Occident instead of supporting revolutionary socialism and Marxist realpolitik. Among critics who have noted the omission of native Algerians from most of his work and who have attacked him for feeling solidarity with the colonial French and thus refusing to espouse the cause of the rebels and independence are Conor Cruise O’Brien and Kateb Yacine (a Berber writer).
The latter charge illustrates two critical fallacies. One is judging by later standards a position adopted earlier: what appeared forward-looking when Camus first wrote about misery in Kabylia in the 1930s has generally been surpassed, while what looked practicable later in the century with respect to colonial territories may have appeared much less so when he was writing. The other fallacy is simply to ignore contrary evidence. True, until 1994 critics did not have access to Le Premier Homme, in which Camus depicts natives sympathetically and often shows great concern for them (for example, Arab women barricaded in their houses). But his articles on Kabylia were much more than a gesture: they were a call for wide-sweeping and comparatively radical changes. Critics also neglect Camus’s behind-the-scenes efforts in the mid 1950s to find a political solution to the violence brought about by the Algerian uprising; moreover, the articles that constitute Actuelles III: Chroniques algériennes, 1939–1958 were, as Peter Dunwoodie writes, “crushingly ignored.” In an interview given in connection with the Nobel Prize, Camus stated that “c’est à elle [Algeria], et à son mal-heur, que vont toutes mes pensées” (all my thoughts go out to Algeria and its misfortune).
Despite criticisms coming from postcolonialists, feminists, and other radicals, including those who attack the idea of canonized authors, Camus’s reputation as a major writer of his century is secure. Roger Martin du Gard, another Nobel laureate (1937), wrote in a 1948 letter to Gide that Camus was “celui de sa génération qui donne le plus grand espoir” (the one in his generation who inspires the greatest hope). Victor Brombert has explained how the French concept of the intellectual “remains bound up with the notion of a social, political and moral crisis” in which the writer, artist, or other intellectual considers himself obligated to intervene. Camus’s writings in response to this duty may be flawed, though doubtless not so greatly as some have averred; but the moral gravity of his work is of lasting value, enduring past the particular conditions that gave rise to it. In the expression of Pierre-Henri Simon, a Catholic critic, Camus served as one of the high consciences of the nation. Even more, his achievement as an artist—one remembers his emphasis on art in his Nobel speech—puts him well above most of his contemporaries. Meursault, Caligula, and Clamence are among the most distinctive and yet characteristic creations of the literary imagination in twentieth-century literature. Camus’s lucidity—that Mediterranean value, illustrated by the Greeks in their meditations on man and nature—produced keen, sensitive insights, couched in admirable, often lyrical prose. His enterprise was that identified by Paul Valéry as the poet’s: not to feel but to make felt, “et bellement sensible” (and felt beautifully).
Albert Camus, Jean Grenier: Correspondance: 1932–1960, edited by Marguerite Dobrenn (Paris: Gallimard, 1981); translated by Jan F. Rigaud as Albert Camus, Jean Grenier: Correspondence, 1932–1960 (Lincoln: University of Nebraska Press, 2003);
Camus: De I’absurde à I’amour: Lettres inàdites d’Albert Camus, edited by Andre Comte-Sponville (Venissieux: Paroles d’Aube, 1995);
Correspondance 1939–1947 Albert Camus, Pascal Pia, edited by Yves Marc Ajchenbaum (Paris: Fayard/Gallimard, 2000);
Albert Camus - Jean Sànac: Correspondance 1947–1958, edited by Hamid Nacer-Khodja (Paris: Paris-Màditerranàe, 2004).
Maurice Beebe, “Criticism of Albert Camus: A Selected Checklist of Studies in English,” Modern Fiction Studies, 10 (Autumn 1964): 303–314;
Peter C. Hoy, Camus in English (Wymondham, U.K.: Brewhouse Press, 1968);
Robert F. Roeming, Camus: A Bibliography (Madison: University of Wisconsin Press, 1968);
Brian T. Fitch and Hoy, Essai de bibliographie des études en langue française consacrées à Albert Camus (1937–1967) (Paris: Minard, 1969);
Raymond Gay-Crosier, Camus (Darmstadt: Wissen schaftliche Buchgesellschaft, 1976);
Gay-Crosier, “Albert Camus,” in A Critical Bibliography of French Literature, volume 6: The Twentieth Century, edited by Douglas W. Alden and Richard A. Brooks (Syracuse: Syracuse University Press, 1980), part 3, pp. 1573–1679.
Herbert R. Lottman, Albert Camus: A Biography (Garden City, N.Y.: Doubleday, 1979; revised edition, Corte Madera, Cal.: Gingko Press, 1997);
Patrick McCarthy, Camus (New York: Random House, 1982);
Roger Grenier, Albert Camus soleil et ombre: Une biographie intelleduelk (Paris: Gallimard, 1987);
José Lenzini, L’Algérié de Camus (Aix-en-Provence: Edisud, 1987);
Olivier Todd, Albert Camus: Une vie (Paris: Gallimard, 1996); translated by Benjamin Ivry as Albert Camus: A Life (New York: Random House, 1997).
Richard H. Akeroyd, The Spiritual Quest of Albert Camus (Tuscaloosa, Ala.: Portals Press, 1976);
Alba Amoia, Albert Camus (New York: Continuum, 1989);
Alex Argyros, Crimes of Narration: Camus’ “La Chute” (Toronto: Paratexte, 1985);
Ronald Aronson, Camus & Sartre: The Story of a Friendship and the Quarrel that Ended It (Chicago & London: University of Chicago Press, 2004);
G. V. Banks, Camus: L’Etranger (London: Edward Arnold, 1976; enlarged edition, Glasgow: University of Glasgow French and German Publications, 1992);
Michelle Beauclair, Albert Camus, Marguerite Duras, and the Legacy of Mourning (New York: Peter Lang, 1998);
Harold Bloom, ed., Albert Camus (New York & Philadelphia: Chelsea House, 1989);
Germaine Brée, Camus and Sartre: Crisis and Commitment (New York: Delta, 1972);
Brée, ed., Camus: A Collection of Critical Essays (Englewood Cliffs, N.J.: Prentice-Hall, 1962);
Victor Brombert, The Intellectual Hero: Studies in the French Novel, 1880–1955 (Chicago & London: University of Chicago Press, 1960);
Stephen Eric Bronner, Camus: Portrait of a Moralist (Minneapolis & London: University of Minnesota Press, 1999);
Catharine Savage Brosman, Albert Camus (Detroit: Gale, 2000);
Brosman, Existential Fiction (Detroit: Gale, 2000);
James W. Brown, ‘Sensing,’ ‘Seeing,’ ‘Saying’ in Camus’ ‘Noces’: A Meditative Essay (Amsterdam & New York: Rodopi, 2004);
Michel-Antoine Burnier, Choice of Action: The French Existentialists on the Political Front Line, translated by Bernard Murchland (New York: Vintage, 1969);
Lionel Dubois, ed., Albert Camus: La révolte (Poitiers: Editions du Pont-Neuf, 2001);
Dubois, ed., Albert Camus entre la misére et le soleil (Poitiers: Editions du Pont-Neuf, 1997);
Dubois, ed., Les Trois Guerres d’Albert Camus (Poitiers: Editions du Pont-Neuf, 1995);
Peter Dunwoodie and Edward J. Hughes, Constructing Memories: Camus, Algeria, and “Le Premier Homme” (Stirling: Stirling French Publications, no. 6, 1998);
Bernard East, Albert Camus ou l’homme à la recherche d’une morale (Montreal: Bellarmin / Paris: Editions du Cerf, 1984);
David R. Ellison, Understanding Albert Camus (Columbia: University of South Carolina Press, 1990);
Franck Evrard, Albert Camus (Paris: Ellipses, 1998);
Eugene H. Falk, Types of Thematic Structure: The Nature and Function of Motifs in Gide, Camus, and Sartre (Chicago & London: University of Chicago Press, 1967);
Raymond Gay-Crosier, L’Envers d’un échec: Etude sur le théàtre d’Albert Camus (Paris: Lettres Modernes/Minard, 1967);
Gay-Crosier and Roger Quilliot, La Réception de I’oeuvre de Camus en U. R. S. S. et en R. D. A. (Paris: Lettres Modernes Minard, 1999);
Jacob Golomb, In Search of Authenticity: From Kierkegaard to Camus (London & New York: Routledge, 1995);
Jeanyves Guérin, ed., Camus et la politique (Paris: L’Harmattan, 1986);
Guérin, ed., Camus et le premier “Combat” (1944–1947) (La Garenne-Colombes: Editions de l’Espace Européen, 1990);
Patrick Henry, “Albert Camus, Panelier, and La Peste,” Literary Imagination, 5 (Fall 2003): 383–404;
Histoires d’un livre: “L’Etranger” d’Albert Camus. Catalogue édité à I’occasion de I’exposition inaugurale présentée au Centre national des lettres à Paris, du 13 act. au 9 nov. 1990 (Paris: IMEC, 1990);
Edward J. Hughes, Camus: Le Premier Homme; La Peste (Glasgow: University of Glasgow French and German Publications, 1995);
Tony Judt, The Burden of Responsibility: Blum, Camus, Aron, and the French Twentieth Century (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1998);
Walter Kaufmann, ed., Existentialism from Dostoevsky to Sartre (New York: Meridian Books, 1956);
Terry Keefe and Edmund Smyth, Autobiography and the Existential Self: Studies in Modern French Writing (New York: St. Martin’s Press, 1995);
Steven G. Kellman, ed., Approaches to Teaching Camus’s “The Plague” (New York: The Modern Language Association of America, 1995);
Adele King, ed., Camus’s “L’Etranger”: Fifty Years On (London: Macmillan, 1992);
Bettina L. Knapp, ed., Critical Essays on Albert Camus (Boston: G. K. Hall, 1988);
Morvan Lebesque, Camus (Paris: Seuil, 1963);
Richard Lehan, A Dangerous Crossing: French Literary Existentialism and the Modern Novel (Carbondale & Edwardsville: Southern Illinois University Press / London & Amsterdam: Feffer & Simons, 1973);
Jacqueline Lévi-Valensi, ed., Camus et le lyisme (Paris: IMEC Editions, 1992);
Lévi-Valensi and Agnès Spiquel, eds., Camus et le lyrisme: Actes du Colloque de Beauvais 31 mai - 1erjuin 1996 (Paris: SEDES, 1997);
James McBride, Albert Camus: Philosopher and Littérateur (New York: St. Martin’s Press, 1992);
Geraldine F. Montgomery, Noces pourfemme seule: Léfemi-nin et le sacre dans I’oeuvre d’Albert Camus (Amsterdam: Rodopi, 2004);
Conor Cruise O’Brien, Albert Camus of Europe and Africa (New York: Viking, 1970);
Roger Quilliot, La Mer et les prisons: Essai sur Albert Camus (Paris: Gallimard, 1956); revised by Quilliot and translated by Parker as The Sea and Prisons: A Commentary on the Life and Thought of Albert Camus (University: University of Alabama Press, 1970);
Phillip H. Rhein, Albert Camus (New York: Twayne, 1969; revised, 1989);
Anthony Rizzuto, Camus: Love and Sexuality (Gainesville: University Press of Florida, 1998);
Rizzuto, ed., Albert Camus’ “L’Exil et le Royaume”: The Third Decade (Toronto: Paratexte, 1988);
Emmanuel Roblès, Albert Camus et la trêve civile (Philadelphia: Celfan Edition Monographs, 1988);
Jacqueline Gabrielle Roston, Camus’s Rédt “La Chute”: A Rewriting Through Dante’s “Commedia” (New York: Peter Lang, 1985);
Peter Royle, The Sartre-Camus Controversy: A Literary and Philosophical Critique (Ottawa: University of Ottawa Press, 1982);
Jean-Paul Sartre, “Albert Camus,” France-Observateur, no. 505 (7January 1960);
Sartre, “Explication de L’Etranger” Cahiers du Sud, no. 253 (1943);
Sartre, “Réponse à Albert Camus,” Les Temps Modernes, no. 82 (August 1952): 334–353;
Philip Thody, Albert Camus (London: Macmillan, 1989);
Ena C. Vulor, Colonial and Anti-Colonial Discourses: Albert Camus and Algeria (Lanham, Md. & Oxford: University Press of America, 2000);
David H. Walker, ed., Albert Camus: Les extrêmes et I’équili-bre (Amsterdam & Atlanta: Rodopi, 1994);
Maurice Weyembergh, Albert Camus ou la mémoire des origines (Paris & Brussels: De Boeck Universite, 1998);
James S. Williams, Camus: La Peste (London: Grant & Cutler, 2000);
Wolodymyr T. Zyla and Wendell M. Aycock, eds., Albert Camus’ Literary Milieu: Arid Lands (Lubbock: Interdepartmental Committee on Comparative Literature, Texas Tech University, 1976).
Although some of Albert Camus’s papers are deposited at the Bibliothéque nationale de France in Paris, most remain in the Catherine and Jean Camus family archives. Camus’s portion of his unpublished corre spondence with Jules Roy is in the Bibliothéque Saint-Charles in Marseilles; Roy’s portion is in the Fonds Camus of the Bibliothéque Méjane Aix-en-Provence. Two other correspondences are held (partly in originals, partly in photocopies) at the Special Collections division of the library at the University of Florida, Gainesville. See articles by Raymond Gay-Crosier summarizing their contents: “Une Correspondance inédite de l’époque du Théâtre de l’Equipe,” Albert Camus 14 (Paris: Lettres modernes, 1991), pp. 165–172 (letters to Françoise Maeurer), and “Encore une correspondance inédite: Albert Camus-Yvonne Ducailar, 1939–1946,” Albert Camus 15 (Paris: Lettres Modernes, 1993), pp. 183–196. A tapescript of Camus’s unpublished handwritten corrections of 1939 and 1941 for Caligula is held in the same collection. Some papers are in the Harry Ransom Humanities Research Center at the University of Texas at Austin.