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Albert Camus

Albert Camus

The French novelist, essayist, and playwright Albert Camus (1913-1960) was obsessed with the philosophical problems of the meaning of life and of man's search for values in a world without God. His work is distinguished by lucidity, moderation, and tolerance.

Albert Camus may be grouped with two slightly older French writers, André Malraux and Jean Paul Sartre, in marking a break with the traditional bourgeois novel. Like them, he is less interested in psychological analysis than in philosophical problems in his books. Camus developed a conception of the "absurd," which provides the theme for much of his earlier work: the "absurd" is the gulf between, on the one hand, man's desire for a world of happiness, governed by reason, justice, and order, a world which he can understand rationally and, on the other hand, the actual world, which is chaotic and irrational and inflicts suffering and a meaningless death on humanity. The second stage in Camus's thought developed from the first—man should not simply accept the "absurd" universe, but should "revolt" against it. This revolt is not political but in the name of the traditional humane values.

Camus was born on Nov. 7, 1913, at Mondovi in Algeria, then part of France. His father, who was French, was killed at the front in 1914; his mother was of Spanish origin. His childhood was one of poverty, and his education at school and later at the University of Algiers was completed only with help from scholarships. He was a brilliant student of philosophy, and his major outside interests were sports and drama. While still a student, he founded a theater and both directed and acted in plays. Having contracted tuberculosis, which periodically forced him to spend time in a sanatorium, he was medically unable to become a teacher and worked at various jobs before becoming a journalist in 1938. His first published works were L'Envers et l'endroit (1937; The Wrong Side and the Right Side) and Noces (1938; Festivities), books of essays dealing with the meaning of life and its joys, as well as its underlying meaninglessness.

L'Étranger

At the outbreak of World War II in September 1939 Camus was unfit for military service; in the following year he moved to Paris and completed his first novel, L'Étranger (The Stranger), published in 1942. The theme of the novel is embodied in the "stranger" of its title, a young clerk called Meursault, who is narrator as well as hero. Meursault is a stranger to all conventional human reactions. The book begins with his lack of grief on his mother's death. He has no ambition, and he is prepared to marry a girl simply because he can see no reason why he should not. The crisis of the novel takes place on a beach when Meursault, involved in a quarrel not of his causing, shoots an Arab; the second part of the novel deals with his trial for murder and his condemnation to death, which he understands as little as why he killed the Arab. Meursault is absolutely honest in describing his feelings, and it is this honesty which makes him a "stranger" in the world and ensures the verdict of guilty. The total situation symbolizes the "absurd" nature of life, and this effect is increased by the deliberately flat and colorless style of the book.

Unable to find work in France during the German occupation, Camus returned to Algeria in 1941 and finished his next book, Le Mythe de Sisyphe (The Myth of Sisyphus), also published in 1942. This is a philosophical essay on the nature of the absurd, which is embodied in the mythical figure of Sisyphus, condemned eternally to roll a heavy rock up a mountain, only to have it roll down again. Sisyphus becomes a symbol of mankind and in his constant efforts achieves a certain tragic greatness.

In 1942 Camus, back in France, joined a Resistance group and engaged in underground journalism until the Liberation in 1944, when he became editor of the former Resistance newspaper Combat for 3 years. Also during this period his first two plays were staged: Le Malentendu (Cross-Purpose) in 1944 and Caligula in 1945. Here again the principal theme is the meaninglessness of life and the finality of death. Two more plays, L'État de siège (The State of Siege) and Les Justes (The Just Assassins), followed in 1948 and 1950, and Camus was to adapt seven other plays for the stage, the sphere of activity where he felt happiest.

In 1947 Camus brought out his second novel, La Peste (The Plague). Here, in describing a fictional attack of bubonic plague in the Algerian city of Oran, he again treats the theme of the absurd, represented by the meaningless and totally unmerited suffering and death caused by the plague. But now the theme of revolt is strongly developed. Man cannot accept this suffering passively; and the narrator, Dr. Rieux, explains his ideal of "honesty"—preserving his integrity by struggling as best he can, even if unsuccessfully, against the epidemic. On one level the novel can be taken as a fictional representation of the German occupation of France, but it has a wider appeal as being symbolical of the total fight against evil and suffering, the major moral problem of human experience.

Later Works

Camus's next important book was L'Homme révolté (1951; The Rebel). Another long essay, this work treats the theme of revolt in political, as well as philosophical, terms. Camus, who had briefly been a member of the Communist party in the 1930s, afterward maintained a position of political independence, from both the left and right-wing parties in France. In this book he develops the point that man should not tolerate the absurdity of the world but at the same time makes a careful distinction between revolt and revolution. Revolution, despite its initial ideals, he sees as inevitably ending in a tyranny as great or greater than the one it set out to destroy. Instead, Camus asks for revolt: a more individual protest, in tune with the humane values of tolerance and moderation. Above all he denounces the Marxist belief that "history" will inevitably produce a world revolution and that any action committed in its name will therefore be justified. For Camus, the end can never justify the means. L'Homme révolté was widely discussed in France and led to a bitter quarrel between Camus and Sartre, who at this time was maintaining the necessity of an alliance with the Communists.

In the early 1950s Camus turned back to his earlier passion for the theater and published no major book until 1956, when La Chute (The Fall) appeared. This novel consists of a monologue by a former lawyer named Clamence, who mainly sits in a sordid waterfront bar in Amsterdam and comments ironically on his life. Successful and worldly, he has undergone a moral crisis—the "fall" of the title—after failing to help a young woman who commits suicide by jumping off a bridge in Paris; afterward he gives up his career and moves to Amsterdam, where he lives as what he calls a "judge-penitent." The guilt he feels because of this "fall" makes him see and describe the whole of human life in terms of satirical pessimism.

In 1957 Camus received the great distinction of the Nobel Prize for literature for his works, which "with clear-sighted earnestness illuminate the problems of the human conscience of our time." In the same year he published a collection of short stories, L'Exil et le royaume (Exile and the Kingdom). Later he began to work on a fourth important novel and was also about to become director of a major Paris theater when, on Jan. 4, 1960, he was killed in a car crash near Paris, at the age of 46, a tragic loss to literature since he had yet to write the works of his full maturity as artist and thinker. Since his death important volumes of Carnets (Notebooks) have appeared.

Further Reading

There are a number of valuable studies of Camus's work: Robert de Luppé, Albert Camus (1957; trans. 1966); Thomas Hanna, The Thought and Art of Albert Camus (1958); Germaine Brée, Camus (1959; rev. ed. 1964); John Cruickshank, Albert Camus and the Literature of Revolt (1959); Philip Thody, Albert Camus: 1913-1960 (1961); Adele King, Albert Camus (1964); and Emmett Parker, Albert Camus: The Artist in the Arena (1965). Donald R. Haggis, Albert Camus: La Peste (1962), is a perceptive short study. Germaine Brée edited a volume of extremely useful articles, Camus: A Collection of Critical Essays (1962). Recommended for general critical background are Henri Peyre, French Novelists of Today (1955; new ed. 1967), and John Cruickshank, ed., The Novelist as Philosopher: Studies in French Fiction, 1935-1960 (1962). □

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Camus, Albert

Albert Camus

Born: November 7, 1913
Mondovi, Algeria
Died: January 4, 1960
Paris, France

French novelist, essayist, and playwright

The French novelist, essayist, and playwright Albert Camus was the literary spokesman for his generation. His obsession with the philosophical problems of the meaning of life and man's search for value made him well loved by readers, resulting in his award of the Nobel Prize in Literature at the age of forty-four.

Childhood

Albert Camus was born on November 7, 1913, in Mondovi, Algeria, then part of France. His French father was killed in World War I (191418; a war that involved many European countries, such as Russia, the United States, and areas of the Middle East) when Albert was just one year old. His mother, of Spanish origin, was able to provide a small income and home in a needy neighborhood of Algiers, Algeria, through unskilled labor. His childhood was one of poverty and of sunshine. Life in Algeria left Camus feeling rich because of the temperate climate. Camus said, "I lived in destitution but also in a kind of sensual delight." His Spanish heritage provided him with a self-respect in poverty and a passion for honor. Camus started writing at an early age.

His schooling was completed only with help from scholarships. At the University of Algiers, he was a brilliant student of philosophy (the study of value and meaning in life), focusing on the comparison of Hellenism (ideals associated with Ancient Greece) and Christianity. Camus is described as both a physical and mental athlete. While still a student, he founded a theater and both directed and acted in plays. At seventeen he contracted tuberculosis (a disease that mainly affects the lungs), which kept him from further sports, the military, and teaching jobs. Camus worked at various jobs before becoming a journalist in 1938. His first published works were L'Envers et l'endroit (1937; The Wrong Side and the Right Side) and Noces (1938; Festivities), books of essays dealing with the meaning of life and its joys, as well as its underlying meaninglessness.

Albert Camus's writing marks a break with the traditional bourgeois (middle class) novel. He is less interested in psychological (involving the study of the mind) analysis than in philosophical problems in his books. Camus developed an idea of the "absurd," which provides the theme for much of his earlier work: the "absurd" is the gulf between man's desire for a world of happiness, a world which he can understand rationally, and the actual world, which is confused and irrational. The second stage in Camus's thought developed from the firstman should not simply accept the "absurd" universe, but should "revolt" against it. This revolt is not political but in the name of traditional values.

L'Étranger

His first novel, L'Étranger (The Stranger), published in 1942, focuses on the negative aspect of man. The theme of the novel is embodied in the "stranger" of its title, a young clerk called Meursault, who is narrator as well as hero. Meursault is a stranger to all expected human emotions. He is a human sleepwalking through life. The crisis of the novel takes place on a beach, when Meursault, involved in a quarrel not of his causing, shoots an Arab. The second part of the novel deals with his trial for murder and his sentence to death, which he understands about as much as why he killed the Arab. Meursault is absolutely honest in describing his feelings, and it is this honesty that makes him a "stranger" in the world and ensures the verdict of guilty. The total situation symbolizes the absurd nature of life, and this effect is increased by the deliberately flat and colorless style of the book.

Unable to find work in France during World War II (193945; a war in which Great Britain, France, the Soviet Union, and the United States fought against Germany, Italy, and Japan), because Germany invaded and occupied France, Camus returned to Algeria in 1941 and finished his next book, Le Mythe de Sisyphe (The Myth of Sisyphus), also published in 1942. This is a philosophical essay on the nature of the meaninglessness of life, which is shown in the mythical figure of Sisyphus, who is sentenced for eternity to roll a heavy rock up a mountain only to have it roll back down again. Sisyphus becomes a symbol of mankind and, in his constant efforts, achieves a certain sad victory.

In 1942 Camus, back in France, joined a Resistance group and engaged in underground journalism until the Liberation in 1944, when he became editor of the former Resistance newspaper Combat for three years. Also during this period his first two plays were staged: Le Malentendu (Cross-Purpose) in 1944 and Caligula in 1945. Here again the principal theme is the meaninglessness of life and the finality of death. It was in playwriting that Camus felt most successful.

In 1947 Camus published his second novel, La Peste (The Plague). Here, Camus focuses on the positive side of man. In describing a fictional attack of bubonic plague (a highly contagious outbreak of disease that causes many deaths) in the Algerian city of Oran, he again treats the theme of the absurd, represented by the meaningless and totally unearned suffering and death caused by the plague. But now the theme of revolt is strongly developed. Man cannot accept this suffering without a fight. The narrator, Dr. Rieux, explains his ideal of "honesty"preserving his strength of character by struggling as best he can, even if unsuccessfully, against the outbreak of disease. On one level the novel can be taken as a fictional representation of the German occupation of France. It also has a wider appeal, though, as a symbol of the fight against evil and suffering, the major moral problem of human experience.

Later works

Camus's next important book was L'Homme révolté (1951; The Rebel). Another long essay, this work treats the theme of revolt in political, as well as philosophical, terms. Camus, who had been a member of the Communist Party (a political party whose members support the idea that the government should control the production and distribution of goods) for one year, afterward maintained a position of political independence from the parties in France. In this book he develops the idea that man should not tolerate the irrationality of the world, while at the same time making a careful distinction between revolt and revolution. Revolution, despite its initial ideals, he sees as something that always ends in a cruelty as great or greater than the one it set out to destroy. Instead Camus asks for revolt: a more individual protest, in tune with the values of tolerance and moderation. Above all he strongly rejects the Marxist belief that "history" will inevitably produce a world revolution and that any action committed in its name will therefore be justified. For Camus, the end can never justify the means.

In 1957 Camus received the great honor of the Nobel Prize in Literature for his works. In the same year he began to work on a fourth important novel and was also about to become the director of a major Paris theater, when, on January 4, 1960, he was killed in a car crash near Paris. He was forty-six years old. This was a tragic loss to literature, since he had yet to write the works of his full maturity as an artist and a thinker.

For More Information

Lottman, Herbert R. Albert Camus: A Biography. Garden City, NY: Doubleday, 1979.

Todd, Olivier. Albert Camus: A Life. New York: Alfred A. Knopf, 1997.

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Camus, Albert

Albert Camus (älbĕr´ kämü´), 1913–60, French writer, b. Mondovi (now Dréan). Camus was one of the most important authors and thinkers of the 20th cent. While a philosophy student at the Univ. of Algiers (grad. 1936), he formed a theater group and adapted, directed, and acted in plays. He became active in social reform and was briefly a member of the Communist party. He worked as a reporter for an Algiers newspaper, and shortly after his essay Noces [weddings] appeared (1939), he went (1940) to Paris and found work as a journalist. In World War II he joined the French resistance and was principal editor of the underground paper Combat.

Noted for his vigorous, concise, and lucid style, Camus soon gained recognition as a major literary figure. His belief that man's condition is absurd identified him with the existentialists (see existentialism), but he denied allegiance to that group; his works express rather a courageous humanism. The characters in his novels and plays, although keenly aware of the meaninglessness of the human condition, assert their humanity by rebelling against their circumstances.

The essay Le Mythe de Sisyphe (1942, tr. The Myth of Sisyphus, 1955) formulates his theory of the absurd and is the philosophical basis of his novel L'Étranger (1942, tr. The Stranger, 1946, The Outsider, 2013) and of his plays Le Malentendu (1944, tr. Cross Purpose, 1948) and Caligula (1944, tr. 1948). L'Étranger brought him the admiration and friendship of Jean-Paul Sartre, and turned Camus from a journalist into a well-known novelist and intellectual. The essay L'Homme révolté (1951, tr. The Rebel, 1954), dealing with historical, spiritual, and political rebellion, treats themes found in the novels La Peste (1947, tr. The Plague, 1948) and La Chute (1956, tr. The Fall, 1957). Other works include the plays L'État de siège (1948, tr. State of Siege, 1958) and Les Justes (1950, tr. The Just Assassins, 1958), journalistic essays, and stories. Camus was awarded the Nobel Prize in Literature in 1957. The last book he published in his lifetime was Chroniques algériennes (1958, tr. Algerian Chronicles, 2013), a group of articles that express conflicted feelings regarding his homeland—supporting Arab political rights but opposing Algerian independence. The first draft of an autobiographical novel, found in a briefcase after his death in a car crash, was published as Le Premier Homme (1994, tr. The First Man, 1995).

See Camus at Combat: Writing 1944–1947, ed. by J. Levi-Valensi (2007); his Notebooks: 1935–1951, (2 vol., tr. 1963–65, repr. 1998) and Notebooks: 1951–1959 (tr. 2008); C. Camus (his daughter), Albert Camus: Solitude and Solidarity (tr. 2012); biographies by H. Lottman (1979) and O. Todd (1997); R. Zaretsky, Albert Camus: Elements of a Life (2010); studies by G. Brée (4th ed. 1972), D. Lazere (1973), L. Braun (1974), P. McCarthy (1982), B. L. Knapp, ed. (1988), D. Sprintzen (1988), H. Bloom, ed. (1989, repr. 2003), P. Thody (1989), D. R. Ellison (1990), J. McBride (1992), C. S. Brosman (2001), and M. Longstaffe (2007).

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Camus, Albert

Camus, Albert

Born in 1913, Albert Camus was a French philosopher, writer, and playwright of Algerian descent. Camus was confronted very early in his life by the contradictions that forged his conception of death. While celebrating the multiple splendours of life and the exuberance of nature, he was struck by an illness (tuberculosis) that had lasting effects throughout his life. This was the beginning of his conception of the absurdity of life, best summarized by the title character of his 1938 play Caligula, who said, "Men die, and they are not happy" (1.4).

Camus was an atheist, and the notions of divinity or life after death were evacuated from his philosophical conception. So, if one cannot find sense in dying, one must invest all of one's energies (despite the apparent absurdity of existence) into action: There is an obligation on humans to actby revolting against things as they are, assuming their freedom, fighting for the values of justice, equality, and brotherhood. This, however, presupposes that one chooses to live; to Camus, as he writes at the very beginning of his essay on the absurd, The Myth of Sisyphus, "There is but one truly philosophical problem and that is suicide" (p. 11). This affirms the liberty that individuals have to dispose of their life as they wish. Camus is not, however, an apologist of suicide. He is a passionate advocate for the freedom of choice. In concluding The Myth of Sisyphus, Camus cannot help but ask the reader to "imagine Sisyphus happy." Camus was awarded the Nobel Prize for Literature in 1957. He died in a car accident in 1960.

See also: Kierkegaard, SØren; Philosophy, Western; Sartre, Jean-Paul

Bibliography

Camus, Albert. The Myth of Sisyphus and Other Essays, translated by Justin O'Brien. London: Hamish Hamilton, 1955.

Camus, Albert. The Stranger. New York: Random House, 1966.

Todd, Oliver. Albert Camus: A Life, translated by Benjamin Ivry. New York: Alfred A. Knopf, 1997.

JEAN-YVES BOUCHER

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Camus, Albert

Camus, Albert (1913–60) French novelist, playwright, and essayist. An active figure in the French Resistance, Camus achieved recognition with his debut novel The Outsider (1942), a work permeated with the sense of individual alienation that underlies much of his writing. His later work include the novels The Plague (1947) and The Fall (1956), and the essay The Rebel (1951). Camus has been associated with existentialism and the Theatre of the Absurd. He received the 1957 Nobel Prize in literature.

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Camus, Albert

Albert Camus

BORN: 1913, Mondovi, Algeria

DIED: 1960, Paris

NATIONALITY: Algerian, French

GENRE: Novels, essays, plays

MAJOR WORKS:
The Stranger (1942)
The Myth of Sisyphus (1942)
The Plague (1947)

Overview

Literary scholars hail Albert Camus (also known as Albert Mathe, Bauchart, and Saetone) as North Africa's first writer of consequence. A pied-noir, or French citizen born in Algeria while it was still a colony of France, Camus emerged from an underprivileged background to become one of the leading writers of the twentieth century. Trained in philosophy, Camus wrote several acclaimed plays, essays, and short stories, but is best remembered for two novels: The Stranger (1942) and The Plague (1947).

Works in Biographical and Historical Context

Childhood in Algeria and Parents' Impact Albert Camus was born on November 7, 1913, outside Mondovi, a village near Bône (now Annaba), in eastern Algeria, then a French territory. When World War I began in summer 1914, Camus's father was called into military service and was wounded in the Battle of the Marne. He died in a hospital in autumn 1914. The tragedy caused Camus's already reclusive mother to become even more withdrawn.

Camus's family life and his early loss of his father is reflected in his writing. In Camus's works, fathers are often missing or shadowy; only in his unfinished autobiographical novel The First Man (1994) 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, “What justifies life is our mothers; that's why I wish to die before mine”—a wish that was, in fact, granted. Based on his writings, it can be argued that Camus was haunted by the maternal idea; the word “mother” bears considerable weight in his prose, as when it is paired with “truth” in the original French: “ma mère et ma vérité.” There are suggestions, however, that the relationship between Camus and his mother was not an easy one; as Camus wrote in his Notebooks, 1942–1951 (Carnets: janvier 1942-mars 1951, 1964): “I loved my mother despairingly. I have always loved her despairingly.” Clearly, Camus was somewhat torn in his feelings for his mother, or at least ambivalent. The beginning of his most famous novel, The Stranger, reflects this sort of ambivalence; it begins with the character Meursault unemotionally explaining: “Today, mother died. Or maybe yesterday, I don't know. I got a telegram from the home: Mother dead. Funeral tomorrow. Sincere condolences. It doesn't say anything. It could have been yesterday.”

Tuberculosis and the Absurdity of Life While in his early teens, Camus was an active sports enthusiast. He swam often and was an avid soccer player. However, Camus's sports activities came to a halt when, at seventeen, he contracted tuberculosis in his right lung. The disease eventually spread to his left lung as well. With no method yet discovered of destroying the tubercle bacilli, Camus was to be afflicted with bouts of active tuberculosis on and off for the remainder of his life, making him a target for depression and respiratory illnesses. What emerged from Camus's struggle with tuberculosis was his development of his theory of the absurd. For Camus, the word absurd described the disparity between a young consciousness, hungry for experience and crying out for meaning, and a body condemned to illness. Camus found it absurd that he should be so full of life and curiosity while knowing that his life could soon end. As an adult, Camus would explore the absurdity of life in such novels as The Stranger and The Fall (1956).

Politics: Camus's Fight Against the Nazis By 1942, Camus had moved to Paris, where he became a part of the French resistance movement against German occupation. (The Nazi Army had marched into Paris in the summer of 1940 after easily overwhelming the French military.) He was writing The Plague and The Rebel (1951), while simultaneously writing anti-Nazi pieces for the underground newspaper Combat at night. Authors Jean-Paul Sartre and Simone de Beauvoir were also on the Combat staff. At Combat, Camus wrote clandestinely under various pseudonyms. Despite his precautions, Camus barely escaped being caught by the Nazi Gestapo (the internal security organization of the Nazi regime) at least once.

In The Plague, Camus deals with the theme of revolt. Complementing his concept of the absurd, Camus believed in the necessity of each person to revolt against the common fate of humanity by seeking personal freedom. Dr. Rieux, the protagonist of The Plague, narrates the story of several men in the plague-ridden Algerian city of Oran. Throughout the novel, Camus parallels the conflicting philosophies of Rieux and Father Paneloux over how to deal with the plague: Rieux, a compassionate humanist who repudiates conventional religion, maintains that human action can best combat the disease; Paneloux, a Jesuit priest who views the plague as God's retribution on the sinful people of Oran, holds that only through faith and divine intervention can the city be salvaged. Ultimately, the characters overcome their differences and unite to defeat the plague, at least temporarily, through scientific means. Many critics have interpreted The Plague as an allegory of the German occupation of France during World War II.

Nobel Prize Amidst Algerian Independence Controversy Following the release of The Fall in 1956, Camus's standing as a writer received a welcome boost when he was awarded the Nobel Prize in 1957, especially since it came in the midst of the battle over his refusal to publicly take a side in Algeria's war for independence from France. Algeria's struggle against colonial control by France was part of a widespread independence movement in Africa and Asia. Many parts of Africa and Asia, in the years following World War II, sought to free

themselves from the political control of European countries that had dominated them for generations. Camus dedicated his Nobel acceptance speech to Louis Germain, his influential fifth-grade teacher, and in it, he attempted to explain his point of view on political struggles: “The artist fashions himself in that ceaseless oscillation from himself to others,” Camus said at the ceremonies, “midway between the beauty he cannot do without and the community from which he cannot tear himself. This is why true artists scorn nothing. They force themselves to understand instead of judging.”

Death in an Automobile Accident Camus had just emerged from a long-lasting writer's block, full of ideas for future writings, when he died suddenly. On January 4, 1960, Camus was killed upon impact in an automobile crash. He was forty-six years old. “News of the death stunned the French literary world of which M. Camus was one of the brightest lights,” wrote the New York Times. In Francois Mauriac's words, Camus's death was “one of the greatest losses that could have affected French letters at the present time.” In general, newspapers commented that it was the absurd death of a man who recognized life as absurd.

Works in Literary Context

Inspired to read widely and deeply by his high school teacher, philosopher Jean Grenier, Camus was well versed in the classics of Western philosophy, including the works of Plato, Søren Kierkegaard, and Friedrich Nietzsche—all of whom influenced his work.

Existentialism and the Absurd One of Camus's most famous concepts is the idea that life is absurd, an idea that one can see prominently in The Stranger and The Myth of Sisyphus. Camus's meditations on the “absurdity” of life sounded like “Existentialism” to many of his contemporaries. Existentialism is basically the belief that life in itself is meaningless and that it is only as valuable or meaningful as one makes it. Although Camus became known as an existentialist and as a philosopher, he himself rejected both labels. In Actuelles I he wrote, “I have little liking for the too famous existential philosophy, and to speak frankly, I think its conclusions are false.” He further asserted in Actuelles II, “I am not a philosopher and never claimed to be one.” Instead, he viewed himself as a moralist, by his own definition, “a man with a passion for the human heart.” But even above being a moralist, Camus perceived himself as an artist with a responsibility to mankind. In his Nobel Prize acceptance speech, Camus said, “In my eyes, art is not a solitary pleasure. It is a means of moving the greatest number of men by offering them a privileged image of common sufferings and common joys.”

Works in Critical Context

Camus was widely acclaimed in his short lifetime, and almost all of his work—especially The Stranger and The Plague received critical praise. His philosophical work The Myth of Sisyphus was dismissed as amateurish by some critics, but it remains popular with readers.

The Stranger 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 “one of the first modern books—perhaps the very first—in which the Absurdist awareness of the absence of any settled moral truth is worked into all the details of the story.” To Henri Peyre, “the romantic condemnation of a bourgeois society whose judges sentence a murder too harshly is a little facile. But the young Camus had thus to begin by setting himself against the world as he found it; before he could discover how to change it or how to rethink it, he had to depict it as unsatisfactory.” R. Barton Palmer examined the form of the novel, noting in International Fiction Review that Camus rejects the cause-and-effect plotting 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.”

LITERARY AND HISTORICAL CONTEMPORARIES

Camus's famous contemporaries include:

Jean-Paul Sartre (1905–1980): Camus's friendship with this French Existentialist philosopher and novelist ended over political differences.

Simone de Beauvoir (1908–1986): Author of the landmark feminist work The Second Sex (1949), Beauvoir is also classified as a French Existentialist.

Samuel Beckett (1906–1989): The work of this Irish playwright and poet continued and enhanced Camus's concept of the absurd.

Mohamed Ahmed Ben Bella (1918–): He is considered the father of the nation of Algeria.

Charles De Gaulle (1890–1970): De Gaulle was a leader of the Free French Forces and one of the leading Nazi resistors in France.

The Plague The Plague has been viewed as Camus's “most anti-Christian” novel. To the scholar Rima Drell Reck, Camus “suggests that faith is questionable, that man's torments are unjustifiable, that religion offers no answers to the travail of quotidian existence.” Although it is clear that the text is metaphorical and, indeed, intended to be allegorical, Sartre and social commentator Roland Barthes identified a flaw in Camus's allegory, observed biographer Patrick McCarthy. “Camus had asserted the

need to act but he had not treated the more difficult problems of which action one chooses…. [T]he occupation was far from nonhuman [unlike Camus's fictional plague] and it involved agonizing choices.” Nonetheless, many agree with Philip Thoddy that The Plague is Camus's “most complex and probably his most satisfying work.”

The Myth of Sisyphus While many readers who first encounter The Myth of Sisyphus (Le Mythe de Sisyphe)(1942) 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 moralist, not a philosopher. Left-wing intellectuals have not ceased attacking The Myth of Sisyphus; 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.” Nonetheless, selections from The Myth of Sisyphus were included in Existentialism from Dostoevsky to Sartre (1956), a major mid-century anthology edited by Walter Kaufmann.

Responses to Literature

  1. Research the definition and etymology of the word “sociopathy” using your library and the Internet. Considering Camus's view of absurdity, write a definitional essay in which you argue whether Meursault should or should not be considered a sociopath.
  2. Epicurus argues that, while life is not meaningful in itself, there is no reason why it cannot be enjoyable. In Letter to Menoeceus, Epicurus discusses how the most important—the most meaningful—aspect of life is happiness and that one should pursue those activities that bring one the most happiness. Epicurus especially advocated the appreciation of food as a way to happiness. Script a conversation among Epicurus, Camus, and Meursault in which each person argues against the other people's philosophies of life.
  3. Camus always writes in the first-person point of view. What effect does the use of the first person point of view have on the text? How would Camus's work be different if he used a different point of view?

COMMON HUMAN EXPERIENCE

What does it mean to be human? Does life have value or meaning in and of itself, or is life “absurd” in the sense Camus believes it to be? These questions have always plagued writers. Thinkers from the world's leading religions try to answer them, often asserting that the meaning of life has to do with one's faith, with one's religion. Other secular writers have also tried to answer such questions in these works:

The Republic (360 b.c.e.), by Plato. Plato recounts the pursuit of the good life according to Socrates, particularly as it relates to rationality and the joy one can experience by living a rational life.

Beyond Good and Evil (1886), by Friedrich Nietzsche. Nietzsche attempts to establish the meaning of life outside of the realm of traditional, religious morality.

The Pursuit of Happiness (1930), by Bertrand Russell. Russell, like Socrates, tries to introduce a way of making one's life meaningful by following reason; however, the two thinkers reach very different conclusions.

BIBLIOGRAPHY

Books

Akeroyd, Richard H. Camus and Sartre: Crisis and Commitment. Tuscaloosa, Ala.: Portals Press, 1976.

Bloom, Harold, ed. Albert Camus. New York: Chelsea House, 1989.

Bronner, Stephen Eric. Albert Camus: The Thinker, the Artist, the Man. New York: Franklin Watts, 1996.

Brosman, Catharine Savage. Albert Camus. Detroit: Gale, 2000.

Judt, Tony. The Burden of Responsibility: Blum, Camus, Aron, and the French Twentieth Century. Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1998.

Rhein, Phillip H. Albert Camus. New York: Twayne, 1989.

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Camus, Albert

CAMUS, Albert

Nationality: French. Born Mondovi, Algeria, 7 November 1913. Education: University of Algiers, graduated 1936. Family: Married 1) Simone Hié in 1933 (divorced); 2) Francine Faure in 1940, twin son and daughter. Career: Worked as a meteorologist, ship-broker's clerk, automobile parts salesman, clerk in the automobile registry division of the prefecture, actor and amateur theatre producer, Algiers, 1935-39; member of the Communist party, 1935-39; staff member, Alger-Républicain, Algiers, 1938-39; editor, Soir-Républicain, Algiers, 1939-40; sub-editor for layout, Paris-Soir, 1940; teacher, Oran, Algeria, 1940-42; convalescent in central France, 1942-43; joined resistance in Lyons region, 1943; journalist, Paris, 1943-45. Reader and editor of Espoir series, Gallimard Publishers, Paris, 1943-60. Co-founding editor, Combat, 1945-47. Awards: Critics prize (France), 1947; Nobel prize for literature, 1957. Died: 4 January 1960.

Publications

Collections

Complete Fiction. 1960.

Théâtre, récits, nouvelles; Essais, edited by Roger Quilliot (2 vols.). 1962-65.

Collected Plays. 1965.

Oeuvres complétes (5 vols.). 1983.

Novels

L'Étranger. 1942; as The Stranger, 1946; as The Outsider, 1946.

La Peste. 1947; as The Plague, 1948.

La Chute. 1956; as The Fall, 1957.

La Mort heureuse. 1971; as A Happy Death, 1972.

Short Stories

L'Exil et le royaume. 1957; as Exile and the Kingdom, 1958.

Plays

Le Malentendu (produced 1944). Published with Caligula, 1944; translated as Cross Purpose and published with Caligula, 1948.

Caligula (produced 1945). Published with Le Malentendu, 1944; translated as Caligula and published with Cross Purpose, 1948.

L'État de siége (produced 1948). 1948; as State of Siege, in Caligula and Three Other Plays, 1958.

Les Justes (produced 1949). 1950; as The Just Assassins, in Caligula and Three Other Plays, 1958; as The Just, 1965.

La Dévotion á la croix, adaptation of a play by Calderón (produced 1953). 1953.

Les Esprits, adaptation of a work by Pierre de Larivey (produced 1953). 1953.

Un Cas intéressant, adaptation of a work by Dino Buzzati (produced 1955). 1955.

Requiem pour une nonne, adaptation of a work by William Faulkner (produced 1956). 1956.

Le Chevalier d'Olmedo, adaptation of the play by Lope de Vega (produced 1957). 1957.

Caligula and Three Other Plays (includes Caligula; Cross Purpose; State of Seige; The Just Assassins ). 1958.

Les Possédés, adaptation of a novel by Fyodor Dostoevsky (produced 1959). 1959; as The Possessed, 1960.

Other

L'Envers et L'endroit. 1937.

Noces. 1939.

Le Mythe de Sisyphe. 1942; as The Myth of Sisyphus and Other Essays, 1955.

Lettres á un ami allemand. 1945.

L'Existence. 1945.

Le Minotaure; ou La Halte d'Oran. 1950.

Actuelles 1-3: Chroniques 1944-1948, Chroniques 1948-1953, Chronique algérienne 1939-1958 (3 vols.). 1950-58.

L'Homme révolté. 1951; as The Rebel: An Essay on Man in Revolt, 1953.

L'Été. 1954.

Réflexions sur la guillotine, in Réflexions sur la peine capitale, with Arthur Koestler. 1957; as Reflections on the Guillotine, 1960.

Discours de Suéde. 1958; as Speech of Acceptance upon the Award of the Nobel Prize for Literature, 1958.

Resistance, Rebellion, and Death (selection). 1960.

Méditation sur le théâtre et la vie. 1961.

Carnets: Mai 1935-fevrier 1942. 1962; translated as Carnets 1935-1942, 1963; as Notebooks 1935-1942, 1963.

Lettre á Bernanos. 1963.

Carnets Janvier 1942-mars 1951. 1964; as Notebooks 1942-1951, 1965.

Lyrical and Critical (essays), edited by Philip Thody. 1967.

Le Combat d'Albert Camus, edited by Norman Stokle. 1970.

Selected Essays and Notebooks, edited by Philip Thody. 1970.

Le premier Camus. 1973; as Youthful Writings, 1977.

Journaux de voyage, edited by Roger Quilliot. 1978; as American Journals, 1987.

Fragments d'un combat 1938-1940: Alger-Républicain, Le Soir-Républicain, edited by Jacqueline Lévi-Valensi and André Abbou. 1978.

Correspondance 1932-1960, with Jean Grenier, edited by Marguerite Dobrenn. 1981.

Selected Political Writings, edited by Jonathan King. 1981.

Oeuvre fermée, oeuvrete, edited by Raymond Gay-Croisier and Jacqueline Lévi-Valensi. 1985.

Carnets: Mars 1951-décembre 1959. 1989.

*

Bibliography:

Camus: A Bibliography by Robert F. Roeming, 1968; and subsequent editions by Raymond Gay-Croisier, in A Critical Bibliography of French Literature 6, 1980; Camus in English: An Annotated Bibliography of Camus's Contributions to English and American Periodicals and Newspapers by Peter C. Hoy, second edition, 1971; Camus, A Bibliography by Robert F. Roeming, 1993.

Critical Studies:

Camus: A Study of His Work, 1957, Camus, 1913-1960: A Biographical Study, 1962, and Camus, 1989, all by Philip Thody; Camus by Germaine Brée, 1959, revised edition, 1972; Camus: A Collection of Critical Essays, edited by Germaine Brée, 1962; Camus: The Artist in the Arena by Emmett Parker, 1965; Camus by Philip H. Rhein, 1969; revised edition, 1989; Camus by Conor Cruise O'Brien, 1970; The Theatre of Camus by Edward Freeman, 1971; Camus: The Invincible Summer by Albert Maquet, 1972; The Unique Creation of Camus by Donald Lazere, 1973; Camus: A Biography by Herbert R. Lottman, 1979; Camus's Imperial Vision by Anthony Rizzuto, 1981; Camus: A Critical Study of His Life and Work, 1982, and Camus: The Stranger, 1988, both by Patrick McCarthy; Exiles and Strangers: A Reading of Camus's Exile and the Kingdom by Elaine Showalter, 1984; Exile and the Kingdom: A Political Rereading of Camus by Susan Tarrow, 1985; The Ethical Pragmatism of Camus: Two Studies in the History of Ideas by Dean Vasil, 1985; Beyond Absurdity: The Philosophy of Camus by Robert C. Trundle, 1987; Camus: A Critical Examination by David Sprintzen, 1988; Camus and Indian Thought by Sharad Chaedra, 1989; Understanding Camus by David R. Ellison, 1990; Camus's L'Estranger: Fifty Years On, edited by Adele King, 1992; Tragic Lucidity: Discourse of Recuperation in Unamuno and Camus by Keith W. Hansen, 1993; Arendt, Camus, and Modern Rebellion by Jeffrey C. Isaac, 1994; Albert Camus: The Thinker, the Artist, the Man by Eric S. Bonner, 1996; Albert Camus: A Life by Oliver Todd and Benjamin Ivry, 1997; Albert Camus, Marguerite Duras, and the Legacy of Mourning by Michelle Beauclair, 1998.

* * *

Born in Algeria of a French father and a Spanish mother, Albert Camus grew up in a working-class suburb of Algiers, in relative poverty and without his father, killed in World War I when Albert was a year old. The tuberculosis Camus contracted at 17 affected his health permanently yet also heightened his pleasure in nature—the sun, sand, and sea—and strengthened his will to live. The scholarship that enabled him to study at the University of Algiers literally changed his life by inspiring his passion for moral philosophy. That passion issued in a didactic impulse to include a humane moral wisdom in everything he ever wrote, whether fiction, drama, essay, or political journalism.

In his early twenties Camus the polemical journalist espoused radical politics, demanding justice for the poor and politically oppressed. Camus the budding author and moralist, on the other hand, emphasized an existential dilemma: the tragic paradox that humans have the capacity to imagine an ideal life but are thwarted in achieving their ideal by their inherently limited powers and their mortality. This dilemma constituted the most bleakly pessimistic moral philosophy Camus ever adopted, since it expressed resignation both to human frailty and to the chilling indifference of the universe to human concerns. Not surprisingly, the novel Camus worked on in those years, but never published, depicted the hero's search for a happy death rather than a happy life.

The outbreak of World War II in September 1939 had the unexpected effect of turning Camus's attention from death to life. In 1940 he left Algeria to work for a Paris newspaper, and a year later, back in Algeria, he totally recast that early novel about death, turning it instead into a morality tale confronting conventional and unconventional life views. Suggestively renamed The Stranger, it appeared in 1942 and quickly became Camus's first literary success.

Late in 1942 Camus decided that, with his worsening tuberculosis, he would fare better in the healthy mountain air of central France, which was then unoccupied territory. He worked there in quiet isolation, undisturbed by the war, except for one anxious period when he was cut off from all communication with his family because North Africa had been successfully invaded by the Allies. Before long he began to make trips to Paris to maintain contact with his publisher and with friends, especially those involved in the resistance. Out of sympathy with their cause, he joined the resistance himself and began to contribute inspirational articles to the resistance newspaper, Combat. As the war wound down, he decided he must take his place in the Paris literary world, and he arranged for his wife and children in Algeria to join him in Paris.

His new life in the capital began auspiciously, with the acclaimed publication, in 1947, of what is still regarded as his finest novel, The Plague. Its success, however, left him totally unprepared for the hard times ahead. When two of his plays, staged in 1948 and 1949, and a political tract called The Rebel, published in 1951, were all poorly received by the critics, the vulnerably sensitive Camus became depressed and spent the next three years trying to break a severe case of writer's block. During those three bleak years he made an ill-advised journalistic attempt to intervene in the violent civil war in Algeria, which had begun in 1952. Adopting the moral high ground, he urged calm, reason, and conciliation, but his words fell on deaf ears. Both sides had already hardened their positions and become hopelessly polarized.

Valiantly struggling for self-renewal and vindication, Camus first vented his anger against his critics in 1956 with a witty, but ambiguous, satirical novel called The Fall. He then restored his dignity, with respect to the Algerian tragedy, in 1957, with a volume of six exemplary short stories under the title Exile and the Kingdom. He was rewarded with the Nobel Prize for Literature later that same year. No one could have suspected at the time, however, that the honor would mark the end of his literary career. On 4 January 1960 the mortality Camus had long decried caught up with him in the absurd form of a fatal automobile accident, of which he was an innocent victim.

Camus was perhaps the most impressive French literary talent of his generation, widely admired in the 1940s and 1950s as a hero of the resistance, a model for the younger generation, an outspoken defender of the oppressed, and a guardian of the moral conscience of Europe.

—Murray Sachs

See the essays on The Fall and The Plague.

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Camus, Albert

CAMUS, Albert

Nationality: French. Born: Mondovi, Algeria, 7 November 1913. Education: The University of Algiers, graduated 1936. Family: Married 1) Simone Hié in 1933 (divorced); 2) Francine Faure in 1940 (died 1979), twin son and daughter. Career: Worked as meteorologist, ship-broker's clerk, automobile parts salesman, clerk in the automobile registry division of the prefecture, actor and amateur theatre producer, Algiers, 1935-39; member of the Communist Party, 1935-39; staff member, Alger-Républicain, 1938-39, and editor, Soir-Républicain, 1939-40, both Algiers; sub-editor for lay-out, Paris-Soir, 1940; teacher, Oran, Algeria, 1940-42; convalescent in central France, 1942-43; joined Resistance in Lyons region, 1943; journalist, Paris, 1943-45; reader and editor of Espoir series, Gallimard Publishers, Paris, 1943-60; co-founding editor, Combat, 1945-47. Awards: Critics prize (France), 1947; Nobel prize for literature, 1957. Died: 4 January 1960.

Publications

Collections

Complete Fiction. 1960.

Théâtre, récits, nouvelles; Essais, edited by Roger Quilliot. 2 vols., 1962-65.

Collected Plays. 1965.

Oeuvres complètes. 5 vols., 1983.

Short Stories

L'Exil et le royaume. 1957; as Exile and the Kingdom, 1958.

Novels

L'Étranger. 1942; as The Stranger, 1946; as The Outsider, 1946.

La Peste. 1947; as The Plague, 1948.

La Chute. 1956; as The Fall, 1957.

La Mort heureuse. 1971; as A Happy Death, 1972.

Plays

Le Malentendu (produced 1944). With Caligula, 1944; as Cross Purpose, with Caligula, 1948.

Caligula (produced 1945). With Le Malentendu, 1944; 1941 version (produced 1983), 1984; translated as Caligula, with Cross Purpose, 1948.

L'État de siège (produced 1948). 1948; as State of Siege, inCaligula and Three Other Plays, 1958.

Les Justes (produced 1949). 1950; as The Just Assassins, inCaligula and Three Other Plays, 1958; as The Just, 1965.

La Dévotion à la croix, from a play by Calderón (produced1953). 1953.

Les Esprits, from a work by Pierre de Larivey (produced 1953). 1953.

Un Cas intéressant, from a work by Dino Buzzati (produced1955). 1955.

Requiem pour une nonne, from a work by William Faulkner (produced 1956). 1956.

Le Chevalier d'Olmedo, from the play by Lope de Vega (produced1957). 1957.

Caligula and Three Other Plays (includes Cross Purpose, State of Seige, The Just Assassins). 1958.

Les Possédés, from a novel by Dostoevskii (produced 1959). 1959; as The Possessed, 1960.

Other

L'Envers et L'endroit. 1937.

Noces. 1939.

Le Mythe de Sisyphe. 1942; as The Myth of Sisyphus and Other Essays, 1955.

Lettres à un ami allemand. 1945.

L'Existence. 1945.

Le Minotaure; ou, La Halte d'Oran. 1950.

Actuelles 1-3: Chroniques 1944-1948, Chroniques 1948-1953, Chronique algérienne 1939-1958. 3 vols., 1950-58.

L'Homme révolté. 1951; as The Rebel: An Essay on Man in Revolt, 1953.

L'Été. 1954.

Réflexions sur la guillotine, in Réflexions sur la peine capitale, with Arthur Koestler. 1957; as Reflections on the Guillotine, 1960.

Discours de Suède. 1958; as Speech of Acceptance upon the Award of the Nobel Prize for Literature, 1958.

Resistance, Rebellion, and Death (selection). 1960.

Méditation sur le théâtre et la vie. 1961.

Carnets: Mai 1935-fevrier 1942. 1962; translated as Carnets 1935-1942, 1963; as Notebooks 1935-1942, 1963.

Lettre à Bernanos. 1963.

Carnets: Janvier 1942-mars 1951. 1964; as Notebooks 1942-1951, edited by Justin O'Brien, 1965.

Lyrical and Critical (essays), edited by Philip Thody. 1967.

Le Combat d'Albert Camus, edited by Norman Stokle. 1970.

Selected Essays and Notebooks, edited by Philip Thody. 1970.

Le premier Camus. 1973; as Youthful Writings, 1977.

Journaux de voyage, edited by Roger Quilliot. 1978; as American Journals, 1987.

Fragments d'un combat 1938-1940: Alger-Républicain, Le Soir-Républicain, edited by Jacqueline Lévi-Valensi and André Abbou. 1978.

Correspondance 1932-1960, with Jean Grenier, edited by Marguerite Dobrenn. 1981.

Selected Political Writings, edited by Jonathan King. 1981.

Oeuvre fermée, oeuvrete, edited by Raymond Gay-Croisier and Jacqueline Lévi-Valensi. 1985.

Carnets: Mars 1951-décembre 1959. 1989.

American Journals. 1995.

Translator, La dernière fleur, by James Thurber. 1952.

*

Bibliography:

Camus: A Bibliography by Robert F. Roeming, 1968; and subsequent editions by R. Gay-Crosier, in A Critical Bibliography of French Literature 6, 1980; Camus in English: An Annotated Bibliography of Camus's Contributions to English and American Periodicals and Newspapers by Peter C. Hoy, 2nd edition, 1971; Camus, A Bibliography by Robert F. Roeming, 1993.

Critical Studies:

Camus: A Study of His Work, 1957, Camus, 1913-1960: A Biographical Study, 1962, and Camus, 1989, all by Philip Thody; Camus by Germaine Brée, 1959, and 1964, revised edition, 1972, and Camus: A Collection of Critical Essays edited by Brée, 1962; Camus: The Artist in the Arena by Emmett Parker, 1965; Camus by Phillip H. Rhein, 1969, revised edition, 1989; Camus by Conor Cruise O'Brien, 1970; The Theatre of Camus by Edward Freeman, 1971; Camus: The Invincible Summer by Albert Maquet, 1972; The Unique Creation of Camus by Donald Lazere, 1973; Camus: A Biography by Herbert R. Lottman, 1979; Camus's Imperial Vision by Anthony Rizzuto, 1981; Camus: A Critical Study of His Life and Work, 1982, and Camus: The Stranger, 1988, both by Patrick McCarthy; Exiles and Strangers: A Reading ofCamus's Exile and the Kingdom by Elaine Showalter, Jr., 1984; Exile and Kingdom: A Political Rereading of Camus by Susan Tarrow, 1985; The Ethical Pragmatism of Camus: Two Studies in the History of Ideas by Dean Vasil, 1985; Beyond Absurdity: The Philosophy of Camus by Robert C. Trundle, 1987; Camus: A Critical Examination by David Sprintzen, 1988; Camus and Indian Thought by Sharad Chaedra, 1989; Understanding Camus by David R. Ellison, 1990; Camus's L'Estranger: Fifty Years On edited by Adele King, 1992; Tragic Lucidity: Discourse of Recuperation in Unamuno and Camus by Keith W. Hansen, 1993; Arendt, Camus, and Modern Rebellion by Jeffrey C. Isaac, 1994; Albert Camus: The Thinker, the Artist, the Man by Eric S. Bonner, 1996; Albert Camus: A Life by Olivier Todd and Benjamin Ivry, 1997.

* * *

Albert Camus was deeply attached to both his French and his Algerian origins. Generally left-wing, although he had been a member of the Communist party only from 1935 to 1937, he had run a magazine, Combat, for the Resistance towards the end of World War II. By 1957, the year he received the Nobel prize, Camus had become virtually apolitical, and there had been a long-running public and private quarrel with Sartre, who was slowly jettisoning his existentialist philosophical reflections for hard-line Stalinist Marxism. When the Franco-Algerian war broke out in 1954 Camus felt drawn to mediate. The conflict escalated into a confrontation between terrorist insurrection and military repression, and Camus found it impossible to avoid expressing his left-wing views. The stories in L'Exil et le royaume (Exile and the Kingdom) were written while Camus was trying to mediate. Four of the six stories have Algerian backgrounds.

Camus's early journalism leaned towards a style that was sparse and factual, almost dry. His later work, including Exile and the Kingdom, sometimes uses a style that is almost florid. The first story, "The Adulterous Woman," is held together by the psychology of the central character, Janine. Trivial incidents are described in ordinary third-person narrative and realistic detail, with snippets of conversation. But much of the story is related from inside Janine, and the central episode, almost grippingly narrated, is totally ambiguous. Janine is on a journey with her husband, Marcel, an exlaw student who had taken over his parents' dry-goods business and was now trying to sell to Arab merchants.

An uncomfortable bus journey through the desert is narrated partly as Janine is experiencing it, as her thoughts pass through her mind with a touch of humor, her own and the narrator's. In a desert town they stay in a hotel with dirty windows. Janine insists on climbing up the stairs of the fort to lean over a parapet and look at the desert. Looking out, Janine thinks of the nomads in an encampment she could see, "possessing nothing but serving no one, poverty-stricken but free lords of a strange kingdom." That kingdom is almost allegorized. It is what had been promised to her but would never be hers. In the middle of the cold night she wonders what is missing: "she simply followed Marcel, pleased to know that someone needed her. The only joy he gave her was the knowledge that she was necessary. Probably he didn't love her." She feels suffocated and runs out to the parapet.

The loveless, childless marriage had left Janine unsatisfied. We know from the title that she is unfaithful, but with what or whom does she engage in unfaithfulness? With the night? the desert? the yearned-for fulfilment? The descriptive prose approaches lushness. The reader does not know whether or not the narrator is vouching for what Janine feels, but it does not matter. The ambiguity is quite deliberately created. All that happens is that a woman does something slightly bizarre, but the narrative, quite short, moves from a point of no emotional intensity to a point at which it quivers with poignancy. The reader's interest is teased along by the title. Adultery? The parable could not be simpler. The longing for innocent fulfilment, for emotional satisfaction, and for the harmony of life turns out to be treachery, a guilty betrayal of the best that life has to offer.

"The Renegade" contains the semi-demented ravings of a tortured and broken missionary, once so ardent to convert the infidels, but now broken by pain. This is a powerful piece of writing, but its power derives largely from its ambiguity. As in "The Adulterous Woman" it makes no difference whether the exmissionary's ravings narrate events that occurred or not. The story, the fascination, and the power lie entirely in what is going on in the speaker's mind, through which cascade brilliant successions of images, symbols, and metaphors, giving the text resonances on every sort of political and personal level.

The collection's unity is in an attitude to life that is never more than sardonic when it ought to be violent. The satire on artistic success in "The Artist at Work" is cynically comic as Louise Poulin takes over Gilbert Jonas's life. The collection itself is undoubtedly virtuosic. Read in isolation, the six stories might not seem related. Read together, they brilliantly focus quite different lights on the nostalgia for innocence and the sordid, repulsive inevitability of guilt.

—A. H. T. Levi

See the essay on "The Guest."

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