Albert Camus (1913–1960) was a well-known French writer and philosopher who greatly influenced Styron’s writing and thinking about the human condition. Camus ran a theater company during the 1930s and was a leading voice of the French Resistance. His books include The Plague, The Fall, The Rebel, and A Happy Death. He was awarded the Nobel Prize for literature in 1957. Styron writes that Camus’ novel The Stranger influenced his approach to The Confessions of Nat Turner, Styron’s psychological portrait of an American slave. Styron also mentions Camus’ book, The Myth of Sisyphus, saying that it gave him great courage to continue in the face of his own struggles. Styron sums up the book’s message: ‘‘In the absence of hope, we must struggle to survive—by the skin of our teeth.’’ Romain Gary had planned to arrange a dinner to introduce Styron to Camus, but Camus died in an automobile accident before that could happen.
Simone del Duca
Simone del Duca is the wife of Cino del Duca, a wealthy Italian immigrant, after whom the Prix Mondial Cino del Duca is named. Styron describes her as ‘‘a large dark-haired woman of queenly manner.’’ She is at the center of Styron’s emotional breakdown while the writer is in Paris to receive the Prix Mondial Cino del Duca. His state of mind deteriorating at the time, Styron refused, then accepted, to appear at a luncheon with del Duca.
Gallimard is Styron’s publisher in France. Styron makes a luncheon date with Gallimard instead of appearing at a luncheon in his honor with Simone del Duca.
Romain Gary, a Russian Jew born in Lithuania, was a writer and close friend of Styron and Camus. Gary’s works include The Life Before Us, Promise at Dawn, European Education, Goodbye Gary Cooper, and Lady L. He was married to the actress Jean Seberg. Styron describes Gary’s life, his battles with depression, and his suicide as a way of thinking through his own depression.
Dr. Gold is Styron’s Yale-trained psychiatrist, introduced in chapter five. Styron compares his relationship to Dr. Gold with Emma Bovary’s relationship to the village priest in Flaubert’s novel Madame Bovary. Just as the priest had no cure for Madame Bovary’s malaise, Dr. Gold could offer only platitudes to Styron. Gold met with Styron twice a week but was largely ineffectual in his treatment of the writer. Gold’s primary attempts to help him were through the prescription of antidepressants, especially Nardil. Gold is symbolic of contemporary medicine’s de-humanizing approach to depression, which considers the ailment almost exclusively in physical terms.
Hoffman was a counter-culture figure and one of the founders of the Yippies, a group of pranksters and political activists who wreaked havoc at the 1968 Democratic convention in Chicago. Styron testified on his behalf in 1970. In 1989 Hoffman died after taking more than 150...
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