When Albert Camus received the Nobel Prize for Literature in 1957, there was some surprise that the award had gone to so young an author and one whose ultimate direction was still uncertain; but there were few dissenting voices. The reason is clear. Even though his meanings may not be easily grasped, Camus was obviously an important writer in the European tradition of the man of letters. As novelist, playwright, political and moral pamphleteer, and short-story writer, he had from the beginning of his career addressed himself to a program of literary activity which, according to the citation of the Swedish Academy, “with clear-sighted earnestness illuminates the problems of the human conscience in our times.” If his preoccupation with the larger concepts of man’s fate—war, guilt, God, love, and death—on occasion clouded with abstract argument the simple fables he chose to enclose them, he nevertheless demonstrated the working of a poised and sincere intelligence in his attempt to reconcile the evidence of history with the idea of life as value. His importance is revealed in the imaginative treatment he gave to the political and the moral decay which underlie the special terror of the twentieth century.
Each age creates its own shapes of fantasy and terror. Roderick Usher gives place to Dorian Gray. The terrors of the Grand Guignol have their sea change in Faulkner’s Jefferson or on the rocky beach at Carmel. The outcasts of Dostoevski echo in...
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