Albert Camus Biography

Albert Camus Biography

Only in an Albert Camus work could someone shoot and kill another person because the sun is too bright. That action is one of the central plot points of his most famous book, The Stranger. The cryptic, elliptically written text has spurred a variety of interpretations by scholars—a fitting response because the author himself was so difficult to define. Albert Camus, like Samuel Beckett, is often associated with existentialism and the absurd, but his rise to prominence mirrored that of deeply political writers like Federico Garcia Lorca. What made Camus’ brand of existential and absurdist commentary unique, however, was its connection to antitotalitarian sentiments. Throughout his prolific career (which was cut short by his death in an auto accident), Camus remained as committed to political change as he was to writing.

Facts and Trivia

  • Camus is nearly always associated with existentialism, yet he rejected the label in attempt to differentiate himself from the philosopher and writer Jean Paul Sartre.
  • Despite being both a pacifist and a communist, Camus served in the French Resistance during World War II.
  • Camus was a pied-noir (“black foot”), a term for a person of European descent living in Algeria. The uneasy French-Algerian relations greatly affected both Camus’ politics and his novel The Stranger.
  • Camus’ A Happy Death features a character with the same name, Meursault, as the protagonist of The Stranger. Scholars continue to wonder whether or not the two characters and stories are connected.
  • Camus’ most famous novel is usually translated into English as The Stranger; however, in the rest of the world it is more commonly called The Foreigner or The Outsider. The ambiguity of the original title has caused endless debate as to whether it refers to the disaffected title character or the Arab man he kills.


(History of the World: The 20th Century)
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Article abstract: Camus’s philosophical and literary writings established his reputation as the moral conscience of France during the 1940’s and 1950’s. With understated eloquence, he reaffirmed the intrinsic values of individual freedom and dignity in the face of such evils as Nazism, Stalinism, and colonial exploitation.

Early Life

Albert Camus had a very difficult childhood. When he was born on November 7, 1913, his parents Lucien and Catherine were living in the small Algerian city of Mondovi, where his father worked for a vineyard. His parents were very poor. The very next year, Lucien was drafted, and he died in October, 1914, as a result of wounds received during the Battle of the Marne. His widow Catherine, already partially deaf, suffered a stroke soon after Lucien’s death, and this stroke permanently affected her speech. She moved to Algiers with her two sons, Albert and Lucien. They lived with her domineering mother, Catherine Sintes, in the working-class neighborhood of Belcourt. The harsh conditions of Camus’s youth taught him to value independence, personal responsibility, and human dignity.

Camus did very well in grammar school and earned a scholarship to the prestigious Grand Lycée of Algiers, where he developed a profound interest in philosophy and literature under the guidance of his teacher, Jean Grenier, to whom he would later dedicate both a volume of essays, L’Envers et l’endroit (1937; The Wrong Side and the Right Side, 1968), and a philosophical essay, L’Homme révolté (1951; The Rebel, 1956). At the age of seventeen, however, he became gravely ill with tuberculosis, from which his lungs never fully recovered. Camus did, however, resume his studies, and in 1936 he defended his master’s thesis on the problem of evil in the writings of Plotinus and Saint Augustine. Although his mother was Catholic, Camus was an agnostic. His medical problems prevented him from being offered a teaching position in Algeria.

Between 1935 and his move to France in 1942, he worked as a journalist in Algiers. He also became involved with a theatrical troupe there, first as an actor and then as a playwright and director. He wrote his first play, Caligula (English translation, 1948), in 1938. He temporarily joined the Algerian Communist Party, but he soon became disillusioned with communism. His distrust of communism greatly influenced his political opinions. In 1940, he married Francine Faure. Two years later, he moved permanently to France in order to join the French Resistance. Francine stayed in Algeria from 1942 until 1944. She rejoined Camus in 1944 after the liberation of Paris. Camus and Francine had two children—twins, Catherine and Jean, born in 1945.

Life’s Work

Although Camus did publish in Algiers two well-crafted volumes of short stories, Betwixt and Between and Noces (1938; Nuptials, 1968) in the 1930’s, his work was then appreciated only in Algeria. His international reputation as a writer and philosopher dates from the publication in occupied Paris of L’Étranger (1942; The Stranger, 1946) and Le Mythe de Sisyphe (1942; The Myth of Sisyphus and Other Stories, 1955).

The Stranger is a first-person narrative whose principal character, Meursault, does not even have a first name. Meursault, an Algerian office worker, is alienated from society. He is incapable of expressing strong emotions even at his mother’s wake and burial. He has no real ambition or sensitivity to the feelings of his lover Marie. Meursault does not truly respect the dignity of other people. Raymond, a close friend, is a pimp, and Meursault sees nothing wrong with this amoral profession. Meursault kills an Arab who has been following Raymond. Although Meursault is clearly guilty, he still should receive a fair trial. Impartial justice, of course, no longer existed in occupied France. The presiding judge overtly favors the prosecutor, who is allowed to introduce numerous irrelevant and damaging remarks about Meursault, whose incompetent or corrupt lawyer never protests effectively. Nazi collaborators in France denounced The Stranger as a dangerous novel because it held the French judicial system up to ridicule. In an early essay on The Stranger, Jean-Paul Sartre noted perceptively that these collaborators had not fully understood The Stranger. This novel clearly condemns the legal injustices committed by the Nazis and their collaborators, but it also reaffirms the French republican ideals of “Liberty, Equality, and Fraternity.” The Nazis wanted nothing to do with the moral values of the French Third Republic, which they had destroyed in 1940.

Camus’s next major work was his 1942 philosophical treatise The Myth of Sisyphus. According to Greek mythology, Sisyphus was condemned for eternity to push a large rock to the top of a mountain. Every...

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Albert Camus Biography

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Albert Camus was born of a peasant mother of Spanish descent and an Alsatian father who was killed in World War I. He received a degree in philosophy from the University of Algiers in 1936. He had a brief membership in the Communist Party at that time. He pursued a varied career as actor, producer, journalist, and schoolteacher. An active participant in the French underground during World War II, he first came into national prominence after the war, when it was revealed that he had been the editor of the famed clandestine newspaper Combat. He made many political and literary enemies after the war by chastising the Communists and his erstwhile friend and fellow writer Jean-Paul Sartre. A position as editor in a publishing house, lecture tours in the United States and South America, and government posts followed until his untimely death in an automobile accident in 1960.

Albert Camus Biography

(Critical Edition of Dramatic Literature)

Albert Camus was born in Mondovi, Algeria, on November 7, 1913, to Lucien Camus and the former Catherine Sintès, a frail, unlettered woman of Spanish ancestry. Following the death of the elder Camus in battle during 1914, Albert grew up among his mother’s family in Belcourt, a working-class suburb of Algiers. A talented scholarship student, Camus soon earned the interest and attention of various gifted teachers, including the writer and scholar Jean Grenier, with whom Camus was to maintain an often problematical friendship for the remainder of his life. At twenty, with one year left to go at the University of Algiers, Camus married Simone Hié, an attractive, brilliant, but highly unstable young woman who was also a known...

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Although he was born in the interior village of Mondovi, near Constantine, Algeria, Albert Camus was actually brought up in the big city, in a working-class suburb of Algiers. His widowed mother, who was from Algiers, took her two sons back there to live after her husband was killed early in World War I. Albert, the younger of the two sons, was not yet a year old when his father died, and he was to grow up with a need for relationships with older men, apparently to replace the father he never had. It was important to Camus that his father’s forebears had immigrated by choice to Algeria from France in the nineteenth century, since it made him feel that his roots were authentically both French and Algerian. Because his...

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Author Profile

Camus went to Paris in 1940 to work as a journalist. In 1943, he became a reader for the publishing firm Gallimard. He worked there until the end of his life to subsidize his writing. His writings can be divided into three periods: first, the period of the absurd or the antihero; second, the period of man in revolt, or the hero; and finally, the period of man on the earth. During the period of the absurd, which is best exemplified by the novel The Stranger, man kills and is killed in turn by the state in a relatively senseless existence. During the second period, characters who are larger than life defy the world’s absurdity and find meaning in life. In both The Plague and...

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(Masterpieces of World Literature, Critical Edition)

Albert Camus (kah-MEW) was born on November 7, 1913, in Mondovi, a village in the interior of Algeria, which, since 1830, had been under the administration of France. Camus’s father, Lucien, was a winery worker; his mother, Catherine Sintès, could not read or write. Shortly after the outbreak of World War I, Lucien Camus was mobilized in a North African regiment. Wounded at the First Battle of the Marne, he died on October 11, 1914, before Albert’s first birthday. Catherine took the family to Belcourt, a working-class section of Algiers, to live with her mother, Marie Catherine Sintès. Catherine, who worked in a munitions factory and then as a cleaning woman, suffered a stroke that left her deaf and partially paralyzed....

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(Masterpieces of World Literature, Critical Edition)

More than most other authors, Albert Camus both reflected and shaped his zeitgeist, the spirit of an era plagued by tyranny, invasion, genocide, and colonialism. A child of the Algerian proletariat living among the Parisian intelligentsia and writing about human alienation, he stood both inside and outside history. He was a champion of lucidity and honesty in an age whose public rhetoric camouflaged savage realities. The sparely styled fiction, drama, and essays that Camus produced during a relatively brief career offer the paradox of tonic disillusionment, an exhilaration over candid contemplation of the absurd. In North America, perhaps even more than in France, Camus remains read and loved long after the works of many of his...

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Albert Camus was born in 1913 in Mondavi, Algeria. His father died in World War I and he was raised in poverty by his mother and grandmother....

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Albert Camus (kah-mew), the Algerian-born French writer of novels, short stories, dramas, essays, and journalism, was one of the most significant literary figures of the twentieth century. He recoiled from the dogmas of totalitarianism and organized religion that dictated human behavior, from existentialism’s despairing emphasis on anxiety and forlornness, and from nihilism’s insistence that human behavior did not matter. Instead, he achieved a literature of exigent moral questioning that clung to a Hellenistic faith in individualism, seeking a formula through which a person could live in dignity and decency within a godless, irrational, “absurd” universe.

Camus grew up in poverty. After his father died of war...

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Albert Camus lived in a period of remarkable turmoil in the world—two world wars were fought, and colonized countries, notably India and...

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