Albert Camus (Magill's Literary Annual 1980)
Addressing a symposium on the art of biography hosted by the National Portrait Gallery in Washington, Leon Edel proposed a method “related to the methods of Sherlock Holmes and also to those of Sigmund Freud.” The biographer, Edel said, must seek “the figure under the carpet, the evidence in the reverse of the tapestry, the life-myth of a given mask.” He concluded this remarkable lecture (later collected in Telling Lives: The Biographer’s Art, edited by Marc Pachter) by urging biographers to learn from modern painters, whomoved from the splendid verisimilitude of Rembrandt’s self-portraits to a kind of UR-portrait. In the recreation of lives, we have reached a time when we must, like these painters, give a new account of ourselves. We must not flinch from the realities we have discovered; we must realize that beyond the flesh and the legend there is an inner sense of self, an inner man or woman, who shapes and expresses, alters and clothes the personality that is our subject and our art.
The life of Albert Camus, now that we have Herbert R. Lottman’s massive account of it, would seem to be an ideal subject for Edel’s ideal biographer. At the peak of his success, a Nobel laureate in Literature at forty-three (only Kipling had been younger), he was suffering writer’s block, “years of it (even if screened from public view by an abundance of ancillary activity).” A relentlessly moral writer, a man revered by many as the...
(The entire section is 1555 words.)
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