Camus, Albert 1913-1960

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CAMUS, Albert 1913-1960

(Bauchart, Albert Mathe; Saetone, a joint pseudonym)

PERSONAL: Born November 7, 1913, in Mondovi, Algeria; died after an automobile accident, January 4, 1960, near Paris, France; son of Lucien (a farm laborer) and Catherine (a charwoman; maiden name, Sintes) Camus; married Simone Hie, 1933 (divorced); married Francine Faure, 1940; children: (second marriage) Jean (son) and Catherine (twins). Education: University of Algiers, diplome d'etudes superieures, 1936. Religion: "Atheistic humanist."

CAREER: Novelist, essayist, and playwright. Worked as meteorologist, stockbroker's agent, and civil servant; actor, writer, and producer of stage productions with Theatre du travail (later Theatre de l'equipe), 1935-38; journalist with Alger-Republicain, 1938-40; teacher in Oran, Algeria, 1940-42; journalist in Paris, France, 1942-45; Editions Gallimard, Paris, reader, 1943-60, director of Espoir collection; Combat (daily newspaper), cofounder, 1945, editor, 1945-47. Staff member of Paris Soir, 1938. Founder of Committee to Aid the Victims of Totalitarian States. Military service: Member of French Resistance during World War II.

AWARDS, HONORS: Medal of the Liberation; Prix de la Critique, 1947, for La Peste; Nobel Prize for literature, 1957; Prix Algerian du Roman.



L'Etranger, Gallimard (Paris, France), 1942, translation by Stuart Gilbert published as The Stranger, Knopf (New York, NY), 1946, reprinted, Vintage (New York, NY), 1972, translation by Matthew Ward published under same title, Knopf (New York, NY), 1988, published as The Outsider, Hamish Hamilton (London, England), 1946.

La Peste, Gallimard (Paris, France), 1947, translation by Stuart Gilbert published as The Plague, Knopf (New York, NY), 1948, reprinted, Vintage (New York, NY), 1991, translation by Robin Buss, Allen Lane (London, England), 2001.

La Chute, Gallimard (Paris, France), 1956, translation by Justin O'Brien published as The Fall, Knopf (New York, NY), 1957, reprinted, Vintage (New York, NY), 1991.

Le Premier homme, Gallimard (Paris, France), 1994, translation by David Hapgood published as The First Man, Knopf (New York, NY), 1995.


Le Malentendu [and] Caligula (also see below; former, three-act, first produced at Theatre des Mathurins, 1944; latter, four-act, first produced at Theatre Hebertot, 1945), Gallimard (Paris, France), 1944, translation by Stuart Gilbert published as Caligula [and] Cross Purpose (former produced in New York, NY 1960), New Directions (New York, NY), 1947.

L'Etat de siege (first produced 1948; also see below), Gallimard (Paris, France), 1948, translation published as State of Siege in Caligula and Three Other Plays, 1958.

Les Justes (first produced at Theatre Hebertot, 1949), Gallimard (Paris, France), 1950, translation by Elizabeth Sprigge and Philip Warner published as The Just Assassins, Microfilm, 1957, published in Caligula and Three Other Plays, 1958.

La Devotion à la croix (title means Devotion to the Cross; adaptation of work by Calderon de la Barca), Gallimard (Paris, France), 1953.

Les Esprits (title means The Wits; adaptation of work by Pierre de Larivey), Gallimard (Paris, France), 1953.

Un Cas interessant (title means An Interesting Case; adaptation of work by Dino Buzatti; first produced at Theatre La Bruyere, 1955), L'Avant-scene, 1955.

Requiem pour une nonne (adaptation of novel Requiem for a Nun by William Faulkner; first produced at Theatre des Mathurins, 1956), Gallimard (Paris, France), 1956.

Caligula and Three Other Plays (contains State of Siege, Cross Purpose, and The Just Assassins), translated by Stuart Gilbert, Knopf (New York, NY), 1958.

Les Possedes (adaptation of novel The Possessed by Fyodor Dostoyevsky; first produced at Theatre Antoine, 1955), Gallimard (Paris, France), 1959, translation by Justin O'Brien published as The Possessed: A Modern Dramatization of Dostoevsky's Novel, Knopf (New York, NY), 1964.

Also author of unfinished play "Don Juan."


L'Envers et l'endroit (title means "Inside and Out"), Charlot Alger, 1937.

Le Mythe de Sisyphe, Gallimard (Paris, France), 1942, translation by Justin O'Brien published as The Myth of Sisyphus and Other Essays, Knopf (New York, NY), 1955, reprinted, Vintage (New York, NY), 1991.

Lettres à un ami allemand, Gallimard (Paris, France), 1945.

Noces (title means "Nuptials"), Charlot Alger, 1945.

L'Existence, Gallimard (Paris, France), 1945.

Le Minotaur, ou La Halte d'Oran (title means "The Minotaur; or, Stopping at Oran"), Charlot Alger, 1950.

Actuelles I: Chroniques, 1944-1948 (title means "Now I: Chronicles, 1944-1948"), Gallimard (Paris, France), 1950.

L'Homme révolté, Gallimard (Paris, France), 1951, translation by Anthony Bower published as The Rebel: An Essay on Man in Revolt, Knopf (New York, NY), 1954, revised edition, 1956, reprinted, Vintage (New York, NY), 1991.

Actuelles II: Chroniques, 1948-1953 (title means "Now II: Chronicles, 1948-1953"), Gallimard (Paris, France), 1953.

L'Ete (title means "Summer"), Gallimard (Paris, France), 1954.

(With Arthur Koestler) Reflexions sur la peine capitale (contains "Reflexions sur la guillotine"; translation by Richard Howard published separately as Reflections on the Guillotine: An Essay on Capital Punishment, Fridtjof-Karla Publications, 1960), Calman-Levy (Paris, France), 1957.

Actuelles III: Chronique algerienne, 1939-1958 (title means "Now III: Algerian Chronicle, 1939-1958"), Gallimard (Paris, France), 1958.

Discours de suede, Gallimard (Paris, France), 1958, translation by Justin O'Brien published as Speech of Acceptance upon the Award of the Nobel Prize for Literature, Delivered in Stockholm on the Tenth of December, 1957, Knopf (New York, NY), 1958.

Neither Victims nor Executioners, translated from the French by Dwight Macdonald, Liberation, 1960.

Resistance, Rebellion, and Death, translated from the French by Justin O'Brien, Knopf (also see below), Calman-Levy (Paris, France), 1957.

Meditations sur le theatre et la vie, P. Alberts, 1961.

Théâtre, récits, nouvelles, Gallimard (Paris, France), 1962, reprinted, preface by Jean Grenier, 1991.

Essais, Gallimard (Paris, France), 1965.

Lyrical and Critical Essays, edited by Philip Thody, translated from the French by Ellen Conroy Kennedy, Knopf (New York, NY), 1968.

Between Hell and Reason: Essays from the Resistance Newspaper "Combat," 1944-1947, translated and edited by Alexandre de Gramont, University Press of New England (Hanover, NH), 1991.


L'Exil et le royaume (short stories; contains "Le Renegat," "Jonas," "La Femme adultere," "Les Muets," "L'Hôte," and "La Pierre qui pousse"), Gallimard (Paris, France), 1957, translation by Justin O'Brien published as Exile and the Kingdom, Hamish Hamilton (London, England), 1960, reprinted, Vintage (New York, NY), 1991; "L'Hôte" translated as The Guest, Creative Education (Mankato, MN), 1991.

Carnets: mai 1935-fevrier 1942, Gallimard (Paris, France), 1962, translation published as Notebooks: Volume I, 1935-1942 (also see below), Knopf (New York, NY), 1963, published as Carnets: 1935-1942, Hamish Hamilton (London, England), 1963).

Lettre à Bernanos, Minard, 1963.

Carnets: janvier 1942-mars 1951, Gallimard (Paris, France), 1964, translation by Justin O'Brien published as Notebooks: 1942-1951 (also see below), Modern Library (New York, NY), 1970, reprinted, Paragon House (New York, NY), 1991.

La Mort heureuse, Gallimard (Paris, France), 1971, translation by Jean Sarocchi published as A Happy Death, Vintage (New York, NY), 1973, translated by Richard Howard, notes by Sarocchi, Vintage (New York, NY), 1995.

Le Premier Camus, suivi de ecrits de jeunesse d'Albert Camus, Gallimard (Paris, France), 1973, translation by Ellen Conroy Kennedy published as Youthful Writings, Knopf (New York, NY), 1976, reprinted, Marlow (New York, NY), 1990.

Fragments d'un Combat: 1938-1940, Alger Republicain, Le Soir Republicain (articles), two volumes, edited by Jacqueline Lévi-Valensi and Andre Abbou, Gallimard (Paris, France), 1978.

Journaux de voyage, edited by Roger Quillot, Gallimard (Paris, France), 1978, translation by Hugh Levick published as American Journals, Paragon House (New York, NY), 1987.

Albert Camus, Jean Grenier: Correspondance: 1932-1960 (letters), edited by Marguerite Dobrenn, Gallimard (Paris, France), 1981.

Oeuvres completes d'Albert Camus, five volumes, Club de l'Honnete Homme, 1983.

Carnets: mars 1951-decembre 1959, Gallimard (Paris, France), 1989.

Notebooks, 1935-1951 (includes Notebooks: Volume I, 1935-1942 and Notebooks: 1942-1951), Marlowe (New York, NY), 1998.

(With Pascal Pia) Correspondance: 1939-1947, edited by Yves Marc Ajchenbaum, Gallimard (Paris, France), 2000.

Camus à Combat: Éditoriaux et articles d'Albert Camus, 1944-1947, edited by Jaqueline Lévi-Valensi, Gallimard (Paris, France), 2002.

(With Jean Grenier) Correspondence, 1932-1960, translation by Jan F. Rigaud, University of Nebraska Press (Lincoln, NB), 2003.

Author of prefaces to many works. Contributor to Combat (under pseudonyms Bauchart and Albert Mathe, and under joint pseudonym Saetone), to Alger-Republicain, Soir-Republicain, L'Express, and many other newspapers and magazines.

SIDELIGHTS: The first major writer to emerge from modern North Africa, Albert Camus was imbued with a "Mediterranean sensibility," wrote Rima Drell Reck in her Literature and Responsibility: The French Novelist in the Twentieth Century, a sensibility that profoundly influenced his writings. The author of the novel The Stranger and numerous so-called existentialist writings during the mid-twentieth century, Camus saw the Algeria of his youth as a place of perpetual summer. Those memories would contrast with his experiences in Europe during World War II.

Camus's father, a native Algerian of Alsatian descent, had been killed at the first battle of the Marne when Camus was just a year old. Because she was partially deaf and much affected by her husband's death, Camus's illiterate mother left the rearing of her sons to her own strong-willed mother. That Camus still focused his love on his mother later becomes evident in some of his writings, such as his unfinished novel, Le Premier homme (The First Man).

Camus was a superior student at school. An instructor, Louis Germain, recognized his potential and urged Camus to vie for the scholarship that allowed him to attend high school—in 1957 Camus would dedicate his Nobel Prize acceptance speech to Germain. At age seventeen Camus contracted tuberculosis, making him a target for depression and flu. Undaunted by his illness, he attended the University of Algiers and studied Greek literature, poetry, and philosophy. He also joined a young intellectual group known as the North Africa Literary School.

In 1936, Camus earned his diplome d'etudes superieures in philosophy and began a career in journalism, writing first for the Alger-Republicain. He also joined the Communist party, although he quickly became disillusioned with the party and broke all ties with it. By 1942 he had moved to Paris and joined the French Resistance against German occupation. Camus worked on writing his novels The Plague and The Rebel while simultaneously working as a reader at Paris-based Gallimard publishing company during the day and writing for the underground newspaper Combat at night. Jean-Paul Sartre and Simone de Beauvoir were also on the Combat staff, as were André Malraux and Michel Gallimard, all of whom became Camus's friends. At Combat, Camus wrote clandestinely under the names Albert Mathe, Bauchart, and the joint pseudonym Saetone. By the end of World War II Combat had became a daily newspaper, with Camus as editor, but in 1944, Camus left journalism to focus entirely on other forms of writing.

In his writings, declared a Time contributor, Camus "was the authentic voice of France's war generation." In the 1940s, values were being challenged as no longer relevant. With the atrocities and resulting feelings of hopelessness brought about by World War II, many people concluded that human existence is pointless. While Camus perceived life's absurdity, he did not adopt this point of view. As the Time reviewer observed, "Because Camus articulated despair so eloquently, a generation bred in depression, surrender and occupation chose him its leader in its quest for something to believe in." Typically pictured in a rumpled trenchcoat with a cigarette dangling from his mouth, Camus was also deeply admired by the generation following his own. In response to the international acclaim that seemed to greet him overnight, Camus asks in L'Ete simply: "What else have I done but meditate on an idea I found in the streets of my time?"

In his search to break through the pervading sense of meaninglessness to discover happiness, Camus charted a plan of writing that eventually encompassed at least three cycles. He named each cycle after a figure in mythology, calling the first Sisyphus, the second Prometheus, and the third Nemesis. The novel The Stranger, the play Caligula, and the essay The Myth of Sisyphus together form cycle one, which is concerned with a certain duality in man's nature: the love of life versus the hatred of death.

In The Stranger, perhaps Camus's most famous work, a man named Meursault shoots an Arab for no apparent reason and is subsequently convicted. His punishment, however, appears to be less the result of his murder than the consequence of his refusal to conform to society's expectations of appropriate emotional behavior. Because Meursault seems indifferent to human relationships and lacks contrition and the ability to feel grief, he is alienated from his society. Approaching his execution, Meursault accepts life as an imperfect end in itself and resolves to die happily and with dignity. He finds consolation in resigning himself to what Camus called the "benign indifference of the universe."

Meursault is portrayed as a "stranger" in life because he does not parrot conventional cant—neither at his mother's funeral nor as the defendant in the courtroom. When his mother dies, for example, he feels little emotion and does not pretend otherwise. Then when his lawyer tries to induce him to respond to judicial questions in the socially acceptable way, Meursault refuses to do so. Those around him are threatened by his candor. He is subsequently sentenced, shunning last of all the chaplain's offer of God. Meursault is ultimately saved by death, which at the same time causes his destruction.

When The Stranger first appeared in print, Jean-Paul Sartre predicted it would become a classic. Often required reading for literature classes, The Stranger has been viewed as Camus's only nihilist novel. R. Barton Palmer, examining the form of the novel, noted in International Fiction Review that Camus eschews the causality typical of conventional narratives and instead presents "a slice of the daily routine, devoid of intention and plot as it must be, a procession of events linked only by chronology. Event succeeds event, perception replaces perception, without any values by which the process may be interpreted."

In Caligula, the concept of the absurd is taken further than in The Stranger. The title character is based on Caius Caesare Augustus Germanicus, who became emperor of Rome at the age of twenty-five. A gentle man at the onset of his reign, Caligula gradually evolved into a cruel and heartless ruler who was eventually assassinated. In Camus's portrayal of Caligula, the emperor is transformed into a tyrant after the death of his sister—and lover—Drusilla. It becomes clear to the emperor that "men die and they are unhappy." Like Meursault, Caligula rebels, but his revolt takes a far more extreme form. Since life is absurd, Caligula reasons, every act is equally senseless. He then proceeds to prove his point by destroying accepted conventions. For instance, he seduces a man's wife, with the man himself as witness, causes a famine, and tortures his subjects with the aim of educating the self-deluding patricians. A revolt culminates in the assassination of the emperor, whose last utterances include the lament, "I didn't take the right road, I came out nowhere. My freedom is not the right kind."

Sisyphus is another survivor. According to the legend, he is eternally condemned to push a boulder the full height of a mountain only for it to roll back down to the starting point. Sisyphus "is the absurd hero," explains Camus in the essay "The Myth of Sisyphus." "He is, as much through his passions as through his torture. His scorn of the gods, his hatred of death, and his passion for life won him that unspeakable penalty in which the whole being is exerted toward accomplishing nothing. This is the price that must be paid for the passions of this world." For Camus, Sisyphus represents all men.

The Fall links the idea of the absurd to Camus's second cycle of writing. Written in the first person, as are all of Camus's novels, The Fall is a monologue delivered by Jean Baptiste Clamence, a one-time lawyer who has abandoned a lucrative practice in Paris. Although formerly self-satisfied, Clamence now suffers from guilt and can no longer in good conscience judge other people without viewing himself as a hypocrite: "Who is to say he is not equally guilty?" he asks himself. Clamence ends up confessing his own transgressions to anyone who will listen in a Dutch bar frequented by sailors. "In short," he confesses, "I never bothered with larger concerns except in the intervals between my little flings." His frankness evokes similar disclosures from his listeners, and to Clamence, this proves that all men are inherently wicked.

Revolt is the theme of Prometheus, the mythological hero who represents Camus's second cycle. Prometheus loves man and leads him to battle against the gods, whom Prometheus despises. Eventually, man begins to question his mission, but Prometheus avows his belief in their actions: "Those who doubt will be thrown out into the desert, nailed on a rock, offered as prey to cruel birds. All others shall walk in the dark behind the pensive and solitary master." As Camus puts it, Prometheus has thus become Caesar engaged in a metaphysical kind of revolt against the human condition.

The Plague is Camus's most complex work, although while the book met with popular acclaim in 1947, its message was lost on many readers. The story takes place in the Algerian town of Oran, where life is very predictable and routine. As the tale progresses, one rat dies, then more rats, then one human, and before long a pestilence has almost imperceptibly ravaged the city. The pain the plague causes elicits real feeling from the normally sedate townspeople. The actions of the characters illustrate that the complacent can be moved to take heroic action when faced with an emergency situation. Therefore, there is hope for the human condition, as long as the transition is not forgotten when life returns to normal.

The events in The Plague are related in the third person by Dr. Rieux, who is not revealed as the narrator until the end of the book. Throughout the story Rieux fervently strives to aid the plague victims as a way of resolving his own fears about the purpose of his life. Rieux's friend, the artist Tarrou, also combats the disease, and chronicles in his diary the events taking place in Oran. In one entry he states, "I know with a certain knowledge that each man carries a plague within"; rather than fighting his fears about death, Tarrou attempts through his work to transcend them.

The Plague has been viewed as Camus's most anti-Christian novel, especially as it confronts fascism, Naziism, and the horrors of World War II. In Reck's opinion, Camus "suggests that faith is questionable, that man's torments are unjustifiable, that religion offers no answers to the travail of quotidian existence." Emphasizing Camus's own assertion that The Plague "was to be a more positive book" than The Stranger, however, Patrick McCarthy noted in the book Albert Camus: The Stranger that "Rieux and his friends demonstrate the moral values of courage and fraternity which do not defeat the plague but which bear witness against it." Sartre and Roland Barthes identified a flaw in Camus's allegory, observed McCarthy. "Camus had asserted the need to act but he had not treated the more difficult problems of which action one chooses…. The occupation was far from nonhuman [unlike Camus's fictional plague] and it involved agonizing choices."

Although the personification of evil in the symbolic play The State of Siege is named "King Plague," and though there are surface similarities to the novel, the play is not an adaptation of The Plague, but is more similar to Caligula, due to its focus on death. Diego, the rebel in the play, energizes the population of Cadiz and prompting them to revolt against their oppressors. The State of Siege was one of Camus's favorite works, although it did not fare well on the Paris stage. Camus remarked in the introduction to the English translation of the play that The State of Siege "had without effort achieved critical unanimity" and "a complete cutting up."

The Just Assassins (Les Justes) was greeted with more opposing reactions in the French press. The play deals with Russian terrorism in the early 1900s, specifically a plot involving a Socialist group that plans to assassinate the grand duke. A young poet, Kaliayev, who is totally committed to the cause of the organization, is chosen to throw the bomb that will kill the duke. Seeing himself as an avenger against the oppressed, Kaliayev dies for his actions without regret. But his death raises the question, Is the sacrifice of one person worth the promise of a better future for mankind?

While the composition of The Rebel (L'Homme révolté), the last volume in the cycle of Prometheus, was not an easy task for Camus, the author felt that the task was his responsibility: afterward he could freely devote his time to creating more literature. In his Notebooks he states: "For my own part, I should not have written L'Homme révolté if in the forties I had not found myself face to face with men whose acts I did not understand. To put it briefly, I did not understand that men could torture others without ever ceasing to look at them." In The Rebel, Camus defines revolt as the "impulse that drives an individual to the defense of a dignity common to all men." He takes the phrase by Descartes, "I think, therefore I am," and turns it into "I revolt, therefore we are." Citing paths of rebellion chosen by numerous figures throughout history, Camus illustrates how each was unsuccessful according to his own definition of revolt. The Marquis de Sade's actions were too calculated, too intellectual; Rimbaud's too individualized. But Camus criticized Hegel's method of rebellion above all because its absence of limitations would inevitably lead to anarchy and dictatorship.

A highly political novel, The Rebel's "structural and rational flaws are glaring," Reck contended, but even so, it sparked more controversy than any other writing by Camus. It is "the only thing written by Camus resembling a political philosophy," said Reck. Probably one of the major conflicts was fostered by Camus's condemnation of Marxism: "End satisfies the means? Is this possible? But what will justify the ends?" Camus's assertion that the Left should oppose Stalinism led to a much-publicized rift between Camus and Sartre. "The break between these two leading French writers touched off literary pyrotechnics vivid even for Paris," wrote the New York Times.

Camus never completed the third cycle of his writing, which was to be called Nemesis, concerning measure. He had just emerged from a period of writer's block when he died in an automobile accident on January 4, 1960, at age forty-six. "News of the death stunned the French literary world of which M. Camus was one of the brightest lights," wrote a New York Times contributor.

At the time of his death, Camus had completed approximately one hundred pages of the rough draft of his epic novel, The First Man, based on the first French settlers in Algeria. A draft of the work—and Camus's notes for further chapters—was found in the crashed car in which Camus perished. While Camus's widow decided not to circulate the work due to its incomplete form, following her death his children saw to the book's publication. Critics recognized Camus himself in novel's protagonist, Jacques Cormier, a prominent French literary figure who is on a quest to learn more about his late father while also attempting to come to terms with the disconnection between his elite status as a writer and a childhood Richard Eder described in the Los Angeles Times Book Review as "constrained by poverty but wonderfully free in exploration and sensuous discovery." Praising the novel, Eder asserted that The First Man "has an overwhelming emotional integrity." Nicholas Delbanco in the Chicago Tribune Books observed that, while the novel "betrays the haste of its composition throughout, … the overwhelming impression is of how well Camus wrote, how natural and unforced was his eloquence."

The publication of any work by Camus was closely critiqued by reviewers, both in its original French and in translation. But as literature, Reck remarked, Camus's fiction is "conceptionally thin," his novels mere essays in fictional form. Reck added that "Camus's originality as a novelist lay in his ability to state his insights ambiguously, that is, with the density and complexity of human existence."

The posthumous translation of Camus's American Journals has contributed greatly to reexaminations of the writer's life and thought. Originally published in 1978 as Journaux de voyage, American Journals describes Camus's impressions of the United States and South America during the 1940s. Reviewers have noted that the value of the journals is not in their descriptive power as travel documents, but in the insight they provide into Camus's character and works. They highlight aspects of the writer's personal life, such as his obsession with and fear of death and his guilt-ridden, but repeated, episodes of infidelity. Throughout, he documents feelings of despondency and unhappiness, along with notes he eventually uses in published works, such as The Plague. American Journals "show us how Camus passed from anguish to creativity, willing his pain into art," commented Gail Pool in the Christian Science Monitor. Patrick McCarthy, in the Times Literary Supplement, also emphasized the illumination of Camus's political views provided in American Journals, noting that the author "reveals a strong sense of belonging to the working class and a frustration at not knowing how to transform that sense into a political vision."



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Camus, Albert 1913-1960

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