Albert Camus

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Albert Camus

See also The Guest Criticism, Albert Camus Literary Criticism (Volume 1), and Volumes 2, 4, 9, 14, 32, 124.


1882: Catherine-Hélène Sintès, the mother of Albert Camus, is born on 5 November in Birkadem, Algeria, just south of Algiers.

1885: Lucien Auguste Camus, father of Albert Camus, is born on 28 November in Ouled Fayet, Algeria.

1909: Lucien Auguste Camus and Catherine-Hélène Sintès are married on 13 November in Algiers.

1910: Lucien Jean Etienne Camus, the couple’s elder son, is born on 20 January in Belcourt, a neighborhood of Algiers.

1913: Albert Camus is born on 7 November just outside Mondovi, near Bone (now Annaba), in eastern Algeria.

1914: Austria declares war on Serbia on 28 July after Serbia fails to comply with conditions demanded by Austria following the assassination in June of Archduke Franz Ferdinand by a Serb. Austria’s declaration of war marks the beginning of World War I. Germany declares general mobilization on 31 July. Lucien Camus reports for military duty on I August, having moved his family to Belcourt, where his wife and their sons settle in the home of her mother, Catherine Sintès, nee Cardona. Germany, having declared war against Russia on I August, declares war on France two days later. Lucien Camus is wounded in the Battle of the Marne on 5 September; he dies on 11 October in a military hospital in Saint-Brieuc, Brittany.

1918: Albert Camus becomes a pupil in a private kindergarten; he learns to read and write.

1919: Camus begins attending the neighborhood school in Belcourt.

1921: On 7 May the Camus sons are declared “pupils of the nation,” with the right to free medical treatment and scholarships, because of their father’s death in the war. Their mother is awarded a very small lifetime pension and funds for each boy until he reaches eighteen years of age.

1923: Louis Germain becomes Camus’s teacher in October.

1924: In June or July, Camus takes the first part of the examination for the baccalaureate diploma.

In June, Camus passes the entrance examinations to the Grand Lycée in Algiers. He enters the Lycée on a scholarship in October.

1929: Camus enters the penultimate year of lycée course work, called première, in October.

1930: In June or July, Camus takes the first part of the examination for the baccalaureate diploma. In October, he begins his last year of lycée course work, called philosophie, with Jean Grenier as his professor. In December, having coughed and spat blood in August, Camus becomes too ill to continue his studies and leaves the lycée. Tuberculosis is diagnosed in the right lung, and he is hospitalized.

1931: In the winter Camus is taken in by his aunt Antoinette Sintès Acault, called Gaby, and her husband, Gustave Acault. The following summer (?), Camus meets Simone Hié through his friend Max-Pol Fouchet. Camus returns to the lycée to repeat his philosophie in October.

1932: Catherine Sintès dies. In March, Camus’s first published essay appears in Sud, a literary magazine with which Grenier is connected; other publications follow shortly. Camus receives his baccalaureate degree (second part) in the summer. In the autumn he enters the university-preparatory class called hypokhâgne at the lycée.

1933: Adolf Hitler becomes chancellor of Germany on 30 January. On 5 July, Camus receives the first prize in French composition and second in philosophy in hypokhâgne . That same month Camus, who has displeased the Acaults because of his involvement with Simone, moves in with his brother, Lucien. In October, Camus enters the University of Algiers to study...

(This entire section contains 3411 words.)

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for alicense (degree) in philosophy, a four-part program. He receives a certificate in sociology and morale (ethics) on 6 November.

1934: Camus’s first piece of art criticism is published on 25 January in Alger-Etudiant, the university newspaper. On 16 June he and Simone are married in a civil ceremony. He is reconciled with Acault and Gaby, who, along with Simone’s mother, help support the couple. That same month, Camus receives a psychology certificate. He obtains a position with the Préfecture d’Alger (the French administration in Algeria) in the summer. Camus fails the physical examination for compulsory military service in October and is thus exempted. At the university he begins attending lectures by Jacques Heurgon, a professor of classics and an acquaintance of André Gide. On 8 November, Camus obtains his third certificate, in études litteraires classiques (classical literature). He finishes his essay “Les Voix du quartier pauvre” (Voices from the Poor Neighborhood) on 25 December. The essay is an important autobiographical text, some portions of which reappear in L’Envers et l’endroit (1937; translated as “Betwixt and Between” in Lyrical and Critical, 1967).

1935: Camus begins keeping his carnets (notebooks or journals) in May. On 4 June he obtains his fourth certificate, in logic and general philosophy. In July, André Malraux delivers an impassioned anti-Fascist speech in Algiers, which Camus is believed to have heard. Simone and Camus, who are undergoing domestic difficulties, decide that she should go for a retreat, or cure, to the Balearic Islands because of her drug addiction. In August, while sailing with friends along the North African coast to the east, Camus falls ill, coughing and spitting up blood, and has to return to Algiers. Later he makes a brief trip to the Balearic Islands to meet Simone. He joins the Algerian Communist Party in the autumn and becomes associated with the theater group Theatre du Travail (Labor Theater).

1936: On 25 January the Théâtre du Travail gives the first performance of Camus’s dramatic adaptation of Malraux’s Le Temps du mépris (1935; translated as Days of Wrath, 1936). In the spring Camus and three friends rent a house above the bay in Algiers, “La Maison Fichu,” or “La Maison devant le monde” (House Above the World). In May, Edmond Chariot publishes Revolte dans les Asturies (Révolt in Asturias), a collaborative venture, with text by Camus and others. In the summer Camus obtains his diplôme d’études supérieures in philosophy with a thesis titled “Métaphysique chrétienne et néoplatonisme” (Christian Metaphysics and Neoplatonism), directed by René Poirier. Camus and Simone travel with Yves Bourgeois in France, Austria, Czechoslovakia, Germany, and Italy. Camus discovers Simone’s infidelity by opening a letter from a doctor in Algiers. They quarrel and separate definitively upon returning to Algeria in September.

1937: L’Envers et l’endroit, Camus’s first volume, is published by Chariot on 10 May. Camus sails for Marseilles on 29 July; he visits Paris for the first time, spends a month in Embrun for his health, and visits Italy. Upon returning to Algeria, he turns down an appointment to teach in Sidi Bel-Abbés, about fifty miles south of Oran. In August he begins drafting La Mort heureuse, which is published posthumously in 1971 (translated as A Happy Death, 1972). In the autumn, having resigned from the Algerian Communist Party, Camus founds the theater group Théâtre de l’Equipe. He becomes better acquainted with Francine Faure, whom he met earlier.

1938: In May the Théâtre de 1’Equipe stages Les Fréres Karamazov, an adaptation by Jacques Copeau of Fyodor Dostoyevsky’s The Brothers Karamazov (1879-1880). Late in the summer, Camus meets Pascal Pia and begins working for the newspaper Alger Républicain, which is first published on 6 October. A review of Jean-Paul Sartre’s first novel, La Nausée (1938; translated as Nausea, 1949) appears in the 20 October edition of the Alger Républicain over Camus’s signature.

1939: Camus’s Noces (translated as “Nuptials” in Lyrical and Critical) is published by Chariot on 23 May. The first installment of his “Misére de la Kabylie” (Poverty in Kabylia) appears in the Alger Républicain on 5 June; others follow shortly. Camus, who has a ticket to travel to Greece by boat with Francine on 2 September, must cancel the journey after Germany’s invasion of Poland on 1 September, which marks the beginning of World War II. Two days later, France and Great Britain declare war on Germany after ultimatums expire without reply. Camus volunteers for armed duty but is rejected for reasons of health. On 15 September he and Pia found Le Soir Républicain, which is associated with the Alger Républicain. Throughout the summer of this year and into the following winter, Camus works simultaneously on three texts, which will be published as L’Etranger (1942; translated as The Stranger, 1946), Le Mythe de Sisyphe (1942; translated as The Myth of Sisyphus, 1955), and Caligula (1944; translated, 1947).

1940: Publication of Le Soir Républicain is suspended on 10 January by police order, after repeated censure. A divorce court issues a decree on 20 February dissolving the Camus marriage, effective 27 September. Camus arrives in Paris on 23 March to join Pia on the staff of Paris-Soir, a daily. Camus finishes the manuscript of L’Etranger in the spring. On 10 May, German forces invade the Netherlands, Belgium, and France. French forces fall back badly. The French government leaves Paris for Bordeaux on 10 June. The same day, members of the Paris-Soir staff, including Camus, depart for Clermont-Ferrand. On 22 June, French representatives sign an armistice with Germany, agreeing to all terms imposed, including the division of France into two zones: “Occupied,” under direct German control; and “Free,” under the control of the new, collaborating French government under General Philippe Pétain. (Pétain’s government is called the Vichy government for the name of the town in central France where it is based.) In August or September Paris-Soir and its staff move to Lyons. Camus arrives there sometime after early September. On 3 December, Francine reaches France from Oran, Algeria; she and Camus are married in the city hall of Lyons.

1941: Camus and Francine return to Oran in January. Camus earns money by doing editorial work for Chariot and teaching at a private school at which the pupils are Jewish and have been banned by Vichy laws from attending public schools. Francine also teaches. Inspired in part by a recent typhus epidemic in Algeria, Camus begins taking notes for La Peste (1947; translated as The Plague, 1948). He finishes the manuscript of Le Mythe de Sisyphe on 21 February. In September, with Pia and Malraux serving as intermediaries, Camus submits three manuscripts to the publisher Gallimard: L’Etranger, Le Mythe de Sisyphe, and Caligula (an early version).

1942: Camus falls seriously ill in January, spitting blood; tuberculosis is found in the left lung as well as the right. Gallimard brings out L’Etranger in a printing of 4,400 copies on 15 June. Le Mythe de Sisyphe is published later in the year. To escape Oran’s humidity, Camus and Francine obtain a travel pass and sail to France in August. They settle in a hamlet called Le Panelier outside Chambon-sur-Lignon. In order to be in Oran in time for the opening of school, Francine returns there shortly, expecting Camus to join her soon. On 8 November, British and American troops land at several locations in North Africa. Germany takes possession of the Free Zone of France, and all travel and correspondence between the country and Africa cease. Camus is obliged to remain in France rather than follow Francine to Oran.

1943: Camus visits Paris in January and meets Jean Paulhan, who has published Camus’s two books under the Gallimard imprint, and other figures connected to the Nouvelle Revue Française prior to the fall of France. He also meets the actress Maria Casarés. In February, Sartre publishes his assessment of L’Etranger. Camus visits Paris again in June. At the première of Sartre’s play Les Mouches (1943; translated as The Flies, 1946) he meets Sartre for the first time. Later, Simone de Beauvoir and Camus become acquainted at the Café de Flore. Hired as a reader by Gallimard in November, Camus moves to Paris. He begins working for Combat, the underground newspaper of the Combat Resistance movement. He publishes the first of his Lettres á un ami allemand (1945; translated as “Letters to a German Friend” in Resistance, Rebellion, and Death, 1961) and other short texts in clan-destine magazines.

1944: Camus’s Caligula is published. With Sartre, Beauvoir, Michel Leiris, Georges Bataille, Armand Salacrou, Georges Limbour, Jacques Lacan, Dora Marr, and others, Camus participates in a private reading of Pablo Picasso’s play Le Désir attrapé par la queue (Desire Caught by the Tail, 1941) in Leiris’s Paris apartment in March. Sartre’s play Huis clos (1945; translated as No Exit, 1946), in which Camus was originally to play the role of Garcin, has its première on 10 June. That same month, Camus moves into the studio of the Left Bank apartment of Gide, who has been in Tunisia for much of the war. The first above-ground edition of Combat is published in Paris on 21 August. Camus’s play Le Malentendu (translated as Crass Purpose, 1947) receives its first performance on 24 August. On the same day, French troops under General Philippe Leclerc and other Allied troops enter Paris and complete the liberation of the city on the following day; insurgents also participate in the liberation. Camus is publicly named editor in chief of the new Combat in the autumn. Francine arrives in Paris from Oran.

1944-1945: Camus maintains close ties with Sartre, Beauvoir, and Mau-rice Merleau-Ponty.

1945: Camus’s health being gravely compromised, his doctor orders rest in January; briefly, Camus ceases to write for Combat. In February the last pockets of German resistance in eastern France are cleaned out by Allied troops. Camus returns to Algeria in April, his first time there since 1942. He tours the territory for three weeks and files eight reports for Combat. World War II ends in Europe on 8 May with the surrender of Germany. On the same day massacres of indigenous Algerians by the French take place in Setif and Guelma following earlier rioting. Jean and Catherine, twin children of Francine and Albert Camus, are born on 5 September. Caligula has its première, with Gerard Philipe in the title role, on 26 September.

1946: Camus journeys to the United States and Canada. In the summer he vacations in Lourmarin in Provence.

Late 1940s: Camus attempts to persuade his mother, brother, and brother’s family to settle in the south of France; they agree to a trial stay, which is not successful.

1947: Camus breaks with Combat in the wake of financial difficulties and disagreements over what course of action the paper should take. In June his La Peste is published.

1948: Camus travels to Algeria. His play L’Etat de siége (translated as State of Siege, 1958) has its premiere on 27 October, starring Jean-Louis Barrault.

1949: Camus, in poor health, travels in South America from June to August. His play Les Justes (translated as The Just Assassins, 1958) is premièred on 15 December and stars Serge Reggiani and Casarés.

1950: Camus takes a year-long sick leave from Gallimard. He spends part of the time on the Riviera. Actuelles (Topical Pieces, or Timely Pieces), Camus’s first collection of journalistic work, is published. He and his family settle in an apartment in the rue Madame.

1951: An article by Camus on Friedrich Nietzsche is published in Sartre’s monthly Les Temps Modernes in August. Camus’s L’Homme revolte (translated as The Rebel, 1953) is published in October.

1952: In May a review of L’Homme rêvokê by Francis Jeanson is published in Les Temps Modernes. In it Jeanson accuses Camus of betraying the Left. Camus’s reply to Jeanson’s review is published in Les Temps Modernes in August. The reply takes the form of an impersonal letter to “Monsieur le Directeur” (Sartre) and is followed by replies from Camus and Jeanson.

1953: Francine is stricken with depression or some other mental illness, which becomes worse throughout the spring and summer. Camus’s Actuelles II, a second collection of journalistic pieces, is published. In the summer Camus acts as unofficial director of the Festival d’Art Dramatique in Angers, replacing the deceased Marcel Herrand. The offerings include the première of Camus’s adaptations of Pierre de Larivey’s Les Esprits (Spirits, 1579) and Pedro Calderon’s La devoción de la cruz (Devotion to the Cross, 1625). At a Paris rally on 30 June, Camus deplores the brutal suppression by Soviet forces of an uprising in East Germany by workers protesting the Communist regime. On 14 July, in a clash between Paris police and demonstrating Muslim workers, seven Muslims are killed and many others wounded; policemen are injured as well. Camus, in a letter to the newspaper Le Monde, demands an official investigation of the incident, including identification of those responsible for firing on the crowd.

1954: Camus’s L’Eté (translated as “Summer” in Lyrical and Critical) is published in the spring. In September, at a sale of manuscripts and books organized by North African writers in Paris to benefit the city of Orleansville, Algeria, which was heavily damaged by an earthquake, the manuscript of Camus’s L’Etat de siegè is sold for 15,000 francs (less than $100 at the time). On 1 November, Algerian insurgents attack police outposts and government offices in Algeria. That same month, Camus visits Italy for the first time since 1937. On 14 December he returns to Paris, having been ill during some of his stay in Italy.

1955: Camus flies to Algiers on 18 February, returning to Paris on 1 March. Dino Buzzati’s play Un Caso clinico (1953) is adapted for the stage by Camus as Un Cas intéressant and has its première in Paris on 12 March. Camus begins writing for the weekly political newsmagazine L’Express on 14 May, with his first major articles appearing in July. In September he meets William Faulkner in Paris.

1956: In Algeria, Camus makes a public speech on 23 January in which he calls for a civil truce to the fighting between the French and Algerian rebels. In a disagreement over editorial policy, he ceases contributing to L’Express in February. Following domestic difficulties in the spring, Camus moves out of the apartment he shares with Francine and the children in the rue Madame and takes a small apartment of his own. His La Chute (translated as The Fall, 1956) is published in May. Faulkner’s Requiem for a Nun (1951), adapted for the theater by Camus, has its opening night on 22 September, with Catherine Sellers starring as Temple Drake. Uprisings in Budapest on 23 October mark the start of the Hungarian revolution against Soviet domination. Camus delivers a speech on 30 October at a meeting honoring the exiled Spanish republican statesman Salvador de Madariaga. In an appeal published in the 10 November edition of the newspaper Franc-Tireur, Camus calls for the United Nations to debate the genocide occurring in Hungary as a consequence of the Soviet crackdown, which began on 4 November.

1957: The Battle of Algiers, the most intense period of fighting in the Algerian war, begins in January, pitting French troops against a terrorist network solidly ensconced in the city. Camus’s L’Exil et le royaume (translated as Exile and the Kingdom, 1958) is published in March. His “Réflexions sur la guillotine” (translated as Reflections on the Guillotine: An Essay on Capital Punishment, 1959) is published in the Nouvelle Revue Francaise in June. On 17 October the Swedish Academy announces the award of the Nobel Prize in literature to Camus, the ninth French writer to receive the prize and the youngest recipient after Rudyard Kipling. On 10 December, after the prize ceremony and banquet at the Stockholm City Hall, Camus gives his short Nobel Prize speech. On 14 December he delivers a lecture at the University of Uppsala titled “L’Artiste et son temps” (translated as “The Artist and His Time,” 1961).

1958: Camus’s Actuelles III, a collection of articles and other texts concerning Algeria, is published in June; his health is poor. On 9 June he leaves with Casarés for Greece. In the autumn Camus buys a house in Lourmarin.

1959: Camus’s stage adaptation of Dostoyevsky’s novel The Possessed (1871) has its première on 30 January; he also directs. In November, working in Lourmarin, he drafts part of Le Premier Homme, which is published posthumously in its unfinished state in 1994 (translated as The First Man, 1995).

1960: On 4 January, while riding in a car driven by Michel Gallimard, nephew of the publisher Gaston Gallimard and a member of the publishing firm, Camus is killed instantly in an accident near Villeblevin. On 10 January, Gallimard dies while undergoing surgery as a consequence of the accident. Camus’s mother dies in September.

1962: French and Algerian representatives sign the Evian Accords on 18 March, bringing to an end the Algerian war and providing for Algerian independence. On 1 July, Algerian voters approve the terms of the Evian Accords, already ratified by a referendum in France, and thereby Algeria becomes an independent nation.

1970: Camus’s first wife, Simone, dies, having been married a second time and divorced.

1979: Francine Camus dies on 24 December.

About Albert Camus

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To many readers both in France and elsewhere, Albert Camus is one of the most likable and approachable of mid-twentieth-century French authors. He may also be the most famous: while books by the well-known Jean-Paul Sartre and Simone de Beauvoir sold in the hundreds of thousands in French and in various translations, Camus had two titles on a top-ten list of twentieth-century French best-sellers assembled in 1970, L’Etranger (1942; translated as The Stranger, 1946) and La Peste (1947; translated as The Plague, 1948). Only Antoine de Saint-Exupéry, whose premature death in 1944 deprived the nation of one of its most beloved authors, had more best-sellers in France (three). More than six million copies of L’Etranger—the greatest success of its publisher, Gallimard —have been sold, and the novel has been translated into more than forty languages.1 A study of course readings in three thousand French secondary-school classes for the period September-December 1997 showed that L’Etranger was among the eight literary works most studied in these schools; the novel is said to attract two hundred thousand new readers each year.2 The 1999-2000 edition of Books in Print lists twenty-nine editions and printings of various works and collections by Camus. There are some sixty-one listings of Camus’s work in the French Livres disponibles, and there are likewise many editions in German, Spanish, Italian, and other book catalogues. When French readers are polled about the authors they prefer from a list of eminent national literary figures, Camus always occupies an honorable place next to such great French writers as Pierre Corneille, Moliére, and Honoré de Balzac. According to one poll, if French readers are asked simply to volunteer a name among twentieth-century authors, Camus is at the head of the list.3 In North America and Europe during the last decade of the twentieth century, the name of Camus could be found frequently in a wide variety of publications, from mystery novels, such as The Moth (1993) and The Black Hornet (1994) by James Sallis, to memoirs, such as Frank

McCourt’s ’Tis (1999). Camus’s name has also cropped up in professional journals dealing with general issues in higher education, such as Academic Questions.4 Bookstore staff report that sales of volumes by Camus continue to be brisk, especially among young people. His work has attracted the attention not only of literary critics but also of intellectual historians, theologians, psychiatrists, and philosophers.

It can even be suggested that Camus is too well known, cited carelessly and incorrectly, used for purposes and in senses foreign to the spirit of his work, and cheapened. To many people, the use of the words stranger and absurd in almost any contemporary literary context conveys, whether correctly or not, a Camusian note, whereas other authors have also stressed the sense of alienation between man and the universe. Some of these have been modern writers, such as Andre Malraux, and some from much earlier periods, notably Blaise Pascal. Indeed, the recognition of irrationality in the world is ancient, going back to Sophocles, the Psalms, and Ecclesiastes.5 The ordeals of the Greek mythological hero Sisyphus, while mentioned in modern times by other authors also, including Paul Valery in France, are known to many chiefly through their treatment by Camus in Le Mythe de Sisyphe (1942; translated as The Myth of Sisyphus, 1955). Mention of plague in a literary context often evokes Camus and Camus alone because of La Peste, as readers overlook other works on the same subject, such as Giovanni Boccaccio’s Decameron (1348-1358), Samuel Pepys’s Diary (which recounts the bubonic plague in London in 1665), Daniel Defoe’s A Journal of the Plague Year (1722), and Jean Giono’s Le Hussard sur le toit (1951; translated as The Horseman on the Roof, 1954). An e-mail address, dated 2000, for the literary magazine Gestalt includes the term meursault, in reference to the hero of L’Etranger and his search for happiness without apparent concern for what the rest of the world may think.6 Few philosophies have been less well understood and yet more frequently mentioned than the existentialism with which Camus is persistently, if somewhat falsely, associated in the public mind.7 It must be Camus whom the popular vampire novelist Anne Rice, writing as Anne Rampling, had in mind in her Exit to Eden (1985), a pornographic novel, when she mentions “a sense of the absurd as the French philosophers call it.”8

This popularity does not mean that Camus has been without his critics. They have been harsh, particularly in France, from at least 1945, when his play Le Malentendu (1944; translated as Cross Purpose, 1947) was attacked for its nihilism, through his death in 1960 and for years afterward. The eminent critic Bertrand Poirot-Delpech, writing in Le Monde, finally asked the French public to judge Camus less harshly, pointing out that he was, after all, a great literary figure. Some years later Brian T. Fitch, a Canadian, noted that Camus’s status as one of the classics of French literature would be disputed only “precisely within the boundaries of his native land”; Fitch ascribed this situation to ideological considerations.9


The most important fact of Camus’s life, in his own eyes, was that he was, as the term was then used, an Algerian. (Around the mid twentieth century, and especially since the independence of Algeria in 1962 and the enforced departure from the country of almost all those of European descent, the term has been used for indigenous residents of Arab or Berber extraction, mostly Muslims.) Born on 7 November 1913 just outside Mondovi, a village in Algeria, fifteen miles due south of Bone (now Annaba) and approximately twenty-five miles from the Tunisian border, Camus was thus a pied-noir (blackfoot)—a Frenchman from Algerian territory. (Algeria had been claimed by the French in 1830; by the middle of the nineteenth century, French troops had conquered and pacified most of the claimed territory, and thousands of French settlers were established there.) As an Algerian of European descent, Camus had French citizenship; but to him, Algeria, not France, was his home, although he lived in mainland France almost exclusively starting in 1940. When he referred in his Nobel Prize speech to his “terre natale” (native land), he meant Africa, not the France of Europe.10 His friend Jules Roy underlined this in a tribute to Camus titled “Un Africain” (An African, 1960).11 In his memorial article, Gabriel Audisio similarly underlined the point by calling Camus “L’Algérien” (The Algerian).12

Camus’s attachment to his native Algeria sheds light on his entire life—his journalistic and political activities, the characteristics of his literary production, and his particular unhappiness and public difficulties in the mid and late 1950s at the time of the Algerian war. While there is no perfect analogy to convey to Americans the peculiar position in which he found himself in Paris, one can suggest that it was something like that of a Southerner, Southwesterner, or Westerner, formed by and attached to his home, who chooses, despite reservations, to make his literary career in New York, which he considers alien territory. Camus felt great nostalgia for his homeland, illuminated in his mind by sun and childhood happiness, and suffered from feelings of separation that made him uneasy in Paris: “Algérie. Je ne sais pas si je me fais bien comprendre. J’ai le même sentiment a revenir vers l’Algérie qu’À regarder le visage d’un enfant” (Algeria. I don’t know if I am making myself understood. I have the same feeling looking back toward Algeria as when looking at a child’s face).13 As the Algerian rebellion began in 1954 and its repression developed, Camus’s situation grew to resemble even more closely that of the American Southerner, whether during the Civil War or later, who deplored the bloodshed of the war and embraced principles of humanity and justice, yet could not bring himself to denounce his home and people.

Other crucial facts of Camus’s biography concern his family. His father, Lucien Camus, orphaned at an early age, was an agricultural supervisor on the grape-producing farm of Saint-Paul outside of Mondovi, which at that period had approximately 2,800 inhabitants; he was responsible for the pressing, storing, and shipping of the wine.14 His mother, Catherine-Hèléne Sintés Camus, like many North African settlers, was of Spanish (Catalonian) blood since her family had come from Minorca. Although Camus honored her deeply, his relationship with her was sometimes difficult. She was totally illiterate, doubtless in part because of family circumstances (she came from a large family that struggled to survive, especially after her father’s death) but also because she was nearly deaf. The exact causes of her deafness remain unclear; she appears to have had a childhood disease, the effects of which were perhaps compounded by the shock of learning of her husband’s death from battle wounds in World War I.15 She never read a word of Camus’s writings. His only sibling, a brother named Lucien, was two years older than he.

Being of Spanish blood on one side presumably reinforced in Camus a tendency that was marked among many other Algerian men: a powerful and obvious male pride. Various commentators, including Roy and Camus himself, have viewed this as a Mediterranean trait, as indeed it appears to be, deriving from the large number of settlers of Mediterranean blood in Algeria (Spanish, Maltese, Italian, southern French, and other strains) and from the society of the native Arabs and Berbers, among whom the cult of the masculine is traditionally strong and the position of women inferior. Camus spoke of the Algerians as “fiers de leur virilite, de leur capacité de boire ou de manger, de leur force et de leur courage” (proud of their virility, their capacity to drink or eat, their strength and their courage).16 This attitude may be compared loosely to one aspect of the frontier mentality of the American West, where being manly was a source of pride and indeed, practically speaking, a necessary trait. The term un homme (a man) was charged with meaning. Readers of L’Etranger will recall that at the trial of Meursault, Céleste tells the court that Meursault is “a man”; when asked what “being a man” means, he answers that everyone knows what that means.17

This notion of masculinity included a strong element of honor and responsibility, albeit exercised in a narrow range: “on ne manque pas à sa mère” (you don’t let your mother down); “celui qui touche à mon frére, il est mort” (he who touches my brother is dead).18 It also involved vanity—Camus was not without it, being quite attentive to his dress as a young man and aware of his masculine features and demeanor as well as anxious to show off his feminine conquests. A passionate character entered into the type, and a tendency to excess, as well as a touchy honor, which Camus identified as castillanerie (Castillian, or Spanish, pride).19 Men of this type saw or imagined insults easily and were quick to defend themselves, by a donnade (fistfight) if necessary. Such battles

visaient en effet à vider une querelle ou l’honneur d’un des adversaires était en jeu, soil qu’on eût insulté ses ascendants directs ou ses aïeux, soit qu’on eût déprécié sa nationalité ou sa race, soit qu’il eût été dénoncé ou accusé de l’être, vole ou accusé d’avoir volé….(were aimed at ending a squabble where the honor of one of the adversaries was at stake, whether his immediate family or ancestors had been insulted, his nationality or race deprecated, or he had been denounced or accused of it [denouncing others], or had stolen or been accused of stealing….)20

Feminists have denounced this machismo or cult of male values, including approved violence, and Camus’s male chauvinism or phallocratie, since they seem to contribute to ethnic and national aggression and since the principle of defending not only one’s mother but women in general implies condescension and paternalism. Camus never abandoned this cult; it was part of his image of himself. When he received a British trench coat as a gift in 1953, he wrote, “Tant de poches, de brides, de courroies, etc., comblent la plus vieille de mes nostalgies…. J’ai un air divinement ‘tough,’ ce qui est, comme tu sais, mon idéal dans l’existence” (So many pockets, button loops, straps, etc., fulfill my oldest desire…. I look marvelously “tough,” which is, as you know, my ideal in life).21

When World War I began, Camus’s father was called up; he was wounded in the Battle of the Marne and died in a hospital in the autumn of 1914. Thus, like Sartre, whose father died when he was fifteen months old, Camus never knew his father. Moreover, he learned little about the man, principally because his deaf mother, though not literally mute, spoke infrequently; she herself may have known little about her late husband. The few facts that Camus did learn he clutched onto as mysterious, precious bits. The only story of substance concerned his father’s attending the execution (by guillotine) of a farmworker convicted of murdering a family. According to the story, his father vomited upon returning from the execution. This incident clearly impressed Camus, who used it later in his writing.

Commentators have not overlooked the importance of this missing father, who appears directly and extensively only in the posthumously published Le Premier Homme (1994; translated as The First Man, 1995), and whose shadow can be glimpsed only occasionally elsewhere, as in La Peste. Unlike Sartre, Camus did not boast that the absence of a father and a strong memory of him had freed him from a paternal complex. On the contrary, there is a sense of nostalgia for the unknown figure, especially moving in Le Premier Homme. Those critics who favor psychoanalytic readings have on occasion made much of the paternal absence, attributing to it features of Camus’s personality and work, including his relationship with his mother. One Camus specialist devoted his thesis to the “search for the father” in Camus’s writing.22 Another has noted the fact that all quasipaternal figures in L’Etranger (boss, judge, and priest) have unpleasant characteristics.23

For other critics, Camus’s relationship with his mother is problematized separately. It is not a clearly defined Oedipal relationship according to the classic definition, like that visible in the works of Charles Baudelaire and Marcel Proust, for instance, whose fascination with their mothers seems to have been related to their difficulties in functioning according to accepted norms of behavior and the unusual forms taken by their sexuality. All the declarations Camus made in his own name express reverence for maternal figures and devotion to his own mother, a devotion displayed by his return journeys to Algeria. The word mere often bears considerable weight in his writing, as when it is paired with truth: “ma mère et ma vérité” (my mother and my truth).24 A mother appears in Camus’s earliest essay collection, L’Envers et l’endroit (1937; translated as “Betwixt and Between” in Lyrical and Critical, 1967), and in Le Premier Homme; mothers play peripheral but not irrelevant roles in L’Etranger and La Peste; and he mentioned his mother explicitly in some of the most important statements of his career, including a controversial interview with a journalist subsequent to his receiving the Nobel Prize in 1957.

Textual evidence can be marshaled to support the view that Camus was haunted by his mother and the maternal idea, and his work, including L’Etranger, suggests that the relationship was not an easy one for him. It seems to have been connected to self-discovery and self-affirmation but also to a need for pardon. In 1951 he wrote to his friend Roy, “Ce sont nos mères qui justifient la vie, c’est pourquoi je souhaite de mourir avant la mienne” (What justifies life is our mothers; that’s why I wish to die before mine)—a wish that was granted, though not in the way he expected, presumably.25 Alluding in his notebooks to Le Premier Homme, Camus notes that the hero (who as an adult returns to visit his mother in Algiers) “refait tout le parcours pour son secret: il n’est pas le premier. Tout homme est le premier homme, personne ne l’est. C’est pourquoi il se jette aux pieds de sa mére” (must go along the entire path to discover his secret: he is not the first. Every man is the first man; no one is. That is why he throws himself at his mother’s feet).26 Camus had difficulty in particular with the fact that his mother could neither read nor write (nor could his maternal grandmother and Etienne, the uncle who lived with them). This illiteracy complicated their relationship, and it, or Camus’s reaction, is doubtless not alien to the issue of human communication in his work. In another notebook entry, he wrote: “J’aimais ma mére avec désespoir. Je l’ai toujours aimée avec désespoir” (I loved my mother despairingly. I have always loved her despairingly). He was also, on occasion, ashamed of his poverty and his mother, and he was ashamed of this shame.27

Without resources, Catherine-Hèléne Camus was obliged upon her husband’s departure for the war to resettle with her own widowed mother, Catherine Sintès, in Belcourt, an outlying district of Algiers, a city with a population of more than 150,000 in the 1906 census.28 Camus’s mother first worked in a cartridge factory; after the war, she became a domestic, cleaning in houses and shops. Social security was almost nonexistent: as a war widow, she received only a small pension beginning late in the war and, starting in 1921, extremely modest assistance for her sons, who also received scholarships and medical care. Though the family income from Catherine-Hèléne and Etienne was supplemented by another uncle, Joseph, during the years he resided with them, they lived on the edge of dire poverty. Their small apartment had neither electricity nor running water, not even an oven, so that prepared dishes had to be taken to the baker’s for cooking. The sanitary facilities consisted of a toilette turque (a hole). Etienne had been mute as a boy and spoke only with difficulty. He worked in a cooperage, where Camus assisted some in the summer; a group photograph shows the boy with other barrel-makers.

The grandmother, an unbending, perhaps jealous person, ruled the household and managed the money. Catherine-Hèléne was in the shadow (often literally so; lighting was expensive). Thus, another noteworthy parallel between Camus and Sartre is that both were raised in households in which a grandparent ruled and the real parent was either marginalized or infantilized. In the Sintés household, poverty dictated to some degree, surely, the grandmother’s tyrannical ways, but she also had a hard character—her own life had been difficult—and she ruled with an iron hand, a hand that not infrequently wielded a nerf de boeuf (a whip). In one of his earliest essays, the highly autobiographical “Voix du quartier pauvre” (Voices from the Poor Quarter, 1934), Camus depicts a grandmother asking her grandson in front of an outsider to state whether he loves her or his mother more; the former answer is expected.

The poverty and strict discipline marked the childhood of the two boys. Characters in Camus’s fiction are often of modest means, as in L’Etranger and “La Femme adultére” (“The Adulterous Woman”) and “Les Muets” (“The Silent Men”) from L’Exil et le royaume (1957; translated as Exile and the Kingdom, 1958). His first major journalistic series concerned poverty among the Kabyles, a tribal people from the Kabylia region to the east of Algiers and one of the larger divisions of the Berber peoples. When challenged by Sartre for being and thinking like a bourgeois—an unpardonable sin to the bourgeois-baiting and often antagonistic Sartre—he was able to point out that he had come from the most modest of backgrounds and had known genuine poverty, unlike Sartre, a son of the bourgeoisie.29 Yet, Camus said that his boyhood was not unhappy; he often depicted it as a time of joy, both “misérable et heureuse” (poverty-stricken and happy).30 Life beyond the somber confines of home furnished numerous pleasures. He liked the streets, with their varied activities and faces (European Algerians, Arabs, and Berbers), and where he spoke the peculiar slang of Algiers, called pataouète (or sometimes langage de cagayous, after a popular fictional character who appeared in the late nineteenth century). The port, always busy, attracted Camus. He was fonder still of the beach, where, violating his grandmother’s prohibition (she feared he would drown), he played on the sand and in the water. He learned to play European football (soccer), the street game of the period—though it too was prohibited (shoes wear out quickly in rough play on pavement). Later, he was an enthusiastic team member, playing goalie, for many years. In his adulthood, he continued t o enjoy hiking and swimming, and also took in spectator sports, including rugby and French bullfighting; boxing, soccer, and swimming are mentioned in his writing. Camus made friends easily, being of an open, cordial character. School, where he did well, was, like the streets and beaches of Algiers, a counterworld that offset the silence, reprimands, and beatings at home.

Camus’s success earned him a scholarship to the Grand Lycée, one of two high schools in Algiers and the only one that included the uppermost grades. (He later dedicated his Nobel Prize speech to Louis Germain, his elementary-school teacher, who had encouraged and tutored him before the competitive examinations.) Against the opposition of his grandmother, who wanted him to go to work full-time, but with the support of an uncle by marriage, Gustave Acault, Camus enrolled. One of his teachers was Jean Grenier, later his philosophy professor at the University of Algiers, an author of lyrical essays and a longtime mentor and friend. Under Grenier’s guidance, he read the writings of the pre-Socratic philosophers, along with those of St. Augustine, Pascal, Søren Kierkegaard, and Friedrich Nietzsche. Camus had no religious belief; his family members were not practicing Catholics, and his first Communion was chiefly a symbolic step, which left little mark on him.

Camus illustrates through his career both the appeal and the powerful imprint of the French school system under the Third Republic (1870-1940). His education was essentially a lay and humanistic one. The laws completing the separation of church and state in France were passed in 1905, but even before this separation, public education had become essentially a rival system to church schools and to religious authority’self-consciously so, owing greatly to the leadership of the politician Jules Ferry (1852-1893). Ferry, as some-time Minister of Education, looked upon the schools as a nursery of civic virtue and a bulwark of the republican regime, in direct opposition to the views of religious conservatives and to the civil authority of the Roman church as proclaimed by Pius IX, an opponent of the Republic who was Pope from 1846 to 1878. Among those French who supported the republic, the instituteur, or schoolmaster, was a revered figure, generally looked upon (whether he wished or not) as a rival to the local priest and honored by those who rejected religious authority. Education, especially above the lower grades, was widely viewed as an achievement, a sign of personal quality as well as a means of succeeding in a profession. The curriculum emphasized intellectual skills but also the French cultural tradition, with the Roman one behind it: virtue, law, national accomplishments, and the French as a people. Literature and history occupied a significant place in studies at all levels. For many pupils, school was a privileged place—a refuge from difficult home circumstances, a community, and an opening of horizons.31

In his last decade Camus paid homage in Le Premier Homme to what he called “la puissante poésie de l’école” (the powerful poetry [poetic effect] of school) and to the role of the schoolmaster in his story “L’Hôte” (“The Guest”), from L’Exil et le royaume. He dedicated his Nobel Prize speech to his teacher Germain.32 Hostile critics might, however, point out that Camus never progressed beyond the limitations of the republican humanism of the Third Republic that he learned at school and that remained with him throughout his career. His disagreement with Sartre and other neo-Marxist thinkers over the use of violence to achieve political ends and his obstinate attachment to the land of his childhood may be attributed in part to the imprint of his schooling.33

During the winter of 1930-1931, when Camus was seventeen, he was diagnosed with tuberculosis in his right lung. The previous August, severe coughing fits had already suggested lung trouble. The disease, an infectious malady caused by a bacillus, was then widespread and one of the chief causes of death worldwide. The bacilli damage the lungs, and occasionally other organs, by lodging in tissues, which then produce giant cells that congregate in masses and create tubercles. In all forms, tuberculosis occurred in the United States at the rate of 194 cases per 100,000 in 1900 and was the chief cause of death until 1909.34 Its occurrence was at that time more frequent in urban than in rural communities and was especially high in areas of poverty, where sanitation was inadequate and nutrition poor, rendering inhabitants more susceptible to any disease, and where many lived in crowded conditions. The bacilli from the sputum of infected persons, spread by minute droplets from coughing or sneezing, could last airborne for hours; infection could also spread through infected food, water, and even through the skin. The disease is relatively resistant to disinfecting agents and can withstand dry conditions for long periods. Though preventive inoculation against tuberculosis was introduced in France in 1921, it was not used on an extensive scale until some years later, and it seems unlikely that any inoculation program was carried out in Algeria during Camus’s youth.

Perhaps because of inadequate diet—likely deficiencies of proteins and vitamins—or conceivably because of fatigue resulting from excessive activity (study, sports, employment, and other activities), the young Camus did not have the strength to withstand the tuberculosis infection. As was the case with many others afflicted with the disease, his illness was revealed when he spat blood (hemoptysis); this problem recurred several times in his life. He was obliged to drop out of the lycee. Thenceforth he lived with the disease, for which there was no cure and no reliable and noninvasive treatment until 1945, when clinical use of the antimicrobial agent streptomycin became common. Even then, the success of treatment with streptomycin was uncertain. Until that date, doctors prescribed rest, better diets, and fresh air. They also resorted frequently to pneumothorax, or collapse therapy—the procedure, practiced as often as every two weeks, of artificially collapsing the diseased lung in order to let it rest and heal; but this treatment brought only improvement, not cure. The procedure was used repeatedly on Camus.35 He was treated with streptomycin in 1949-1950, along with para-aminosalicylic acid, or PAS. Streptomycin could kill the bacillus, unlike other treatments, but it never succeeded for Camus, and it included certain risks. A later treatment, consisting of a “mineral cocktail,” seemed to help.36

Such an illness was an enormous shock to a young man in love with life who liked sports and had a promising career ahead of him. Camus often, perhaps always, believed that the disease would kill him. He was taken in by Acault, who assumed responsibility for him, fed him a diet heavy in meat, and provided other material assistance. His uncle also lent him books—it was Acault who earlier had given him a copy of Andre Gide’s Les Nourritures terrestres (1897; translated as The Fruits of the Earth, 1949). To Camus, the absurd meant first of all the disparity between a young consciousness hungry for experience and crying out for meaning, and a body condemned to illness, ultimately to death. It is important to note, however, that he did not write illness directly into his works (of those published in his lifetime) except in La Peste and that none of his principal heroes is explicitly tubercular, although lung dis-ease is mentioned in his two posthumously published novels (where swollen glands appear also, though not in connection with bubonic plague). Thus, he may be contrasted with Gide, who directly transposed his own experiences with tuberculosis in one of his most searching works, Llmmoraliste (1902; translated as The Immoralist, 1930). Camus stands in contrast as well to the German novelist Thomas Mann, who made the disease central in Der Zauberherg (1924; translated as The Magic Mountain, 1927), where it stands for suppressed sexual desires and the hyperdeveloped artistic sensibility that springs from these desires.37


Despite his illness, Camus, having retaken his last year of lycee courses and spent a year in the university-preparatory class called hypokhâgne, was able to enroll in the University of Algiers in autumn 1933. In the philosophy classes of René Poirier, he heard lectures on Kierkegaard, Edmund Husserl, and Martin Heidegger; in his third year he wrote a thesis on Christian metaphysics and Neoplatonism for the diplôme d’études superieures (diploma of advanced studies) and received his degree in 1936. For the rest of his life, the ancient Greeks, and Greece itself, would constitute a pole of his thinking, and a favorable one, in contrast to Rome—not the twentieth-century city of Rome, which he liked, but Rome as a cultural ideal, with its imperialism and emphasis on law, as well as the hierarchical, dogmatic, and militant Christian Church. Extensive brooding on his illness nourished Camus’s thought and work. What had been for the boy a marvelous relationship with nature—sky, sun, and sea—became both qualified and heightened by the ever-present prospect of death. Death gave value to life, which both Greek philosophy and what Camus called his Mediterranean outlook taught him to consider without illusion and with a serenity born of contemplation, in a setting where “le bonheur nalt de l’absence d’espoir” (happiness is bom of the absence of hope).38

Outside the university Camus had time for love, friendships, politics, and theater. Through his friend Max-Pol Fouchet, originally from Normandy and later a well-known poet (and, like Camus, tubercular), he met Simone Hié, a beautiful but unstable woman who took morphine and never freed herself from the addiction. After Camus successfully won her away from Fouchet, their affair led to marriage in 1934. Although they appeared to practice a rather open union, it was not a happy one. In the summer of 1935 Simone traveled to the Balearic Islands for a cure, which, like all her other attempts at breaking her addiction, was unsuccessful; Camus, who had been ill, later joined her there. In the spring of 1936, when he was ostensibly living with Simone at her mother’s house, he spent much of his time at a house he had rented with three female friends, Marguerite Dobrenn, Christiane Galindo, and Jeanne Sicard. Called “La maison devant le monde” (The House Above the World), it had a splendid view overlooking the Bay of Algiers. Camus’s absence from the quarters he shared with Simone was paralleled by her frequent absences from home.

In the summer of 1936 the two traveled with their friend Yves Bourgeois through parts of Europe, going as far as Czechoslovakia. Camus discovered by chance that his wife and an Algerian doctor were having an affair when he opened a letter from the doctor. This revelation led to a quarrel and Camus’s resolution to separate from Simone. By autumn he had done so; the union ended officially with divorce in 1940. Camus was more fortunate in his friendships, including several with women, some of whom became his lovers. The friendship with Fouchet never revived, however. In 1935 Camus joined the Algerian Communist Party, remaining a member until 1937, when the party itself excluded him on political grounds. The match had not been right from the start, since Camus was interested mainly in advancing the status of Algerian Muslims and improving workers’ conditions, not in promoting the Stalinist platform for world revolution, a cause that was founded on cynicism, not principle.

During the time of his party membership, Camus worked at the Communist Maison de la Culture, a modest undertaking, and, with friends, founded the Theatre du Travail (Labor Theater), an amateur theater company. Later, after it separated from Communist Party sponsorship, it was called Theatre de l’Equipe (Team Theater). The company’s repertory included a stage adaptation by Camus of Malraux’s Le Temps du mepris (1935; translated as Days of Wrath, 1936), produced in 1936; and an adaptation by Jacques Copeau of Fyodor Dostoyevsky’s The Brothers Karamazov (1879-1880), produced in 1938. Camus acted, helped to write or adapt texts, and assisted with production. The group also wanted to produce a drama that had been conceived collectively (but written mostly by Camus, it was said later) tided Rèvolte dans les Asturies (Revolt in Asturias); the production was forbidden by the city government for political reasons, but the text was published in 1936. Thereafter, Camus always considered the theater the prime artistic experience, involving text, performance, and collaboration. He also composed a novel, begun in 1937 and published posthumously as La Mort heureuse (1971; translated as A Happy Death, 1972), featuring a hero named Mersault and dealing with themes that recur in his later work. Two collections of lyrical essays, L’Envers et l’endroit and Noces (1939; translated as “Nuptials” in Lyrical and Critical), were brought out by Edmond Chariot, the owner of a bookshop in Algiers called Les Vraies Richesses (True Riches), who was just beginning a modest publishing program. In the outstanding meditative pieces of Noces, Camus’s poetic yet sober style gave stunningly beautiful treatment to Mediterranean topics such as the sea, the desert, and death. L’Envers et l’endroit was, in contrast, a collection of narrative sketches on which he later drew or further developed.

In July 1937 Camus sailed for Marseilles, visited Paris for the first time, and spent a month in Embrun in the hope of strengthening his lungs. That autumn he was offered a teaching post in Sidi-bel-Abbés, about fifty miles south of Oran, Algeria; he visited the town with the intention of accepting, but fled at the last moment, fearful of being isolated there. In any case, a permanent professorial career, which otherwise he might have pursued, appeared unlikely because of his disease.39

At this time Camus decided to take up journalism. In the late 1930s he worked for a liberal daily newspaper, the Alger Républicain. Here he published his important, well-documented series of articles, “Misére de la Kabylie” (Misery in Kabylia), on economic hardships among the Kabyles. He closely studied the pricing of necessary foodstuffs and other supplies, as well as the effects of economic policies formulated in Paris. Shortly after World War II began in the fall of 1939, the paper was forced by the censors to close. In 1940 Camus and his colleague Pascal Pia, a longtime friend, moved to Paris, where they worked for Paris-Soir, a daily, and Camus established ties with several literary figures and members of the Gallimard publishing firm.

In 1937 Camus developed a romantic interest in Francine Faure, a student of mathematics whom he had met earlier and who visited the House Above the World before returning to Paris to pursue her studies at the lycee Fenelon. A native of Oran, a coastal city in western Algeria, she came from a family long established there and was one-quarter Jewish. Like Camus, she had lost her father early in World War I, in the very month of her birth, and the family was left without ample resources. In the spring of 1939, unable to finish her studies at the University of Algiers, she took a job as a substitute teacher in Oran. She was a competent pianist as well as trained in mathematics. Although her mother was not favorably impressed with the credentials of Camus—ill with tuberculosis, without family money, and not yet divorced from his first wife—Francine announced that she wished to marry him. At the same time, however, he was involved with Yvonne Ducailar, with whom he exchanged several letters. According to an eyewitness, Camus was in love with her, and she remained, perhaps, one of the great loves of his life. But Francine, it would appear, demanded marriage.

With the fall of France to German forces in June 1940, Paris-Soir transferred its operations to Lyons, in the Free Zone. (According to the terms of the armistice signed on 22 June, France was divided into two zones: “Occupied,” under direct German control; and “Free,” under the control of General Philippe Pértain’s new, collaborating French government, called the Vichy government for the name of the town in central France where it was based.) There, in December 1940, Camus married Francine, who had succeeded with difficulty in traveling to France. They sailed back to Oran, where work of any sort was difficult to find. Francine resumed teaching as a substitute, and Camus, unable to find remunerative work at first, read manuscripts for Chariot’s publishing house, organized some amateur dramatic readings, worked on his writing, and helped Pia plan a new magazine to be published in Lyons. Eventually he obtained a teaching position in a private school where the pupils were Jewish (they had been banned by Vichy laws from attending public schools).

In January 1942 Camus fell gravely ill, spitting blood; he had to undergo further pneumothorax treatments, and the doctors forbade him to swim. He was not well during the following summer, either. So that he might convalesce in a better climate than humid Oran, in August he and his wife returned to the mountains of south-central France, in the Free Zone. (It was believed that mountain air was good for people with tuberculosis.) They settled in Le Panelier, a village at an altitude of more than three thousand feet, outside of Le Chambon-sur-Lignon, itself some distance from Saint-Etienne and Lyons. Francine left for Oran shortly; Camus expected to, but he was caught when the Germans overran the demarcation line in November and occupied the rest of France; no exit passes could be obtained. That same year Gallimard published Camus’s first two major works, L’Etranger and Le Mythe de Sisyphe, which Pia had submitted for him by a roundabout route via Malraux, since packages could not be sent from the Free Zone to the Occupied Zone. Camus was thenceforth no longer an unknown writer.


Camus found himself alone in France, in Le Panelier. The months he spent there in 1942-1943 were not happy ones. Separated from his wife and his Algerian friends, suffering doubtless from solitude as well as the drab winter, needing to grow stronger, often bored, and depressed by the war, he brooded. He read extensively among philosophic writers whose ideas interested him—especially Kierkegaard—while he kept his notebooks and worked on Le Malentendu and La Peste. The depressive tone of both works certainly reflects his state of mind at the time, and the themes and circumstances of La Peste mirror some of the wartime conditions. He traveled to Saint-Etienne to see doctors and made occasional journeys to Lyons. He also made two visits to Paris, during the first of which he met the gifted actress Maria Casares. Acquaintances there pronounced him thin. No wonder: he was probably quite undernourished, like most French at the time, and he was ill. Through Michel Gallimard, a nephew of the publisher Gaston Gallimard and a member of the publishing firm, Camus met an extraordinary Dominican priest, R.-L. Bruckberger, a maverick with independent ideas, who had fought in the war. In Lyons he became acquainted with the little-known poet Francis Ponge, a modest fellow and a Communist, later recognized as a highly original author. Both Ponge and Bruckberger became close friends of Camus.

Meanwhile, Paris-Soir had been obliged to close in Lyons, and Pia had moved to Paris. Finally, in November 1943, Camus, who was hired as a reader by Gallimard and thus assured of an income, joined him there and began to help produce the underground Resistance paper Combat, then edited by Pia. Francine was not able to join her husband until the autumn of 1944. After the liberation of Paris in August 1944, the paper, with Camus as editor in chief, appeared openly as the leading journal of opinion. The first issue produced in the open was dated 21 August, a few days before the arrival of the Allied troops. Camus wrote the editorials day after day during many months. Among them are a short series that make up “Ni victimes ni bourreaux” (Neither Victims nor Executioners), dealing with the burning issues of the time: death as punishment, socialism, pacifist movements, and Communist dictatorship. His articles, many of which were collected in the series Actuelles (1950-1958; translated in part in Resistance, Rebellion, and Death, 1961), were viewed by many as the very conscience of France. One of the issues that had bothered Camus in the months following the Liberation but before Allied victory was that of the punishment of collaborators. For reasons of health he withdrew from the paper temporarily in the winter of 1945. There were also periods when, in apparent disagreement with editorial policy and especially with the views of Raymond Aron, who was then on the staff, he ceased writing. Camus resigned in 1947, principally, it appears, over policy matters involving the paper’s finances and not because he was forced out by Pia, although some coolness existed between them.

During 1944 and the next few years Camus was a highly visible figure in the Paris neighborhood of Saint-Germain-des-Prés and a frequent companion of Sartre, Beauvoir, Arthur Koestler and his wife, and others in their circle. They spent entire nights at parties or out drinking, going home only at dawn (before the end of the Occupation, curfews prohibited anyone from being on the streets late at night). Beauvoir’s memoirs show her appreciation for Camus’s charm, although she and Sartre judged him to have “only a mediocre training in Marxism.” He appreciated her less, calling her a garrulous bluestocking.40 All of these figures subsequently stated that they had not been truly close friends, with identical viewpoints on many issues and a genuine intellectual communion. This judgment was, to be sure, colored by their subsequent disagreements. Though she denied doing so, it is obvious that Beauvoir wrote Camus into her novel Les Mandarins (1954; translated as The Mandarins, 1956) in the guise of Henri Perron, a journalist.

Shortly after the end of World War II, Camus and Francine’s twin children, Jean and Catherine, were born. Camus’s plays Le Malentendu, produced in 1944, and Caligula, produced in 1945, which deal with the absurd, attracted further attention to the author of L’Etranger. The second of the two plays was a stage success. His morality play L’Etat de siege (translated as State of Siege, 1958), produced in 1948, was a complete failure. Les Justes(1949; translated as The Just Assassins, 1958), which played to mixed reviews, suggested to the left-wing public Camus’s unwillingness to subordinate traditional ethics to militant revolutionary ethics without criticism; at the least, he insisted that if the end is to justify the means, they must be roughly proportional. Whatever the reviews, this experience in the theater was a tonic to him: he was involved to some degree in the productions and had the satisfaction of seeing his characters brought to life by eminent directors and actors. He was involved in a romantic liaison with Casarés, who appeared in some of his dramas. The affair, which caused great marital tension, was itself somewhat stormy but endured on one footing or another until Camus’s death.

In 1946 Camus, now a famous man, visited America, principally New York but also Washington, D.C.; Philadelphia; and Montreal. He suffered from a fever during the entire visit. Unlike Sartre and Beauvoir, both of whom liked New York and appreciated its vitality and urban design, Camus found the city dreadful. Steady rain did not help. He lectured at several sites, including Columbia University; Vassar College in Poughkeepsie, New York; Brooklyn College; and also in the Philadelphia area, at Bryn Mawr College. He met A. J. Leibling of The New Yorker, Etienne Gilson (a French Thomistic philosopher whom Camus had mentioned in his notebooks), Claude Levi-Strauss (a French anthropologist), Consuelo de Saint-Exupery (widow of the author Antoine de Saint-Exupery), Waldo Frank (an American critic), and Justin O’Brien, who later translated various works by Camus into English. Camus also became involved with Patricia Blake, a student about to graduate from Smith College. She was one of the principal female figures in his life after the war. In 1947 his next novel, La Peste, on which he had worked during the war, was published; it met with the approval of many readers but with a cool, even critical reception from many more.

Camus’s trip to North America was complemented in 1949 by a long journey to South America, with stops in Brazil, Uruguay, and Chile. He declined to go to Argentina because he would not have been free to criticize the regime of Juan Peron. Camus began the journey in a dreadful depression and again felt ill much of the time. As often before and after, he thought of suicide—seriously, it appears, thus carrying out his premise in Le Mythe de Sisyphe that suicide is the only true philosophical problem. The official appearances he was obliged to make annoyed him, but he discovered some of the local customs with delight, especially in a town called Iguape in Brazil. During one of his interviews, he spoke of William Faulkner as the greatest contemporary author and compared Sartre to Denis Diderot, perhaps the greatest philosopher and literary figure of the eighteenth-century Enlightenment in France.

Admired by many, by the end of the 1940s Camus was nevertheless in a difficult ideological situation, exacerbated by Cold War polarization. His moderate positions, his disapproval of Soviet rhetoric and practice, and his humanism, agnostic but warm, awakened hostility in the pro–Communist camp; yet, being basically a man of the Left, he was not entirely in the Western camp either, and certainly not a voice of conservatism or reaction.


“J’ai échappé à tous … et j’ai voulu d’une certaine maniere que tous m’echappent” (I have escaped from everyone, and in a certain way I wanted everyone to escape from me), wrote Camus toward the end of his last decade.41 The statement reflects the perception that he had escaped from categorization and wholesale appropriation by one political faction or another, and that he had preserved a kind of artistic autonomy under great pressure, remaining disponible (available), as Gide had counseled. The observation also reflects malaise: an artist completely comfortable in his situation and with his public would probably not make such a declaration. Beyond expressing a somewhat ambiguous attitude toward those around him, it also bespeaks the difficulty of remaining uncommitted in a highly factionalized historical moment.

The first major signs of Camus’s political predicament and malaise appeared in 1951, when L’Homme révolté (translated as The Rebel, 1953) was published. This long political essay, which had cost him great pains during composition, marked him in the eyes of radicals as ideologically simpleminded, utopistic, lacking in philosophical rigor, and essentially having betrayed the Left. Camus’s published answer to a review by a disciple of Sartre, Francis Jeanson, in Les Temps Modernes (Sartre’s monthly), occasioned a retort by Sartre and definitively ended their association.

The sort of moderation and compromise that Camus favored was especially untimely as an uprising in Algeria developed from isolated incidents into full-fledged guerrilla warfare, compounded by terrorism. Pressure was put on him to speak against French repression and for Algerian autonomy. Although he had campaigned for what he considered fairer treatment of indigenous peoples, he could not, as a pied-noir who considered Algeria French, support independence. As a man of justice, he could not approve repression and the intransigence of the French hard-liners, or ultras. When he went to Algiers in 1956 to make an appeal for a civil truce, an angry crowd of ultras outside the hall where he was to speak yelled “A mort Camus” (Death to Camus). The danger was real; it is now known, moreover, that the committee that organized his visit was manipulated by the anticolonial extremists of the FLN (Front de Libération Nationale), who used him as their puppet.42

Camus’s was the dilemma of fame, which, originating with the public, depends on continued public approval and often finds renewal difficult. “Tout accomplissement est une servitude,” he wrote in 1951. “Il oblige à un accomplissement plus haut” (Every accomplishment is a servitude. It creates an obligation to achieve a higher accomplishment).43 Being lionized at a young age rarely helps a writer, even one who appears to like it and prosper in it. It was risky to be the public’s darling. In a study of Camus and his works published in 1963, Morvan Lebesque wrote that

Camus experienced the worst for a writer: a dazzling fame but besieged by questioners. We, writers of the twentieth century, will never again be alone. Yesterday’s writer sat on the bleachers, from where he watched the spectacle of the world, this provider of subjects; today, the crowd requires him to descend into its midst. It accosts him, it demands an answer to everything. Camus became famous at the height of this curiosity and this confidence, at the time when a whole generation of youth, emerging from a nightmare, groped to find its masters. From one day to the next he was surrounded by avid looks. He did not hide how much this gaze weighed on him sometimes. Let us bear witness that he endured it with a dignity that remains, as much as his work does, the proof of his greatness.44

In Camus’s case, one of the results of his situation—a defensive measure, doubtless—was difficulty in writing: if one does not publish new works, then at least one cannot be attacked. His involvement in the theater throughout the 1950s, while reflecting a lifelong interest, may have been another way of deflecting the imperative to write and write well. Sartre, similarly in the public eye for a different sort of achievement, eventually circumvented the problem of fame to some degree by two stratagems. One was to denounce, in Les Mots (1964; translated as The Words, 1964), the boy he had been and the writer who earlier had come out of that boy, identifying what he had been and written as fraudulent, based on an unjustified belief in aesthetic values and his own genius. (Sartre continued, to be sure, to allow his earlier works to be reprinted and to accept royalties from them.) The second was to refuse the Nobel Prize in literature in 1964. Though Camus was dead before these literary moves were made, he would doubtless have recognized and wryly appreciated the ways in which Sartre both denounced his fame and increased it.

As, during the 1950s, health problems and recurring writer’s paralysis plagued Camus, the ideologically charged atmosphere and the burden of his renown were only part of the problem. Francine, already depressed, fell into deeper mental difficulties in the summer of 1953. This depression was almost surely brought on by the domestic difficulties between her and Albert and by her unhappiness at having to share him with Casarés. She sought psychiatric care and was hospitalized from time to time. Friends and her mother and sisters feared for her; Camus, too, was greatly concerned, as well as irritated and burdened with guilt. The couple lived apart for months; then together, without harmony, it would appear; then again separately. At one time Francine’s mother (whom Camus called Moby-Dick in private) and sisters ordered Camus out of the apartment. If she was cured, he said, he wanted to break with her completely.45 Friendships often imposed their own burden, to which was added that of his many involvements with women, including, in addition to Casarés, the actress Catherine Sellers and especially a woman known as Mi, twenty-two years younger than Camus, whom he met in 1957 and with whom he appeared to be passionately in love late in the decade. One of his last letters was addressed to her. In fact, Camus, something of a compulsive womanizer, could not be faithful to one woman only and sometimes had simultaneous involvements with three or four; but he claimed he could keep all of them happy.

Camus’s speech denouncing the Russian invasion of Hungary in 1956 provided a further excuse for attacks from the left wing, which reproached him for not condemning French repression in Algeria, including police use of torture, whereas he was ready to criticize the Soviet repression in Hungary. His sense of alienation produced what may be his finest novel, La Chute, published in 1956 (translated as The Fall), an ironic attack on modern ironic man. The following year Camus was awarded the Nobel Prize in literature, the ninth and youngest French writer so honored. He had earlier received various awards, including the Resistance Medal in 1946 and the Prix des Critiques for La Peste in 1947, but he had persistently rejected the Legion of Honor. He used the Nobel Prize money to pur-chase a vacation house in Lourmarin in the south of France.

Despite the honor of the Nobel Prize, the last thirty-six months or so of Camus’s life were not tranquil. As one biographer has noted, “[t]he year 1957 was terrible for Camus, obsessed by the Algerian problem, isolated within all his families, barricaded within himself or in quarantine….”46 Camus spoke of having “mal aux poumons” (ill from Algeria as he was ill in the lungs). The prize itself contributed to his difficulties, since inevitably it created a tremendous stir around him, made him more of a public figure than before, thus reducing further his time for reflection and creative work, and caused unintentional alienation between him and old friends, raising up a “herse d’or” (golden harrow or grille).47 Under difficult personal conditions and facing a half-hostile public, Camus published political essays and L’Exil et le royaume. During much of the decade he was also engaged in attempts to find a theater of his own, where he could be the director. Despite friends’ assistance and intervention with the French government (which subsidized stages then as now) and his own persistence, the enterprise did not succeed. Camus did, however, take over for Marcel Herrand, then critically ill (and, by summertime, dead), as director of the Festival d’Art Dramatique in Angers in the summer of 1953. Two of his adaptations (of plays by Pierre de Larivey and Pedro Calderon) were staged there. As a sequel to his highly successful 1956 stage adaptation of Faulkner’s Requiem for a Nun (1951), Camus plunged into reading Dostoyevsky’s The Possessed (1871) and turned it into dramatic form; it was produced in 1959. He also worked on the posthumously published Le Premier Homme.

The manuscript of the unfinished Le Premier Homme was in Camus’s briefcase, along with French translations of William Shakespeare’s Othello (1605) and Nietzsche’s Joyful Wisdom (1882), when he was killed in an automobile accident on 4 January 1960. Camus feared speed on the road, contrary to some reports. He had been with his family at his vacation home in Lourmarin, where he experienced some moments of morbidity worse than usual and talked about what sort of burial he wanted. When it was time to return to Paris after the Christmas holiday, Francine and the children took the train. Camus, too, had planned to do so, but instead he accepted the invitation of Michel Gallimard and his wife, Janine, who had spent New Year’s with the Camus family, to drive back. On the second day of the drive, past the city of Sens (about seventy-three miles southeast of Paris on today’s roads), the car, with Gallimard driving, swerved off the road and hit one plane tree, then another. Camus died instantly; Gallimard survived a few days; Janine and the Gallimards’ daughter Anne, in the tiny back seat, were not gravely injured, although Janine had some broken bones. It is unscientific but interesting to note that when in 1943 Grenier had asked Camus for the exact date of his birth, for a horoscope that Max Jacob wished to cast, there was a delay of more than a year before the results were related to him, for the horoscope predicted that he would die a tragic death. During a stay in 1946 at the house of an acquaintance in Lourmarin, Camus had slept in a bedroom that had been cursed by passing Gypsies.48 He was superstitious and had already felt somewhat cursed when he departed for South America in 1949. If Camus had survived the automobile accident, he would surely have remembered the forebodings he had. He would also presumably have recalled that in 1951 he wrote that he sometimes wished to die a violent death.49


1. Histoires d’un livre: L’Etranger d’Albert Camus: Catalogue édité à l’occasion de l’exposition inaugurale préséntée au Centre National des lettres à Paris, du 13 octobre au 9 novembre 1990 (Paris: IMEC, 1990), back cover.

2. Christiane Chanlet-Achour, Albert Camus, Alger: “L’Etranger” et autres récits (Biarritz: Atlantica, 1998), p. 19, n. 2.

3. Olivier Todd, Albert Camus: Une vie (Paris: Gallimard, 1966), p. 759.

4. James Sallis, The Moth (New York: Carroll & Graf, 1993), pp. 11-12, 38; Sallis, The Black Hornet (New York: Carroll & Graf, 1994), pp. 51, 89, 111, 115, 173; Frank McCourt, ’Tis: A Memoir (New York: Scribners, 1999), pp. 151-157; and John M. Ellis, “Literary Studies, Then and Now,” Academic Questions, 13 (Spring 2000): 79.

5. See Catharine Savage Brosman, “An Introduction to Existential Thought and Fiction,” in her Existential Fiction (Detroit: Gale, 2000).

6. Statement from John Boberski, editor of Gestalt, 30 June 2000.

7. A noteworthy instance when Camus, despite all his former disclaimers, was publicly associated with existentialism occurred during the ceremony in which the Nobel Prizes of 1957 were awarded; the secretary of the Swedish Academy, Anders Osterling, introduced Camus as an existentialist. See Herbert R. Lottman, Albert Camus: A Biography (Garden City, N.Y.: Doubleday 1979), p. 647.

8. Anne Rice, Exit to Eden, as Anne Rampling (New York: Arbor House/William Morrow, 1985), p. 6.

9. Brian T. Fitch, The Narcissistic Text: A Reading of Camus’ Fiction (Toronto: University of Toronto Press, 1982), p. xiii.

10. Albert Camus, Essais (Paris: Gallimard, 1965), p. 1071.

11. Jules Roy, “Un Africain,” Le Monde, 6 January 1960, p. 2.

12. Gabriel Audisio, “L’Algérien,” in Hommage à Albert Camus, by Maurice Blanchot and others (Paris: Gallimard, 1967), p. 39.

13. Camus, Camets, janvier 1942 ’mars 1951 (Paris: Gallimard, 1964), p. 117.

14. G. Jacqueton, Augustin Bernard, and Stéphane Gsell, Algérie et Tunisie (Paris: Hachette, 1909), p. 298.

15. Lottman, Albert Camus: A Biography, p. 19.

16. Camus, Carnets III, mars 1951 - décembre 1959 (Paris: Gallimard, 1989), p. 220.

17. Camus, L’Etranger, in Théâtre, récits, nouvelles (Paris: Gallimard, 1962), p. 1189. See also Camus, Le Premier Homme (Paris: Gallimard, 1994), pp. 66-67.

18. Camus, Carnets III, mars 1951 - décembre 1959, p. 244.

19. Camus, Essais, p. 6.

20. Camus, Le Premier Homme, p. 144.

21. Camus, quoted in Todd, Albert Camus: Une vie, p. 582.

22. Alain Costes, Albert Camus ou la parole manquante: Etude psychanalytique (Paris: Payot, 1973); Jean Sarocchi, “Albert Camus et la recherche du pére,” doctoral thesis, Université de Lille III, 1979.

23. Donald Lazare, The Unique Creation of Albert Camus (New Haven & London: Yale University Press, 1973), p. 86.

24. Camus, Carnets, janvier 1942 – mars 1951, p. 155.

25. Camus, quoted in Jeannine Hayat, “Fiction narrative et autobiographie dans l’oeuvre d’Albert Camus et de Jules Roy,” 2 volumes, doctoral thesis, Universite de Marne-la-Vallee, 1999, I: 99.

26. Camus, Carnets III, mars 1951 - décembre 1959, p. 142.

27. Camus, Carnets, janvier 1942 - mars 1951, pp. 177-178.

28. Jacqueton, Bernard, and Gsell, Algérie et Tunisie, p. 1. By the time Camus was eigh-teen, the population may have been as high as 170,000 European-Algerians and 55,000 indigenous residents. See Todd, Albert Camus: Une vie, p. 57.

29. Jean-Paul Sartre, “Réponse à Albert Camus,” Les Temps Modernes, no. 82 (August 1952); reprinted in Sartre, Situations, IV (Paris: Gallimard, 1964), p. 93.

30. Camus, Le Premier Homme, p. 127.

31. See Mona Ozouf, L’Ecole, l’église, et la République (Paris: Cana/Jean Offredo, 1982); see also the school scenes in Alain-Fournier, Le Grand Meaulnes (Paris: Emile-Paul, 1913), translated by Frangoise Delisle as The Wanderer (Boston & New York: Houghton Mifflin, 1928).

32. Camus, Le Premier Homme, p. 137; Camus, Essais, p. 1067.

33. See Roland Barthes, S/Z (Paris: Seuil, 1970), p. 194; according to Barthes, cultural codes are “quotations … extracted from a corpus of knowledge, an anonymous book of which the best model is doubtless the school manual.”

34. “Tuberculosis,” in Encyclopaedia Britannica, volume 22 (Chicago: Encyclopaedia Britannica, 1958), p. 530.

35. Todd, Albert Camus: Une vie, p. 46.

36. Camus, Carnets, janvier 1942 - mars 1951, p. 294; Lottman, Albert Camus: A Biography, pp. 500-501, 511.

37. Camus and his first wife, Simone Hie, owned a copy of The Magic Mountain, and it seemed to be among their favorite books. See Lottman, Albert Camus: A Biography, p. 118. For a recent treatment of the topic of illness and art, see Albert Sonnenfeld, “The Coming of Age of Thomas Mann’s Artist Heroes: Music, Pubescence, and Adolescence,” in Resonant Themes: Literature, History, and the Arts in Nineteenth- and Twentieth-Century Europe, edited by Stirling Haig (Chapel Hill: North Carolina Studies in the Romance Languages and Literatures, 1999), pp. 139-155.

38. Camus, Noces (1939; reprint, Paris: Gallimard, 1959), p. 110; also in Essais, p. 87.

39. In 1938 Camus wrote in a letter to Jean Grenier that a medical certificate necessary for him to undertake the agrégation had been denied to him by a government com-mission. The agrégation, the highest teaching certificate, was necessary for anyone wishing to teach at the advanced levels. Moreover, though Camus did not pursue the matter, he probably would not have been certified to teach permanently at any level. See Camus and Jean Grenier, Correspondance: 1932-1960 (Paris: Gallimard, 1981), p. 33.

40. Todd, Albert Camus: Une vie, p. 421. See also Simone de Beauvoir, La Force des choses (Paris: Gallimard, 1963), pp. 279-280, for further judgments of Beauvoir and Sartre on Camus’s political positions.

41. Camus, quoted in Todd, Albert Camus: Une vie, p. 757.

42. Lottman, Albert Camus: A Biography, pp. 596-604; Todd, Albert Camus: Une vie, pp. 623-630.

43. Camus, Cahiers, janvier 1942 - mars 1951, p. 345.

44. Morvan Lebesque, Camus (Paris: Seuil, 1963), p. 160.

45. See Todd, Albert Camus: Une vie, pp. 584-590, 593, for details and statements by Camus in letters concerning Francine’s health, his own vexation and guilt, and his plans.

46. Ibid., p. 671.

47. Roy, quoted in Hayat, “Fiction narrative,” I: 97.

48. Lottman, Albert Camus: A Biography, pp. 292, 693, 696-697. Roy reported the gypsy curse; see Hayat, “Fiction narrative,” 1: 91-92. Another of Camus’s friends, Jean Amrouche, similarly slept in a room that had been cursed and likewise died prematurely, from cancer.

49. Camus, Carnets, janvier 1942 - mars 1951, p. 344.

Camus at Work

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Consideration of Camus at work in the early stages of his development, in which he made the transition from reader, philosophy stu-dent, notebook-jotter, and would-be novelist to author of original and publishable texts, can be guided by the following questions, asked by Jean Sarocchi: “How does a young man taken with literature become a writer? Or: how does the infection of egotism become purified through fiction? Or: how are texts filled with narcissism tempered … to become plays and novels?”1

In a profound sense, no answer to these questions as asked of any artist can be given with certainty, creative art not being a chemical product resulting from a combination of elements (no matter how brilliant and promising the human elements may be). The self and the life of the mind’” a transforming power always active—being far from simple, the passage from the potential of art to its realization must needs be similarly complex.2 Camus’s notebooks (which he called cahiers and the publisher named Carnets), along with passages from his correspondence and other texts, do, however, furnish a partial reply to Sarocchi’s questions.

The Socratic principle “Know thyself” has no better application than to the life of an artist. The popular assumption, fostered by simplistic psychological beliefs centered around the theory of the unconscious and proclaimed by the Surrealists, that artistic achievement happens somehow despite the artist, who acts merely as a medium, has proved inadequate. By heightened awareness of himself and his potentiality and by taking deliberate measures to realize it, the young writer moves to advance that potentiality and become himself. In Camus’s case, this awareness was present in late adolescence: “J’ai eu envie d’etre ecrivain vers dix-sept ans, et, en meme temps, j’ai su, obscurement, que je le serais” (Around age seventeen I wanted to be a writer, and at the same time I realized, obscurely, that I would be).3

This account does not exclude false steps, of the sort taken by some of the greatest literary figures, nor the mysterious workings of the creative mind, which even highly conscious artists do not always under-stand completely and which biography can describe only roughly. Self-doubt is not excluded either. Camus recalled that “Apres L’Envers et l’endroit, j’ai doute. J’ai voulu renoncer. Et puis une force de vie, eclatante, a voulu s’exprimer en moi: j’ai ecrit Noces” (After L’Envers et l’endroit, I doubted. I wanted to give up. And then some vital force, bursting through, tried to express itself in me: I wrote Noces).4 Nor does the choice to write eliminate uncertainties like those faced by other young people. In the summer of 1939, before the outbreak of World War II, Camus wrote to his future wife, Francine Faure: “Je ne sais pas tres bien ce que je ferai. Je ne sais pas si je prendrai mon conge” (I don’t quite know what I’ll do. I don’t know whether I’ll take my leave). He added that “si je le faisais, je voudrais passer un mois a travailler pour moi, regulierement, dans un endroit que j’aimerais. Mais je ne me sens pas capable d’y reflechir aujourd’hui” (if I did so, I should like to spend a month working for myself, regularly, in a place I would like. But I don’t feel able to think about it today).5 Despite the uncertainty, such statements convey the importance that Camus attached to his projects: their very urgency, combined with often difficult conditions, reveal the commitment he had made to literature.

The existential fervor with which Camus lived his work was apparent throughout his career: “Il n’y a aucune distance en ce moment entre ma vie et mon oeuvre. Je mene cela de front et les deux avec la meme passion” (There is no distance at the present time between my life and my work. I carry on both together and both with the same passion).6. He understood, moreover, that his true public image would come ultimately from this writing, noting that “L’oeuvre est un aveu” (One’s work is a confession).7 This attitude does not denote a type of aestheticism, the sort often connected with decadent literature of the late nineteenth century, which subordinates, or claims to subordinate, all real living to the work of art.8 Camus observed in his journals that “Tart n’est pas tout pour moi. Que du moins ce soit un moyen” (Art is not everything for me. May it be at least a means).9 Nor is all his writing autobiographical; rather, writing was his vital drive, to which he was committed and in which his engagement was constant and total.

Camus was aware that this commitment to writing required discipline, sacrifice, and singlemindedness’a devotion to which obstacles were raised from his youth, including poor health and financial problems. But he understood the value of persistence and faith in himself. In 1933, when he was not quite twenty, Camus wrote to his professor Jean Grenier: “N’est-ce pas que j’ai raison, m’etant choisi une foi, de me refuser a toute concession qui puisse atteindre cette foi—m—etant fixe un but, de m’oublier absolument dans la poursuite de ce but” (Am I not right, having chosen a faith, to refuse any concession that might under-mine that faith, and having set for myself a goal, to forget myself absolutely in the pursuit of this goal).10 The word foi in this context means belief in himself, as he made clear nearly a quarter-century later in one of his Stockholm speeches: “L’obeissance d’un homme a son propre genie, a dit magnifiquement Emerson, c’est la foi par excellence” (A man’s obedience to his own genius, said Emerson magnificently, is faith par excellence).11

Camus was also avid for life itself, naturally enough, perhaps with the added realization that life feeds art and certainly impelled by the knowledge that he had an illness that could prove fatal long before he reached old age. From Prague in 1936 he wrote to Marguerite Dobrenn, one of the three women who rented the “House Above the World” in Algiers with him: “Je me rappelle qu’a dix-huit ans c’etait les heures memes du sommeil qu’il me semblait oter a la vie. J’avais une furieuse et avide soif de tout ce qui m’attendait, des etres que je ne connaissais pas, des paroles que je n’avais pas encore dites, des oeuvres, des livres, des hommes. Et de tout cela je ne pouvais rien abandonner. Je ne suis pas sur d’avoir change” (I recall that at age eighteen I felt that the hours spent sleeping were being taken away from life. I had a furious and avid thirst for everything that awaited me, for beings I did not know, for words I had not yet said, works, books, people. And I couldn’t give any of that up. I am not sure I’ve changed).12 Ill though Camus was through much of his life, feverish, sometimes in bed, and sometimes undergoing treatment, he remained full of curiosity and vitality, as Jean-Paul Sartre and Simone de Beauvoir discovered when they met him during World War II; this fervor was a means as well as a sign of his creative mind.


Although his material situation as a youth was difficult, except during the years when his uncle Gustave Acault assisted him, Camus was favored by certain other circumstances and took advantage of them; he also took steps that contributed to his literary apprenticeship. One was extensive reading of others’ works. Reading had become a habit for him in grammar school and the lycee, where he was exposed to the canonical writers of French literature and many figures from the ancient Greek and Latin traditions. Throughout his career his personal papers, as well as works intended for the public, give evidence of a great deal of reading. In a set of “Notes de lecture”(Reading Notes) dated April 1933, Camus speaks of works by Aeschylus, Stendhal, Leon Chestov (Lev Shestov), Fyodor Dostoyevsky Friedrich Nietzsche, Marcel Proust, Andre Gide, and Grenier.13 In close connection with these notes inspired by reading the works of other writers, Camus registers the evolution of his own thought and character, suggesting to himself that he should master his feelings so that they show in his work, not in his life.

Camus’s journalistic work in Algiers was another important part of his apprenticeship. As the case of Ernest Hemingway illustrates, lengthy experience in writing for magazines and newspapers, particularly daily papers, can serve as an excellent discipline for a developing artist, who is obliged by deadlines, dictated tasks, and the chance stories that come along to acquire skills in organization and expression, including following a narrative line and characterization. Camus discovered that writing philosophy papers for his professors at the university was one thing; producing readable copy every day for the public was another. But philosophy may have served him well, for it taught him to read behind and beneath the facts, to search for meanings and implications. According to his friend and colleague Pascal Pia, Camus was adept at journalism, with a strong grasp of the language and good repertorial skills.14

As with nearly every artist, the question arises in Camus’s case of his artistic dependence upon others. Few artistic geniuses spring forth fully developed, like Athena out of the forehead of Zeus; the late-nineteenth-century French poet Arthur Rimbaud, who displayed a fully matured talent at an early age, was a rare phenomenon. Camus was fortunate in having superior teachers and in finding in Algiers an estimable circle of young, talented writers and other artists who wished to promote Algerian culture. Among the writers were Grenier, Max-Pol Fouchet, and Claude de Freminville; the artists included a man of Camus’s own age, Jean de Maisonseul, who was a painter and architect, and the somewhat older Louis Benisti. Other outstanding intellectual figures in Algiers were the professors Jean Hytier and Jacques Heurgon, the artist Rene-Jean Clot, and the writer and political figure Gabriel Audisio. The work of several of these figures is a permanent part of French cultural history.

In his early years Camus not only enjoyed the company of professors, students, political activists, poets, and journalists; to some degree they fed his mind, as he doubtless fed theirs. Group projects, such as a review, Rivages, collapsed because of the war, not lack of vitality. His experience with the Theatre du Travail and Theatre de l’Equipe certainly developed his sense of what worked on the stage; the very word equipe (team) suggests Camus’s approach to the theatrical experience. Critiques of his work by various friends, including Grenier, whose advice he sought, contributed to his development. Literary discussions, as well as extensive reading, at Edmond Chariot’s book-shop, the meeting place of the young intelligentsia of Algiers, were probably useful to him. As late as 1950 Camus thanked Grenier for his invaluable critical comments on Les Justes, which he had, he assured him, taken into account.15 Certainly it was a happy coincidence that Chariot decided to launch a modest publishing program at the same time that Camus had his first collection of essays ready for publication. Chariot’s shop and publishing enterprise, which moved to Paris after the war, attracted other writers: Grenier, Audisio, and later Emmanuel Robles and Jules Roy.16 It is noteworthy that in 1936 Audisio published “Vers une synthese mediterraneenne” (Toward a Mediterranean Synthesis), an article that may have had some influence on Camus’s developing ideas of Mediterranean culture. His close association with other writers in the immedi-ate postwar years probably served to spur Camus on and shape his writ-ing, either by imitation or reaction. Only in the later years was there on his part a marked movement of withdrawal.

The notebooks make it clear that, despite the meteor-like appearance of L’Etranger, Camus’s novel was the fruit of long maturation. He spoke of the years and days necessary for his thought to take form, advance, and find words. A sketch, “La Maison mauresque”(The Moorish House),17 was inspired by a house built in the Jardin d’Essai of Algiers (right at the end of the rue de Lyon, where Camus’s family’s apartment was located) for the 1930 Centennial celebrations. The aim of this early sketch was not the sort of local color that one might have expected: while admiring the beauty of the city, Camus did not see Algiers as material for exotic exploitation as a traveler might. He does, however, evoke features of the city and bay that readers today would find picturesque, and in particular he concentrates on effects of light and shadow, which serve as cor-relatives for his emotion.

Another feature of Camus’s creative work was the early appearance in his notebooks of ideas, characters, plots, vignettes, and tentative forms that he later exploited. He often worked, that is, with discrete elements that sooner or later took their place in a larger structure. Scores of entries are explicitly labeled as material for future work. Dozens of other pages not so labeled nevertheless constitute a fund of ideas and notations on which he later drew. A few samples illustrate the way Camus’s jottings or other references were connected to his subsequent literary production. The first pages of the Carnets, dated May 1935, are sketches for L’Envers et l’endroit, itself connected intimately to later writings, especially Le Premier Homme. One of Camus’s early manuscripts bears as a subtitle “L’Etranger ou Un Homme heureux.” The transformation of this title into the titles of two later works, first La Mort heureuse and then L’Etranger, shows not only the connection between the novels, which is integral, but also their common source in an earlier conception.18 Similarly, many passages in works such as La Mort heureuse and “Le Minotaure ou la halte d’Oran”(“The Minotaur, or Stopping in Oran,” 1954) were sketched first in the early Carnets. Other early pages include the first formulation of Noces. The basic situation of Le Malentendu was drawn from a newspaper account of a man who returned home after a twenty-year absence and, concealing his identity from his sister and mother, stayed as a guest at their inn. They murdered the apparent stranger for his money; learning later of his identity, they killed themselves. This story also appears in concise form as summarized in a newspaper clipping read by Meursault in L’Etranger. It was reported in the newspapers in January 1935 as having occurred in Yugoslavia; Camus clipped the article and put it away for use some years later. He sketched the ending of Le Malentendu, under its early title “Budejovice”(a Czech city, also known as Budweis), in his notebook in 1942.19 The notebooks of 1942-1943 are filled with material concerning La Peste, which was not finished until after the war; some pages are actually drafts for certain scenes. One finds, for instance, a sketch of the old asthmatic man who counts time by transferring chickpeas from one kettle to another at a steady rhythm, and observations on the “psychosis of arrest,” foreshadowing the character Cottard in that novel.20 Similarly, in late 1942 and thereafter, one finds allusions in the notebooks to a future “essai sur la revolte”(essay on revolt or rebellion), which became L’Homme revolte more than eight years later. In 1946, in a lecture before a New York audience, Camus mentioned an incident that took place during the Nazi occupation of Greece; this incident then turned up ten years later in La Chute. Characters and plot elements inspired by his trip to Brazil in 1949 appear in his notebooks shortly thereafter, to become subsequently the story “La Pierre qui pousse”(translated as “The Growing Stone” in L’Exil et le royaume). Even prefaces were sketched: for the republication of L’Envers et l’endroit in 1958, Camus composed a preface that drew on drafts dated as early as 1951.

There were also countless false starts; or, to put it more positively, Camus had many more ideas for stories, plays, and novels than he could carry out. Some were presumably discarded because they were unsuitable; some he doubtless lost interest in; some were merged with other plots; and many were abandoned simply because he had neither the time nor the energy to bring them to fruition. But his mind never ceased producing ideas, dialogues, and plots, such as a fictional sketch from 1935 concerning a tubercular woman, four pages of a play labeled “tragedy” from 1945, and a novel outlined in 1946. Camus continued to produce such sketches even in his last years, as in this one from 1956:“Roman. Deporte qu’on fait mettre nu. En se deshabillant un bouton de manchette roule dans un coin, il va le ramasser” (Novel. The deported man who is forced to undress. As he undresses, one of his cuff links rolls into a corner; he goes to pick it up).21

Camus was a hard worker, although his literary output (as distinguished from his journalism and polemical writings) was not great, which might thus suggest otherwise. He labored at creative writing while holding remunerative jobs, and this despite ill health. Often he suffered from headaches as well as persistent fever. In the summer of 1939 Camus wrote, speaking of his own work and his plan to adapt Andre Malraux’s La Condition humaine (1933; translated as Man’s Fate, 1934):“Tout ca demanderait plus d’energie que je n’en ai. Et comment travailler avec cet ignoble danger de guerre?” (All that would require more energy than I have. And how can one work with this horrible danger of war?).22 Habits he acquired as an apprentice writer remained with Camus. During his stay in Paris in 1940, he told Freminville that it required will for him to hold out physically, but that he had such will.23 In 1942, as Camus was reading Proust’s A la recherche du temps perdu (1913-1927; translated as Remembrance of Things Past, 1922-1932), he observed in his notebook that the great work was “heroique et virile, 1) par la Constance de la volonte creatrice; 2) par l’effort qu’elle demande a un malade” (heroic and virile, 1) by the constancy of the creative will; 2) by the effort that it required from a sick man).24 On 27 February 1951, when Camus was trying to finish L’Homme revolte, he wrote to the poet Rene Char:“Depuis un mois, je suis enfonce dans un travail ininterrompu. La totale solitude et la volonte d’en finir font que je reste a ma table dix heures par jour. J’espere en finir avant le 15 mars. Mais l’accouchement est long, difficile et il me semble que l’enfant est bien laid. Cet effort est extenuant” (For a month I have been plunged into uninterrupted work. Complete solitude and the desire to get it over with mean that I stay at my desk ten hours a day. I hope to have it done by the 15th of March. But the birth is long, difficult and it seems to me that the child is quite ugly. This effort is exhausting).25

Throughout his career Camus wished to be severe on himself: lax literary habits and inferior writing displeased him. By rereading, producing alternate versions, and taking others’ advice into account, he taught himself to be a severe critic of his work. Camus had to discipline not only the writing itself but also the ego behind it:“Maudit orgueil” (Cursed pride), he wrote of himself. He shied away from trite expressions—“Ai peur du cliche” (Am afraid of cliches)’and pruned some of the lyricism that came to him easily.26 (Significantly, this poetic vein resurfaced in Le Premier Homme.) When he had finished the first draft of La Mort heureuse in 1938, he showed it to Heurgon, his former professor, who put into words for him some of its weaknesses. Camus then attempted a revision, but he did not mention the manuscript to Chariot, his publisher, and shortly afterward he abandoned it, realizing presum-ably that it could not be salvaged as he desired.27 He corrected and recorrected his manuscript pages, as samples from Le Premier Homme show. He destroyed drafts; no one knows how many pages.28 Even outlines of works never realized but jotted in Camus’s notebooks bear corrections and additions. He also made corrections on proofs, though not so many as his predecessors Honore de Balzac and Proust, who were notorious for rewriting so much at proof stage, sometimes in second and third proofs, that they were the despair of their publishers. (Proust, with a private for-tune, could afford to pay for these changes; Balzac, almost always impecunious, at least once handled the matter by buying, on credit of course, the printing business—for which he could not pay later.) Camus’s resources were limited and his self-discipline such that he could restrain himself. His notebooks bear traces of corrections that he initially intended to make to the proofs and finally did not.29

Self-criticism notwithstanding, Camus was often bothered by others’ negative comments. His biographer Olivier Todd observes:“Never confident, even of his talent, Camus remained hypersensitive. Neither Jean Grenier nor Rene Char reassured him. “He often wrote replies to those who had published severe critiques, the most famous of which is that by Francis Jeanson in 1952, to which Camus responded with a lengthy self-defense. In contrast, Sartre, notes Todd, had no problem with misgivings expressed by friends or a public attack: he simply dismissed his attackers. As Todd notes,“Sartre annihilates his adversaries with a sentence. Camus interiorizes and closes up.”30 Camus was aware of the disadvantage of such susceptibility to criticism and resisted it. After receiving an irritated letter from Gabriel Marcel criticizing Le Mythe de Sisyphe, Camus told Grenier that it had made him reflect, but that a few years earlier it would have taken him aback.31

The case of Caligula is instructive for those wishing to study Camus’s revisions, for the play went through multiple versions, more than any other of the author’s works, the final version being that of 1958. The maturation of the play seems to have been a very slow process.32 In 1939 the young Camus wrote that he had just received the typescript made from his handwritten pages:“Et a la relecture, j’aivu que je devais retravailler ca. Tout me parait difficile” (And upon rereading it, I saw that I had to rework it. Everything seems difficult to me).33 A. James Arnold, who has studied in detail the 1941 version of Caligula, shows how various changes in Camus’s outlook from the late 1930s, as well as contemporary circumstances, shaped this interim text. For instance, the defeat of France and occupation by Nazi authorities led Camus to see in a different, less favorable light the ideas of Nietzsche, whose nihilism and notion of the superman were appropriated by Nazi ideologists in support of their theories of racial superiority.

Like many other modern authors, Camus practiced what in France is called “literary strategy” —general policies, sometimes individual measures, taken to advance one’s career. His calculations, interventions, circumventions, and other procedures appear, however, to be far fewer than those of certain other writers whose biographies reflect repeated, if not continuous, efforts to influence publishers, critics, booksellers, and others to promote their works and sometimes denigrate those of rivals. Evidence in such matters is unreliable: authors do not normally accuse themselves of manipulations, and accusations of others are suspect. Nor are all such efforts unethical. The case of Proust is extreme: in what he considered to be the imperative interest of his art, now recognized by most as well worth it, he wrote hundreds of letters, attempted to persuade reviewers to write favorable notices, wrote some of the reviews of his books himself, marshaled friends and acquaintances to intervene for him, played publishers off against each other in subtle ways, and must have often made himself a terrible nuisance to others. Camus interfered much less, perhaps in part because it was not necessary once L’Etranger proved to be such a success, but also by nature. He was not subservient but was courteous and considerate, with a genuine vein of modesty. Only his attempts to find a theater of his own in Paris, perhaps a government-subsidized one, led him to take a great many steps involving others; he did not in these cases use underhanded means, according to available evidence. In the early 1940s Camus did, certainly, make repeated attempts to get L’Etranger and Le Mythe de Sisyphe into press, with the help of Grenier, Pia, and Malraux; but this help was volunteered as much as it was solicited. Moreover, help was absolutely required, since Camus himself was in Algeria and could not deliver the manuscripts in person. (Mail could not go from the Free Zone to the Occupied Zone, and the manuscripts thus had to be taken by courier.) Even at the stage of supervising the publication of these two books, he could do little, being geographically distant and ill in bed.

Even as a young artist Camus often sought solitude in which to reflect and write. Isolation favored self-knowledge and productivity. Especially in the postwar years he needed, like the title character in “Jonas” from L’Exil et le royaume, to disengage himself from his personal and literary involvements. Around 1950 Camus noted that his journey to the Mediterranean coast had done him good:“Et j’espere que cela declenchera enfin mon travail…. Je suis seul avec ma pensee … quoique je me souvienne d’avoir parle avec Grenier, Sartre, Chiaro…. Mais on ne peut pas parler tout le temps. Et puis moi, et c’est le fond du probleme, je ne crois pas aux pensees de discussion, aux chocs des idees…. Pour moi la pensee est une aventure interieure qui murit” (I hope that will get my work going finally…. I’m alone with my thought … although I remember having spoken with Grenier, Sartre, Chiaro [Nicola Chiaromonte]…. But one can’t talk all the time. And then—and this is the heart of the matter— I don’t believe in thoughts from discussion, in the shock of ideas…. For me, thought is an internal adventure that matures …).34

Moreover, despite belief in himself, Camus had difficulty some-times in understanding what his real vocation was and what he should do. This difficulty, which increased in the postwar years, arose in part from the extreme politicization of his time, when there was pressure on artists to speak out. Some critics even denounced art itself as obscene in an age of torture and mass killings used as a political means. Already in the early postwar months Camus felt the obligation to bear witness: “Quelque chose en moi me dit, me persuade que je ne puis me detacher de l’epoque sans lachete, sans accepter d’etre un esclave, sans renier ma mere et ma verite” (Something in me says, convinces me, that I cannot become detached from my time without cowardice, without consenting to be a slave, without denying my mother and my truth). He was drawn into political polemics in his journalism and into controversy with L’Homme rêvoltê. Yet, in reference doubtless to Sartre’s book-length essay Qu’est-ce que la litterature? (1947; translated as What Is Literature?, 1949), with its demand that all literary writing except poetry be engagee or committed, directed toward social and political ends in the general service of freedom, Camus wrote in his notebook,“Contre la litterature engagee. L’homme n’est pas que le social” (Against committed literature. Man is not only social).35

In addition, the sort of doubts that assail many artists were not unknown to Camus. Toward the end of 1952 he spoke of “mon hesitation devant ce que j’ai a dire ou a faire maintenant” (my hesitation before what I should say or do now):

Il y a des jours ou je voudrais ne pas avoir a dire ou a faire justement. C’est peutetre une sorte de peur devant ma vocation. Peur que je n’ai jamais eue et qui me vient peut-etre par fatigue, peut-etre aussi parce que je vois mieux que l’exigence qui m’a fait avancer jusque-la n’a pas de limites, sinon l’epuisement et la chute. Et pourtant sans cette exigence je ne serais rien et mon oeuvre non plus…. (There are days when, precisely, I should like not to have to say or do anything. Perhaps it’s a kind of fear in the face of my vocation. A fear that I have never had and which comes from fatigue perhaps—maybe also because I see better that the obligation that has made me progress thus far has no limits except exhaustion and collapse. And yet without this imperative I would be nothing and my work like-wise….)36

Clearly, such doubts reflected achievement: by measuring what he accomplished, and the corresponding public expectations, Camus gauged future difficulty. There was deeper doubt, also—the existential doubt of a man, not yet old but no longer young, in a dark and uncertain world. In 1956 he wrote to Char:“Plus je produis et moins je suis sur. Sur le chemin ou marche un artiste, la nuit tombe de plus en plus epaisse. Finalement, il meurt aveugle. Ma seule foi est que la lumiere l’habite, au-dedans, et qu’il ne peut la voir et qu’elle rayonne quand meme. Mais comment en etre sur?” (The more I produce, the less certain I am. On the path where an artist walks, night falls darker and darker. Finally, he dies blind. My single faith is that light inhabits him, inside, and that he cannot see it and that it radiates nevertheless. But how can one be sure?).37


Camus cultivated what he recognized as the sources of his inspiration. One was his reading: works by Nietzsche, Dostoyevsky, and Grenier continued to inspire him throughout his career. If sexual love was another source, as it may have been, its effects are subterranean, not obvious. Camus’s work is lacking in obvious erotic material, and only in rare moments are the tensions of his prose, the images, and the topics eroticized, and then obliquely. An observation such as “Il y a des femmes a Genes dont j’ai aime le sourire tout un matin” (There are women in Genoa whose smile I loved throughout a whole morning) points to a diffuse, generalized inspiration only.38 This is not to discount the importance of women in Camus’s life: it was enormous, and the effects of his various relationships cannot, of course, be measured. But eroticism did not appear to be a means to the work. He did not use alcohol, either, in order to work, or in order to stop working; nor did he take drugs. (Use of illegal drugs and legal stimulants in excessive doses was not unknown among major French authors: the poets Charles Baudelaire in the nineteenth century and Henri Michaux in the twentieth century cultivated what Baudelaire called the “artificial paradise” of hashish and mescaline (Baudelaire probably also used opium); Paul Verlaine, another nineteenth-century poet, drank absinthe in excessive and ultimately fatal quantities; Sartre took an enormous quantity of pharmaceutical stimulants in the 1950s.)

Camus did, however, deliberately seek out the inspiration of natural and man-made sites that appealed to him and incited his lyrical genius through their aesthetic or historical value. His excursions and journeys in North Africa fed his writing. To Grenier he wrote in 1935 that he was about to leave by cargo ship for Tunis, whence he would travel to the south of Tunisia and then visit islands off the coast:“C’est vous dire si je suis heureux” (This tells you how happy I am).39 Both sea and desert inspired Camus. Two striking examples of inspiration he sought in landscape are Tipasa and Djemila, sites of ancient ruins not far from Algiers that form the subject of two essays in Noces. Camus contrasts the ruined work of human design at these sites with the timeless facts of nature. The first, which he initially visited after the breakup of his marriage to Simone Hie, provided the inspiration for the beautiful “Noces a Tipasa” (“Wedding in Tipasa”), where the union referred to in the title is that between man and nature.“Retour a Tipasa” (“Return to Tipasa”), from L’Ete (1954; translated as “Summer” in Lyrical and Critical, 1967), reveals Camus’s disabused vision of the postwar period, with Tipasa surrounded by barbed wire and contaminated by evidence of human depravity. The second site, which proved to be a disappointment to Camus, nonetheless inspired “Le Vent a Djemila” (“Wind at Djemila”), also from Noces. In the 1950s his brooding on such sites reappeared in the stories “La Femme adultere” (“The Adulterous Woman”) and “L’Hote” (“The Guest”), both from L’Exil et le royaume. Camus also artistically exploited landscapes and man-made sites that he saw in the course of other travels: Palma in Majorca, for instance, and the Italian city of Vicence. Much later, the landscapes that he saw during his travels in Brazil, especially the great forests and a river crossed at night, provided much of the inspiration for “La Pierre qui pousse.” Camus was fond of the landscapes around his house in Lourmarin; the resemblance of this region to certain parts of North Africa surely contributed to his choice to purchase property there. Similarly, his long-deferred travels in Greece were intended to take him back not only to the sources of his intellectual tradition but also to the Mediterranean landscapes that he loved, where his literary vein would find refreshment.


One feature of Camus at work not only in the early years but throughout his career was his cultivation of multiple genres, the way a musician might play more than one instrument or a graphic artist work in several media. He attempted to work in all the main literary genres— fiction (story and novel), drama, essay, and poetry. His early notebooks, like his late ones, feature poems, including one titled “Mediterranee,” inspired obviously by “Le Cimetiere marin” (1920; translated as “The Graveyard by the Sea,” 1932) of Paul Valery, who had lectured in Algiers. At the end of his life Camus composed a beautiful prose poem reflecting Char’s influence.40 This is not to say that Camus cultivated all genres with the same degree of felicity throughout his career; he did not publish verse (it was his poetic prose, as in Noces, that revealed his lyrical spirit), and some critics assert that none of his original dramas is a masterpiece. But trying different forms and tones was doubtless a useful part of his apprenticeship. Indeed, it can be said that Camus contributed to the development of two genres by bridging certain distinctions, making the essay, as in L’Envers et l’endroit, more personal and more like fiction, while his dramas are philosophical.

Still another characteristic of Camus’s creative process is the nearly simultaneous conception and elaboration of multiple works. The notebooks and other evidence show that he took notes for and some-times drafted more than one work at a time, as with the “absurd” group’L’Etranger, Le Mythe de Sisyphe, and Caligula. In 1940 he told his friend Fréminville:

Après les “gammes” de Noces j’ai juge que je pouvais entamer ce que je projette de faire: un art absurde … plusieurs etapes, chaque etape figuree dans des techniques differentes et leurs suites illustrant les consequences d’une prise de corps absurde avec la vie….J’ai entame ma premiere etape. Caligula (piece) est fini … L’Etranger (roman) … est ecrit aux trois quarts. Mon essai sur l’absurde est ecrit a moitie. (After the “scales” of Noces I judged that I could start what I pro-pose to do: an absurd art … several stages, each stage represented in different techniques, and their results, illustrating the consequences of an absurd struggle with life…. Caligula [a play] is finished … L’Etranger [a novel] … is three-quarters written. My essay on the absurd is half written.)41

Thus, even at the level of conception, Camus’s works shed light on and reinforce each other; this reinforcement is borne out by publication dates and, often, public reaction.42

Another feature of Camus’s creative mind was the persistence of certain themes and feelings, which shows a fundamental unity in his thought. It can be illustrated by the themes of poverty and the mother. In an important notebook entry dated May 1935, couched in the third person but clearly a personal statement, Camus asserts that “le sentiment bizarre que le fils porte a sa mere constitue toute sa sensibilite” (the strange sentiment that the son feels toward his mother constitutes all his sensibility) and that this sensibility is transformed into “nostalgie d’une pauvrete perdue” (nostalgia for a lost poverty). Camus sketched an outline of a work’essay or fiction’in which he could convey this subject, but it concludes with questions about form: “Quelle solution,” he asks; “La mere? Dernier chapitre: la valeur symbolique realisee par nostalgie du fils???” (What solution. The mother? Last chapter: the symbolic value brought out by the son’s nostalgia???). More than twenty years later, the theme of poverty, or denuement (barrenness or destitution), appeared in certain stories, sometimes as an oppression that weighs down the spirit, else-where as an opening to spirit. Similarly, in the same notebook entry appear notations of what may be Camus’s most characteristic vision of the human condition, a rather disabused, pained feeling composed of a sense of beauty, the realization of life’s brevity, a tremendous appetite for life, despair, and, sometimes, taedium vitae, or ennui:“C’est que la beaute est insupportable. Elle nous desespere, eternite d’une minute que nous voudrions pourtant etirer tout le long du temps” (It’s that beauty is unbearable. It makes us desperate—a moment’s eternity that we should like nevertheless to stretch throughout time).43

These themes and others are connected to what is surely the dominant subject of Camus’s writing, happiness. Even his protest articles and editorials were inspired not by political doctrine but by the belief that the conditions of life for French and other European workers and Muslims in North Africa must be such that the pursuit of happiness would be possible. The theme of happiness underlies much of Camus’s early writing and is announced explicitly in Caligula, when the emperor

observes that men die and are not happy. It reappears in L’Etranger and La Peste and in such stories as “Les Muets,” in which contentment seems out of reach for Yvars, and “La Femme adultere,” where, in contrast to the heroine’s dull, unhappy life, another culture and setting offer illumination. Happiness is not treated simplistically, and it always appears against a background of unhappiness, misery, despair, injustice, or death.“Il n’y a pas d’amour de vivre sans desespoir de vivre” (There is no love of life without despair of life), wrote Camus in L’Envers et l’endroit.44

Another characteristic of Camus’s creative mind, important because it is at the heart of much of his writing, is his symbolic imagination. Under his pen, images and metaphors, many of them visually strong and poetically beautiful, take on sufficient importance to become symbols, operating through the text. Every reader of L’Etranger senses the symbolic value of the sun, which weighs on Meursault with the power of a malevolent fate, although it is also part of the nature that he normally enjoys. In La Peste the plague obviously represents evil, standing symbolically for the Nazi occupation and allegorically for moral and metaphysical evil. The rest of Camus’s fiction is likewise marked by symbolic use of plot and descriptive elements: the claustrophobia induced by a bus and a hotel room in contrast to the freedom of the vast desert in “La Femme adultere”; the two slabs of rock in “La Pierre qui pousse”; and the concentric canals and oppressive skies of Amsterdam in La Chute. Similarly, Camus’s drama is heavy with symbols: the moon of Caligula standing for the unattainable; the dark skies of Central Europe in Le Malentendu symbolizing inescapable fate and the old servant’s silence suggesting that of the heavens; and plague, as allegorized in L’Etat de siege, representing political oppression. This tendency to think and write in symbols is visible from Camus’s early years, as illustrated, for instance, in“Noces a Tipasa.”

Camus’s symbolic imagination often operated by antitheses and contrasts. All literary artists, as well as painters, musicians, and expository writers, use contrasts; they are, in fact, built into the human imagination by the natural pairs of opposites’day and night, men and women, life and death, and summer and winter—and they are similarly built into language. With his sensitivity heightened, perhaps, by his illness, which brought the threat of premature death into his very respiration, Camus exploited with brilliance the linguistic, rhetorical, and philosophical possibilities of antithesis. The setting of La Chute in the low, misty Netherlands is an antithesis to his preferred Algerian setting; the burden of guilt in the novel is the antithesis of freedom and happiness.

Among the principal poles of Camus’s imaginaire (imaginative world) are the sun and, more generally, the sky; the sea (mer in French, with its happy homophonic coincidence with mere, mother); and the desert, inhabited by stones, resembling the sea in its vast and solitary prospects, under an empty sky. Camus was aware of the parallels between the desert’s appeal for him and its cultural and symbolic value in Christian tradition as the wilderness to which Christ repaired and, later, saints and hermits fled in order to fast, pray, see visions, and communicate with the divine. The horrible distortion of this image in the short story “Le Renegat” (translated as “The Renegade” in Exile and the Kingdom), in which the barren Southern wilds are the scene of apostasy, torture, and agony, does not invalidate the impulse of Camus and of certain characters to find their truth in the stones of the desert. In “L’Hote” Daru belongs to the stones and the endless vistas, which express his loneliness and existential solitude.

At its most general, Camus’s symbolic imagination becomes mythic. In addition to the Greek myths that he used explicitly, chiefly those of Sisyphus and Prometheus, and the legend of Don Juan (in Le Mythe de Sisyphe), there is a least one natural myth in his work, that of the sun. Its symbolism reaches almost sacred proportions, going beyond the emphasis on lucidity in classic Greek thought to the solar myths of Mithraic and other Mediterranean religions. The references are not direct: like Camus himself, his characters are generally modern men, speaking in modern voices. But the awful power of the sun’the way it seems to preside over human destinies, as well as its connection to both happiness (as in the swimming scenes of L’Etranger) and misfortune (in La Peste)—raises it to a mythic level: “O lumiere! C’est le cri de ceux qui dans les tragedies grecques sont jetes devant la mort ou un destin terrible” (O light! That is the cry of those who, in Greek tragedy, are thrown toward death or a terrible fate).45 Camus wrote in 1950:“Jusqu’ici je ne suis pas un romancier au sens ou on l’entend. Mais plutot un artiste qui cree des mythes a la mesure de sa passion et de son angoisse” (Until now I have not been a novelist in the meaning in which that is understood. But rather an artist who creates myths according to his passion and his anguish).46 Even his rebel, in L’Homme revolte, and those practicing the semiprimitive religion of “La Pierre qui pousse” near the powerful river partake of a mythic quality.

Persisting through the art of Camus on the most general plane are two strains of thought, feeling, and expression that are both French and universal, and which he united with great felicity. One is Romanticism, which is historically situated in Europe from the late eighteenth century through, approximately, the middle of the nineteenth century. In France, where Romanticism blossomed late, its arrival (as opposed to pre-Romantic developments) is often identified as the year 1820, when Alphonse de Lamartine published his Meditations poetiques (translated as The Poetical Meditations of M. Alphonse de La Martine, 1839). Romanticism overflows historical bounds, how-ever: its most general features are found much earlier (even in the ancient Greek plays of Euripides) and reach to the present time, dominating modern literature. In its historical form, Romanticism consists of an outburst of individualism and emotion, expressed personally in poetry’William Wordsworth’s “spontaneous overflow of powerful feelings”47—and, in fiction and drama, by energetic, often rebellious heroes who set themselves against society. It includes variously the appreciation of and identification with nature, idealization of childhood,

sometimes religious feeling and nostalgia for the past’especially the Middle Ages—and impatience with restrictions, literary or social.

Camus’s Romanticism is evinced primarily in his use of nature as a correlative of human feeling (what the English aesthetician John Ruskin labeled and criticized as “the pathetic fallacy”48) and his nostalgia for a place and time, more mythic than real, perhaps, that was his childhood and, on a broader scale, a lost Mediterranean culture. The meditations at the Roman ruins of Tipasa and Clamence’s dream of Greece, in La Chute, illustrate Camus’s feeling for nature and nostalgia; Le Premier Homme is imbued with nostalgia for the green paradise of childhood. The swimming scene of La Peste and, in “La Femme adultere,” the heroine’s epiphany under the stars in the desert illustrate the value given to communion with nature in Camus’s writing. His efforts as a young writer to prune his work by removing excessive signs of sensibility and emotion show that he recognized the dangers of Romanticism:“Ma sensibilite doit parler, non crier” (My sensitivity must speak, not cry out). Concerning “La Maison mauresque,” Camus observed,“Je me suis efforce de n’y rien laisser paraitre de mes souffrances presentes. Mais j’ai laisse eclater un peu de cette souffrance dans les dernieres lignes…. Je ne me cache pourtant pas que la partie ou j’ai essaye de cacher mon besoin de pleurer est la meilleure” (I tried to let none of my present suffering show. But I let a little break out in the last lines. … I do not hide from myself, however, that the part where I tried to disguise my need to weep is the best).49 This statement shows a remarkable understanding for a twenty-year-old that, while emotion is potent, it can easily take over a text and become excessive, whereas the artist must control and direct it. In this sense it is legitimate to say that art for Camus derived from life, providing that one not suppose thereby that raw experience, unshaped and unselected, could, in his view, make good literature.

The second strain in Camus’s writing is the opposite of Romanticism: classicism. Like Romanticism, it can be historically situated (the literature of classical Greece and Rome, as well as that of the seventeenth century in France and the eighteenth century in England), but it too is a recurring mode of thought and writing, not only an historical phenomenon. Based on artistic and moral discipline, it favors the general over the particular, a chastened style over spontaneity, art over nature, order over disorder, morality over indulgence, and a long view as opposed to a parochial one. T. S. Eliot gave classicism a modern formulation when he wrote that “the progress of an artist is a continual self-sacrifice, a continual extinction of personality.”50 Camus’s attraction to Hellenic thought and art was perhaps a sign, perhaps a cause of his classical leaning; his preference for the severe, even barren landscapes of North Africa, aesthetically rich but not lush, can be associated with it likewise. A piece such as “Noces a Tipasa” is classical as well as Romantic, since the aspirations toward self-expansion are immediately controlled by contrast with the site and the landscape, in which ruined evidence of human grandeur and nature’s timeless, beautiful indifference puts into perspective all individual yearnings.

While Camus learned from several sources, doubtless, including the critiques of Grenier, how to discipline his emotion and his style, the chief influence in this area was probably that of Gide, a master artisan whose early self-indulgent works were quickly superseded by writings showing aesthetic control and distance. (Camus cites Gide repeatedly in his “Notes de lecture.”) The irony that Camus himself identified, perhaps erroneously, as his dominant tone is the correction of such Romantic self-indulgence. This correction did not lead to impoverishment of feeling or material. Gide’s maxims are apt: “The classical work will be strong and beautiful only by dint of its tamed romanticism”; “The work of classical art recounts the triumph of order and measure over a previous romanticism. The work is the more beautiful to the degree that what is submissive was, at first, more rebellious.”51 If Camus’s works do last throughout the centuries, their endurance will reflect the classical discipline of his writing, even in lyrical passages, and its appeal to what is universal and shared by all, instead of what is idiosyncratic. “Ce qui m’interesse, c’est d’etre un homme” (What interests me is to be a man), says Rieux in La Peste, in which the sobriety of Rieux’s style and the honesty of his account fit his aspirations to live the human condition properly.52


1. Jean Sarocchi, Le Dernier Camus ou le premier homme (Paris: Nizet, 1995), p. 4.

2. Paul Valéwry, Œuvres, volume 1 (Paris: Gallimard, 1957), p. 1497.

3. Albert Camus, Essais (Paris: Gallimard, 1965), p. 1919.

4. Ibid.

5. Camus, quoted in Olivier Todd, Albert Camus: Une vie (Paris: Gallimard, 1996), p. 184.

6. Ibid., p. 241. The word work as used in the translation of this quotation means creation, not labor.

7. Camus, Carnets, mai 1935-février 1942 (Paris: Gallimard, 1962), p. 16.

8. In French literature this aestheticism is illustrated, for example, by the artistic principles and writings of the late-nineteenth-century poet Stephane Mallarme; by the works of Philippe-Auguste, Comte de Villiers de l’Isle-Adam, especially his poetic drama Axel (1890); and by Joris-Karl Huysmans’s well-known decadent novel A rebours (1884; translated as Against the Grain, 1922). In England the identification of art with life itself is illustrated in the career and writings of Oscar Wilde, notably The Picture of Dorian Gray (1891), in which the title character makes of his life a work of art. In his play Caligula Camus showed his title character remaking reality according to an amoral idea of what it should be.

9. Camus, Carnets, mai 1935-février 1942, p. 16.

10. Camus and Jean Grenier, Correspondance: 1932-1960 (Paris: Gallimard, 1981), p.15

11. Camus, Essais, p. 1081.

12. Camus, quoted in Camus and Grenier, Correspondance, p. 236, n. 1 to letter 2.

13. Paul Viallaneix, Le Premier Camus, suivi de Ecrits de jeunesse d’Albert Camus, Cahiers Albert Camus, no. 2 (Paris: 1973), pp. 201-206.

14. Todd, Albert Camus: Une vie, p. 185.

15. Camus and Grenier, Correspondance, p. 167.

16. See Michel Puche, Edmond Charlot éditeur (Pézenas: Domens, 1995).

17. “La Maison mauresque” was published posthumously in Viallaneix, Le Premier Camus, pp. 207-218.

18. Sarocchi, introduction to Camus, La Mort heureuse, Cahiers Albert Camus, no. 1 (Paris: Gallimard, 1971), p. 19.

19. Camus, Carnets, janvier 1942 - mars 1951 (Paris: Gallimard, 1964), p. 39.

20. Ibid., pp. 17, 18.

21. Camus, Carnets, mai 1935 - février 1942, pp. 17-18; Carnets, janvier 1942 - mars 1951, pp. 147-150, 173; Carnets III, mars 1951 - décembre 1959 (Paris: Gallimard, 1989), p. 188.

22. Camus, quoted in Todd, Albert Camus: Une vie, p. 184.

23. Todd, Albert Camus: Une vie, p. 241.

24. Camus, Carnets, janvier 1942 - mars 1951, p. 43.

25. Camus, quoted in Todd, Albert Camus: Une vie, p. 534.

26. Viallaneix, Le Premier Camus, p. 202. See Christiane Chaulet-Achour, Albert Camus, Alger:“L’Etranger” et autres recits (Biarritz: Atlantica, 1998), pp. 147-148, for a short discussion on critics’ comments on Camus’s lyricism.

27. Herbert R. Lottman, Albert Camus: A Biography (Garden City, N.Y.: Doubleday, 1979), p. 182.

28. See Todd, Albert Camus: Une vie, p. 826, n. 25, for Camus’s statement about having destroyed a draft of La Mort heureuse.

29. See, for instance, Camus, Carnets, janvier 1942 – mars 1951, p. 111.

30. Todd, Albert Camus: Une vie, p. 494. It should be noted that in this volume Todd is quite severe on Sartre; see pp. 494-496. Todd notes that “Sartre knows that he is, to simplify, a genius…. God does not exist but Sartre is God.” This severe judgment does not invalidate the contrast drawn between Camus and Sartre. Todd had been in Sartre’s inner circle as a sort of surrogate son before a falling-out occurred between them. See his Un Fils rebelle (Paris: Grasset, 1981). See also Deirdre Bair, Simone de Beauvoir: A Biography (New York: Summit, 1990), p. 678, n. 4.

31. Camus and Grenier, Correspondance, p. 68.

32. Camus, Caligula, version de 1941, suivi de La Poetique du premier Caligula, edited by A. James Arnold, Cahiers Albert Camus, no. 4 (Paris: Gallimard, 1984), p. 155.

33. Camus, quoted in Todd, Albert Camus: Une vie, p. 184.

34. Ibid., p. 506.

35. Camus, Carnets, janvier 1942 - mars 1951, pp. 155, 157.

36. Camus, quoted in Todd, Albert Camus: Une vie, p. 557.

37. Camus, Essais, p. 1746 (note).

38. Ibid., p. 45.

39. Camus and Grenier, Correspondance, p. 20.

40. Roger Grenier, Albert Camus soleil et ombre: Une biographie intellectuelle (Paris: Gallimard, 1987), p. 24; Camus, Carnets III, mars 1951 - décembre 1959, pp. 276-277; Valéry, Œuvres, volume 1, p. 62.

41. Todd, Albert Camus: Une vie, p. 241.

42. Camus, Essais, p. 743.

43. Camus, Carnets, mai 1935 - février 1942, pp. 15-16, 18 The italics are Camus’s.

44. Camus, Essais, p. 44.

45. Camus, Carnets III, mars 1951 - décembre 1959, p. 15.

46. Camus, Carnets, janvier 1942 - mars 1951, p. 325.

47. William Wordsworth, preface to second edition of Lyrical Ballads (1800), in Wordsworth, Selected Poems and Prefaces, edited by Jack Stillinger (Boston: Houghton Mifflin, 1965), p. 448.

48. John Ruskin, Modern Painters, volume 3 (New York: John Lovell, 1873), p. 176.

49. Camus, quoted in Viallaneix, Le Premier Camus, pp. 201-202, 204.

50. T. S. Eliot,“Tradition and the Individual Talent,” in Selected Prose of T. S. Eliot, edited by Frank Kermode (New York: Harcourt Brace Jovanovich, 1975), p. 40.

51. Andre Gide, Œuvres complètes, volume 10 (Paris: Nouvelle Revue Française, 1936), pp. 25-26; Gide, Morceaux choisis (Paris: Nouvelle Revue Française, 1921), p. 93.

52. Camus, Théâtre, récits, nouvelles, edited by Roger Quilliot (Paris: Gallimard, 1962), p. 1425.

Camus’s Era

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Camus was born into the world of the French Empire. This was one of the principal historical facts affecting and impinging upon his life. Less extensive than the British Empire, and less familiar now to students in North America, it was nevertheless considerable. The French crown had lost New France (Canada) to Great Britain before the French Revolution and was defeated in the same period in a struggle with the British to retain those portions of India, including Pondicherry, over which France had held sway. Still, in 1913 the French nation had colonies and protectorates, some of them large, in Asia (one colony and four protectorates, which together made up French Indochina), South America (French Guiana), North Africa (the colony of Algeria and the protectorates of Morocco and Tunisia), and Sub-Saharan Africa (mainly French West Africa), as well as islands of varying importance in the Pacific, Adantic, Caribbean, and Indian Oceans. France also exercised considerable cultural influence in Syria. Algiers, the first African foothold of France, fell under French domination in 1830 after a successful military campaign, waged mostly on a diplomatic pretext, against the Turks, themselves outsiders, who had established their rule along that portion of the Mediterranean coast.

In the following decades French dominance over the native Arab-Berber population was consolidated and extended through further military action; by the middle of the nineteenth century the territory that became modern Algeria had been generally pacified and was governed by a military administration. Pockets of resistance held out, however, or appeared again, especially in 1870 and 1871. French settlers trickled in, few at first, then more. Among these pioneers were Camus’s great-grandfather Claude Camus, originally from Bordeaux, and his wife. Most of the settlers took up farming in the fertile coastal area. By 1848 they numbered nearly a hundred thousand. When the Second Republic (1848-1851) was ended by the coup d’etat that made Louis-Bonaparte emperor under the title Napoleon III, many political refugees of republican or

anarchist sentiments left France for Algeria—part of an extensive emigration from Europe at midcentury. Settlers continued to arrive during the 1850s. To these French, who came generally but not exclusively from the south of France, were added others of Mediterranean or European origin. A wave of immigration to the colony took place in 1871 after France lost Alsace and part of Lorraine to Germany as a result of the Franco-Prussian War. All the French settlers held citizenship in their nation; other immigrants of European origin could become naturalized French citizens.

The Arab and Berber residents included some merchants, usually poor; a few wealthy and powerful chieftains and influential Islamic leaders; agricultural laborers who worked on colonists’ farms; and villagers, farmers, and tribesmen who lived off their own land, which was often the least productive, especially in the mountains and elsewhere in the interior. There were also many Jewish residents, whose ancestors had in many cases been there for centuries and who had received citizenship by the Décret Crémieux (Crémieux Decree) in the nineteenth century. The Arabs and Berbers, in contrast, had extremely limited civil rights; this remained true for millions until Algerian independence in 1962. A few influential Muslims cooperated with the French, and some eventually were taken into the administration, mostly in advisory bodies, but their position between the two communautés (communities, as the French and native elements were called) was often difficult. Napoleon III, who visited Algeria, expressed his wish for an African empire built on fraternity and what would now be called cultural and ethnic diversity, but his dream was ended by his abdication during the Franco-Prussian War.

By the time of Camus’s birth in 1913, Algeria, which in 1848 had been officially pronounced a part of France, occupied a different status from that of other parts of the French empire and was governed differently. It was divided into dèpartements (administrative divisions) somewhat like those in mainland France, which had French administrators and sent deputies, or representatives, to the legislature in Paris. There had been considerable industrial development, agriculture had become a huge export business, and cities had grown. In addition to its well-developed port, Algiers had not only lycees and a university, with some eminent professors, but also a theater, public concerts, a national library, public gardens, a cathedral, tramway lines, and many hotels. A class of wealthy Europeans called gros colons— large landholders and industrialists—had emerged, but they were few in number compared to the class of modest farmers and city dwellers, to which Camus’s family belonged. The administration had built roads, railroads, hospitals, and schools; some of these facilities were available to members of the indigenous community, others not.

The ratio of those born or naturalized as citizens—principally French, Spanish, Italians, and Jews—to the Arab-Berber population was perhaps one to six. In cities the ratio was quite different, however; only one-third of the population of Algiers in 1910 was Arab-Berber. By 1950 there were approximately one million Algerian residents who were either of European extraction or Sephardic Jews; the nine million Muslim residents were almost all without citizenship. This substantial European population, which helps to explain the stubborn hold France tried to keep on Algeria and the wrenching loss that autonomy represented in 1962, must be contrasted with the much smaller numbers of French settlers in Indochina and the Sub-Saharan colonies; moreover, by the mid twentieth century many Algerians of European blood came from families who had been there for generations. An elaborate celebration in 1930 marking the centennial of the conquest and highlighting colonial achievements gave public form to the assumption that Algeria was and would remain an integral part of France. In fact, however, the ceremonial, even theatrical aspect of the event, featuring a military review, a commemorative cantata, costumes, and discourses, all intended to convey the almost sacred character of the bond between France and her territory, in reality pointed to the French presence as veneer and illusion and underscored the precariousness of French authority in Algeria. The centennial can now be seen as retrogressive rather than progressive.

Allowing for several differences, it can still be said that Algeria was, in both the nineteenth and twentieth centuries, the frontier of France; American students can perhaps understand the colony in that light. The frontier mentality associated with the West in North America (however that West was defined, according to the period) was not entirely foreign to Algeria, nor was the position of the Arabs and Berbers who were displaced wholly unlike that of the American Indians, though important differences obtain, especially the fact that many North African natives worked as laborers for the French. Many of those in France who needed to get away, wanted to get away, or were misfits traveled to Algeria; it was open and free for the taking. This frontier status was a complex one. Algeria needed France, but France needed Algeria as well, because of the export of agricultural products and (by the middle of the twentiedi century) petroleum from the colony that were an extremely important element of the French economy. In addition, Algeria played the role of gatekeeper on the border between European culture and economy and that of Africa and, as it was ultimately called, the Third World. Frontiers and borderlands are useful: those in major metropolitan areas may scorn them as primitive, but they need them as a buffer zone, in economic, cultural, and military terms.

Algerian nationalist movements—as opposed to rebellions and uprisings—date from the 1920s. The indifference shown by France after World War I to the many indigenous soldiers who had fought, and often died, in the trenches of France far from their southern home was one factor in the development of such movements. Etoile nord-africaine (North African Star), the first radical movement for independence, was organized in 1926 under the aegis of the French Communist Party; members tended to be from the working classes. Leadership of the movement was soon assumed by Messali Hadj, who rejected the moderate course of assimilation and wanted the autonomy of a homogeneous Arab-Berber nation, from which all European elements would be excluded. Adherents of the movement were often hounded by French and Algerian authorities, and its relationship with the Communists was rocky. Camus showed sympathy for Messali and his followers and in later years attempted to intervene on behalf of those who ran afoul of government regulations. In 1937 a bill, for which Camus campaigned, to enfranchise some twenty-one thousand Muslims (a figure later expanded to twohundred thousand), including war veterans and grammar-school graduates, was allowed to die in Parliament. A later nationalist movement, drawn from the middle classes, was the National Liberation Front (FLN), one of whose principal figures was Ferhat Abbas, a pharmacist. He was the author of a 1945 manifesto setting forth the demands of the Algerian Muslims and later became titular president of the FLN’s political arm.

Even after World War II, provisions made in legislation of 1944 for including certain categories of Muslims in the political process were generally not carried out; only eighty thousand out of eight million were allowed to vote in postwar elections. Moreover, since the extreme nationalists in the Arab-Berber community boycotted these elections, the results could not be considered representative. This unspoken policy of protecting the colonial status quo contributed to consolidation of the nationalists’ aspirations and their increasing radicalization. Camus observed: “L’application du statut fut sabotée et les élections de 1948 systématiquement truquées. De ces elections falsifées est sortie, non pas l’Algérie du statut, mais 1’Algérie du meurtre et de la répression” (Application of the law was sabotaged and the 1948 elections systematically rigged. From these fixed elections came not Algeria according to the law but an Algeria of murder and repression). He identified a spiral of effects:

L’oppression, même bienveillante, le mensonge d’une occupation qui parlait toujours d’assimilation sans jamais rien faire pour elle, ont suscité d’abord des mouvements nationalistes, pauvres en doctrine mais riches en audace. Ces mouvements ont été réprimés. Chaque répression, mesurée ou démente, chaque torture policiére comme chaque jugement légal, ont accentué le désespoir et la violence chez les militants. (Oppression, even well-meaning, and the deception of an occupation that talked always about assimilation without doing anything to establish it gave rise to nationalist movements, poor in doctrine but rich in audacity. These movements were repressed. Each repression, measured or unreasonable, each police torture, like each legal judgment, accentuated the despair and violence of the militants.)1

The second principal feature of the historical context into which Camus was born was that it was a world of war: World War I, the Rif wars between the French and mountain tribesmen in the neighboring kingdom of Morocco, the Italo-Abyssinian war, the Spanish Civil War, World War II, the French-Indochinese war (an undeclared colonial conflict lasting from approximately 1947 until 1954), and the Algerian war (similarly undeclared and lasting from 1954 until 1962). Most of these conflicts involving France or her neighbors affected Camus directly or indirectly. His father’s early death and the hardship this brought to the family were consequences of World War I; his political views were shaped to some degree by the civil war in Spain and its political implications; World War II had important personal and literary consequences for him; and the Algerian conflict darkened his last years and almost surely contributed to his lack of productivity in this period.

This was Camus’s world; he did not make it, but, being bom into it, he faced it as part of his situation and was thus obliged to take a point of view on it. To even his harshest critics, his positions on the conflict in Spain and his conduct in World War II are unimpeachable; indeed, as one literary history puts it, “The mystique of Resistance hero surrounding Camus was one Sartre could never match.”2 In contrast, for his positions on the status of Algeria, Camus continues to be judged severely. The political and cultural assumptions that shaped French Algerian life at the time of his birth remained his throughout his life, with slight modifications. Although, like Napoleon III, Camus had dreams of an Algeria built on much greater equity, and although he campaigned through journalism and activism to extend Muslim rights and improve living conditions, he always imagined the territory as an integral part of France, not as autonomous.

THE 1930s

Among the most important features of the 1930s, the decade when Camus came to adulthood, were the policies of the Soviet Union and the expansion of Marxism, the economic crisis in the West, the spread of fascism, the Spanish Civil War, the Munich Pact of 1938, and finally the outbreak of World War II in September 1939. Some of these developments did not touch Algeria and its residents directly, but all of them eventually had indirect effects. The young Soviet Union grew stronger by the year, achieving its industrial goals through rigorous social planning. Admirers disregarded the price paid in human misery for collectivization; the internal contradictions of Soviet society and the terror that reigned in the 1930s and beyond were not then fully known in the West. Camus’s brief membership in the Algerian Communist Party (separate from the French party as of 1936) showed that he considered communism a reasonable political direction for one whose sympathies lay generally with the lowest strata of wage earners (proletarians, in Marxist terminology) and notably with the Muslims in their struggle for recognition and rights. The official party line, dictated from Moscow by Joseph Stalin, on Algeria and other colonies of European powers varied: at one moment Moscow preached anticolonialism and rebellion against the French oppressor; at another moment, convinced that it was in the Soviet Union’s interest to have a strong France, Stalin ordered the anticolonial and antimilitary line to be abandoned and antifascism to be the order of the day. Muslim communists and other North African radicals were not particularly moved by the antifascist cause. Camus’s position did not change: he believed that the Algerian Communist Party should concern itself primarily with the plight of Algerian workers and their immediate problems. When this was seen as a heresy, Camus and others were expelled by party vote.

The economic crisis, which began in 1929 and lasted well into the next decade, had repercussions in Algeria; the impoverishment of the Kabyles led Camus to write a series of articles on their plight in 1939. The crisis also contributed to the expansion of fascism in Italy, then its establishment in Germany (with the appointment of Adolf Hitler as chancellor in 1933), Spain, and Portugal. There were protofascist movements and other extreme-right parties even in France; in 1934 violent clashes between right-wingers, including royalists, and police and other demonstrators displayed the political power of these groups. The controversial Popular Front governments (composed of Socialist, Communist, and other parties engaging in rare cooperation) elected in France and Spain in 1936 were one response to the crisis. The assumption of power by leftists in the young Spanish republic helped trigger an invasion by army units based in Spanish Morocco and headed by General Francisco Franco. This military coup precipitated the civil war in Spain, on which Camus published some journalistic reports. Franco’s defeat of the Republican forces culminated in a dictatorship that lasted for decades. Camus, ethnically half-Spanish, abhorred the Franco regime. (A former Spanish prime minister, Santiago Casarès Quiroga, was one of countless Spaniards who went into exile in France; his family accompanied him, and thus his daughter, Maria Casarès, her name gallicized, studied acting in France and eventually met Camus.) As for the Munich Pact, by which France and Great Britain agreed to Hitler’s demands to occupy the Sudetenland (a German-speaking part of Czechoslovakia), Camus judged it an error. In 1939 he could not refrain from asking why the Western powers were willing to go to war over Poland when they had not done so for Spain or Czechoslovakia.3


When Germany invaded Poland on 1 September 1939, a conflict of enormous pro-portions was set off that lasted nearly six years and had dreadful consequences. Upon the expiration of ultimatums given to Hitler, Great Britain and France declared war in a matter of hours on Germany and Italy, the “Axis Powers.” The Soviet Union, having signed the German-Soviet Nonaggression Pact (also known as the Molotov-Ribbentrop Pact) in August 1939, did not enter the hostilities until 1941, when Germany’s surprise invasion of Russia nullified the pact. The French believed their nation was properly prepared to defend itself. A chain of fortifications, called the Maginot line, on the German-French border to the northeast, had led to confidence; moreover, the French military command boasted of its readiness. For eight months there were almost no engagements between French and German troops.

In Algiers, where Camus was writing for the newspaper Alger Républicain, the war affected him first by the strict military censorship that had been instituted even before hostilities began. The paper continued to appear until late October 1939. Le Soir Républicain, a two-page newssheet founded a few weeks before by Pascal Pia, with Camus as editor, was a short-term response to censorship. Even there Camus had difficulties since he baited the censors deliberately. In January 1940 the paper was forced to close. Like countless others who had lost their legitimate source of income, Camus was forced into seeking expedients, and until late 1943 he had no permanent, stable position.

In May 1940 the German army struck with lightning force (the blitzkrieg), not crossing the Maginot line but instead going around to the west, thus violating the neutrality of Belgium as well as that of the Netherlands. The failure of the French forces, the Belgian army, and the British Expeditionary Force to repel the invasion and the consequent disarray of both France’s government and army led to armistice and surrender on 22 June. The defeat was the result of several factors, among them shortsighted military policy, which had remained stagnant, turned backward toward the glories of Verdun and the victory of World War I. “When the Second World War began,” observes Stanley Hoffmann, “the French army was hampered by the cult of the defensive and by instructions that were stuck in time around 1918.”4 To this congealing of strategy, and partly because of it, were added the disadvantages of inadequate rearmament, notably in tanks and aircraft; excessive confidence placed in the Maginot line; too much trust in Hitler’s word; and inept strategy and failure of leadership on the field.

The Third Republic was dissolved and replaced by a collaborationist government, officially called the French State and popularly known as the Vichy government, with the aged General Philippe Pétain at its head. From the beginning it was semipaternalistic and semioppressive. Though ostensibly put in place to assure the survival of France after the armistice, its manipulation by the German authorities became more evident as the months passed. Its legitimacy was never recognized by vast numbers of the French, although many did not regret the disappearance of the Third Republic and its ineffectual cabinets. By the terms of surrender, German forces were to occupy the northern half of France and the entire Atlantic coast and other enclaves; the south, with the addition of Algeria, was called the “Free Zone.” Between the “Free Zone” and Algeria travel and communications were possible until the zone was taken over entirely by the Germans in November 1942, after British and American forces landed in North Africa. Thus, Camus and his wife, Francine, were able to travel to France from Algeria—and she was able to return—in the summer of 1942. After the abolition of the concept and fact of the free zone, communications and travel were cut off completely between the mainland and North Africa. Camus wrote in his diary upon learning that the Germans had taken over the rest of France, “Comme des rats!” (Like rats)—referring to his sense of entrapment.5

With defeat in June 1940 and the establishment of the Vichy government, France was humiliated. National politics, already deeply polarized, as the previous decades had shown, became even more acrimonious. Active, enthusiastic collaboration with the Germans, often through journalism, on the part of several elements in French society—including famous right-wing intellectuals—created enormous resentment among those French citizens who, through patriotism, hatred of the occupant, or political convictions, looked upon the Vichy government and the German presence as illegitimate and viewed collaborating as aiding and abetting the enemy.

French opposition eventually led to various sorts of resistance activity, including armed struggle. Lyons, on the Rhone River, was one of its principal centers. The Resistance network to which Pia belonged, Combat, had its headquarters there; Pia was deputy to the chief of the Rhone-Alpes region. Before he left Le Panelier in 1943, Camus sometimes visited Lyons from his mountain residence and became acquainted with certain activities and some of the members of Combat. After Germany invaded the Soviet Union on 22 June 1941, the Communists entered the Resistance movement in France, established cooperation with the non-Communist networks already in place, and soon dominated the movement; Catholic organizations were next in importance. Nonaligned Resistance organizations existed also. In May 1943 the first meeting of the Conseil National de la Resistance (National Council of Resistance), which brought together various movements, took place in Paris.

While by far the greatest number of patriotic French did not take up arms secretly against the occupants—and many were in no position to do so, while others would have considered it politically unwise—violent resistance began sporadically as early as 1941 in the form of shootings of Germans and sabotage. Although this action involved taking enemy lives and disabling infrastructure, until well into 1944 its principal aim was not to cripple German war efforts but rather to provoke reprisals—mostly the shooting of hostages and deportations—the intended effect of which would be to anger the French, seen as too willing to collaborate, and mobilize them against the occupying forces. From his base in London, General Charles de Gaulle condemned the early terrorist actions of the Resistance as contrary to French interests. In fact, the number of Resistance agents who engaged in sabotage or other activities, such as espionage, was extremely small until the last year of the war, when Allied invasions produced conditions in which saboteurs could make wide-ranging contributions to the harassment of the Germans. Some of this activity was carried out by armed bands in the countryside, called Maquis (from a Corsican word meaning thicket), who were eventually grouped into the FFI (Free French of the Interior), worked with the Allies, and in some cases had actual engagements with the enemy. They were ultimately absorbed into the Free French (based in London under de Gaulle). These guerrillas were supplied with provisions by peasant sympathizers and with arms by parachute drops carried out by the air forces of the United States and Great Britain. These drops had to be coordinated through radio contact with England. Since all such contact—broadcasting and receiving alike, including simply listening to the BBC—was forbidden and the penalties were severe (imprisonment, deportation, or death), it was dangerous work, often carried out by innocent-looking peasants on outlying farms.

Another type of opposition was literary, journalistic, and intellectual. While the last often consisted of ineffective, indeed passive, organizations of opponents of the regime who met to plan vaguely some future line of action and whose main achievement was raising awareness (such was Jean-Paul Sartre’s Socialisme et Liberté), many writers engaged in substantial literary resistance of substance, carried out through clandestine publishers (Editions de Minuit and Editions Seghers) and magazines (the Poesie anthologies, the first of which was published in 1940, and Les Lettres Françaises, founded in 1942).

More than a half-dozen poets, some among the most renowned of their era, produced patriotic poems in verse or poetic prose that were intended to—and did—bring moral support to the French. These poems were printed individually or in small volumes in North Africa, England, and Switzerland; or clandestine presses in France printed them in tiny type on small pieces of paper. These poems circulated from hand to hand, surreptitiously, or in some cases were simply memorized. Short lyrics by the Communist writers and former Surrealists Louis Aragon and Paul Eluard were beloved of many French. Some of Eluard’s poems were printed in England, dropped by Royal Air Force planes into France, memorized, and recited, while Aragon’s war poetry was published clandestinely in Switzerland and smuggled into France. Robert Desnos (who died just after having been liberated from a German prison camp in 1945) composed lyrics throughout the war as a member of an underground network. Similarly, the Catholic poet Pierre Emmanuel was active in the Resistance and also published volumes of lyrics under the Occupation, convinced that poetry must play a role in rallying France. Without paper or writing instruments, Jean Cassou, imprisoned by the Germans, wrote in his head 33 sonnets composes au secret (33 Sonnets Composed in Secret, 1944); they were shared with others and subsequently smuggled out. René Char, whom Camus called the greatest living poet in France and who was a leader of the Resistance in his region, wrote short prose poems that beautifully suggest the spirit of the Resistance. A young poet friend of Camus’s, Rene Leynaud, considered to be quite gifted, was executed by the Germans in Lyons. Aragon and his wife, Elsa Triolet, founded with Jean Paulhan the Comitè National des Ecrivains, a Resistance organization.

Prose writers also carried out intellectual resistance. The eminent Catholic novelist Francois Mauriac denounced Nazi ideology in the pseudonymously published Le Cahier noir (The Black Notebook, 1943). Jean Bruller, writing under the pseudonym Vercors (the name of a Maquis group), published the much-admired Le Silence de la mer (1942; translated as The Silence of the Sea, 1944), the point of which is that between Nazis, even those of impeccable conduct, and the French there could be no communication. Such authors agreed that, as Emmanuel put it, Vichy and the occupying German forces could survive only by perverting language and that to injure language was to injure mankind. As one critic has noted, “Literary language was not only to represent France—that is, its past—with its lyricism and grandeur; it was to serve as agent, helping … to produce events that would lead to the liberation of France and then to the nation of the future.”6

That, despite difficult conditions and domination by a foreign power, French culture could remain vigorous says a great deal about the French—and also about the German occupiers. (Even today, France devotes a higher percentage of its national budget to cultural undertakings, including architectural restoration, than any other nation.) German authorities—including the ambassador to the Vichy government, Otto Abetz, and Gerhard Heller, the chief adviser on French publication—were quite tolerant in allowing theaters to remain open and many literary presses to continue publishing, provided that certain conditions were met. Thus, plays by Sartre, Henry de Montherlant, Jean Anouilh, and Paul Claudel, for instance, were produced under the Occupation, and publishers such as Gallimard remained open, putting out books by Simone de Beauvoir, Sartre, Camus, Aragon, and several other major figures, including Raymond Queneau and Antoine de Saint-Exupèry—though Saint-Exupèry’s Pilote de guerre (1942; translated as Flight to Arras, 1942) was subsequently banned. Heller read the manuscript of L’Etranger for Gallimard and pronounced it a great work. Gallimard’s freedom to publish was achieved perhaps by an internal compromise involving the Nouvelle Revue Française (which the firm owned and published) and its new editor, the pro-Fascist but cultivated novelist Pierre Drieu La Rochelle.

Unless there was evidence of pro-German sentiment on the part of editors, publishers, or directors, the willingness of French authors, actors, journalists, and other cultural figures to take advantage of these opportunities—especially after the Germans overran the Free Zone and also censored its publications—was not considered collaboration, no more than teaching in a public (that is, Vichy government) school or working in a library was. Indeed, such activity could be viewed as patriotic, since maintaining cultural life was one way of asserting that France had not been entirely crushed. Sartre, for instance, lectured at one of the theaters and wrote scripts for motion pictures produced by Pathe; Beauvoir worked for the national radio. Lest too much credit be given to the Germans’ cultural tolerance, it must be pointed out that certain high-ranking Occupation authorities were, like many of their fellow Germans, committed Francophiles who relished being assigned to Paris because of the city’s rich cultural life. The ordinary soldiers of the Occupation army also evinced appreciation (as photographs of them enjoying the city demonstrate) for Paris’s beauty and sources of entertainment; at the least, Paris was a better assignment than the Eastern Front. Moreover, the Germans believed that it was in their interest for French citizens to have the impression that life was continuing as usual. The occupying forces wished to avoid the appearance of having disrupted or destroyed the daily routines of the French people and especially the cultural life of Paris. The authorities even on occasion averted their eyes from what must have been obvious: the existence of a widespread network of underground publications, including the newspaper Combat.

Camus’s assiduous work on Combat belongs to the cultural Resistance. In addition to his journalism, which was a significant contribution, he also on occasion acted as a lookout for fellow Resistance network members. Camus did not engage in any spy work, however, nor did he carry out other dangerous tasks. Friends tried to dissuade him from any activity beyond writing for Combat, fearing that if he were arrested, he would not survive the rigors of internment.


As the war drew to a close in 1944-1945, France was a half-ruined nation. The Occupation had taken a tremendous economic toll. Under the terms of the armistice, many of the nation’s resources—raw materials, manufactured goods, agricultural products, young male workers—had been transported to Germany. Other French industry not considered useful to Germany’s war effort had been reduced or eliminated for lack of materials, workers, and consumers. By acts of sabotage and, from June 1944 on, intense fighting, much of the infrastructure—railroads, bridges, roads, industrial installations, and housing—had been damaged or destroyed. There had been little or no building since 1939. Food was rationed from the beginning of the Occupation, and the food supply shrank as the war continued, especially in Paris. Electricity, gas, and other heating sources were severely restricted. Shortages continued well after the war, and the nation was plagued by labor unrest and strikes. It took fifteen years or more for significant progress to become visible in most sectors of the economy.

Despite political turmoil, labor unrest, and shortages—foodstuffs, raw materials, energy sources, clothing, shoes, and paper—the immediate postliberation and postwar period in France was a heady time. From the liberation of Normandy, beginning in June 1944, through the liberation of Paris and the gradual freeing of the rest of the country during the remainder of that year and early 1945, there was an understandable euphoria. “The Liberation of Paris was heavily symbolic throughout the world at the time; the City of Light had been recaptured from the barbarians despoiling it.”7

Although literary and intellectual life during the Occupation had been far from moribund, upon the liberation of Paris, when curfews were lifted and expression was again entirely free, there was a tremendous cultural outburst, limited only by the shortage of paper and other material difficulties. Given the hardships and restrictions on personal freedom under the Occupation, the postliberation call to freedom was interpreted also as a statement of emancipation, even joie de vivre. Intellectual life was open and intense. Camus was one of its new lights. Sartre, Beauvoir, Merleau-Ponty, and others planned their new political magazine, Les Temps Modernes; two of Camus’s plays were performed in 1944 and 1945; Beauvoir published an essay and a novel, and her first play was performed, all in 1945; that same year Sartre published two novels and his play Huis clos (translated as No Exit, 1946); many other volumes appeared, some newly written, some that had been kept in desk drawers or carefully hidden chests; and American movies were shown once again. Paris regained some of the vitality that had marked the city both before World War 1 and in the 1920s, becoming a seething cultural cauldron, sometimes acrimonious, sometimes joyous. With some of the same players who had been on the cultural stage in the 1930s and some new ones, the intense literary life of the city was renewed. Camus sometimes seemed present everywhere, involved with everyone. As one reviewer of a Beauvoir memoir noted, referring to the postwar period and later, “French literati lead a life more inbred, more given to cliques and programs, thrusts and counterthrusts than elsewhere. At its worst, this setup gives the impression that all the writers in France are merely taking in each other’s washing; at its best, however, it engenders an excitement, vitality, and critical self-consciousness that cannot be matched by any other nation.”8

At the same time, the liberation brought retribution in the form of épuration (purges) for many collaborators, real or suspected. The Conseil National de la Resistance organized many of these purges; others were spontaneous. Petain was condemned to death, but the sentence was commuted to life imprisonment because of his advanced age; Pierre Laval, a Vichy politician, was executed. Drieu La Rochelle committed suicide rather than face accusations of philo-Nazism. Louis-Ferdinand Celine, not philo-Nazi but anti-Semitic and curmudgeonly, went into exile in Germany and later was imprisoned in Denmark; many more were punished by execution, exile, or some other penalty. In the winter of 1945 the collaborationist writer Robert Brasillach was tried for treason and convicted, on the grounds that the greater one’s talents (and his were quite great), the greater the responsibility: he had used his literary genius to serve the Nazis and demoralize France. Despite having called for justice—that is, punishment—for collaborators who had patently assisted the Nazi occupiers in establishing tyranny in France, despoiling the nation, and causing the death of many Frenchmen, Camus, along with several other figures but not Sartre and Beauvoir, signed a petition asking for clemency; de Gaulle rejected it, and Brasillach was executed.

De Gaulle, the rebellious military genius who had fled to England from France upon the fall of Paris and continued the struggle from there, had become the leader of the French opposition to Vichy after winning a power struggle with General Henri Giraud. In June 1944 de Gaulle’s Committee of National Liberation was proclaimed the government of France. In August he returned to Paris, and his government was recognized by the Allies. In November 1945 he was elected provisional president. His challenge was to maintain some degree of cooperation among the various political factions and Resistance groups and oversee the first stages in rebuilding France. Not unnaturally, Resistance movements that had tolerated each other prior to the liberation shortly became rivals, determined to extend their power and pursue their own policies during the rebuilding. The Communist aim was, of course, to install a government that they could dominate. Internecine and interparty disagreements were a principal feature of the time. De Gaulle, a Catholic, was generally conservative and strongly anti-Communist but hostile to the British and resentful and suspicious of the United States. He was also arrogant and domineering. In January 1946 he finally quit his position as provisional president when it became clear that France would not adopt the sort of constitution he hoped for, incorporating a strong executive. In 1947 he became head of a new movement, the Rassemblement du Peuple Francais (French People’s Assembly), which had some electoral successes. Gaullists ultimately played major roles in the French political scene during the remainder of the twentieth century.

The new Fourth Republic (1946-1958) was characterized by a weak executive, power being vested primarily in the legislative body. It was a time of great political instability: clashes continued among Communists, Socialists, nonaligned leftists such as Camus (groups and voters who generally supported broad-scale nationalization of industry and services and generous social programs), Catholic centrists, Catholic laborites, extreme right-wingers, and so on. (The Communists generally received between 20 and 25 percent of the vote.) Issues of collaboration or resistance remained at the forefront, meanwhile, and have never gone away entirely. Resentment of the Soviet Union among centrists and rightists was intensified by its increasing hegemony, often maintained through brute force, throughout Eastern Europe and by other abuses of Stalinism, some of which had been revealed only gradually but were known in general by 1950. Yet, many in France, while feeling threatened by Soviet expansionism, were suspicious also of the United States, seen as imperialistic and aggressively capitalist. The polarization that became known as the Cold War solidified parties, and France seemed squeezed between the two great blocs, both appearing paranoid and bellicose. Enunciation in 1947 of the Truman Doctrine, directed at containing Communism and extending assistance to Allies in Asia and elsewhere; the Communist takeover in Czechoslovakia in February 1948; and the Berlin blockade of 1948-1949 and the ensuing Allied airlift—these circumstances and others seemed to put Europe and, indeed, the world on the brink of a third great conflict.

Politics ruled most intellectual life: the uncommitted writer was considered by many to be irresponsible, and left-wing politics prevailed in much of France, the right wing having been crushed or discredited to a considerable degree by the defeat of the Nazis and the fall of the Vichy government. There was also, however, a large group of Catholic intellectuals and an active Catholic press, centrist or friendly to non-Communist workers’ movements; Esprit, a monthly magazine, edited by Emmanuel Mounier, was one voice of Catholic liberalism. The Gaullists also constituted a cultural force: Andre Malraux, Mauriac, and his son Claude Mauriac were among its voices. Still, most writers with whom Camus came in contact in the newspaper circles of Combat and in the Paris neighborhood of Saint-Germain-des-Pres were all committed more or less to socialism; their differences were a matter of degree. As one political historian notes, simplifying somewhat (but not without a point), the literary and philosophical controversies among Sartre, Merleau-Ponty, Camus, and others that marked the 1940s and 1950s “were conducted in terms of rival interpretations of Marxism…. Needless to say, the Marxism at stake in the disputations between Sartre and his colleagues was not that of the Communist party. It was not, that is to say, the political doctrine of a totalitarian organization heading a mass movement and obliged to maneuver on the national and international scene. Rather it was an alembicated [sic] extract from the writings of Marx, Lenin, Trotsky, Rosa Luxemburg, Lukacs. …” This was not an academic issue, at least as long as “there was a chance of a new Popular Front constituting itself around the CP [Communist Party]. …” In reality, “the hypothetical chance of a postwar Communist seizure of power by quasi-democratic means had already vanished by 1948…. The Communists were being driven into a prolonged isolation as a consequence of the coup de Prague of February 1948; and by the time they emerged from the shadows into the light of the post-Stalin era, the whole character of West European politics had been radically altered by the industrial boom of the 1950s and the integration of the labor movement into the new social order.”9


In the heady postwar atmosphere Sartre popularized his French version of existentialism, bringing it to the attention of a broad public in a 1945 lecture, subsequently published as L’Existentialisme est un humanisme (1946; translated as Existentialism, 1947), and in his plays. Existentialism was originally an individualistic strain of thought that, in order to preserve its asystematic quality, should properly be called existential rather than existentialist. It had been illustrated in philosophy and fiction by such writers as Blaise Pascal, S0ren Kierkegaard, Fyodor Dostoyevsky, and Friedrich Nietzsche; and, later, Andre Gide, Roger Martin du Gard, Saint-Exupery, and Malraux in France; Martin Heidegger in Germany; and Nikolay Berdyayev in Russia. Existential thinking, rooted in the subjective, variously stressed the solitude of human beings, the obligation to choose without certainty about the grounds of choice, the sense of guilt, the awfulness of a distant God, the silence of the universe, the burden or possibilities of freedom, the relationship between human beings and the material world, the irrationality of the human situation, and the terror of suffering and death. This strain of thought became, under Sartre’s pen, both more accessible and more dogmatic, as the suffix -ism suggests, ceasing to emphasize the subjective, asystematic character and spiritual dimensions of much existential thinking in favor of its moral and political implications. Sartre did not eliminate the element of anguish associated with choice, but he subordinated it to the imperative to choose well according to his chief principle and criterion, freedom. The term existentialism was not even chosen by him, although he accepted it after Gabriel Marcel applied it about 1944 to Sartrean ideas. Sartre’s companion, Beauvoir, who accepted his analyses and principles, contributed to their dissemination through her novels and essays. Marcel himself can be considered an existentialist in the Christian vein.

The dark or pessimistic side of existentialism and its notions of dread and anguish seemed entirely justified by the occurrence of a worldwide conflict in which millions had died in battle, camps, and bombed cities; the Cold War and atomic weapons merely added to the sense of dread. Those who had feared a knock at the door at nighttime understood the arbitrary quality of fate; those who had seen photographs of emaciated camp prisoners in striped pajamas or of heaped-up skeletons experienced profound doubts about previous humanistic credos. A rosy philosophy in such circumstances seemed out of place: better to acknowledge the abandonment or delaissement of human beings, the solitude of individual choice, and the world’s absurdity, yet to hold out hope in the form of total freedom, individual responsibility, and action.

Because Camus became a friend of Sartre and Beauvoir, although never a follower, he was associated in the public eye with their philosophy. Moreover, L’Etranger, Le Malentendu, and some aspects of Le Mythe de Sisyphe, which had all attracted great attention, seemed to support this association. The novel illustrates the solitude of man, a stranger to the universe (this is, at least, one way of reading it); the play shows fate as dark, irrational, and uncaring and human beings as doomed to solitude and failure even as they seek communication, order, and meaning; and the essay speaks of the incommensurability of human beings and the universe, calling it the absurd’ a notion that could easily be grasped in contemporary terms. Sartre himself spoke of absurdity, without meaning quite the same thing. The confusion between his principles and those of Camus is thus understandable, and Le Mythe de Sisyphe is usually considered one of the supreme statements of the existential, or existentialist, predicament, while to Frenchmen in 1945 Meursault in L’Etranger appeared as a cultural hero.

Camus never accepted the label existentialist, however, and took pains to dissociate himself from the term and movement. His rejection of existentialism (as he understood it) dates to 1942, when, in Le Mythe de Sisyphe, he identified the term with such philosophers as Kierkegaard, Lev Shestov, Edmund Husserl, and others who made the existential leap by espousing irrationality in the form of religious belief or some other concept by which they suppressed or eluded the radical separation between human beings and the universe. Camus remained faithful to this understanding of existential philosophy and thus continued to deny that he was an existentialist. His denials may have been given greater urgency, especially after his dispute with Sartre in 1952, by the public tendency to view him as a Sartrean disciple.

French existentialism became a generalized cultural phenomenon, associated with Parisian life in the postwar period and identified especially with the Saint-Germain-des-Prés neighborhood on the Left Bank in Paris. Prominent figures in the group’Sartre, Beauvoir, Camus, Jean Genet, Boris Vian, and others’frequented cafes, bars, and small boites or nightclubs where the music was generally jazz. The singer Juliette Greco performed in these little clubs, including Le Tabou. Modes of dress displayed in Saint-Germain-des-Prés included loose raincoats and long black dresses, repeating the line of long, flowing hair. Despite prolonged economic difficulties after the war, one sensed, in this “existentialist” phenomenon, the expression of new freedom and individuality, not unlike traits displayed by the 1920s “Lost Generation.” The rather inbred literary scene in the neighborhood was never entirely appealing to Camus; he spent much less time in the cafes than Sartre and Beauvoir. By the late 1950s, when he was looking for an apartment and listed for a realtor the neighborhoods he would prefer, Saint-Germain-des-Prés was his third choice.10


From the beginning the 1950s were marked by continuation of the Cold War. The East-West confrontation in the Korean War (1950-1953) hardened positions and made the middle ground almost impossible to maintain. Stalin’s death in 1953 did not alter the situation materially. In France an active Communist press, including the daily L’Humanité, attacked without respite the various governments of the Fourth Republic and Western policies. Among intellectual spokesmen for the French Communist Party and the Soviet Union was the indefatigable Aragon. Sartre was not enrolled in the party and often criticized its positions vigorously, but he generally sided with it anyhow and violently disliked the United States. The Camus-Sartre quarrel of 1952 must be understood against this background of political differences, which Camus’s reply to Francis Jeanson’s negative review of his work did not bring about but merely set out for all to see. Camus was not the only eminent figure formerly in Sartre’s circle, to one degree or another, who broke with him. Sartre’s friend Merleau-Ponty long a champion of Soviet policy, finally denounced it and gave his vocal support to the West; Raymond Aron, another philosopher and former friend, had already left the Sartrean pale. These Cold War polarizations affected literary life throughout the decade.

Even more divisive—because it ultimately involved millions of French citizens, some of whom died—was the Algerian colonial conflict. Although the war was never declared according to provisions of the Hague Conventions, and thus no official beginning can be recognized, historians have generally agreed to date it from 1 November 1954, when nationalist Algerian insurgents launched attacks against several police outposts and other government offices. The uprisings, led by the FLN, spread through the countryside and into the cities, where both police and the army battled against the rebels. This rebellion was not without postwar precedent: on 8 May 1945—the day celebrating the Allied victory over Nazi Germany—there were murderous riots by Muslims in the towns of Setif and Guelma that resulted in the death of more than one hundred European settlers. The riots were put down by the military with great brutality; it is estimated that there were between six and eight thousand deaths, and many Muslims were tried and condemned to prison or execution.11

Official French policy was that Algeria would remain French, and residents of French ancestry were assured repeatedly that the government would eliminate the guerrillas and terrorists and protect their lives and properties. Terrorism grew, justified in the eyes of many by the principle later enunciated by the Tunisian novelist Albert Memmi: “The violence of the oppressed is a mere reflection of the violence of the oppressor.” Repressive measures became correspondingly more and more severe; in Memmis words, “Oppression is an infernal machine.”12 Camus’s 1956 visit to Algiers to speak on behalf of a civil truce was a total failure. By 1957 French forces and rebels were engaged in a full-scale urban conflict called the Battle of Algiers. The army was able to destroy the terrorists’ network in the city, but its brutal methods lost much public support for the idea of Algerie francaise (French Algeria). Although the government denied it, there was so much evidence of the use of torture by the French to extract information from captured rebels that it could not be ignored. Major periodicals—the newspaper Le Monde and the magazine L’Express— editorialized against government policy, and eminent voices were heard, among them Sartre’s, in protest against both the fundamental policy and conduct of the war.

The Algerian crisis brought down the Fourth Republic in May 1958, as a military coup seemed imminent. De Gaulle, viewed as the only leader of sufficient stature to deal with the situation, was called to power and given a six-month term during which he could rule by decree. A new constitution was drawn up, with a more powerful executive branch, and in January 1959 de Gaulle was inaugurated as the first president of the Fifth Republic.

Meanwhile, the protest movement grew, especially after large numbers of young conscripts were killed in military actions. Some intellectuals engaged in active sabotage; one of the most active was Jeanson, organizer of the porteurs de valise (suitcase carriers), who smuggled funds and arms to Algerian terrorists.13 In 1960 an army general resigned in protest against the way the war was being conducted, and in the same year a large number of eminent figures signed the Manifest of the 121, which urged conscripts to refuse to serve in Algeria. Camus’s friend Jules Roy, a former colonel, traveled to Algeria with a pass signed by de Gaulle and, upon returning, published a controversial report castigating the army.

By that time, of course, Camus was dead. Before November 1954 he had written on the Algerian situation, and in the summer of 1955 he published an article on terrorism and repression. His position was not merely a critical one without any constructive content; he contributed articles to L’Express and other publications proposing both immediate measures and long-term solutions for a reorganization of Algeria on a new footing and improved status for Muslim residents. Camus’s vision of a society built on justice gave him great understanding and sympathy for members of the Algerian community on both sides as tensions grew; it also dictated his stand against independence and especially against the terrorist methods eventually used to achieve it. His views made him persona non grata among the many French intellectuals who pronounced colonialism an evil in itself. The middle ground was hard to hold; Camus’s vision was dismissed as Utopian, his sense of justice as warped, and Camus le juste was called a phony.

Camus made several public statements in the context of the Algerian war that shed light on how he saw himself; these statements reveal his deep attachment to Algeria and his feeling of being a foreigner in mainland France. What is probably the most famous, or infamous, of his declarations is one he made to a militant Muslim during his stay in Stockholm. While the statement does not directly concern Camus or his works, it is in fact a personal, even passionate expression of himself as well as a political statement because it emphasizes his Algerian roots and deep commitment to his mother and to his brother, Lucien, and Lucien’s family. On 12 December 1957 Camus met students and others for a question-and-answer session at Stockholm University. Tension was high, as students faced a highly honored representative of the French nation while the Algerian rebellion and repression continued. Questioners raised various political issues, including freedom of speech and censorship in France and the situation of Hungary (Camus had protested the previous year against the Soviet repression of the Hungarian uprising). Then a question from the Muslim militant concerning Camus’s reluctance to intervene in the Algerian conflict led to confused exchanges. After being subjected to a barrage of accusations and insults, Camus, visibly upset, finally retorted that he had always condemned terrorism, doing so publicly until it had become clear that for him to do so merely poured more oil on the flames. He meant the terroristic repression of Algerian insurgents by French forces, but he also had in mind the violence exercised by rebels against the French and against members of their own communities when the latter would not cooperate with the insurgents. (Muslim Algerians were often obliged, under pain of death, to furnish money and sons to armed guerrilla bands.) Camus finally stated that while he loved justice, he would defend his mother before justice: “I must also denounce a terrorism that is exercised blindly, in the streets of Algiers, for example, which could one day strike my mother or my family. I believe in justice, but I shall defend my mother above justice.”14

This statement caused the greatest uproar. Overlooked later were the applause, according to a report in Le Monde, from some of the audience and Camus’s assurance to one of his Swedish hosts that he could understand the militant questioner’s position. Camus’s words, however, were seized upon by his political adversaries as evidence of his hypocrisy and incorrigible colonial attitudes. Not without sympathy, but critically, Conor Cruise O’Brien has described Camus’s dilemma:

In historical terms, the ideal of revolutionary justice which was appropriate to a Frenchman under the Occupation (La Peste) was no longer appropriate to a Frenchman involved in France’s position in the postwar world, and especially not to a Frenchman of Algeria (La Chute)…. Camus was a creation of French history, French culture, and French education, and all the more intensely French because of the insecurity of the frontier. He liked to express himself in universal terms; that too was a French tradition. He could not divest himself of his Frenchness; he could not betray his mother; if France in Algeria was unjust, then it was justice that had to go. …15

The ultimate solution to the apparent political and military impasse that characterized the last years of the Algerian conflict was engineered by de Gaulle, who in 1958 had assured the colonists that he “understood” them but in fact had little personal affection for Algeria and simultaneously used the phrase “wholly French” in reference to the Arab-Berber population, indicating support for their demands. A peace agreement called the Evian Accords, signed in March 1962, led to Algerian independence on 1 July of that year. Settlers of European ancestry, given the choice, as it was put, between the suitcase or the coffin, left in great numbers for Marseilles and other ports. Years before, Camus had urged his brother, Lucien (with his family), his mother, and his uncle Etienne to settle in the south of France, but the experiment had not been successful.16 In 1962 Lucien and his family were among those who went into exile in mainland France, thus living out one of Camus’s principal themes.


1. Albert Camus, Essais (Paris: Gallimard, 1965), p. 1868.

2. Denis Hollier, ed., A New History of French Literature (Cambridge & London: Harvard University Press, 1989), p. 972.

3. Herbert R. Lottman, Albert Camus: A Biography (Garden City, N.Y.: Doubleday, 1979), p. 223.

4. Stanley Hoffmann, “The Foreign Policy of Charles de Gaulle,” in The Diplomats: 1939-1979, edited by Gordon A. Craig and Francis L. Loewenheim (Princeton: Princeton University Press, 1994), p. 229.

5. Camus, Carnets, janvier 1942 - mars 1951 (Paris: Gallimard, 1964), p. 53.

6. Catharine Savage Brosman, Visions of War in France: Fiction, Art, Ideology (Baton Rouge: Louisiana State University Press, 1999), p. 176.

7. Arthur Darack, review of Simone de Beauvoir, Force of Circumstance, Saturday Review, 8 (May 1965): 29.

8. William Barrett, review of Beauvoir, Force of Circumstance, Atlantic Monthly, 215 (May 1965), 150.

9. George Lichtheim, Marxism in Modern France (New York: Columbia University Press, 1966), pp. 90-91.

10. Olivier Todd, Albert Camus: Une Vie (Paris: Gallimard, 1996), p. 737.

11. Ibid., p. 378.

12. Albert Memmi, Dominated Man: Notes Toward a Portrait (Boston: Beacon, 1969), p. 3.

13. See Hervé Hamon and Patrick Rotman, Les Porteurs de valises (Paris: Albin Michel, 1979).

14. Camus, quoted in Lottman, Albert Camus: A Biography, p. 648.

15. Conor Cruise O’Brien, Albert Camus of Europe and Africa (New York: Viking, 1970), p. 104.

16. Camus, Carnets III, mars 1951 - decembre 1959 (Paris: Gallimard, 1989), p. 189, n. 1.

Camus’s Works

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Titles, arranged chronologically, are listed normally by their first separate publication only. Many so-called èditions in France are merely reprintings, not revised, enlarged, or otherwise new versions. Certain significant republications are included. The earliest English translation, whether British or American, is listed following each French title; if British and U.S. editions appeared the same year, the U.S. edition is given. In a few cases, more than one translation is listed, for practical reasons. Collections in English, which include various texts not other-wise translated, appear below, under Collections. Supplementary information on British translations and on prefaces by Camus is available in the Dictionary of Literary Bibliography, 72: French Novelists, 1930-1960(1988).

Révolte dans les Asturies, by Camus and others. Algiers: Chariot, 1936. Révolte dans les Asturies is a play in four acts labeled as an “Essai de creation collective” (Attempt at Collective Creation) and dedicated to the friends of the Theatre du Travail. Camus’s three co-authors—Yves Bourgeois, Alfred Poignant, and Jeanne Sicard—acknowledged that he was the primary author.1 They envisaged a living art, with a certain amount of spontaneity, as in the Italian commedia dell’arte: “Le thèàtre ne s’ècrit pas, ou c’est alors un pis-aller” (Drama is not to be written, or else it’s because one can’t do better). According to Camus, the drama touched on “une certaine forme de grandeur qui est particuliere aux hommes: l’absurditè” (a certain form of greatness that is peculiar to human beings: absurdity).2 The Thèàtre du Travail was not allowed to perform the play for political reasons (the right-wing mayor of Algiers feared diplomatic difficulties with Spain); the text was published in a limited edition. The action is based on a miners’ uprising in Asturias (a region of northwest

Spain) in 1934. In the play, Legionnaires sent by the government from Morocco put down the uprising. This detail is historically accurate.

L’Envers et l’endroit. Algiers: Chariot, 1937. Translated as “Betwixt and Between” in Lyrical and Critical; translated as “The Wrong Side and the Right Side” in Lyrical and Critical Essays (see under Collections). In these short essays and sketches Camus explores such subjects as irony, love of life, “death in the soul” (inspired by a visit to Prague, where he had been unhappy), a garden, and a child and his mother (Camus and his own mother) in the setting of Algiers. The preface to the 1958 reprinting (see Lyrical and Critical, Lyrical and Critical Essays, and Essais, also under Collections) is an exceptionally important statement by Camus on himself and his writing, in which he asserts that everything he has written since bears traces of these early essays.

Noces. Algiers: Chariot, 1939. Translated as “Nuptials” in Lyrical and Critical and Lyrical and Critical Essays. Noces comprises four short essays: “Noces a Tipasa” (“Nuptials at Tipasa”), “Le Vent a Djemila” (“The Wind at Djemila”), “LEtè á Alger” (“Summer in Algiers”), and “Le Desert” (“The Desert”). “Le Desert” deals principally with Italy, the “desert” being a moral ideal, including solitude. Some close textual connections exist between these essays and the Carnets (see under Note-books). These essays are among the most beautiful of Camus’s writings— both lyrical and philosophical.

L’Etranger. Paris: Gallimard, 1942. Translated by Stuart Gilbert as The Outsider. London: Hamilton: 1946. Republished as The Stranger. New York: Knopf, 1946. Translated by Joseph Laredo as The Stranger, foreword by Richard Howard. New York: Knopf, 1987. Translated by Matthew Ward as The Stranger. New York: Knopf, 1988. (Winner of the PEN prize for translation.) L’Etranger is a short novel told in the first person and has been the subject of many critical studies. It has been called, variously, a classical work in the mode of Voltaire’s philosophical tales, an apologue, a recit symbolique (symbolic narrative), and “a bleak narrative with a Hemingwayesque aura.”3 The first fiction published by Camus, it is almost surely his most famous book worldwide.

In the first part of the novel, Meursault, a rather passive, detached clerk who lives in Algiers, learns that his mother has died in a home for the elderly outside of the city, and he travels there to attend her funeral. The day after returning home, he goes swimming, picks up a girl, takes her to a comic movie, and invites her home. Meursault becomes involved with a neighborhood man of dubious character (apparently a pimp) named Raymond who has had a dispute with his companion, an Arab woman, because, he believes, she has been unfaithful. Meursault agrees to write a letter for Raymond addressed to the woman, intended to lure her back so that he can give her a thrashing. Some time later, Meursault joins Raymond and his friends one day at a beach party held at a cabin on the shore. During an encounter on the beach with a group of men who seem to be relatives of the woman and are apparently looking for a fight, Raymond pummels one of the Arabs, who then slashes his arm and face with a knife. After being bandaged, Raymond returns to the spot with Meursault, finds his attacker, and proposes to shoot him. Meursault tells Raymond that he must not shoot the man unless the knife is drawn again and takes Raymond’s gun to forestall him. Later, Meursault wanders out alone and ends up killing the Arab with the revolver when the man flashes a knife before him threateningly in the sun.

In the second part of the novel, Meursault is in prison and then faces trial. He first faces an examining magistrate, who is displeased because he does not show the right attitude toward his crime. Meursault displays no emotion when a crucifix is brandished before him and even denies belief in God. He is subsequently tried on a capital charge of murder—an historically implausible charge, in fact, as readers have noted, since an accusation of second-degree homicide or manslaughter would have been more likely. Camus makes the charge believable by having the prosecutor interpret the crime as a cold-blooded, calculated plot of revenge, even though it was really the result of a series of chance events and thoughtless conduct. Meursault is portrayed before the court as a sociopath who showed indifference to his mother’s death by smoking and drinking coffee beside the coffin and later picking up the girl. The prosecutor claims that Meursault accompanied Raymond to the beach with the intention of provoking a fight and then committed an act of premeditated murder. His execution, the prosecutor argues, will rid the world of a dangerous man, both intelligent and morally monstrous. Meursault is convicted and condemned to death.

While awaiting the outcome of his appeal and anticipating his execution, Meursault receives a visit from the prison chaplain, who speaks to him of sin and the afterlife, tries to console him by the argument that everyone dies sooner or later, and urges him to turn his thoughts to God and the awful moment at which he will have to confront the great trial of death. Meursault, usually passive, loses his temper, shouting that the priest’s consolations are worthless and that what is really important is life. After this moment of illumination he discovers a kind of peace and feels at one with the world. At the end of the novel Meursault anticipates his execution with a sense of exhilaration, wishing for crowds to greet him with shouts of hatred; their hostility will affirm his being. Readers have noted that the cries of hatred from the populace suggest the scenes of Christ’s judgment and death.

Le Mythe de Sisyphe. Paris: Gallimard, 1942. Translated by Justin O’Brien as The Myth of Sisyphus. London: Hamilton, 1955. This short treatise is close in spirit to the work of many existential writers since it focuses on the human predicament as felt by a thinking subject who has no grounds for choice or divine reassurance and faces death as the inevitable end. A revised edition, published by Gallimard in 1954, includes an essay on Franz Kafka, “L’Espoir et I’absurde dans Kafka” (Hope and the Absurd in Kafka), which Camus wrote in the late 1930s. He had appended the Kafka study to the original version of Le My the de Sisyphe, but owing either to direct intervention by the German censors or a precautionary warning, it was removed before publication of the first edition.4

Le Mythe de Sisyphe begins with what Camus calls the only true philosophical question—suicide—and then develops the notion of the absurd. The absurd is neither in the world as such nor in man but in the copresence of the two. Men’s aspirations to immortality and the absolute are opposed by the world’s indifference and the fact of death. Since the absurd is the very condition of human existence, it must be maintained, not denied; one must not give in to hope, belief in the invisible, or any other irrational position, including the “existentialist leap” seen in the writings of such authors as Søren Kierkegaard and Karl Jaspers, by which they “leap over” the difficulty of existential isolation and meaninglessness. To maintain the absurd, one must remain conscious and in perpetual revolt: “Vivre, c’est faire vivre I’absurde” (To live is to keep the absurd alive). Types of the absurd man, the one who carries this consciousness and revolt as far as possible, are Don Juan (the lover by quantity), the actor (who multiplies experience on the stage), the conqueror, and the artist or creator. The essay ends with Camus’s version of the ancient Greek myth of Sisyphus pushing his rock: “La lutte elle-meme vers les sommets suffit à remplir un coeur d’homme. 11 faut imaginer Sisyphe heureux” (The struggle toward the summits is itself enough to fill a man’s heart. One must imagine Sisyphus to be happy).5

Le Malentendu suivi de Caligula. Paris: Gallimard, 1944. Translated by Gilbert as Caligula and Cross Purpose. New York: New Directions, 1947. Translations republished in Caligula and Three Other Plays (see under Collections). Caligula, of which the first version was written in 1938, was reworked more than any of Camus’s other writings and was published in more than one version, the definitive one being that of 1958.6 Together with L’Etranger and Le Mythe de Sisyphe, which were conceived at roughly the same time, the play makes up, according to Camus, the cluster of his absurd writings—works that he saw as constituting the first stage of his thought. It also presents several points of contact with L’Homme rêvoltê. The outline of the plot and many details came from the Roman historian Suetonius, who reported how the emperor Caligula was transformed by the death of his beloved sister Drusilla. The play, in four acts, should be viewed as a tragedy, but with touches of rather grim humor. Some of its themes, including happiness, guilt, judgment, logic, acting, and human ties to the natural world, recur repeatedly in other works by Camus.

Upon the death of one he loved, Caligula discovers that life is imperfect. Although not a new discovery, as his courtiers point out, to him it is a dramatic revelation: “Ce monde, tel qu’il est fait, n’est pas supportable…. Les hommes meurent et ils ne sont pas heureux” (This world, such as it is, is not bearable…. People die, and are not happy).7 Caligula wants to remedy this imperfection and achieve happiness by reaching the absolute and the impossible (a desire he shares with modern revolutionaries). He asks for the moon, an obvious symbol of the unattainable. He calls on the absolute political power that is his as Caesar to turn his state upside down, confiscating the fortunes of the patricians, putting people to death arbitrarily, frightening and humiliating old men, demanding servile homage and adulation for his wildest caprice, and relishing the pleasure of destruction. Caligula views all acts as morally equivalent, since neither heaven nor earth furnishes grounds for distinctions; he can pursue quantity and variety but not quality. He tries to possess the very soul of his subjects, succeeding in the case of the poet Scipion, who is drawn toward him because Caligula understands him too well. Though at times Caligula seems intoxicated with a strange happiness, he continually requires more stimulation, since even the sacrificial deaths of others leave him dissatisfied. The patricians plot to kill him and eventually do so, but not before Caligula has carried out an extensive terrorist campaign. His final act before he is assassinated is to strangle his mistress, Cassonia. Viewed in terms of Camus’s ideas in Le Mythe de Sisyphe, Caligula has not conquered the absurd but rather has given in to it.

Le Malentendu, a three-act drama in a contemporary setting, is based on the same story that Meursault, in L’Etranger, reads about on a torn piece of newspaper he finds under his mattress in prison. A prosperous man named Jan, who for years has lived in North Africa, near the sea, returns with his wife after long years to his place of origin, an unidentified European country marked by gloom and dark skies. Obliging his wife, Maria, to remain elsewhere, he goes to spend the night at an inn run by his mother and his sister, Martha, hoping to be recognized without having to identify himself. It is an existential test: Jan wants to share his wealth with them and bring them happiness, but first they must recognize him. Over the years they have murdered lone travelers for their money, in the hope of being able one day to escape from the meaninglessness of their lives into the land of sun and blue sky. Martha and the mother do not recognize Jan, and he, too, is murdered. They then discover his identity.

Maria arrives in the morning to find her husband dead. The mother drowns herself, and Martha also joins her in death. It is not a question of remorse: they are amoral. Rather, the mother says she is too weary to continue, and Martha kills herself as an act of protest against the absurd, which turns acts against their agent and deprives life of meaning and happiness. “Les décors s’écroulent” (The scenery collapses), as Camus wrote in Le Mythe de Sisyphe; existence is exposed for what it is.8 In her last sentences, Martha tells Maria, “Je ne puis mourir en vous laissant I’idee que vous avez raison … que ceci est un accident. Car c’est maintenant que nous sommes dans I’ordre…. Priez votre Dieu qu’il vous fasse semblable a la pierre” (I cannot die leaving you with the idea that you are right … that this is an accident. For this is the normal order of things…. Pray to your God that he will make you like stone).9 The fate of Maria, who calls on heaven to assist her in her grief, is uncertain. The answer of an old, deaf servant, “No!,” is the final word of the play.

The title of the play, which translates literally as misunderstanding, refers not only to the crucial lack of recognition and the behavior on all sides that brings about devastating consequences; it also refers to the fundamental disparity between human aspirations toward fulfillment and happiness, on the one hand, and the indifference of the world on the other—that is, the absurd. Associated themes are exile, existential solitude, and the need for communication (even though communication is difficult).

Lettres à un ami allemand. Paris: Gallimard, 1945. Translated as “Letters to a German Friend” in Resistance, Rebellion, and Death (see under Collections). This is a series of four statements, two published previously in underground magazines, in the form of letters directed to “a German who was my friend.” Camus’s thesis is that the French will prevail because justice and truth are on their side in the struggle with Nazism, an ideology based on brute force, scorn for human life, and despair. He specified in a preface to a later Italian edition that he did not wish to blame all Germans as such, but rather the Nazis alone.

La Peste. Paris: Gallimard, 1947. Translated by Gilbert as The Plague. New York: Knopf, 1948. La Peste is Camus’s second published novel, which he viewed, along with L’Homme révolté, as expressing the second stage in his thought, sometimes called the humanist stage.

The action, in five parts like a classical tragedy, takes place in Oran, Algeria. The story is told in the third person by an anonymous narrator who, at the end, is identified as Dr. Bernard Rieux, one of the principal characters. The city is stricken with an outbreak of bubonic plague, which appears first in rats, then moves to human beings, killing just a few at first and, later, large numbers. (Camus modeled the epidemic partly on an outbreak of typhus that had occurred in an Algerian town in the spring of 1941, shortly before he began making notes for the novel. But bubonic plague was not implausible; the disease had appeared in England and Scotland, for instance, between the two world wars.) The city fathers, initially just startled, pass through a stage of denial before they take action. Lives are changed; lives are ended. At the height of the epidemic, the city is in quarantine, there are shortages, and huge numbers of bodies must be burnt because they cannot be buried. Gradually, the number of cases diminishes.

Rieux’s narrative, which traces the plague from its early stages to its height and finally to its disappearance, also reports the activities of various citizens as they attempt to combat or escape the plague, profit from it, or simply remain uninvolved—thus illustrating different ways of dealing with evil. Rieux’s position is to combat it with all of one’s strength, at the risk of losing one’s own life. Without passing judgment on things metaphysical, he simply believes that one should strive to preserve life as much as possible, even though death will always prevail ultimately. (As the novel begins, Rieux’s wife is leaving to go to a sanatorium; they are separated throughout the story, and at the end he learns of her death.) Rambert, a visiting journalist, wants to leave the city to rejoin the woman he loves; the plague does not concern him, he argues. Paneloux, a Jesuit priest, preaches a sermon on guilt: the citizens of Oran have sinned, and this is their deserved punishment; hence, they must also resign themselves to God’s will but embrace it. Cottard, an unsavory character who is under suspicion and may be arrested, takes advantage of the crisis to remain at large and even indulges in profiteering through black-market dealings.

Tarrou, a loner who befriends Rieux, has been concerned with how to achieve pure conduct in a world of violence, where every act has repercussions on others, and schemes to achieve social justice end in tyranny and terror. He joins in the struggle against the plague by organizing effective paramedical teams. Tarrou’s friendship means a great deal to Rieux; fraternity is a foundation on which to struggle. They are both present when a little boy, Judge Othon’s son, dies. The child’s suffering seems particularly scandalous, a brute denial of Paneloux’s theology, which is founded on belief in a just God whose providential intervention in the world transforms evil into good. Paneloux himself is shaken by the death and moves toward a position of irrational submission to a divine power whose will he cannot fathom but must accept as the only possible explanation for the torture of children. The role of Paneloux, who speaks for divine justice, is a complement to that of the judge, a stiff, unbending person, though not unfeeling, who represents human justice. Toward the end of the novel Tarrou falls ill; Rieux and his mother, who has kept house for him since his wife left, nurse Tarrou devotedly, but he too dies. Rieux has reasons for pessimism, having lost both his wife and a friend and having seen the death of thousands. He affirms, however, that there is more to admire in people than to despise.

The novel may be read on three levels. Literally, it recounts the chance outbreak of a fatal disease that is a fact of nature, the ways of con-fronting it, and the conclusions that can be drawn from it about natural evil and human response. Metaphorically, the plague stands for the occupation of France and other European countries during World War II by Nazi troops and the brutality they exercised on the population. The responses of various characters illustrate the attitudes one can take toward tyranny. Allegorically, the plague represents moral and metaphysical evil viewed broadly. That is, it represents the human condition, in which’with the world and all its chances impinging upon them’people are born, suffer, make others suffer, and die, but in which the struggle with others against unhappiness, pain, and death provides a meaningful and authentic way of being. The allegory has appeared valid to at least one philosopher: “Bubonic plague is chosen and well handled by Camus as a symbol of contingency and evil.”10

L’Etat de siége. Paris: Gallimard, 1948. Translated by Gilbert as State of siége in Caligula and Three Other Plays. L’Etat de siége is a three-part allegorical drama with a prologue. According to Camus’s own statement, in a preface written for Caligula and Three Other Plays, the work is a morality play (as in medieval drama) or auto sacramental (Spanish allegorical drama) on the subject of freedom. Although he denied that it was a dramatization of La Peste, the two works are connected both allegorically and through their symbolism, and Camus once told a friend that he was redoing La Peste “dans le genre lyrique” (in a lyrical mode).11 The play is not intended to be realistic in the ordinary sense. The tone is not uniform but mixed, as in certain plays of William Shakespeare, combining farce, bombast, lyricism, and political rhetoric, totalitarian in this instance. Camus also uses a chorus, as in ancient Greek drama. Yet, the meaning of the play must not have been obscure to the first audiences in 1948, although it was a stage failure. Its symbolic and allegorical qualities and the distancing (rather than involvement) that it effects between performance and audience give it some resemblance to the dramas of Bertolt Brecht.

In Cadiz, Spain, a comet is seen passing through the sky, portending disaster, which arrives in the form of plague. This is not a plausible epidemic, however, as in La Peste, but a symbolic one, represented by Plague—a character—and his secretary, who arrive, strike people down at random, and install the New Order. The references are clear: Nazi Germany and its occupation of France; the Soviet Union and its rule over its satellites; Fascist Spain; and, as Camus said, any country without freedom. But, as in La Peste, the scourge also stands more generally for the human condition, in which all are condemned, despite Camus’s belief in a natural innocence (represented here, as in several other of his texts, by the close connections between human beings and the sea).

Plague operates by recruiting collaborators (the word recalls French collaboration from 1940 to 1945) to carry out his orders “of their free will” and by terrorizing the citizens. These political figures are, literally and symbolically, the henchmen of death. They rule by brute force. The municipal authorities, ever slavish, are the earliest and most enthusiastic collaborators. They are seconded by a drunk named Nada (Nothing), who represents nihilism. Devices and arrangements such as identity cards, health cards, black-colored star badges (recalling the Nazis’ use of yellow stars to label Jews), bread lines, deportations, and concentrations (an obvious reference to concentration camps) all evoke the Nazi occupation and other terrorist regimes. To get an identity card, one must have a health card, and vice versa—a classic example of the dilemma illustrated later by Joseph Heller in his novel Catch-22 (1961). Churchmen tell the citizens to pray and repent (as Paneloux preaches in La Peste). Private lives are worth nothing, and arbitrary “justice” carries off citizens on either the flimsiest of pretexts or no pretext. In its mechanical quality and its arbitrary judgments, the regime of the Plague resembles the institutions in Kafka’s fiction.

The theme of revolt dominates the play, a foreshadowing of L’Homme rèvoltè. The young hero, Diego, is in love with Victoria (a name suggesting victory), the daughter of the collaborationist judge. (The name Diego is related to James and Jacques, the name of the protagonist in Le Premier Homme.) Diego discovers the secret to combating the plague: to go beyond fear and use human freedom in the struggle, rather than abandoning freedom for the sake of comfort. The struggle is legitimized by natural law, which, though unwritten, supersedes any established law that is manifestly unjust. Hope is a positive value in the play because it is not directed toward otherworldly ideals.

Les Justes. Paris: Gallimard, 1950. Translated as The Just Assassins in Caligula and Three Other Plays. Les Justes is a play in five acts, based on historical events in Russia in 1905; it is connected thematically to L’Homme Rèvolte through its considerations of whether violence (exercised, for instance, through political or economic oppression) can justify further violence and under what conditions.

A group of five revolutionary terrorists has gathered in Moscow to plot the assassination of the grand duke as a protest against czarist tyranny. While they agree on their aim, they have different reasons for acting. Stepan is a cold, fanatical absolutist, driven not only by an idea of abstract justice but also by personal resentment at having been imprisoned and humiliated; he admits that he hates his fellow men. Kaliayev, called Yanek, is a poet who wants to end despotism because he is in love with life and beauty. Dora understands Yanek but asks a crucial question concerning efficacy, principle, and means and ends: can one use cruel, unjust means (such as killing) to bring about a world of justice? The cool-headed Annenkov is responsible for seeing that plans are carried out and for keeping differences of opinion among the members from interfering with group action. Voinov, a young man who was earlier imprisoned in Switzerland, is a purist who dreams of throwing a bomb and thereby achieving glory as a terrorist. When he is chosen to act, however, he dis-covers that he cannot do so. Yanek, who is to throw the bomb, says he is willing to die, either in an illuminating explosion or, more dramatically, on the scaffold. The moving exchanges between Dora and Yanek are among the few love scenes in Camus’s works.

Yanek’s first attempt is not carried out because he sees two children in the carriage with the grand duke, and he cannot bring himself to murder children. Stepan argues that sentimentality over children is foolish; only by spilling whatever blood is necessary, without concern for moral limits or consequences, can the revolution triumph. These arguments and other features in the play call for comparison with certain scenes featuring Tchen in Andre Malraux’s La Condition humaine. On the second attempt, Yanek kills the grand duke. In prison he is offered his life if he will furnish the names of his accomplices. Yanek refuses, not only through loyalty but also through the belief that justice requires him to pay for the life he took. The grand duchess pleads with him to repent and beg for God’s pardon, but again he refuses. (The scene, like the rest of the play, is based on fact.) After Yanek is hanged, Dora asks to throw the next bomb.

L’Homme rèvokè. Paris: Gallimard, 1951. Translated by Anthony Bower as The Rebel. London: Hamilton, 1953. This is a book-length essay that takes as its point of departure the arguments on the absurd in Le Mythe de Sisyphe and reinforces the arguments of Rieux and Tarrou in La Peste. Camus’s thesis is that the absurdist man must, by the logic of his position, rebel or protest. Since the eighteenth century, however, individual rebellion, grounded in metaphysical refusal (and thus congenial to Camus), has had far-reaching and tragic political and collective consequences. The consequences of rebellion have included revolution, tyranny, widespread enslavement, and murder in the name of freeing mankind: “La terreur, petite ou grande, vient alors couronner la revolution” (Terror, on a small or grand scale, then comes along to crown the revolution).12 In the course of his analysis, Camus traces the political and metaphysical protests of the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries, treating such thinkers and practitioners as Jean-Jacques Rousseau, Louis de Saint-Just, G. W. E Hegel, and Friedrich Nietzsche. The supreme agents of terror (beside the radicals of the French Revolution) have been the Nazis and the Soviets, whose tyranny Camus condemns as a monstrous distortion of rebellion in the name of historical efficacy.

LEtè. Paris: Gallimard, 1954. Translated as “Summer” in Lyrical and Critical Essays and in Lyrical and Critical. L’Etè is a collection of eight lyrical essays, some first published in magazines. The earliest, “Le Minotaure ou la halte d’Oran” (“The Minotaur, or Stopping in Oran”), dates from 1939, and the latest, “La Mer au plus près” (“The Sea Close By”), from 1953. “Les Amandiers” (“The Almond Trees”) is an early wartime text, published in the newspaper La Tunisie Francaise. The essay on Oran, dedicated to Pierre Galindo, presents some interesting points of comparison with La Peste. “Promethee aux enfers” (“Prometheus in the Under-world”) is noteworthy for its mythological subject, Prometheus the fire-giver and the rebel against divine authority, whom Camus also treats in L’Homme Rèvolte. (Percy Bysshe Shelley, Robert Bridges, and Andre Gide are among the post-1800 authors who wrote modern versions of the Prometheus myth, which has appealed to the modern imagination.) Camus’s version recalls his Sisyphus: “Le heros enchaine maintient dans la foudre et le tonnerre divins sa foi tranquille en I’homme. C’est ainsi qu’il est plus dur que son rocher et plus patient que son vautour. Mieux que la rèvoltè centre les dieux, c’est cette longue obstination qui a du sens pour nous” (The chained hero maintains, through divine lightning and thunder, his calm faith in men. Thus he is harder than his rock and more patient than his vulture. More than rebellion against the gods, it is that long obstinacy that has meaning for us).13

La Chute. Paris: Gallimard, 1956. Translated by O’Brien as The Fall. London: Hamilton, 1956. The last of Camus’s novels published during his lifetime, La Chute is an ironic masterpiece, analyzing the human heart and examining mid-twentieth-century attitudes and mores. The work is presented in the form of a first-person monologue spoken by a former lawyer from Paris who has renounced his profession and friends and gone into exile in Amsterdam. The monologue is directed toward an unnamed and unseen interlocutor who visits the bar where the former Parisian awaits those he calls his “clients.” The theological suggestions of

the title are reinforced by the concentric circles of the canals in Amsterdam, suggesting the circles of hell in Dante’s The Divine Comedy (completed in 1321); by reminders of great evil in the form of Nazi persecution of the Jewish community; and especially by the name the protagonist has taken. He calls himself Jean-Baptiste Clamence, suggesting John the Baptist, who preached repentance, with his “voice … crying [vox clamantis] in the wilderness.” Although the interlocutor is never heard directly, his comments can sometimes be guessed from Clamence’s words, which also remind readers that there is a listener but subtly involve them in the text: monologue supposes dialogue. The we of the narrative (by which Clamence refers to himself and his listener) implicates, of course, the reader, who may be drawn finally into the empty space of the listener.

Having personally practiced a wide variety of hypocrisy and having seen much of it in others, having witnessed the great crimes of the century visited on Europe in the name of political ideals, and knowing, thanks to his profession, the human heart at its worst, Clamence is in an excellent position to denounce the evils of his time and preach on the theme of culpability. He pronounces himself culpable first of all, of course. Marvelous little scenes evoked from the past illustrate the skill with which he disguised his real character, filled with envy and desire for power, by cultivating a false persona. He recalls seductions of friends’ wives, outbursts of temper when he had been shown up by someone else, and the cowardice or indifference he displayed toward others. The cry of a person falling into the river as he passed by remains with him to remind him of what he has left undone. But by denouncing his failings, Clamence raises himself above the others because he knows his own guilt; beating his breast, accusing himself, he becomes superior and can judge others. Thus, he explains his new profession, that of juge-penitent (judge-penitent).

In the last section of the novel Clamence, suffering from a fever, speaks to the interlocutor from bed. It is—if not a pretext—at least a convenient way for Clamence to reveal his secret: a stolen painting, Les Juges integres (The Honest Judges), kept in his cupboard. The thematic inter-connections among the subject of the painting (an historic object, actually stolen and never recovered), Clamence’s earlier and present profession, and his judgments on others are enriched by his discovery that his visitor is also an attorney—perhaps a fellow spirit who will practice self-mortification with him. Awaiting his friend’s confession, Clamence is a judge without mercy, a prophet without religion, and a confessor without God.

L’Exil et le royaume. Paris: Gallimard, 1957. Translated by O’Brien as Exile and the Kingdom. New York: Knopf, 1958. The last work of fiction Camus published in his lifetime, this is a collection of six stories of varying length, often considered among his finest writing.

In “La Femme adultere” (“The Adulterous Woman”), a superbly crafted story, Camus subtly brings out the emotional connections between human beings and the material world. The story deals not with physical adultery but with a spiritual communion established between Janine, the wife of a traveling salesman in North Africa, and a severe but inviting landscape that she discovers on a visit to the south of that region—a landscape with a strange appeal, which is reinforced by the presence of silent, solitary Arabs who seem connected to the world in a mysterious manner. Looking over the desert at night, Janine feels a powerful sense of freedom and union with the world, experiencing an illumination that contrasts with the pettiness and dullness of her life.

“Le Rènègat” (“The Renegade”), subtitled “Un Esprit confus” (“A Confused Mind”), presents a world founded on evil. A missionary, inspired by a desire for power instead of genuine charity, goes to a distant city of salt, apparently in the south of Algeria, in order to subjugate the infidels there. They torture him, cut out his tongue, and offer him to the god of cruelty, whose worshiper he becomes. In his fanaticism he escapes in order to kill another missionary who is about to arrive. The infidels recapture him and torture him on a cruciform device. The missionary dies, his mouth filled with salt when he asks for water, having realized too late that mercy should supplant hatred and cruelty. The story is sometimes read as a parable of the Algerian war or of any totalitarian system.

Most of the quiet action of “Les Muets” (“The Silent Men”) takes place in a cooperage, where Yvars and his fellow workers are just returning to work after a strike that has been unsuccessful, since the owner says he cannot raise their wages. Their resentful silence is directed toward the owner when he enters the workroom to chat with them; he cannot share the fraternity that binds them. Later that day, the owner’s little girl, in the house next door, has an attack that fells her; one worker runs to fetch a doctor, and an ambulance arrives. The other men find themselves unable to express their concern. At home, Yvars tells his wife what has happened and dreams of being young again and leaving to live elsewhere. Alienation and the absence of communication and hope mark the story.

“L’Hôte” (“The Guest”) is set in a mountainous area of Algeria during the Algerian insurrection. The story illustrates the antagonisms between communities that nevertheless share a common land and love for it. Daru, a teacher in an isolated school, is told by a rural gendarme that he must hold overnight an Arab prisoner accused of killing a man and then deliver him to the authorities farther on. Reluctantly, the teacher agrees to keep the prisoner for the night, but he is loath to turn in the man, despite his brutishness. The next day Daru leads the Arab to a point where he may choose between two directions, one leading to nomads who will take him in without asking questions, the other to the headquarters of the French authorities in town. The prisoner is freed and allowed to choose; the teacher sees him walking toward the town. Later, on the blackboard, Daru finds a message telling him that he will pay for giving up the Arab. The story is both a political and an existential parable. It dramatizes the wartime dilemma of many Algerians—both French colonials and the indigenous peoples—who did not want to get involved and yet were drawn into the conflict. Likewise, the story illustrates the impossibility of choosing satisfactorily—whatever Daru does will bring him trouble—and the solitude of the thinking and suffering subject.

“Jonas ou I’artiste au travail” (“Jonas or The Artist at Work”) is set in Paris. After Jonas, a gifted painter, achieves great success, his life becomes contaminated by public recognition; he is a social commodity and a big name. People impinge so much on his time that work becomes difficult. His personal life is similarly complicated: he and his wife and children live in an uncomfortable apartment with narrow, inconvenient rooms and high ceilings. Gradually Jonas withdraws from society and family life and spends all his time in a loft built partway up a wall of the apartment. He seems to lose connection with the world. At the end, he is found unconscious in the darkness of the loft with a new canvas on which the only markings are letters that spell either solidaire or solitaire. Either of these words underlines the ambiguity of the human condition and the position of the artist, who must feel solidarity with others and yet can create only in solitude. The ambiguity of the human condition suggested by the uncertain word on the canvas appears similarly in “LHôte” and the following story in the collection, “La Pierre qui pousse.”

In “La Pierre qui pousse” (“The Growing Stone”), D’Arrast, a French engineer working out of Rio de Janeiro, journeys to a jungle town, Iguape, to study a low area where his company plans to build dikes to prevent flooding. Beginning with the first scene, in which the car is ferried across a river, the journey and subsequent visit to Iguape are filled with symbolism and Christian and mythic overtones (both Greek and South American). The adventure is a spiritual one, in which D’Arrast overcomes his personal isolation or moral exile and his rational skepticism to enter into a community of villagers and receive a sort of grace. The stone of the title is a miraculous piece of rock, honored by the villagers, that grows back when pilgrims chip off pieces as relics. Another stone plays an even more important role: a large block that a villager has sworn to carry on his head to the church in fulfillment of a vow he made to Jesus when he was saved from drowning. After a night of dancing in a hovel smoky with fumes—a ceremony that D’Arrast, as a stranger, may witness only during the early hours—and then a procession with a religious statue, the man undertakes to carry out his vow. But, wearied from the dancing and smoke, he falters. D’Arrast, portrayed as powerful, picks up the block of stone and carries it for the villager, but instead of going to the church, he detours to the villager’s hovel and deposits the stone in the central hearth. He is then invited to share a meal with the man and his family. Although this incident echoes both Christ bearing the cross and Simon the Cyrenian, who was obliged to help carry it for Christ at one point, pagan belief and community are equally important in the syncretic vision of this story.

Rèflexions sur la peine capitale, by Camus and Arthur Koestler, with an introduction byJean-Bloch Michel. Paris: Calmann-Lèvy, 1957. Camus’s essay, “Rèflexions sur la guillotine,” translated by Howard as Reflections on the Guillotine: An Essay on Capital Punishment. Michigan City, Ind.: Fridtjof-Karla, 1959. “Rèflexions sur la guillotine,” originally published with an essay on the same topic by Koestler, presents the argument that capital punishment is as morally revolting as the crime that supposedly warrants it, and that it should be abolished in France and elsewhere. Camus’s position is not based on sociological studies or, he says, on sentimentality. Camus repeats an argument already attributed to Yanek in Les Justes, that actually putting a man to death is entirely different from approving of such an execution in the abstract. Examining the common arguments for the death penalty, including its role as a deterrent and the biblical principle of an eye for an eye, Camus denies their validity. What is called punishment is really vengeance taken by society, and it is base. He also argues that social inequities and problems (such as poor housing and alcoholism) play a role in fostering crime, and that the state machinery itself is often murderous, putting political prisoners to death.

Discours de Suède. Paris: Gallimard: 1958. Translated by O’Brien as Speech of Acceptance upon the Award of the Nobel Prize for Literature, Delivered in Stockholm on the Tenth of December, Nineteen Hundred and Fifty-seven. New York: Knopf, 1958. Camus’s Nobel Prize acceptance speech, in which he says that he cannot live without his art. He also observes that this art is not a solitary undertaking but, rather, “un moyen d’emouvoir le plus grand nombre d’hommes en leur offrant une image privilegiee des souffrances et des joies communes” (a means of touching the greatest number of people by offering them a privileged image of common sufferings and joys).14 The original Gallimard edition also includes a speech Camus gave at the University of Uppsala called “L’Artiste et son temps” (translated as “TheArtist and His Time” in Resistance, Rebellion, and Death).

La Mort heureuse, introduction and notes by Jean Sarocchi. Cahiers Albert Camus, no. 1. Paris: Gallimard, 1971. Translated by Howard as A Happy Death. New York: Knopf, 1972. Camus’s rather ill-shaped first attempt at a novel was reconstructed after his death from manuscripts, typescripts, and notebook entries. Highly autobiographical in places, the work is divided into two parts: “Mort naturelle” (Natural Death) and “La Mort consciente” (Conscious Death). The themes are closely related to those of L’Envers et I’endroit and Noces, and some of the contents of the three books overlap. There is also considerable textual, thematic, organizational resemblance between La Mart heureuse and L’Etranger, although critics disagree over whether the latter should be considered a direct development of the former or an offshoot or substitute, begun after Camus dropped the first project and conceived the guiding idea of Meursault’s story. The hero of La Mort heureuse is named Mersault, a name comprised of the syllables mer (sea, and a homophone of mere, mother) and sault (jump; also akin, phonetically, to soleil, sun) and nearly identical to that of Meursault in L’Etranger. The presiding theme is happiness, in relation to what Camus later called the absurd: sickness, death, and the indifference of the world.

The novel begins with Patrice Mersault’s murder of an invalid amputee named Zagreus,15 who has become Mersault’s friend and discussed with him the requirements for a happy life. The murder scene may have been inspired by the first episode in Malraux’s La Condition humaine. Time is essential, Mersault has argued, and money can buy time (since one then does not have to have a job). Believing himself justified, he murders the man for his money. This is presumably “natural,” or thoughtless death. The remaining chapters of part one recount events prior to the murder, including Mersault’s dissatisfaction at having to work in an office and his unsatisfactory affair with Marthe, of whom he became intensely jealous (a reflection of Camus’s marriage to his first wife, Simone Hié).

In the second part of the novel Mersault, now able to enjoy freedom, nonetheless experiences weeks of unhappiness when, ill and alone, he travels to Prague and suffers from his solitude and what he sees as the city’s oppressive quality. Returning to Algeria, he is able to constitute a new happiness. First, he lives with three young women in a house in Algiers called La Maison Devant le Monde (as Camus himself did in real life), while taking out a fourth woman, Lucienne. Mersault then leaves Algiers to settle in the country, having married Lucienne in the meantime, not out of love but out of desire. (The two live apart even though they are married.) The remaining chapters recount moments of happiness in his house near the sea: his friendships with local residents, including a doctor named Bernard; the pleasures of fishing, swimming, and mountain climbing; and the beauty of the sky and hillsides. Mersault receives the visits of the three girls and, twice, of Lucienne. Far more self-aware and expressive than Meursault in L’Etranger, Mersault recognizes the function of contraries in all human apprehension: “Je ne puis gouter le bonheur que dans la confrontation tenace et violente qu’il soutient avec son contraire” (I can enjoy happiness only in the tenacious and violent confrontation that it supports with its contrary). Ill with pleurisy, he is cared for by Bernard. “Conscient et pourtant etranger, devore de passion et desinteresse, Mersault comprenait que sa vie meme et son destin s’achevaient la …” (Aware and yet a stranger, devoured by passion and disinterested, Mersault understood that his very life and his destiny were ending there …). He dies, conscious to the last, having discovered what happiness is.16

Caligula, version de 1941, suivi de La Poètique du premier Caligula, edited by A. James Arnold. Cahiers Albert Camus, no. 4. Paris: Gallimard, 1984. This volume presents the 1941 version of Caligula (based on a manuscript), followed by commentary and analysis by Arnold, who emphasizes the psychological elements of the play and shows how the work evolved subsequently.

Le Premier Homme. Cahiers Albert Camus, no. 7. Paris: Gallimard, 1994. Translated by David Hapgood as The First Man. New York: Knopf, 1995. Camus’s unfinished autobiographical novel was published from the manuscript left at his death. It is divided into two main parts: “Recherche du père” (“Search for the Father”) and “Le Fils ou le premier homme” (“The Son, or the First Man”). Some notes (“Annexes”) for the unfinished portion of the novel are included as well. The title may be seen as having mythic suggestions, especially since the action takes place mostly in Algeria, viewed retrospectively as “la terre de 1’oubli ou chacun etait le premier homme” (the land of forgetfulness, where each was the first man). The title may refer to colonization, where men must try to “vivre sans racines” (live without roots), or to the innocence and Edenic quality—as Camus saw it—of Algeria and the Mediterranean life, under “la lumiere des premiers matins du monde” (the light of the first mornings of the world). There are also, in contrast, connotations in the title of Cain, the first biblical murderer. At the same time, the title evokes Camus’s father, the first and only paternal ancestor whose life he imagines in detail. As the title of part two indicates, Le Premier Homme also suggests Camus himself, through the autobiographical hero, who “avail du s’elever seul, sans pere” (had had to grow up alone, without a father) in an “innocence adamique” (Adam-like innocence).17 Finally, the title may refer to Everyman. As Camus observed in a notebook entry of 1954 labeled Roman (novel) and referring specifically to Le Premier Homme, “Tout homme est le premier homme, personne ne I’est” (Everyone is the first man; no one is).18 The work is dedicated to “you who can never read this book,” that is, Camus’s mother, who is portrayed as an extraordinary, Christ-like figure through her goodness and silent suffering.

The narrative begins with the birth in Algeria of a child, Jacques Cormery (J. C, like Jesus Christ), modeled on Camus. The novel then jumps ahead to a visit the adult Jacques pays to his father’s grave in Saint-Brieuc, France, followed by a conversation with his former schoolmaster (based on Louis Germain), who lives nearby. The narrative then returns to Jacques’s childhood and young manhood, to which most of the remaining chapters are devoted, with flash-forwards to later periods, including a visit Jacques pays to his mother during the early stages of the Algerian troubles. Certain other passages clearly refer to the rebellion, and others are devoted to studying the character of “J.” at age forty. Themes in the narrative or announced in the “Annexes” include some of Camus’s favorites: games and sports, school, exile, solitude, guilt, the ambience of Algiers, the natural world and its pleasures, and “un grand cri de joie et de gratitude envers I’adorable vie” (a great cry of joy and gratitude toward life, lovable life).19


Carnets, mai 1935 - fèvrier 1942. Paris: Gallimard, 1962. Translated by Philip Thody as Garnets. London: Hamilton; New York: Knopf, 1963. Translation republished as Notebooks, 1935-1942. New York: Knopf, 1963. This volume is a reproduction, from a typed copy that Camus had prepared, of the first three manuscript notebooks from the period.

Carnets, janvier 1942 - mars 1951. Paris: Gallimard, 1964. Translated by justin O’Brien as Notebooks, 1942-1951. New York: Knopf, 1965. Translated by Thody as Garnets, 1942-1951. London: Hamilton, 1966. This volume collects the next three manuscript notebooks. It is based on a second typed copy, which was compared with a first typescript and manuscripts. The collection omits material from the diaries published as Journaux dc voyage.

Journaux de voyage. Paris: Gallimard, 1978. Translated by Hugh Levick as American Journals. New York: Paragon House, 1987. This is a collection of diaries recording Camus’s journeys in the United States and Canada in 1946 and in South America in 1949.

Carnets III, mars 1951 - décembre 1959. Paris: Gallimard, 1989. This volume comprises Camus’s last three notebooks. The first is based on a typed copy that Camus had corrected, both adding and suppressing certain passages. The other two are based on manuscripts only. The book includes an index of names to all three volumes of the Carnets.


Actuelles: Chroniques 1944-1948. Paris: Gallimard, 1950. Reprinted in Essais, with annotations. Translated in part in Resistance, Rebellion, and Death. Actuelles is a selection of Camus’s editorials from Combat and other journalistic statements on political and social issues of the period, beginning with his article on the Liberation of Paris. It includes the important series “Ni victimes ni bourreaux” (Neither Victims nor Executioners).

Actuelles II: Chroniques 1948-1953. Paris: Gallimard, 1953. Reprinted in Essais. Translated in part in The Myth of Sisyphus and Other Essays and Resistance, Rebellion, and Death. This volume collects more journalistic pieces, prefaces, interviews, speeches, and polemical texts on political and cultural questions, principally the French Resistance and justice, and on Camus’s L’Homme rèvoltè.

The Myth of Sisyphus and Other Essays. Translated by Justin O’Brien. New York: Knopf, 1955. This collection also includes the essay on Kafka omitted from the first edition of Le Mythe de Sisyphe, as well as “Summer in Algiers” from Noces and three essays from L’Ete: “The Minotaur or the Stop in Oran,” “Helen’s Exile,” and “Return to Tipasa.” Another selection, “The Artist and His Time,” is a 1953 interview, and not the speech Camus gave in Stockholm in 1957 that is included under the same title in Resistance, Rebellion, and Death.

Actuelles III: Chroniques algériennes 1939-1958. Paris: Gallimard, 1958. Reprinted in Essais. Translated in part in Resistance, Rebellion, and Death. The third volume of Actuelles includes “Misere de la Kabylie,” concerning Algeria in the 1930s, and several other pieces dealing with Algeria through the 1940s and 1950s, including Camus’s famous civil truce speech.

Caligula and Three Other Plays. Translated by Stuart Gilbert. New York: Knopf, 1958. The other three plays included in this collection are Le Malentendu, L’Etat de siége, and Les Justes.

Resistance, Rebellion, and Death. Translated by O’Brien. New York: Knopf, 1961. This volume is a selection of journalistic articles from the Actuelles series, as well as Lettres a un ami allemand and other essays on political, philosophical, and cultural topics.

Théâtre, récits, nouvelles, edited by Roger Quilliot. Bibliotheque de la Pleiade. Paris: Gallimard, 1962. This volume features a chronology, notices on each work, and notes. Theatrical adaptations by Camus are included. It is the best collection to date of the fiction and drama, although not textually authoritative and somewhat uneven in its critical apparatus.

Essais, edited by Quilliot and L. Faucon. Bibliotheque de la Pleiade. Paris: Gallimard, 1965. Essais is an invaluable compendium of the major nonfiction writings by Camus and a wide selection of his journalistic pieces, complemented by letters and other associated texts, his university thesis among them. The volume has a substantial critical apparatus, including annotations and a bibliography of Camus’s writings, but this apparatus is not entirely thorough and authoritative. There are errors in the chronology and bibliography. The organization is somewhat unwieldy, and there is no index.

Lyrical and Critical. Edited and translated by Philip Thody. London: Hamilton, 1967. This selection of Camus’s writings includes L’Envers et I’endroit, Noces, L’Etè, and essays on literary topics and figures such as Gide, Roger Martin du Gard, Jean-Paul Sartre, Rene Char, Herman Melville, and William Faulkner. There is also a section called “Camus on Himself,” with a preface, two literary letters, and excerpts from an interview.

Lyrical and Critical Essays. Edited by Thody, translated by Ellen Conroy Kennedy. New York: Knopf, 1968. This volume is quite similar to Lyrical and Critical but not identical. The contents are arranged slightly differently, some under different titles, and the translator is different.

Paul Viallaneix. Le Premier Camus, suivi de Ecrits de jeunesse d’Albert Camus. Cahiers Albert Camus, no. 2. Paris: Gallimard, 1973. Translated by Kennedy as Youthful Writings. New York: Knopf, 1976. This volume begins with a lengthy essay on Camus by Viallaneix. The essay is followed by some of Camus’s early texts, some never published before, others of which were published earlier in Essais and the magazine Sud. The annotations are by Viallaneix. The translated edition also includes the Viallaneix essay.

Fragments d’un combat: 1938-1940, Alger Rèpublicain, Le Soir Rèpublicain, edited by Jacqueline Levi-Valensi and Andre Abbou. 2 volumes. Paris: Gallimard, 1978.

Œuvres completes d’Albert Camus. 5 volumes. Paris: Club de L’Honnete Homme, 1983. The volumes in this collection feature several pages of photographs of Camus, his family, and friends; places where he lived or visited; and scenes from performances of his plays. Each volume includes a short introduction by Roger Grenier.

Albert Camus éditorialiste à “L’Express.” Cahiers Albert Camus, no. 6. Paris: Gallimard, 1988.

Notebooks, 1935-1951. New York: Marlowe, 1998. This volume is a republication of Notebooks, 1935-1942 and Notebooks, 1942-1951.


James Thurber. La Dernière Fleur. Paris: Gallimard, 1952.

Les Esprits, adapted from Pierre de Larivey’s play. Paris: Gallimard, 1953.

Pedro Calderón de la Barca. La Dévotion à la croix. Paris: Gallimard, 1953.

Dino Buzzati. Un Cas intèressant. Avant-Scène, no. 105 (1955): 1-25.

Requiem pour une nonne, adapted from William Faulkner’s novel Requiem for a Nun. Paris: Gallimard, 1956.

Fèlix Lope de Vega Carpio. Le Chevalier d’Olmedo. Paris: Gallimard, 1957.

Les Possèdès, adapted from Fyodor Dostoyevsky’s novel The Possessed. Paris: Gallimard, 1959. Translated by Justin O’Brien as The Possessed. New York: Knopf, 1960.


The Stranger. Radio adaptation, with music by Roberto Gerhard. British Broadcasting Corporation.

L’Etranger. Opera project proposed by Gerhard but never realized, 1954. The typed libretto was corrected by Camus.

Lo Straniero (also released as Amare per vivere, L’Etranger, and The Stranger). Motion picture. Dino de Laurentiis Cinematografica/Casbah/ Marianne Productions, 1967. Directed by Luchino Visconti. Screenplay by Visconti, Emmanuel Robles, Suso Cecchi d’Amico, and Georges Conchon. With Marcello Mastroianni as Meursault and Anna Karina as Marie Cardona.

L’Etranger. Thèàtre de la Main d’Or, 1986. Adapted by Alain Illel.

LEtranger. Thèàtre en Pieces, 1987. Adapted by Robert Azencott.

La Chute. Brussels. Thèàtre National de Bruxelles, 1988. Adapted and directed by Paul Anrieu.

La Chute. Paris. Comedie des Champs-Elysees, 1989. Directed by Francois Chaumette.

La Peste. Paris. Thèàtre de la Porte-Martin, 1989. Adapted by Francis Huster.

Le Rènègat. Lyons. Le Petit Thèàtre de Poche, 1991.

La Peste (also released as The Plague). Motion picture. Compagnie Francaise Cinematographique/Pepper-Prince/Oscar Kramer, 1992. Directed by Luis Puenzo. Screenplay by Puenzo. With William Hurt as Bernard Rieux, Sandrine Bonnaire as Martine Rambert, Jean-Marc Barr as Jean Tarrou, and Robert Duvall as Joseph Grand.

La Chute. Montrouge. Maison de 1’Acteur, 1995. Directed by Bruno Leblanc and Paul Martin.

La Chute. Paris. Thèàtre 14 J. M. Serreau, 1998. Directed by Pierre Tabard.

La Chute. Avignon. Thèàtre de la Tarasque, 2000. Adapted by Catherine Camus and Chaumette; directed by Michel de Miramont.


Because Camus’s first two books were published in Algeria by a new firm, and because war broke out shortly after the appearance of the second, Noces, he was scarcely known in France until 1942. Among major critical figures, Andre Gide was one of the few to comment on Noces, and even that was six years after it was published. Gide’s friend Maria van Rysselberghe, called “La Petite Dame,” reported in her diary: “In the afternoon, Gide brings me Noces, a little volume by Camus that he has just discovered…. He says to me, ’I like very much the way it’s written; he is someone who really has a feeling for language.’”21 But when L’Etranger was published in 1942, it was viewed immediately as one of the chief literary events of the year, a meteor in the dark days of national humiliation, deprivation, and censorship, and the young author, who was still in Algeria, achieved an enviable renown, which grew with the publication later that year of Le Mythe de Sisyphe. Jules Roy wrote, upon reading the novel, “L’Etranger is a masterpiece, which is going to bring him glory.”22 The eminent critic Marcel Arland wrote a favorable review of the novel for the weekly Comoedia, which continued publication under the Occupation. Roger Quilliot spoke later of “this strange novel, which achieved considerable success so quickly and which placed Camus in the first rank of the postwar writers.”23 Yet, under the circumstances of the Occupation, Camus’s work was not as widely reviewed as would otherwise have been the case. Some magazines had shut down; others had become collaborationist, losing some good reviewers in the process. Many writers who would otherwise have furnished reviews were dead, prisoners in Germany, in exile, or in hiding. Moreover, there were then and later, as Quilliot notes, some hostile reactions to the novel, with the implication that Meursault’s moral indifference was demoralizing and unpatriotic.24

In fact, even before it was published, Camus’s writing had drawn the attention of some major literary figures and earned their esteem. In addition to Pascal Pia, the poet Francis Ponge, later to be recognized as one of the masters of the prose poem, read L’Etranger, Le Mythe de Sisyphe, and Caligula in manuscript. Ponge pronounced them extraordinary and wrote to Camus concerning his philosophical essay:

Sisyphus happy, yes, not only because he takes stock of his destiny, but because his efforts lead to very important relative results.

Of course he won’t manage to wedge his rock at the top of its track; he will not attain the absolute (inaccessible by definition), but he will achieve positive results in the various sciences, and in particular in political science (organization of the human world, of human society, mastery of human history, and of the individual-society paradox).25

André Malraux also read the manuscripts and forwarded them to Gallimard with a recommendation for publication. Jean Paulhan, a chief figure at the firm, read a few lines of L’Etranger to the committee of readers that made decisions, with the comment, “Recommendation one,” meaning that the novel would be published.26

Jean-Paul Sartre, already a literary figure to reckon with, having published his first two works of fiction and some volumes in philosophy, wrote a long article on L’Etranger that was published in Cahiers du Sud. Sartre made several apt and perspicacious observations, reading to some degree according to Le Mythe de Sisyphe, which furnishes ways of interpreting the “absurd novel.” The subject of the novel, he asserted, is “the absurdity of the human condition.” The absurd is “at once a state of fact and the lucid consciousness that certain people have of that state.” Yet, he argued, it should not be thought that the book is a roman à thése. (thesis novel); its burden is expressed in images, not in reasoning. Sartre noted also that Meursault’s attitude toward his life—“the present and a succession of presents”—is the ideal of the absurd man, “who, from fundamental absurdity, draws without fail the conclusions that absurdity imposes.” This man, moreover, like Meursault, does not explain himself; he simply describes before he “affirms himself in revolt.” Meursault is “one of those terrible innocents who create scandal in society because they do not accept the rules of the game. He lives among strangers, but for them also he is a stranger.” His mind is “transparent to things and opaque to meanings.” Sartre may have been the first critic to comment on the absence of causality in the book: paradoxically, causality having been eliminated, “the smallest incident takes on weight; there is not a single one that doesn’t contribute to leading the hero toward crime and capital punishment.”27 Sartre concluded by noting that, owing to this absence of causality, the work scarcely deserved the designation roman (novel), since the novel requires, in his view, a sense of time’s irreversibility. Despite two features that are not Voltairean—the narrative technique, modeled on that of American novelists, and elements of German existentialism (or so Sartre contended)—L’Etranger was more like a Voltairean tale (such as Candide, 1759) than a novel. This assessment is still considered remarkably perspicacious, although some commentators have noted its logical flaws (the same sort of inconsistency with which Sartre later charged Camus).28

When Camus moved to France late in the summer of 1942, he could not often take advantage of this early fame, since the Occupation as well as his personal circumstances made it difficult for him to visit Paris. Still, when he did travel to the city briefly in January 1943, he was well received by the figures associated with the Gallimard publishing firm and was introduced to other writers. Having a sense of his own worth, Camus did not disdain recognition, though he did not seek celebrity for its own sake and refused to tailor his writing to obtain public approval.

Another opinion of Gide’s showed the forked tongue with which he often spoke. In 1944 he wrote to the author of L’Etranger, whom he had not yet met: “I have an aversion to your novel; but it has given me, for you and your thought, a high esteem—which Sisyphus has only reinforced.—That the world is absurd, you seem to have discovered; whereas one must begin with that, it seems to me; man has everything to do, and to create, there…. Let’s drop that, for the moment;… You are one of the rare beings with whom I feel some desire to chat.”29

The reception given to Camus’s plays varied, from generally favorable to thorough panning. Le Malentendu was given a cool reception in 1944, its somber quality helping to strengthen the public supposition that Camus was a nihilist writer. The following year, however, Caligula, for which Camus counted thirty reviews, was received enthusiastically, perhaps in part because of the performance of Gerard Philipe as the emperor. L’Etat de siége was a total stage failure, offset somewhat by the partial success of Les Justes. The adaptations presented the following decade were well received, especially Requiem pour une nonne.

Many opinions expressed by reviewers and other critics were, presumably, honest and not influenced by political bias, particularly in the months immediately following the libèration of Paris. In a way, the Occupation had simplified the intellectual scene, bringing together, through their common dislike of Nazism, writers and others who would later separate into factions. But in the late 1940s and throughout the 1950s, politics more than any other consideration governed book reviewing in France. Many tendentious reviews appeared, and despite great journalistic talent in some quarters, the project of literary assessment lost some of its value to the degree that it was politically biased. Monthlies such as Les Temps Modernes, dominated by the Left, and newspapers such as Liberation, which began as a Resistance paper, and Les Lettres Francaises, a Communist paper run (after 1953) by Louis Aragon, could be counted on to praise highly any author on their side, while La Revue des Deux Mondes, a quite conservative bimonthly magazine, would not bother with the same author. (Even extreme left-wing readers were not thrilled, however, by Aragon’s series of tedious thesis novels, Les Communistes, 1949-1951.) Some publications were less politically extreme, including Esprit, a magazine of Christian social thought, but even in these periodicals the tenor of reviews was often predictable. The case of Malraux, who had protested against Hitler, fought in Spain, and other-wise gained excellent leftist credentials, is instructive. No longer the darling of the Communists since he had become a Gaullist, he and his writing lost, so to speak, all value in the eyes of the Left, as Simone de Beauvoir’s memoirs show.

Camus was long viewed as a member of the nonaligned Left (neither Socialist nor Communist)’an accurate enough assessment in general terms, since he favored measures, such as nationalization of all major industries and services and an extended social security arrangement, that would reduce the difference between haves and have-nots. He was also in favor of expanded voting rights for Muslims. (Women had received the franchise only after World War II.) Camus spoke in 1959 of “cette gauche dont je fais partie, malgre moi et malgrè elle” (this Left to which I belong, despite myself and despite it).30 But in the polarized climate of the postwar period and the Cold War, with little middle ground available, anyone who did not endorse independence for Algeria or who quarreled with the Communists, criticized the Soviet Union, expressed reservations about socialist Utopias, or distanced himself in any other way from the Left was thereby ipso facto assumed to be of the Right. Thus, after publication of L’Homme rèvoltè and the polemic with Sartre and Francis Jeanson that both publicized and distorted Camus’s positions, the Left came to view Camus as treacherous, and assessments of his writing altered accordingly. Sartre, Beauvoir, and Jeanson saw choices, certainly, as “all or nothing at all” and publicly accused their erstwhile friends Raymond Aron, Maurice Merleau-Ponty, and Camus of embracing bourgeois values because they could not endorse wholeheartedly the positions of the Left. The Right then gradually viewed these figures more sympathetically.

This trend began with La Peste. Beauvoir’s estimate of the novel was revealing of her view that Camus had eluded the true historical question by fleeing into abstraction: “La Peste appeared around then; you could find in it, at places, the tone of L’Etranger; Camus’s voice touched us. But to compare the Occupation to a natural scourge was another means of fleeing from History and genuine problems. Concerning the fleshless morality that came out of the apologue, everyone was too easily in agreement.”31 Similar objections were expressed somewhat later by the critic Roland Barthes, who argued that the novel was founded on an antihistorical outlook and a politics of isolation and that a plague could not serve successfully as a metaphor for military oppression. Camus replied that readers everywhere had nevertheless recognized the Occupation under the guise of disease without being prodded to do so, and that the sort of solitary revolt that marked L’Etranger had been transformed into collective struggle in La Peste.32

For different reasons, Gide, who by that time had come to know Camus quite well, expressed disappointment in La Peste. Van Rysselberghe recorded in her journals Gide’s opinion:

This morning, we both receive Camus’s latest book, La Peste. He [Gide] says upon opening it: “I have rarely wished more for a book to be very good.” But he’s not slow in saying he’s disappointed. “I was expecting something much more masterful,” he says; “it started out so well, but there’s too much cogitation and subtle, drawn-out arguments; he didn’t draw from his subject all that it promised. It lacks grandeur; it shuffles along too much—yes, it’san important book, but I was expecting much more.”33

Yet, Arland stated that he liked the novel, and in fact sales of La Peste were quite high.

By the early 1950s Camus was included in the Nouveau Petit Larousse Illustrè, a combination dictionary and encyclopedia, entry into which is considered a hallmark of success in France.34 Phrases from his writings were later cited for purposes of illustration in the Robert dictionary—evidence that lexicographers viewed his usage as correct and authoritative.35 Scholarly examination of Camus’s production began to blossom during his lifetime, following and often partly dependent upon journalistic assessments published during the same period. A 1957 volume by Philip Thody, published in England, was one of the first solid studies on Camus and his works; John Cruickshank’s comprehensive study was published in 1959.36 A long chapter on Camus as a “representative figure in contemporary fiction” was included in a critical study by R. W. B. Lewis published the same year.37 At about the same time the first bibliography of scholarship on Camus was published; it was superseded some years later by other listings and ongoing, updated lists in serials.

After Camus’s untimely death early in 1960, critics hastened to get out articles, essays, and books, and a tremendous Camus industry developed, much of it going needlessly over the same ground. Sartre produced a statement soon after Camus’s death that was published in France-Observateur on 7 January 1960. Sartre stressed the contradictions in Camus’s position and the fact that they had quarreled, but he reminded readers that the two had been friends. Moreover, he wrote, Camus “represented in this century, and against History, the current heir of that long line of moralists whose works constitute perhaps what is most original in French letters. His stubborn humanism, narrow and pure, austere and sensual, waged a dubious combat against the massive and formless events of this time.” A trace of emotion seemed to come through Sartre’s prose. Questioned later about it, he admitted that he had “let himself go” because he saw the opportunity to indulge in some fine writing. Only one year later, and on a subsequent occasion, Sartre made certain that his sentiment should not be taken too seriously by making clear and damning allusions to Camus’s article “Ni victimes ni bourreaux.” Then, in 1972, Sartre told a friend that Camus “was not made for what he did. He was a little thug from Algiers, very funny, who could have written a few books but of the gangster type—instead of that one has the impression that civilization was stuck onto him and that he did what he did, that is, nothing.”38

Many newspapers, weekly magazines, monthlies and quarterlies, and other publications devoted the whole or part of an issue to Camus the man and his achievement and place in French literature. These memorial issues were produced with great haste, some as early as February 1960. The Nouvelle Revue Françise devoted a thick issue to Camus, with excellent photographs and contributions from eminent figures in France and elsewhere. Yale French Studies furnished an assessment for American readers. Even the conservative La Table Ronde had a memorial issue.


In the next few years several longer studies on Camus appeared, in French, English, German, Italian, and various other languages. By 1980, twenty years after his death, the section on Camus prepared by Raymond Gay-Crosier for the major annotated bibliography on twentieth-century French literature comprised 1,147 items in all categories except journalism (bibliography, biography, collections, various sorts of scholarly studies, and letters) in the chief European languages.39 In France, a favorite book— because it was part of an inexpensive and popular series, “Ecrivains de toujours” (Perennial Writers), often bought or consulted by students and general readers—was Morvan Lebesque’s Camus (1962), which has been frequently reprinted. A man-and-works study, generically speaking, it nevertheless approaches the topic somewhat obliquely, giving glimpses of Camus at different moments of his career. Lebesque attempts to shed light on Camus’s career and assess it by situating it socially and politically. Without being excessively defensive of the author, Lebesque is sympathetic, seeing Camus much as he saw himself: as a writer and artist who was drawn into public life and public disputes in which he was summoned to take a stand.

During the same period, the name of Camus appeared in several new surveys of French literature or modern fiction as a whole, some of which concentrated on writing in France after 1940, a year that was considered a major watershed. Ten pages were devoted to introducing Camus’s work, with excerpts, in a survey published in 1960, Ecrivains d’aujourd’hui, 1940-1960 (Writers of Today, 1940-1960).40 Maurice Nadeau borrowed the title of Camus’s speech “L’Artiste et son temps” as a heading for the introduction to his study Le Roman francaisdepuis la guerre (1963), in which he examines writers whose work appeared chiefly in the postwar period and attempts to situate their writings with respect to earlier literary themes and fashions; an entire chapter of this study is devoted to Camus as a novelist.41 R.-M. Albèrés included Camus in his Histoire du roman moderne (1962), calling the writers work “more philosophic than fictional” but maintaining that its philosophic contradictions were resolved by the tone in which Camus treated them: “In L’Etranger, doesn’t one find, reduced to a dry and symbolic drama, the conflict between a diffuse sensibility and an essential demand? Just as in La Peste, where pity and action confront each other, as well as tragedy and pathos, complacency and rigor.” Albèrés grouped Camus with writers such as Friedrich Nietzsche, Gide, and D. H. Lawrence, whose work “translated a conscious revolt on the part of a hero who is its center and who analyses it as he lives it.”42

The attitudes taken toward Camus’s work at mid century and later by Catholic critics are revealed not only by choices in anthologies but by books, articles, excerpts from critical surveys, and other assessments. Their attitudes varied from the cordial and sympathetic to the dismissive. Pierre-Henri Simon, an important Catholic critic and novelist who wrote repeatedly on Camus, displayed an approach at once critical and sympathetic. After Camus’s death, Simon called him “one of the high consciences of the nation.”43 Like many other commentators, he contrasted Camus with Sartre. While speaking of the atheism of both (in Camus’s case, the term agnosticism would be more appropriate), Simon distinguished important differences, noting Camus’s idealism and transcendentalism—that is, reaching for higher values. He identified Camus’s evolution from nihilism and isolation to the warm humanism and commitment of La Peste, which, at the time Simon wrote about it (in 1951), he considered the author’s best work. He stressed especially what he considered the entirely justified attack on historicism in L’Homme rèvoltè, where Camus attacked the myth of revolution and the Hegelian-Marxist form it had taken in the twentieth century. In fact, Simon paid Camus the compliment of noting that his opposition to the way many modern thinkers had raised history to the plane of an absolute was close to that of the Christian philosopher Paul Ricoeur. Simon considered La Chute a sardonic work focused on guilt. He observed that Clamence “wishes to be innocent, but no longer believes he is … ; he has recognized … in the very substance of his person and in the deep-set inclination of his will an inevitable complicity with guilt.”44

Another sympathetic study by a Catholic critic was that of Charles Moeller, who clearly liked La Peste (which he considered Camus’s greatest novel at the time) and found the author’s humanism warm and appealing, though it denied God.45 In the United States some years later, the Catholic monk Thomas Merton wrote of Camus’s “honesty” as well as his anguish and spoke of his ethics as those of a nontheological but religious thinker.46 Judgments such as these may have contributed to a tendency for readers to imagine that Camus was on the brink of conversion, or at least to see him as a writer who might have become a Christian—in contrast with Sartre, whose conversion is unimaginable.

In contrast to these critics was Helmut Hatzfeld, whose frame of reference in his guide to twentieth-century French literature was “avowedly Catholic.” Although his judgment of Camus was ultimately less harsh than his judgment of Sartre, it was nevertheless an indictment, in which other readers of the time, and especially now, may scarcely recognize the author they thought they knew. Hatzfeld misread L’Etranger as a story of “the naively alleged absurdity of human existence.” The central problem of the novel, he averred, is that “the judge in Algiers who condemned Meursault changed his mind absurdly.” In La Peste, a “Kantian-Stalinist world,” Hatzfeld identified what he called “the naturalistic, behavioristic, practical, technical” approach to the problem of evil. Contrasting with this generalized approach are the attitudes of three characters: “the moral substance of the apostate Christian,” which is still strong enough in Tarrou “to lead to the decision to abandon the animalistic drift of egoistic ’happiness’” an absurd belief in the ideal of la tendresse humaine on the part of Rieux; and the desperation, bitterness, and pseudoresignation shown by the Jesuit Paneloux, a “purposely misrepresented priest,” whose sermon is “a poignant reply to Kafka” and whose portrait shows Camus’s shortcomings “in judging the spiritual side of life.” But, Hatzfeld concluded, as if to draw Camus into the religious fold, “Camus’s half-existentialism, half-humanism stressing man’s capacity for sincerity, liberty and justice again is a Christian echo. There is the liberal tendency to secularize mysticism, making out of a pessimistic despair something like a dark night of the soul.”47

Other critics approached Camus from an explicitly Protestant viewpoint. The American commentator Nathan Scott attempted in a short book ot give a Christian interpretation of several of Camus’s works.48 One critic drew a parallel between La Chute and a work by the German Protestant Dietrich Bonhoeffer.49 Two other critics published volumes on Camus’s thought from a Protestant point of view.50

Thematic and structural studies on particular works by Camus—often L’Etranger—constituted a new stage of critical development, beginning generally in the 1960s. Victor Brombert studied “Le Rènègat” in connection with the “temptation of the absolute” in the twentieth century, including the dreadful absolute of evil; the story’s “nightmarish perfection” is part of an “apocalypse of cruelty.”51 Certain critics called on principles of literary structuralism, a mode of literary criticism derived from the principles of structuralist anthropology, illustrated by Claude Lèvi-Strauss.52 Elsewhere, critics followed roughly the old explication de texte, or textual analysis, developed decades before in France and reinforced for some critics by the American New Criticism. In the United States, the interrelationship of plot (structure) and theme in L’Etranger was explored in a long chapter by Eugene Falk.53 In the same year, 1967, W M. Frohock published an examination of Camus’s narrative techniques and paratactical style in Noces and L’Etranger, concentrating on the use of metaphor, especially in the final pages of the latter book. Of special note is Frohock’s challenge to the oft-repeated claim that Camus learned his style from the American “behaviorists”—a term whose meaning he deemed unclear—and from Ernest Hemingway. Frohock contended that Camus’s style was much more metaphoric than that of Hemingway and was closer to that of the hard-boiled fiction writer James M. Cain. Frohock also studied the narrative voice in La Peste as an example of the “pseudo-third person.”54 The structuralist approach to narrative contributed to the development of a body of criticism called narratology, whose principles were shortly applied to Camus’s fiction, as in Brian T. Fitch’s study of L’Etranger.55 Familiarity with Camus’s main novels is so widespread that critics whose focus is principally English-language fiction often draw on examples from his works to illustrate a point or draw a comparison.56

While many readers, especially undergraduates who encounter Le Mythe de Sisyphe for the first time, are impressed by Camus as a thinker, his standing among professional philosophers and public intellectuals was from the beginning much lower than his reputation among literary critics. Jeanson contributed greatly to the trend with his article attacking L’Homme rèvoltè for its faulty thinking; this article was shortly followed by Sartre’s piece in the same vein and later remarks by both Sartre and Beauvoir to the effect that Camus was no thinker.57 Perhaps anticipating future criticism as well as defending himself against contemporary attacks, Camus himself said that he was an artist or a moraliste, not a philosopher.58 Left-wing intellectuals have not ceased attacking Le Mythe de Sisyphe; in 1987 Hayden White mocked Camus for “opposing ’totalitarianism’ and holding up the prospect of an amiable anarchy as a desirable alternative.”59 Handbooks and readers in modern philosophy often include no excerpts from Camus, although selections from Le Mythe de Sisyphe were featured in a major mid-century anthology of existentialist writings, and surveys of existentialism sometimes included his work.60 Gaetan Picon devoted fewer than three pages to Camus in his long survey of contemporary thought, whereas Sartre received more than twenty pages. Camus was not included in the category of existential philosophy but rather that of contemporary humanism—an appropriate classification in some ways but indicative of Camus’s secondary position with respect to such thinkers as Sartre, Merleau-Ponty, and Martin Heidegger.61 Many historians and critics of existentialism did not even bother to sort out the differences between Camus and Sartre, simply letting the latter represent mid-century French existential thought, along with such figures as Beauvoir, Mer-leau-Ponty, Jean Wahl, and Gabriel Marcel. Even literary critics noted, as one put it, “the philosophical deficiencies of Le Mythe de Sisyphe.”62

It is true that, in addition to the dozens of general studies by scholars and critics of literature and intellectual history, professional philosophers i n several countries have devoted books and articles to aspects of Camus’s thought both during his lifetime and afterward. By 1980, articles in at least nine different European languages had been published on aspects of his philosophy. General ethics, the absurd, revolt, suicide, freedom, agnosticism or atheism, and happiness are among the topics most often treated under the rubric of Camus’s philosophy. As early as 1946 the British philosopher A.J. Ayer published an article critical of his philosophic categories.63 Maurice Blanchot, a French thinker of high reputation, published three articles in 1954 dealing in particular with nihilism in Camus’s work.64 In 1958 the American philosopher Thomas Hanna treated his work and thought sympathetically.65 Hazel Barnes, known for her studies of existentialism, wrote on balance and tension in Camus’s thought.66 In 1968 Stuart H. Hughes devoted a chapter to Camus’s contribution to social thought, focusing on L’Homme rèvoltè and critiques by Sartre and Marcel.67 Comparisons, not always favorable to Camus, have been drawn over and over again between him and other modem thinkers such as Martin Buber, Heidegger, and Nietzsche. The seventeenth-century French scientist and philosopher Blaise Pascal is often mentioned in conjunction with Camus,- for their similar existential outlook. In 1997 a collection of essays titled Camus et la philosophic was published with many contributions from professional philosophers. Among the voices raised in defense of Camus as a thinker at least as able as Sartre is that of Jean Saroc-chi, in the essay “Camus, non philosophe sans le savoir [the phrase comes from the tide of an eighteenth-century play by Michel-Jean Sedaine]. Camus, philosophe sans que Sartre le sache” (Camus, Not a Philosopher Who Doesn’t Know It but a Philosopher Without Sartre’s Knowing It”).68

Camus’s subsequent reputation has varied enormously. His continued popularity with students and other readers and the presence of his works on course syllabi point to his enduring appeal. Specialized scholarly research continues at an impressive rate, with new critical studies added every year to the great abundance of volumes and articles already on the shelves. Twospecialized serial publications are devoted to his work.

Camus-bashing has been common, however, for more than thirty years, pardy on philosophical grounds but chiefly on political ones, including the charge of Eurocentrism. The near-absence of native Algerians in most of his work (as in L’Etranger and La Peste, both set in Algeria) and his refusal in the 1950s to espouse the cause of the rebels, and thus of independence, are the principal grounds of this criticism. To these charges other accusations have been added, such as Camus’s use of nous (we) for Europeans and vous (you) for Algerians of native origin.69 In 1970 Conor Cruise O’Brien published a study, also translated into French, that blamed Camus for the omission of Arabs from his work.70 Another commentator wrote: “In order to deserve to keep his title of Camus the Algerian, [he] should have shown total solidarity with the colonized Algerian people, but he was incapable of that because he felt more solidarity with ’his people,’ namely the French Algerians.”71 “The Arabs are scarcely present in his work,” asserted another critic. “Totally absent from his philosophical books and his dramas, they are only shadows, passing or simply ignored, in the remainder of his work.”72 Speaking in the 1980s, a friend from Camus’s youth called him “a pure city intellectual. He didn’t know Arabic, he wasn’t familiar with the rural areas, nor the Berber mountain regions, nor the southern part of Algeria. The ’Arabs’… were for him just ’extras’ [actors], or a social problem, not a community, a history, a universe awaking.”73

Similarly, the Berber writer Kateb Yacine has noted, “Some pages by Camus are very lovely, but the [indigenous] Algerians are absent, or covered up, as in L’Etranger. …” Quoting these statements, a critic concludes that “if it seems excessive to attribute to Camus the term racist, one can understand this sort of resentment on the part of so many men who recognized themselves in him and yet did not find him when they were searching for this witness, this defender that he could not, or could no longer, be.”74 Another Algerian commentator acknowledges that “although he had never mingled with the Muslim population, Camus had nevertheless seen its dreadful misery, especially in his journalistic reports on Kabylia,” and that “Camus had fought for the same rights for the Muslim community as for the European community”; yet, “one has the impression that Camus turned a deaf ear to this crucial discovery of the twentieth century, the right of peoples to dispose of themselves, and that he was satisfied with repeating the declaration of 1789: ’Men are born free and equal in rights.’”75 Still another commentator expressed his judgment even more harshly: “His [Camus’s] clear and unequivocal position in the Stockholm speech and in 1958 … represents merely the conclusion of the position of a right-wing Frenchman who refused to acknowledge what he was, it articulates openly what his oeuvre had tried hard to hide, fake, ignore, or to reveal only in a subtle and edulcorated form.”76 Certain of these judgments can be explained somewhat by the fact that most of these commentators did not have access to Le Premier Homme, in which Camus depicts native Algerians sympathetically, speaks of their comradeship, and often shows great concern for them (for example, Arab women barricaded in their houses).77 Yet, critics had at their disposal from 1958 on the Chroniques algeriennes that make up Actuelles III. This volume was, as Peter Dun-woodie writes, “crushingly ignored.”78 Moreover, most critics do not take into account Camus’s behind-the-scenes efforts in the mid 1950s to find a political solution to the violence brought about by the Algerian uprising.

The charges at issue illustrate at least two critical fallacies. One is judging by later standards a conduct or position adopted in earlier times: certain of Camus’s critics, writing from the perspective of the 1980s or 1990s, do not reflect that the same suppositions did not hold forty or fifty years before. What appeared radical in the 1930s has long been abandoned or surpassed; what looked practicable in 1995, with respect to Algeria, appeared much less so in 1955. The other fallacy is simply to ignore contrary evidence. Camus’s articles on the unfortunate situation of Arab and Berber Algerians, some of them published before the outbreak of World War II, were much more than a gesture: they were a call for widespread changes, a call certainly not typical of the right wing. Moreover, the vulnerability of Camus to criticism typifies the position of many other public figures and commentators who wish to hold a middle ground, denouncing fanaticism and extremism: they are attacked from both sides. In L’Homme rèvoltè Camus denounced this tendency of abso-lute political thought to have recourse to violence and deny all positions other than extreme ones.


Camus’s chief literary concern was not to portray himself, still less to pour into his writing the totality of his experience in an idealized and redemptive mode, as Marcel Proust did. Nor is Camus’s writing principally a working-out of complexes or hidden aspects of the psyche, although some critics have read it as such, particularly as a search for the missing father. At the extreme opposite of the Surrealists and other artists who looked upon art as a means of getting in touch with and expressing their unconscious or some other dark side of the self, Camus was concerned with lucidity’that Mediterranean value, illustrated by the Greeks in their meditations on man and nature and by his own essays. “Nul homme ne peut dire ce qu’il est,” he wrote (No man can say what he is).79 Camus was also concerned with art— something that goes beyond the raw material of life. His enterprise was that of the poet Paul Valèry: not to feel, but to make felt, “et bellement sensible” (felt beautifully).80

Still, like nearly every literary artist, Camus called on his own experience and that of those around him for much of the material of his fiction and drama, whether settings, characters, actions, attitudes, themes, or images. He stated: “Un personnage n’est jamais le romancier qui I’a crèè. Il y a des chances, cependant, pour que le romancier soit tous ses personnages a la fois” (A character is never the novelist who created him. It is quite possible, however, for the novelist to be all his characters at the same time).81 The relationship between Camus’s life and his creation is like that seen in the work of Gide, who explored alternative possibilities of the self in his novels and plays.

Thus, although it would be a grave mistake to read Camus as a markedly autobiographical writer, it would be similarly erroneous to over-look in his work the many elements of autobiography and the self. These elements are sometimes transparent but are more often transposed into indirect expressions, as in Caligula, in which only a feeling, a sentiment, and theme remain to tie the work personally to the author. L’Envers et I’endroit and La Chute are also works in which readers have seen elements of autobiography and self-confession.

The meaning of the terms autobiography and autobiographical war-rant a few words. Philippe Lejeune has argued that autobiography must be defined in the narrow sense, as a deliberate writing of the self according to a pact made between author and reader, according to which it is agreed that author, narrator (or I), and main character in a narrative are one and the same historic person.82 While this definition holds for many examples of the genre, including famous ones such as Jean-Jacques Rousseau’s Confessions (1781, 1788), it excludes any variants, such as highly personal and autobio-graphic poetry, third-person narratives of the self (often in the form of transparently autobiographical novels), and personal narratives published under a pseudonym. Even more, this definition of autobiography excludes all texts that are simply based on actual experiences of an author or are highly revealing of his character. The exclusion can be remedied by applying the label autobiographical to texts or portions thereof that recount or otherwise reveal significant incidents or aspects of an author’s life, without purporting to por-tray that entire life or to use nothing but historical data.

Two works, the early novel La Mort heureuse and the late, unfinished novel Le Premier Homme, both published posthumously, afford considerable parallels with Camus’s own experience. Mersault in the former is clearly autobiographical, despite points of difference between him and the audior; Camus, however, plainly made an effort to distinguish between the text of La Mort heureuse and the autobiographical facts. Le Premier Homme is a direct and generally accurate rendering of his personal experience. Proper names given to family members are sometimes the actual ones; in other cases they are names Camus borrowed from previous generations of his family. The whole novel closely follows what is known of his life from his own writings and others’ testimony, including details found in his other fiction and his early lyrical essays. This last novel must be seen, however, as a work in progress, which, had Camus lived, he might well have greatly altered; he told his wife that he would make it less autobiographical later.83 Yet, he might instead have left it as transparent as it stands, inspired by a desire for frankness and perhaps a sense of guilt dictated by maturity. As it is, the novel reveals “a secret Camus, who is willing to unveil his most painful memories, who admits his childish errors as well as his success as a young man,” and was thus “a great novelty for the readers of his work.”84 One of the consequences of the publication of Le Premier Homme in 1994 was to invite critics to read backward in light of the new revelations it provided and to identify overlaps between the novel and earlier works, thus certifying the autobio-graphical nature of elements in these earlier works and creating the image of a writer less distant from his fiction than had been assumed.

Settings furnish some of the most obvious ties between Camus’s own experience and his writing. The short lyrical essays in L’Envers et I’endroit, Noces, and L’Etè are largely connected to North Africa by elements of landscape, seascape, foliage, and history; the cities of Algiers and Oran are likewise evoked. The number of metaphors and motifs drawn from the Algerian landscape and cityscapes in Camus’s work is enormous; the connection is a deep and existential one, part of the thematics of his work. In L’Etranger Meursault lives on the rue de Lyon in Algiers, where the Sintes apartment was; he goes swimming on the beaches Camus knew well. La Peste is set in Oran, from which Camus, like certain characters divided from what they love, was separated (or in exile) as he worked on the manuscript in central France. Like the characters in La Peste, he was, as it were, a prisoner (in his case, of the Occupation). Three of the stories from L’Exil et le royaume are set in Algeria and are closely connected to the landscape and cultural features of the territory: “La Femme adultere,” “Les Muets,” and “L’Hôte.” A fourth story from the collection, “Le Rènègat,” similarly takes place in an African land, but it is not particularized and the entire work partakes more of myth than mimetic reality. The setting of “La Pierre qui pousse” in the same collection was inspired by Camus’s travels in Brazil; the story incorporates fragments from his travel diary. Certain other works or portions of them are likewise connected to locales with which he was familiar, such as Le Malentendu, which is set in a Central European locale obviously based on Prague, where Camus had been unhappy. The play also reflects the moral and geographic climate of central France in 1942, when he was unable to leave. Explicitly identified, the Prague setting also appears in La Mort heureuse, in which it is associated with the hero’s unhappiness, a direct transposition of Camus’s own, resulting from his difficulties with his first wife, Simone. Paris appears in L’Etranger as a city of “dark courtyards” in contrast with Algiers. In La Chute, set in Amsterdam, the Greek isles, which Camus had liked greatly, are mentioned as a sort of ideal that the guilty souls of mid-century Europe no longer deserve.

Several characters in Camus’s fiction derive from real models. It has been noted that many times Camus attributed to his characters names that came from his own family: the surnames Cardona and Sintes in L’Etranger come from his mother’s family; the given names Jeanne and Fernande, similarly used in her family, appear in various stories. Both La Mort heureuse and Le Premier Homme include, as one might expect, some actual family names as well as actual incidents; some might have been eliminated had Camus lived to oversee the publication of these texts himself. In La Peste Camus used names identical with or similar to those of people around him during the conception of the novel.85 The early sketches in L’Envers et I’endroit present characters based on family members and others Camus had known; their connection with his family is reinforced by Le Premier Homme. In L’Etranger Meursault was modeled, according to Camus, on Pierre Galindo, whom he had known in Algeria, but also on himself.86 Meursault’s mother and Rieux’s mother in La Peste are clearly transpositions of Catherine Hèléne Camus. The disengagement between mother and son, who did not have much to say to each other, as Meursault put it, and the closer, warmer connection between Rieux and his mother (although she is often silent) both have roots in reality, since Catherine Camus was at once silent and seemingly indifferent on the one hand, and truly devoted to her son on the other. Three female characters in Camus’s drama—Martha in Le Malentendu, Victoria in L’Etat de siege, and Dora in Lesjustes—may have been inspired obliquely by the strong personality of Maria Casares, who played the roles in the first productions.

Camus said that he put himself into the story of Meursault through the journalist who attends the trial and gazes with sympathy at the accused.87 Clamence in La Chute was based to some degree on Camus himself, it was asserted by Beauvoir and widely believed; friends recognized resemblances. It is better to consider Clamence as one of the author’s possible selves.88 Sartre, it has been observed, is as likely a model; some of his personal characteristics and moral sanctimoniousness appear in Clamence.89 In December 1954 Camus wrote in his notebooks: “Existentialisme. Quand ils s’accusent on peut etre sur que c’est toujours pour accabler les autres. Des juges penitents” (Existentialism. When they accuse themselves one can be sure that it’s

always to condemn others. Judge-penitents).90 Yvars in “Les Muets” was based on Etienne Sintes, Camus’s uncle, who was a cooper and, like the character, was lame and given to silence.

One notes also in Camus’s fiction the near-absence of fathers, except in Le Premier Homme, in which the paternal figure appears at the beginning as Camus imagines him as a young man; the autobiographical hero much later goes to visit his father’s grave in Brittany. But an incident in which Camus’s father attended an execution appears four times in his writing: in L’Etranger, where Meursault recounts such an incident as happening to his father, according to his mother’s report; in La Peste, in which Tarrou’s father is the one who witnesses the event; in Rèflexions sur la peine capitale; and finally in Le Premier Homme.

There appear to be few direct projections in Camus’s creative work of his marriages and his involvements with other women. In La Mort heu-reuse certain female characters seem to be transpositions of Simone Hie and other women with whom he was involved in Algiers as a young man. Certainly, the hero’s jealousy and quarrels with Martha reflect the problems in Camus’s marriage to Simone. In La Peste the difficulties that Rieux and his wife have had, as well as his resolve near the end to begin again and do better, are likely transpositions of difficulties that had probably already arisen between Francine and Camus by the time they were separated by World War II and that were exacerbated after 1945. The dull routine and semi-estrangement of the couple in “La Femme adultere” might conceivably refer to Camus’s second marriage. “Jonas ou I’artiste au travail” is read by nearly all critics as a projection of Camus’s marital problems as well as practical difficulties that the couple experienced in the 1940s and 1950s. Indeed, if Camus put himself directly into any fiction or drama, it is here. As Patrick McCarthy has noted, “Jonas is an attempt to interpret their marriage. Camus explains that the role of a famous writer is incompatible with the role of a devoted husband.”91

Various tastes and pastimes of Camus are reflected in his work. Swimming, which he enjoyed from childhood on, is depicted as a great plea-sure in L’Etranger and provides one of the central scenes in La Peste. Soccer and soccer teams are likewise mentioned in both novels. Camus’s familiarity with working-class lives and his appreciation for the simple pleasures of modest people are apparent on many pages. His writer’s block and difficulties in dealing with public expectations are certainly reflected in “Jonas ou I’artiste au travail” and probably in La Chute.


1. Raymond Gay-Crosier, L’Envers d’un echec: Etude sur le theatre d’Albert Camus (Paris: Minard, 1967), p. 43.

2. Albert Camus, Thèàtre, recits, nouvelles, edited by Roger Quilliot (Paris: Gallimard, 1962), p. 399.

3. Jean-Paul Sartre, “Explication de L’Etranger” in his Situations, I (Paris: Gallimard, 1947), p. 121; Susan Rubin Suleiman, Authoritarian Fictions: The Ideological Novel as a Literary Genre (New York: Columbia University Press, 1983), p. 259, n. 28; Jean Sarocchi, introduction to Camus, La Mort heureuse, Cahiers Albert Camus, no. 1 (Paris: Gallimard, 1971), p. 19; and Harold Bloom, introduction to Albert Camus, edited by Bloom (New York & Philadelphia: Chelsea House, 1989), p. 1.

4. Camus, Essais (Paris: Gallimard, 1965), p. 1415.

5. Ibid., pp. 138,198.

6. The 1958 version of Caligula is the one published in Thèàtre, ricits, nouvelles and used in the reprise of the play at the Festival d’Angers in 1957 and on the Paris stage in 1958, the year in which it was published.

7. Camus, Thèàtre, recits, nouvelles, pp. 15, 16.

8. Camus, Essais, p. 106.

9. Camus, Thèàtre, recits, nouvelles, pp. 178, 179.

10. Colin Smith, “The Authentic and the Everyday: Camus,” in his Contemporary French Philosophy: A Study in Norms and Values (New York: Bames & Noble, 1964), p. 217.

11. Camus to Jules Roy, quoted in Jeannine Hayat, “Fiction narrative et autobiographique dans I’oeuvre d’Albert Camus et Jules Roy,” 2 volumes, doctoral thesis, Universite de Marne-la-Vallee, 1999, I: 94.

12. Camus, Essais, p. 515.

13. Ibid., p. 844.

14. Ibid., p. 1071.

15. In Greek mythology, Zagreus was the son of Zeus and Persephone. He was dismembered and devoured by the Titans, but his heart was saved by Athena and swallowed by Zeus, who then fathered a child with Semele. The child, formed from the heart of Zagreus, was Dionysus. Zagreus is thus a resurrection figure.

16. Camus, La Mort heureuse, pp. 178, 192.

17. Camus, Le Premier Homme, Cahiers Albert Camus, no. 7 (Paris: Gallimard, 1994), pp. 98, 181, 182.

18. Camus, Carnets III, mars 1951 - decembre 1959 (Paris: Gallimard, 1989), p. 142.

19. Camus, Le Premier Homme, p. 125.

20. As of 2000, four volumes of Camus’s collected works, with annotations by specialists, have been planned for the Bibliotheque de la Pleiade series published by Gallimard and are in the earliest stages of preparation. They will supersede all previous editions as the authoritative versions of Camus’s works.

21. Maria van Rysselberghe, Les Cahiers de la Petite Dame, volume 3 (1937-1945), Cahiers Andre Gide, no. 6 (Paris: Gallimard, 1977), p. 350.

22. Quoted in Roy, “Camus, un soleil a glacer le sang,” Le Figaro, 8 November 1996, p. 102.

23. Roger Quilliot, in Camus, Thèàtre, récits, nouvelles, p. 1904.

24. Ibid., p. 1908.

25. Francis Ponge, quoted in Herbert R. Lottman, Albert Camus: A Biography (Garden City, N.Y.: Doubleday, 1979), p. 293. The italics in Lottman’s translation are Ponge’s own.

26. Lottman, Albert Camus: A Biography, pp. 263-264.

27. Sartre, “Explication de L’Etranger” pp. 100, 103, 104, 105, 117.

28. Sarocchi, “Camus, non philosophe sans le savoir. Camus, philosophe sans que Sartre le sache,” in Albert Camus et la philosophic, edited by Anne-Marie Amiot and Jean-Frangois Mattd (Paris: Presses Universitaires de France, 1997), pp. 101-115.

29. André Gide, quoted in Histoires d’un livre: L’Etranger d’Albert Camus: Catalogue edite a l’occasion de l’exposition inaugurale presentee au Centre National des lettres a Paris, du 13 octobre au 9 novembre 1990 (Paris: IMEC, 1990), p. 34.

30. Camus, Camets III, mars 1951 - decembre 1959, p. 273.

31. Simone de Beauvoir, La Force des choses (Paris: Gallimard, 1963), p. 144.

32. Camus, Théàtre, récits, nouvelles, pp. 1965-1967.

33. van Rysselberghe, Les Cahiers de la Petite Dame, volume 4 (1945-1951), p. 67.

34. “Camus (Albert),” in Nouveau Petit Larousse Illustré (Paris: Librairie Larousse, 1952), p. 1257.

35. Paul Robert, Dictionnaire alphabetique et analogique de la langue francaise (Paris: Sociêtê du Nouveau Littrê, 1972).

36. Philip Thody, Albert Camus: A Study of His Work (London: Hamilton, 1957); John Cruick-shank, Albert Camus and the Literature of Revolt (London & New York: Oxford University Press, 1959).

37. R. W. B. Lewis, “Albert Camus: The Compassionate Mind,” in his The Picaresque Saint: Representative Figures in Contemporary Fiction (Philadelphia & New York: Lippincott, 1959), pp. 57-108.

38. Sartre’s article is collected in his Situations, IV (Paris: Gallimard, 1964), pp. 126-129. For his other statements, see Olivier Todd, Albert Camus: Une Vie (Paris: Gallimard, 1996), pp. 755-756; p. 827, n. 7.

39. Gay-Crosier, “Albert Camus,” in A Critical Bibliography of French Literature, volume 6:The Twentieth Century, edited by Douglas W. Alden and Richard A. Brooks, part 3 (Syracuse: Syracuse University Press, 1980), pp. 1573-1678. Bibliographies, including the earliest, are listed on pp. 1573-1574.

40. Bernard Pingaud, ed., Ecrivains d’aujourd’hui, 1940-1960 (Paris: Grasset, 1960), pp. 159-168.

41. Maurice Nadeau, Le Roman francais depuis la guerre (Paris: Gallimard, 1963).

42. R.-M. Albèrés, Histoire du roman modeme (Paris: Albin Michel, 1962), pp. 257, 353, 439.

43. Pierre-Henri Simon, Presence de Camus (Brussels: La Renaissance du Livre, 1961), p. 15.

44. Simon, “Albert Camus,” in his Temoins de I’homme (Paris: Armand Colin, 1951), pp. 175’ 193; Simon, “Albert Camus renverse une idole” and “Le Dialogue de Sartre et de Camus,” in his L’Esprit et I’histoire: Essai sur la conscience historique dans la litterature du XX’ sitcle(Paris: Armand Colin, 1954), pp. 182-193, 193-208; Simon, “La Negation de Dieu dans la litterature francaise contemporaine,” in E. Mauris and others, L’Atheisme contemporain(Geneva: Editions labor et fides, 1956), pp. 53-58; and Simon, Presence de Camus (Paris: Nizet, 1962), p. 170.

45. Charles Moeller, Litterature du XX’ siecle et christianisme, volume 1: Silence de Dieu (Tour-nai & Paris: Casterman, 1953), pp. 27-90.

46. Thomas Merton, “Camus: Journals of the Plague Years,” Sewanee Review, 75 (1967): 17-30.

47. Helmut Hatzfeld, Trends and Styles in Twentieth Century French Literature (Washington, D.C.: Catholic University Press, 1957), pp. 149, 151-152, 153.

48. Nathan A. Scott, Albert Camus (New York: Hillary House, 1962).

49. Pieter de Jong, “Camus and Bonhoeffer on the Fall,” Canadian Journal of Theology, 7(1961): 245-257.

50. Laurent Gagnebin, Albert Camus dans sa lumiere: Essai sur l’ evolution de sa pensee (Lausanne: Cahiers de la Renaissance Vaudoise, 1964); Frederik O. van Gennep, Albert Camus: Een studie van zijn ethische denken (Amsterdam: Polak & van Gennep, 1962).

51. Victor Brombert, The Intellectual Hero: Studies in the French Novel, 1880-1955 (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1961), pp. 227, 231.

52. Claude Lévi-Strauss, Anthropologie structurale (Paris: Plon, 1958).

53. Eugene H. Falk, Types of Thematic Structure: The Nature and Function of Motifs in Gide, Camus, and Sartre (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1967), pp. 52-116.

54. W. M. Frohock, Style and Temper: Studies in French Fiction, 1925-1960 (Cambridge: Harvard University Press, 1967), pp. 103-117. Some of these pages are a reworking of earlier article-length publications by Frohock. The label behaviorist was applied to narration and narrators by the eminent narratological critic Gerard Genette in Figures III (Paris: Seuil, 1972), partially translated by Jane E. Lewin as Narrative Discourse: An Essay on Method (Ithaca: Cornell University Press, 1980); see pp. 189, 219 of Lewin’s translation.

55. Brian T. Fitch, Narrateur et narration dans “L’Etranger” d’Albert Camus (Paris: Minard, 1960; revised, 1968). Influential on the development of narratology were, in addition to the anthropological structuralists, various linguists and other formalists, including Vladimir Propp, author of Morphologie du conte (Paris: Seuil, 1970), and Roman Jakobson, author of Essais de linguistique generale (Paris: Editions de Minuit, 1963). One of the outstanding narratological critics in France is Genette (see preceding note).

56. See Seymour Chatman, Coming to Terms: The Rhetoric of Narrative in Fiction and Film (Ithaca & London: Cornell University Press, 1990), p. 149; Chatman cites Clamence in La Chute as an example of the unreliable narrator.

57. Francis Jeanson, “Albert Camus ou I’ame Rèvoltèe,” Les Temps Modernes, no. 79 (May 1952): 2070-2090; Sartre, “Reponse a Albert Camus,” Les Temps Modernes, no. 82 (August 1952): 334-353.

58. Camus, Camets, janvier 1942 - mars 1951 (Paris: Gallimard, 1964), p. 146.

59. Hayden White, The Content of the Form: Narrative Discourse and Historical Representation (Baltimore & London: Johns Hopkins University Press, 1987), p. 128. The quotation marks around “totalitarianism” are White’s.

60. Walter Kaufmann, ed., Existentialism from Dostoevsky to Sartre (New York: Meridian Books, 1956); Thomas Hanna, “Albert Camus, Man in Revolt,” in Existential Philosophers: Kierkegaard to Merleau-Ponty, edited by George A. Schrader (New York: McGraw-Hill, 1967), pp. 331-367.

61. Gaëtan Picon, ed., Panorama des idees contemporaines (Paris: Gallimard, 1957).

62. Leo Bersani, Balzac to Beckett: Center and Circumference in French Fiction (New York: Oxford University Press, 1970), p. 260.

63. A. J. Ayer, “Albert Camus,” Horizon, 13 (1946): 155-168.

64. These articles are collected in Maurice Blanchot, L’Entretien infini (Paris: Gallimard, 1969).

65. Thomas Hanna, The Thought and Art of Albert Camus (Chicago: Regnery, 1958).

66. Hazel E. Barnes, “Balance and Tension in the Philosophy of Camus,” Personalist, 4 (1960): 433-447.

67. Stuart H. Hughes, “Albert Camus: Sunlight and Exile,” in his The Obstructed Path: French Social Thought in the Years of Desperation, 1930-1960 (New York: Harper & Row, 1968).

68. Sarocchi, “Camus, non philosophe sans le savoir,” pp. 101-115.

69. See Peter Dunwoodie, Writing French Algeria (Oxford: Clarendon Press, 1998), p. 237; and Alec G. Hargreaves, “Personnes grammaticales et relations affectives chez Camus,” Revue CELFAN, 4, no. 3 (1985): 10-17.

70. Conor Cruise O’Brien, Camus (London: Fontana-Collins, 1970); also published as Albert Camus of Europe and Africa (New York: Viking, 1970); translated as Camus (Paris: Seghers, 1970).

71. A. E. Elbaz, quoted in Dunwoodie, Writing French Algeria, p. 237.

72. José Lenzini, L’Algerie de Camus (Aix-en-Provence: Edisud, 1988), p. 117.

73. Yves Bourgeois, quoted in Lenzini, L’Algerie de Camus, p. 95.

74. Kateb Yacine, quoted in Lenzini, L’Algerie de Camus, p. 95; Lenzini, L’Algerie de Camus, p. 95.

75. Ghani Merad, quoted in Lenzini, L’Algerie de Camus, pp. 117-118.

76. Tayeb Bouguerra, quoted in Dunwoodie, Writing French Algeria, p. 237.

77. Camus, Le Premier Homme, p. 257.

78. Dunwoodie, Writing French Algeria, p. 265.

79. Camus, Essais, p. 861.

80. Paul Valéry, Œuvres, volume 1 (Paris: Gallimard, 1957), p. 1284.

81. Ibid., p. 448.

82. Philippe Lejeune, Le Pacte autobiographique (Paris: Seuil, 1975), p. 26.

83. Lottman, Albert Camus: A Biography, p. 692.

84. Jeannine Hayat, “Fiction narrative et autobiographie dans I’oeuvre d’Albert Camus et de Jules Roy,” 2 volumes, doctoral thesis, Universite de Marne-la-Vallee, 1999, I: 6.

85. Lottman, Albert Camus: A Biography, p. 290.

86. Ibid., p. 196; see also Todd, Albert Camus: Une vie, pp. 230-232. Note also Camus’s statement in Carnets, janvier 1942 - mars 1951, p. 34: “Trois personnages sont entres dans la composition de L’Etranger: deux hommes (dont moi) et une femme” (Three people were used in the composition of L’Etranger: two men, including me, and a woman).

87. Todd, Albert Camus: Une vie, p. 187.

88. Patrick McCarthy, Camus: A Study of His Life and Work (London: Hamilton, 1982), p. 289.

89. See Catharine Savage Brosman, Existential Fiction (Detroit: Gale/Manly, 2000), p. 167. See also Barbara C. Royce, “La Chute and Saint Genet: The Question of Guilt,” French Review, 39 (April 1966): 709-716; Royce interprets La Chute as a parody of Sartre’s conception of guilt.

90. Carnets III, mars 1951 - decembre 1959, p. 147. It should be observed that in Sartre’s first novel, La Nausee (1938; translated as Nausea, 1949), the main character, a stand-in for the author, wants to make people “ashamed of themselves.” See Sartre, Œuvres romanesques (Paris: Gallimard, 1981), p. 210.

91. McCarthy, Camus: A Study of His Life and Work, p. 272. See also Roger Grenier, Albert Camus soleil et ombre (Paris: Gallimard, 1987), pp. 274: “’Jonas,’ a very autobiographical story, draws up a nearly complete inventory of everything that made Camus’s life impossible in the 1950s.”

Camus on Camus

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Of the various sources of statements by Camus on himself, his background, career, and work, including notebooks, prefaces, correspondence, interviews, and other public statements, the seven notebooks, published posthumously in three volumes called Carnets (of which the first two have been translated into English), are the richest, providing many observations on wide-ranging topics and affording great insight into the author and his literary works. (Camus’s working sketchbooks, or “carnets de notes,” for drafts of works in progress and other types of notebooks or loose sheets, mentioned occasionally in the Carnets, have not yet been published; nor, with the exception of a few pages, have facsimile manuscripts, which would likewise be revealing.1) These notebooks are entirely different, however, from the records left by some of Camus’s contemporaries—notably the diaries, running to thousands of pages, of writers such as Andre Gide, Roger Martin du Gard, Marcel Jouhandeau, and Julien Green, and the memoirs of Simone de Beauvoir (which include some of her journal)—in all of which daily reports are common and extensive; remarks on acquaintances, rather gossipy in Gide’s case, play a major role; and minutiae often take over. In Camus’s notebooks, most of the entries are not dated at all; only a few bear indications of months, and even fewer record specific dates. He did not write entries on a regular basis; thus, they bear only an oblique relationship to the daily activities that often constitute the heart of a personal journal. Care should be taken, then, not to confuse Camus’s notebooks with the more intimate genre of the journal, although the notebooks eventually acquired some of the features of a journal, partly, he wrote, because he made entries in order to remedy his inadequate memory.2 Nor do they constitute an autobiography, since they lack the shaping, intention, and narrative structure that true autobiography displays.

The Carnets are, rather, a well-organized, neatly kept writer’s laboratory, workshop, or preparation room. They belong to the genre of personal papers in which the writer “practices and does his scales.”3 Such writers’ notebooks have been called “a sort of file-drawer kept with a work in mind.”4 This appreciation is, to be sure, the more accurate for being an ex post facto one: scholars who know Camus’s finished works are able to see their lineaments in the earlier notebook entries by reading backward. One of the most striking facts about the Carnets is that when Camus had a typescript made of the manuscript notebooks dating from 1935 through 1953, he made almost no corrections before they were typed, according to editors who have seen both versions.5

Readers can thus enjoy these pages in their original state, and a mature state it is: as a young man, Camus had already censured the ephemeral, dull, and irrelevant from his thinking to concentrate on what was at the heart of his thought and would shortly find expression in his published works. Many pages reproduce passages, usually short, copied from the works of a wide range of other writers: Michel de Montaigne, Daniel Defoe, the Marquis de Sade, Francois-Rene de Chateaubriand, S0ren Kierkegaard, Herman Melville, Leo Tolstoy, Friedrich Nietzsche, Jacques Maritain, Gide, and many others. Together, these quotations sketch one type of what Philippe Lejeune has called an autobiocopie—a self-portrait through the selection and copying of excerpts from other authors, which, accumulated without commentary, suggest “I too am like this.” Like several predecessors in the French tradition—Montaigne, the due de La Rochefoucauld, Stendhal, Gide, and Paul Valery—Camus shows a particular predilection for maxims and generalizations, which he often quotes from the most eminent writers of Greece, France, and elsewhere. In this regard Lejeune notes that “between maxim and autobiography, there are obvious connections. The very excess of generalization seems to condense a painful and personal experience.”6 Readers who already know Camus’s texts can recognize quotations that he used subsequently (such as one from Defoe that serves as the epigraph to La Peste) or can see adumbrated in his choice of citations lines of thought he pursued later and developed in his fiction and essays. It is also instructive to note which authors appear in the notebooks without being mentioned elsewhere—pretexts for reflection that had no connection with Camus’s creative work or which, more likely, were connected to it only obscurely.

Camus also published several prefaces to his own work, sometimes for later editions and collections. They are often a reply to journalistic or critical interpretations of the work in question, showing that he had read the comments and, in some cases, was vexed by them. The short preface, composed in 1955, to a textbook edition of L’Etranger is one of the best known. While it concerns the main character in the book, Meursault, it may be taken as revealing also something of the novelist himself.


Unlike those of certain other twentieth-century French writers, such as Gide, Martin du Gard, Marcel Proust, and Jean-Paul Sartre, all tireless correspondents, most of Camus’s letters remain unpublished. Thus, it is difficult to assess how many he may have sent and how many are extant. They may number in the hundreds or thousands. According to Olivier Todd, Camus wrote thousands of notes and letters—one hundred a month in 1950, he said.7 He was able to carry on this level of correspondence despite being fully employed for most of his adult life and thus lacking in leisure time, unlike Gide, Proust, and Martin du Gard, all of whom had private incomes, and Sartre, who after 1943 lived on author’s royalties. (Camus, in contrast, feared being dependent upon his literary income and thus being obliged to write what he did not want to write.) Camus’s journalistic and theatrical endeavors also took up an enormous amount of time, year after year. Generally he was, by aesthetic choice or nature, less prolix than many of his fellow writers, including Sartre and Beauvoir, and he was a much more private man than Sartre and Gide, who had an urge toward public confession. Gide, in particular, used epistolary exchanges sometimes for that purpose. Correspondence was, however, one means by which Camus could express himself in a freer, more spontaneous, and more intimate manner than he did publicly.

The letters exchanged between Camus and Jean Grenier have been published in extenso.8 A listing of individual letters to other correspondents that were published before 1980 has been compiled by Raymond Gay-Crosier.9 This listing includes various letters printed in the critical sections of the two Gallimard collections of Camus’s dramas, fiction, essays, and journalism: Theatre, recits, nouvelles and Essais. Two of the letters included in the Gallimard volumes, one to Roland Barthes on La Peste and another to “P. B.” (Pierre Berger), are translated in Lyrical and Critical Essays and Lyri cal and Critical. Certain other letters are collected in Carnets III and two in Le Premier Homme.

Unpublished letters by Camus are in various hands and occasionally turn up in auction catalogues. His correspondence with the poet Rene Char may turn out to be the richest of all. There are also letters Camus exchanged with Gide, Andre Malraux, Michel Gallimard, and other writers and publishing figures in the Gallimard circle. Among more personal correspondence are letters from Camus to various women to whom he was close at different times of his life, from the 1930s through the 1950s. Chief among the owners of Camus’s letters are his children, Jean and Catherine Camus, who have many of their father’s papers in their possession and control them strictly; they also exercise control over all other autographs and other documents not yet made public.10 Consequently, there are currently no plans to include letters in a new edition of Camus’s works planned by Gallimard. Catherine Camus did, however, allow Todd in his 1996 biography to quote from any unpublished autographs by her father to which he could obtain access. In fact, Todd’s volume includes a large number of quotations from letters by Camus from various periods, making it an invaluable resource.


From the mid 1940s through the late 1950s Camus gave several interviews and made other public statements on various topics. Some were on radio and television, such as the televised broadcast “Pourquoi je fais du theatre?” (Why Am I in Theater?) of 1959 and an interview, beamed to France, on NBC radio from New York in 1946.11 Texts of several interviews appear in the Essais; others appear in Theatre, recits, nouvelles. A few have been translated and collected in Lyrical and Critical and Lyrical and Critical Essays. Inevitably, whatever the point of departure and chief subject, Camus portrayed something of himself in these interviews. His tone was often defensive because his pride was easily wounded by distorted or hostile reviews and other comments on his work and his political role. As he noted in his Carnets after the publication of L’Etranger: “De la critique.

Trois ans pour faire un livre, cinq lignes pour le ridiculiser’et les citations fausses” (On Criticism. Three years to write a book, five lines to ridicule it’and wrong quotations).12 This defensiveness was increasingly seen in the mid 1950s with the development of the Algerian conflict, when many journalists and others, including former friends, took potshots at Camus for his refusal to speak out or intervene in the way they wished him to do.

One of the topics on which interviewers were insatiable was that of religion. Out of hope, perhaps, many readers thought that Camus would convert to Christianity. Works such as La Chute and his adaptation of William Faulkner’s Requiem for a Nun brought grist to their mill. Camus was obliged more than once to make himself clear. Another topic constantly brought up from 1945 on was that of existentialism. In Chile, Camus was obliged to set straight a journalist who hailed him as “el numero 2 del ’Existencialismo’” (number 2 of existentialism); soon the journalist had to publish Camus’s disclaimer, “No soy ni sere existencialista”(I am not nor will I be an existentialist).13 In the last interview of his life, granted to an American interviewer, Robert Spector, Camus’s statement makes it clear that in Le Mythe de Sisyphe he wished to criticize the conclusions, not the premises and the general sensibility, of the existentialist philosophers he examined. In his view, their leap of faith eliminated their very grounding’the absurd. (This interview is sometimes read as a final, defining statement, although it certainly was not intended as such.14) As for the “godless theology” and “scholasticism” Camus mentioned, he clearly had in mind the existentialism of Sartre and Beauvoir and its justification of totalitarian practices (such as Stalinist purges, camps, and repression, as in the Soviet crackdown in Hungary), paradoxically undertaken in the name of human freedom. Elsewhere, Camus commented from time to time on the general topic of literature and its place in culture. Perhaps his most famous statement on the subject was the one he made in his Nobel Prize acceptance speech, in which he apparently wished to clarify as much as possible his view of himself as an author first and foremost, that is, as an artist—and thereby as a human being with ethical responsibility. Not surprisingly, Camus also commented on his works when pressed to do so.


Albert Camus vous parle. Collection “Leur CEuvre et leur voix.” Includes excerpts from L’Etranger, read by Camus. New York: GMS Disc/Festival, 1960[?].


From the Carnets (January 1936):

Prisoner of the cave, here I am alone in front of the world’s shadow. A January afternoon. But a chill remains in the heart of the air. Everywhere, a film of sunlight that would crack under a fingernail but that covers everything with an eternal smile. Who am I and what can I do—except enter into the play of foliage and light. To this sunbeam where my cigarette burns, this sweetness and this discreet passion which breathes in the air. If I try to reach myself, it’s in the depths of this light. And if I try to understand and savor this delicate flavor which gives up the secret of the world, it is myself that I find in the depths of the universe. Myself, that is to say this extreme emotion that delivers me from the scenery.15

From the Carnets (second half of 1938):

The true work of art is the one that says less. There is a certain relationship between the global experience of an artist, his thought + his life (his system, in a way’leaving aside the systematic dimension that is implied in the word) and the work that reflects this experience. This relationship is bad when the work of art presents the entire experience surrounded by a fringe of literature. This relationship is good when the work of art is a portion cut from experience, a diamond facet where the inner brilliance is condensed without limiting itself. In the first case, there is overload and literature. In the second, a fertile work because of a whole implied experience whose richness can be guessed at.

The problem is to acquire this savoir-vivre [knowing how to live, experience], (to have lived, rather), which goes beyond savoir-vivre [knowing how to write]. And, in the end, the great artist is before all else someone who lives greatly (it being understood that to live, here, is also to reflect on life—it is even this subtle connection between experience and the consciousness that one has of it).16

From a review of Sartre’s novel La Nausee (1938; translated as Nausea, 1949):

A novel is never anything other than a philosophy expressed in images. And in a good novel, all the philosophy has gone into the images. But all it has to do is overflow the characters and the actions, and appear like a label on the work, for the plot to lose its authenticity and the novel its life.

Yet a lasting work cannot do without profound thought. And this secret fusion of experience and thought, of life and reflection on its meaning, is what makes the great novelist, as he appears, for instance in a book such as [Malraux’s] La Condition humaine.17

From Le Mythe de Sisyphe (1942):

Consciousness and revolt: these two ways of refusing are the contrary of renunciation. All that is irreducible and passionate in a human heart animates them with its life. Suicide is a misjudgment. The absurd man can only exhaust everything, and exhaust himself. The absurd is the most extreme tension, a tension that he maintains constantly by a solitary effort, for he knows that in this consciousness and this revolt from day to day he bears witness to his only truth, which is defiance.18

From the Carnets, on L’Etranger (1942):

It’s a very thought-out book and the tone … is deliberate. The tone rises four or five times, it’s true, but it is in order to avoid monotony and to give a sense of composition. With the chaplain, my Stranger doesn’t justify himself. He becomes angry; that’s quite different. So you say that it’s I who’s doing the explaining then? Yes, and I thought about that a great deal. I decided on it because I wanted my character to come to the only great problem by means of the daily and the natural. I had to mark that great moment. Notice on the other hand that there is no break in my character. In this chapter as in all the rest of the book, he limits himself to answering questions. Previously, it was the questions that the world asks every day; this time, it’s the chaplain’s questions. Thus I define my character negatively.

In all that, naturally, it’s a question of artistic means and not of the end. The meaning of the book is found exactly in the parallelism of the two parts. Conclusion: society needs people who weep at their mother’s funeral; or else, one is never condemned for the crime that one supposes. Besides, I see ten more possible conclusions.“19

From Carnets (early 1943):

What bothers me in the exercise of thought or discipline necessary to any work, is imagination. I have an uncontrolled imagination, out of proportion, a bit monstrous. Hard to know the enormous role that it has played in my life. And yet I didn’t notice this personal peculiarity until I was thirty years old.

Sometimes in the train or the bus, the hours drag out and I prevent myself from wandering off and playing with images, with constructions that seem sterile to me. Weary from having to straighten constantly the bent of my thought, of bringing it back toward what I need it to feed on, a moment comes when I let myself go—sink would be better: hours go by at lightning speed and I’ve arrived before I realize it.20

From an interview with Jeanine Delpech in Les Nouvelles Littéraires (15 November 1945):

’No, I am not an existentialist. Sartre and I are always surprised to see our two names associated. We are even thinking about publishing some day a little announcement in which the undersigned will affirm that they have nothing in common and will not be responsible for the debts that the other might contract, and reciprocally. Because this is a joke. Sartre and I published all our books [up to the present] before knowing each other. When we met, it was to recognize our differences. Sartre is an existentialist, and the sole book I have published dealing with ideas, Le Mythe de Sisyphe, was directed against philosophies called existentialist….

Sartre and I do not believe in God, it’s true. Neither do we believe in absolute rationalism. But then neither do Jules Romains, nor Malraux, Stendhal, Paul de Kock, the marquis de Sade, Andre Gide, Alexandre Dumas, Montaigne….21

From the Carnets, on visiting Lourmarin (September 1946):

Lourmarin. The first evening after so many years. The first star … the enormous silence, the cypress whose top shivers in the depth of my fatigue. A solemn and austere countryside—despite its deeply moving beauty.” 22

From the Carnets, on his ill health:

End of October 49. Relapse….

After having been sure of getting well for so long, this return should crush me. In fact it does. But following an uninterrupted series of depressions, it inclines me to laugh. Finally, I’ve been liberated. Lunacy also is a liberation.“23

From the Carnets (1950):

My work during these first two cycles [the absurd and revolt]: beings without false-hoods, thus not real. They are not in the world. That is why doubtless, and up to now, I am not a novelist in the usual sense. But rather an artist who creates myths to fit his passion and his anguish. That is why also the people by whom I was carried away in this world are always those who had the power and the exclusivity of myths.24

From the Carnets, on his vocation (early 1952):

I move with the same step, it seems to me, as an artist and as a man. And this is not preconceived. It’s a sort of trust that I have, humbly, in my vocation…. My next books will not turn away from the problem of the hour. But I should like for them to submit the problem rather than be submitted to it. Put differently, I dream of a freer creation, with the same contents…. I will know then whether I am a true artist.25

From a 1955 letter to Roland Barthes in reply to Barthes’s criticism of La Peste:

  1. La Peste, which I should like to have read on several levels, nevertheless has as obvious contents the struggle of European resistance against Nazism. The proof is that everyone, in all countries of Europe, has recognized this enemy that is not mentioned. Add to that the fact that a long section of La Peste was published under the Occupation in an underground anthology and that this circumstance alone would justify the transposition that I made. La Peste, in a way, is more than a chronicle of the Resistance; but it is surely not less.
  2. Compared to L’Etranger, La Peste marks, without any possible disagreement, the passage from an attitude of solitary revolt to the recognition of a community whose struggles one must share. If there is evolution from L’Etranger to La Peste, it took place in the direction of solidarity of participation.
  3. The theme of separation, whose importance in the book you note very well, is in this connection very revealing. Rambert, who incarnates this theme, gives up private life to join the collective fight. Parenthetically, one can observe that this character by himself shows how artificial is the opposition between a friend and a militant activist. For a virtue is common to both—that of active fraternity, which no historical action, finally, has ever been able to do without.
  4. Furthermore, La Peste ends by the announcement and acceptance of struggles to come. It bears witness to “what had been necessary and what doubtless [men] would still have to accomplish against terror and its tireless weapon, despite their personal heartbreaks.”

    I could develop my point of view still further. But already, if it seems possible to consider as inadequate the morality that one sees at work in La Peste (one must then say in the name of what more complete set of ethics), and legitimate also to criticize its aesthetics (many of your observations are cleared up by the simple fact that I don’t believe in realism in art), it seems to me quite difficult, in contrast, to say about it, as you do in conclusion, that its author refuses solidarity with our present history.26

From the preface to The Myth of Sisyphus and Other Essays:

For me The Myth of Sisyphus marks the beginning of an idea which I was to pursue in The Rebel. It attempts to resolve the problem of suicide, as The Rebel attempts to resolve that of murder, in both cases without the aid of eternal values which, temporarily perhaps, are absent or distorted in contemporary Europe. The fundamental subject of The Myth of Sisyphus is thus: it is legitimate and necessary to wonder whether life has a meaning; therefore it is legitimate to meet the problem of suicide face to face. The answer, underlying and appearing through the paradoxes which cover it, is this: even if one does not believe in God, suicide is not legitimate. Written fifteen years ago, in 1940, amid the French and European disaster, this book declares that even within the limits of nihilism it is possible to find the means to proceed beyond nihilism. In all the books I have written since then, I have attempted to pursue this direction. Although The Myth of Sisyphus poses mortal problems, it sums itself up for me as a lucid invitation to live and to create, in the very midst of the desert.27

From the preface to a 1955 American textbook edition of L’Etranger:

One would thus not be greatly mistaken in seeing in The Stranger the story of a man who, without any heroic attitude, is willing to die for the truth. I have said on occasion, and paradoxically, that I tried to portray in my character the only Christ whom we deserve. It will be understood, after my explanation, that I said so without any blasphemous intention and only with the slightly ironic affection that an artist has the right to feel toward his created characters.28

From “Terrorisme et répression” (Terrorism and Repression), L’Express, 9 July 1955:

I am among those who, precisely, cannot resign themselves to seeing this great country [Algeria] be broken in half forever. Although a shortsighted politics has for a long time prevented it from becoming institutionalized, the Franco-Arab community already exists for me, as for many French Algerians. If I feel closer, for instance, to an Arab peasant, a Kabyl shepherd, than to a shopkeeper from our cities in the North, it is because an identical sky, a proud nature, the community of our destinies have been stronger, for many among us, than the natural barriers or artificial divisions maintained by colonization.29

Remarks on the dust jacket of the first edition of La Chute:

The man who speaks in La Chute engages in a calculated confession. A refugee in Amsterdam, in a city of canals and cold light, where he plays at being a hermit and a prophet, this former lawyer waits in a shady barroom for willing listeners.

His heart is modern; that is to say, he cannot bear to be judged. He hastens thus to judge himself, but it’s in order to be able better to judge others. He finally holds up to them the mirror in which he looks at himself.

Where does the confession begin, and where the accusation? Does the one who speaks in this book accuse himself or his time? Is it a particular case or contemporary man? One single truth in any case, in this carefully designed interplay of mirrors: pain, and what it promises.30

From an interview in Le Monde (31 August 1956):

Q. Does Faulkner’s belief, diffuse as it is, not conflict with your personal agnosticism?

A. I do not believe in God, it is true. But I am not for all that an atheist. I am even inclined to agree with Benjamin Constant in seeing in irreligion some-thing vulgar and … yes, worn-out.

Q. Should one see there the sign of a certain evolution in your thought, and might this interest in Faulkner not foreshadow an eventual embracing of the spirit, if not the dogma, of the Church? Certain readers of The Fall have certainly hoped so.

A. Nothing authorizes them to do so. Didn’t my judge-penitent say that he was a Sicilian and a Javanese? Not a penny’s worth of Christianity. Like him I have a great deal of friendship for the first of these figures. I admire the way he [Christ] lived and died. My lack of imagination forbids me to follow farther. That is, by the way, my sole common point with Jean-Baptiste Clamence, with whom people insist upon identifying me.31

From remarks on the dust jacket of the first edition of L’Exil et le royaume:

Before becoming a long narrative, La Chute was part of L’Exil et le royaume. This collection comprises six stories…. A single theme, however, exile, is treated [here] in six different ways, from interior monologue to realist narrative. The six stories were written one after the other, although they were then taken up again and reworked separately.

As for the kingdom that is at issue here also, in the title, it coincides with a certain life, free and bare, which we have to find again, to be reborn

finally. Exile, in its way, shows us the way to that kingdom, on the sole condition that in it we know how to refuse both servitude and possession.32

From the foreword to Requiem pour une nonne, Camus’s adaptation of Faulkner’s Requiem for a Nun:

After having read this Requiem I was even sure that Faulkner had solved, in his way and without having thought about it, a very difficult problem: that of diction in modern tragedy. How can one make characters in business suits speak a language at once ordinary enough to be spoken in an apartment house and striking enough to remain at the level of a tragic destiny? Well, Faulkner’s style, with its jerky breathing, its interrupted sentences, taken up again and drawn out by repetitions, its interrupting elements, its parentheses and its cascades of subordinate clauses, furnishes us a modern equivalent, not at all artificial, of a tragic speech. It is a breathless style, from the very breathlessness of suffering. A spiral, interminably unwound, of words and phrases leads the speaker to the abysses of suffering buried in the past….33

From the Carnets (October and December [?] 1957):

17 October. Nobel. A Strange feeling of despondency and melancholy. At age 20, poor and miserable, I knew real glory. My mother.

19 October. Frightened by what is happening to me and which I didn’t ask for. And to make things worse, attacks so low that it makes me ill. [Lucien] Rebatet dares speak of my nostalgia for commanding firing squads, whereas he is one of those for whom I, along with other Resistance writers, asked for pardon when he was condemned to death. He was pardoned, but he doesn’t pardon me. Again, the desire to leave this country. But for where? …

The effort that I have made, tirelessly, to join others in common values, to establish my own equilibrium, is not entirely vain. What I have said or found may be useful, must be useful to others. But not to me, given over now to a sort of insanity.34

From a statement to Franc-Tireur on winning the 1957 Nobel Prize in literature:

I find that I am a little too young. Personally, I would have voted for Malraux. I am simply grateful to the Nobel Committee for having wished to single out a French Algerian writer. I have never written anything which is not connected, closely or more loosely, to the land where I was born. It is to that land and its misfortunes that all my thoughts go.35

From the Nobel Prize speech:

Personally, I cannot live without my art. But I have never placed this art above everything else. If it is necessary to me, indeed, it is because it is not separate from anyone and allows me to live, such as I am, on everyone’s level. Art is not in my view a solitary enjoyment. It is a means of moving the greatest number of people by offering them a privileged picture of common sufferings and joys. It thus obliges the artist not to become isolated; it submits him to the most humble and most universal truth. And the one who, often, has chosen his destiny as an artist because he feels himself as different soon learns that he will not feed his art, and his difference, except by admitting his resemblance to all. The artist forges himself in this perpetual back-and-forth between himself and others, halfway between beauty, which he cannot do without, and the community from which he cannot tear himself away. That is why genuine artists scorn nothing; they force themselves to understand rather than to judge. And if they have a position to take up in this world, it can be only that supporting a society in which, according to Nietzsche’s great word, the judge will no longer reign, but rather the creator, whether he is a worker or an intellectual.

The writer’s role, at the same time, cannot always be separated from difficult duties. By definition, he cannot place himself at the service of those who make history: he is at the service of those who submit to it. Or, otherwise, he will be alone and deprived of his art. All the armies of tyranny, with their millions of men, will not remove him from solitude, even and especially if he consents to walk with them. But the silence of an unknown prisoner, abandoned to humiliation on the other side of the world, suffices to draw the writer out of his exile, each time, at least, that he succeeds, by means of the privileges of freedom, in not forgetting that silence and in making it resound through the means of art.36

From the preface (December 1957) to Caligula and Three Other Plays:

Caligula was composed in 1938, after a reading of the Twelve Caesars of Suetonius. I wrote the play for the small theater that I had organized in Algiers and my intention, very simply, was to play myself the role of Caligula. Novice actors often are ingenuous that way. And then I was twenty-five years old, the age where one doubts everything, except oneself. The war forced me into modesty, and Caligula was finally produced in 1946 … in Paris.

Caligula is thus an actor’s play, a director’s play. But it is inspired, of course, by my concerns at that time….

One more word. Some people were incensed by my play, who nevertheless find it natural that Oedipus should kill his father and marry his mother and who allow a menage a trois, at least in prosperous neighborhoods. I have little regard, however, for the kind of art that chooses to shock, for lack of being able to convince. And if I found myself, unfortunately, to be scandalous, it would be only because of that exaggerated love of truth that an artist cannot repudiate without giving up his very art….

Le Malentendu was written in 1941 [in fact, 1942-1943], in occupied France. I was then living, against my will, in the mountains of central France. This historical and geographic situation would suffice to explain the sort of claustrophobia from which I was suffering then and which is reflected in this play. It’s hard to breathe in the play, that’s a fact. But none of us could breathe freely then. The fact remains that the darkness of the play bothers me as much as it bothered the audiences. To encourage people to approach the play, I will suggest that readers (1) acknowledge that the morality of the play is not entirely negative; (2) consider Le Malentendu as an attempt to create a modern tragedy.”37

On drama in general, from the preface to Caligula and Three Other Plays:

Although I love the theater passionately, I have the misfortune to like only one kind of play, whether comic or tragic. After a rather lengthy experience as director, actor, and dramatist, it seems to me that there is no real theater without language and style, nor any dramatic work that, like our classical drama and the Greek tragedies, does not bring into play the whole of human destiny, in its simplicity and its grandeur. Without claiming to equal them, one must set them up as models, at least. Psychology, ingenious anecdotes, and tantalizing situations leave me indifferent as an author, even if they may amuse me as a spectator. I recognize that this attitude is open to discussion. But it seems preferable to present myself, on this topic, as I am.38

From the preface to the 1958 reprinting of L’Envers et l’endroit:

There is in me, I must repeat, artistic opposition, as other people have moral and religious scruples. Taboos, the idea that “that is not done,” which are rather foreign to me as a son of free nature, are present to me in so far as I am a slave, and an admiring slave, of a severe artistic tradition. Perhaps this suspicion is directed toward my anarchy, and thus remains useful. I am aware of my own disorder, the violence of certain instincts of mine, the graceless abandon into which I can throw myself. To be constructed, the work of art must draw first of all on these obscure powers in the soul. But not without channeling them, surrounding them by levees, so that their level will rise, and rise well. My dikes today are, perhaps, too high. Whence this stiffness sometimes…. Very simply, the day when a balance will be struck between what I am and what I say, that day perhaps—and I hardly dare say so—I will be able to build the work I dream of.39

From an interview with Robert Spector (20 December 1959):

I don’t speak for anyone: I have too much to do just to find my own language. I don’t guide anyone: I don’t know, or I don’t know very well, where I’m going. I don’t live on a tripod [like a god]; I walk with the same step as everyone, in the streets of my time.

I ask the same questions as other men of my generation, that’s all, and it is quite natural that they should find them in my books, if they read them. But a mirror informs, it does not teach….

Existentialism for us [in France] ends up in a godless theology and a scholasticism that inevitably justified inquisitorial regimes.

If the premises of existentialism are found, as I believe, in Pascal, Nietzsche, Kierkegaard, or Shestov, then I am in agreement with them. If its conclusions are those of our existentialists, I am not in agreement, for they are contradictory in relation to the premises….40


1. See Albert Camus, Carnets, janvier 1942 - mars 1951 (Paris: Gallimard, 1964), p. 66, n. 1. The Carnets also allude occasionally to other pages of notes. A few draft manuscript facsimiles are reproduced in Camus, Le Premier Homme (Paris: Gallimard, 1994).

2. Ibid., p. 181.

3. Alain Girard, “Le Journal intime et la notion de personne,” doctoral thesis, Universite de Paris, Faculte des Lettres et Sciences humaines, 1963, p. 536.

4. Béatrice Didier, Le Journal intime (Paris: Presses Universitaires de France, 1976), p. 31.

5. Foreword to Camus, Carnets, mai 1935 - février 1942 (Paris: Gallimard, 1962), p. 7.

6. Philippe Lejeune, Les Brouillons de soi (Paris: Seuil, 1998), pp. 28, 31.

7. Olivier Todd, Albert Camus: Une Vie (Paris: Gallimard, 1996), p. 809, n. 32.

8. Camus and Jean Grenier, Albert Camus, Jean Grenier: Correspondance, 1932-1960, edited by Marguerite Dobrenn (Paris: Gallimard, 1981).

9. Gay-Crosier, “Albert Camus,” in A Critical Bibliography of French Literature, volume 6: The Twentieth Century, edited by Douglas W. Alden and Richard A. Brooks, part 3 (Syracuse: Syracuse University Press, 1980), pp. 1574-1579.

10. Catherine Camus has generally placed tight restrictions on scholars who wish to quote from her father’s correspondence, permitting, for instance, one writer to quote from certain letters only in a private, noncirculating version of a thesis.

11. A transcription of the television interview is reproduced in Camus, Théâtre, récits, nouvelles, edited by R. Quilliot (Paris: Gallimard, 1962), pp. 1718-1726; the radio interview is mentioned in Herbert R. Lottman, Albert Camus: A Biography (Garden City, N.Y.: Doubleday, 1979), p. 4.

12. Camus, Carnets, janvier 1942 - mars 1951, p. 32.

13. Quoted in Lottman, Albert Camus: A Biography, p. 498.

14. Robert D. Spector, “Albert Camus 1913-1960. A Final Review,” Venture, nos. 3-4 (Spring/Summer 1960): 26-40. The interview is reproduced in condensed form, with the questions translated into French, in Camus, Essais, edited by Quilliot and L. Faucon (Paris: Gallimard, 1965), pp. 1925-1928.

15. Camus, Carnets, mai 1935 - février 1942, p. 21.

16. Ibid., p. 127.

17. Camus, “La Nausée de Jean-Paul Sartre,” Alger Républicain, 20 October 1938; reprinted in Camus, Essais, p. 1417.

18. Camus, Essais, p. 139.

19. Camus, Carnets, janvier 1942 - mars 1951, pp. 29-30. The ellipsis and italics are Camus’s.

20. Ibid., pp. 77-78.

21. Camus, Essais, pp. 1424-1425.

22. Camus, Carnets, janvier 1942 - mars 1951, p. 176.

23. Ibid., p. 283.

24. Ibid., p. 325.

25. Ibid., p. 47.

26. Camus, Théâtre, récits, nouvelles, pp. 1965-1966.

27. Camus, The Myth of Sisyphus and Other Essays, translated by Justin O’Brien (New York: Knopf, 1955), p. v.

28. Camus, Théâtre, récits, nouvelles, pp. 1920-1921.

29. Camus, Essais, pp. 1865-1866.

30. Camus, Théâtre, récits, nouvelles, p. 2006.

31. Ibid., p. 1872. The mention of “Sicilian” and “Javanese” refers to La Chute, see p. 1496.

32. Ibid., p. 2030.

33. Ibid., p. 1859.

34. Camus, Carnets III, mars 1951 - décembre 1959, pp. 214-215.

35. Camus, Essais, p. 1892.

36. Ibid., pp. 1071-1072.

37. Camus, Théâtre, récits, nouvelles, pp. 1727-1729.

38. Ibid., pp. 1731-1732.

39. Camus, Essais, p. 12.

40. Ibid., pp. 1925-1927.

Camus as Studied

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Camus’s international image and worldwide fame spring chiefly, it would appear, from two sources. One is found in Camus the man, as documented by contemporary witnesses and photographs and made known in the facts of his biography, especially his ironic death in an automobile wreck, by which he seemed to be both prince and victim of the absurd that he made central to his early works. The early, needless death of a figure with such great literary talent and thirst for life seems to illustrate the meaninglessness of human life in a century that began under the shadow of Friedrich Nietzsche’s nihilism and went on to include the extermination, through wars and political persecutions, of millions of human beings. The photogenic, trench coat-clad figure of Camus, with his slightly asymmetrical, ironic smile and resemblance to Humphrey Bogart, remains for many readers indelibly associated with what they know of intellectual life in Paris from the end of World War II until 1960. Those who are familiar with both the man and his work see, or imagine they see, the personality of Meursault from L’Etranger coming through the photographs of Camus, and even more, the figure of Jean-Baptiste Clamence, the ironic narrator of La Chute, both penitent and judge. Many also think of Camus as the mid-twentieth-century existentialist par excellence, despite his disclaimers and the real differences that separated him from such figures as Jean-Paul Sartre and Simone de Beauvoir.

The other source of Camus’s continued fame is the appeal of his fiction, both those works published during his lifetime and the two posthumously published novels. In America, La Peste, or, rather, The Plague, in Stuart Gilbert’s translation, first made his name widely known, although L’Etranger had been translated earlier as The Stranger.1 School editions and other inexpensive printings of works by Camus in French and English have sold well for decades. In England and America many critical guides and handbooks on his fiction, directed toward students and general readers, have been published. (Curiously during Camus’s lifetime

permission was not granted for reprinting L’Etranger in inexpensive editions; the author wanted his novel to remain exclusively in Gallimard’s Collection Blanche, the publisher’s designation for its literary publications.) L’Etranger and The Stranger are still frequent choices for French courses and general literature classes, as are La Chute and The Fall.2 With the exception of Caligula, Camus’s drama is now much less frequently discussed, although shortly after the mid twentieth century Le Malentendu appeared in a popular American classroom anthology.3

The study of works by Camus, whether in the original or in translation, became widespread at the university level in Anglophone countries before it was common in France. Until the reform of the French university and lycee (secondary school) system, starting in the late 1960s, it was not standard practice to include in university curricula the works of contemporary authors or philosophers; nor were university theses normally written on living writers. But Camus was represented in manuals intended for lycee students: for instance, seventeen pages are devoted to him in the well-known Lagarde and Michard volume of 1962, which is an anthology of excerpts, supplemented by information on the authors.4 By 1970 there was a French textbook introducing students to Camus’s philosophy, attacking it as an imitation of that of Rene Descartes and generally denigrating the author and his work.5

The inclusion of Camus’s work in English-language volumes from the mid twentieth century on, until college anthologies decreased greatly in popularity, is revealing in more than one way. Although emphases vary, in world-literature anthologies he is usually seen in a modernist light, as in The Modern Tradition: Backgrounds of Modern Art (1965).6 In an English-language college anthology titled World Masterpieces (1965), the editors include Camus in a chapter titled “Masterpieces of Symbolism and the Modern School,” along with nineteenth-century poets such as Charles Baudelaire and a wide range of twentieth-century authors, including T. S. Eliot, James Joyce, Andre Gide, Franz Kafka, Marcel Proust, D. H. Lawrence, and William Faulkner. Whether the term symbolism in the first part of the title is to be taken as applying also to the remainder of the selections is, presumably, for the reader to decide. The decision to represent Camus’s work by “The Renegade” (the translation of “Le Renegat”), called “the most savage and the most impressive” of his short stories, suggests that the editors certainly saw him as a writer of symbols.7 An American school edition of L’Exil et le royaume published during the same period omitted “Le Renegat,” which was viewed as “more difficult to follow” and presenting “difficulties for classroom handling.”8

Prudery showed itself at approximately the same time in the American school edition of L’Etranger, in which the editors omitted “four phrases … which might prove embarrassing in classroom reading.”9 A French literature anthology of the 1960s, bearing the imprimatur of Richard Cardinal Cushing, Archbishop of Boston, includes no fiction by Camus—all of it having been deemed unsuitable, perhaps, for young Roman Catholic minds—but does include the essay “Le Minotaure ou la halte d’Oran.”10 In another anthology put together by the same editor, without imprimatur, the story “L’Hote” is included.11

Indeed, the most common choice of a Camus text in the original French during the late 1950s and early 1960s was “L’Hote,” used widely in readers directed toward intermediate students of French and in introductory literary anthologies. The excellent crafting, presentation of situation and character, and ending of the story—both expected and surprising—illustrated Camus’s narrative skill, and the theme of the Algerian rebellion seemed timely. Examination of dozens of classroom readers and anthologies in French dating from the 1950s, 1960s, and 1970s shows that selections from Camus appear in more than twenty-five and that “L’Hote” is the choice in eight of these, including a major anthology for advanced students of French.12 Selections in other textbooks include the short stories “Les Muets,” “Jonas,” and “La Pierre qui pousse”; excerpts from La Peste, La Chute, and Le Mythe de Sisyphe; and extracts from other works, the Carnets among them. For surveys of French literature since 1800, one widely used anthology included in its revised edition of 1965 Camus’s lecture “L’Artiste et son temps.”13 The short story “La Femme adultére” was also a frequent choice used, for instance, in Germaine Brèe’s selection of readings for advanced students.14 Brèe and a collaborator also included Caligula in an anthology of drama for advanced classes.15 One concludes that Camus’s fiction, especially the short fiction, was deemed eminently teachable at almost all levels for students of French and world literature.


As Camus has become more of an historical figure rather than a contemporary one, and as the scholarship on him has multiplied, the study of his works has inevitably become more closely connected to this growing body of criticism, just as happens with other deceased authors. It is nearly impossible for new readers to progress very far in studying Camus without encountering critical judgments in prefaces, notes, articles, and books, all of which necessarily shape the reader’s approach. Moreover, young readers who are currently discovering him cannot help seeing his works in an entirely different light from earlier readers because of their different historical and cultural context. While Camus can be viewed as a writer for all times, he was first of all a voice of particular moments and places that gave their coloring to his writings (even those most shaped by aesthetic concerns) and shout from the pages of his journalism.

In the United States the use of literary primers or readers in intermediate French classes has declined, giving way to nonfiction selections. The use of anthologies for more advanced classes, in either French or world literature, and of classroom editions has similarly declined. Thus, it is difficult to assess which of Camus’s texts have been preferred after 1980 for classroom use beyond L’Etranger, which remains quite popular as both a reader for French classes and a text for general literature courses at the undergraduate level. There appears to be a tendency to leave Camus behind in classes directed toward contemporary literature: he is now far from contemporary, and some editors may have deemed that his work has lost its vitality and applicability.

In 1991 the eminent scholar and critic Antoine Compagnon lamented what he called the “diminishing canon” of French literary studies in the United States, noting that many scholars had turned their attention away from literary works in the traditional sense in favor of various theoretical and critical texts, particularly those concerning feminism, which “defines French literature in America today.” Even among those scholars who remain ostensibly faithful to the traditional ideas of literature as opposed to “texts” or other products (such as advertising, comic strips, and so forth), fewer and fewer authors have received their attention; they have concentrated on either the newest literary products of the 1980s and 1990s or on a few earlier favorites, chiefly Marguerite Duras, Monique Wittig, and sometimes Proust.16 The scholars and teachers Compagnon has in mind have dragged their students behind them; he identifies this process as a domino effect, for “the students are wary of taking up abandoned authors.” Compagnon acknowledges that while Camus is “sometimes treated out of nostalgia,” his presence in the canon has decreased drastically. This applies to French studies at the postgraduate level as well as lower levels. For instance, at a major state university that has long offered the M.A. and Ph.D. in French, Camus is not taught at all now on the graduate level, nor is his name found on any reading list. This case, which is not exceptional, should be contrasted with the situation in 1983: according to a report from American graduate schools in that year, La Peste was on the required reading lists of 46.7 percent of M.A. programs in French and on the required reading lists of 53.8 of the French Ph.D. programs.17 In a massive and influential history of French literature edited by a prominent critic and published in 1989, Camus receives quite cursory treatment: three paragraphs on his writings, one on his role in Resistance journalism, and two on his differences with Sartre.18

The writings of Camus may seem out of date especially because of their fidelity to aesthetic values. A good style—whether probing, clipped, lyrical, expansive, or even racy—has long been honored in France as the mark of a fine writer and an enduring work, but the ability to recognize good style and the appreciation of it have been eclipsed by other preoccupations. Similarly, Camus’s concern with the individual, and what appears to some as his wrongheaded cultural politics, including Eurocentrism and an unreconstructed colonialism, have made him unfashionable. Indeed, although Camus was an early, eloquent, and sincere critic of certain administrative and economic policies in Algeria that left hundreds of thousands of native Algerians living in extreme misery, standard books on colonialism and postcolonial criticism and theory do not mention him.

Camus is still cited often in connection with later developments in French literature, as a precursor of the theater of protest; the nouveau roman, or “New Novel”; and absurdist literature. Readers of the nouveaux romans that began appearing in the mid 1950s and dominated the literary horizon in the years immediately following Camus’s death did not fail to notice that the fictional aesthetics adopted by some of the New Novelists, particularly Alain Robbe-Grillet, had a great deal in common with features of Camus’s writing in L’Etranger. Chief among these features were the plain, declarative prose and reliance on observation (as opposed to explanation) in the novel; the plot, made up of indifferent, meaningless, and apparently random actions; and the taciturn, antisocial hero.19 As one critic notes, “Even a writer as essentially conventional as Camus provided a source of inspiration for the ’floating’ characters of more radical novelists by allowing Meursault’s fairly intelligible personality, in L’Etranger, to be partly subverted by a liberating superficiality of motive.”20 Paradoxically, at the same time Robbe-Grillet apparently profited from Camus’s example, he attacked in critical articles three concepts that were central to Camus’s thinking: nature, humanism, and tragedy.21 Camus’s influence on fictional modes has endured well beyond the 1950s and 1960s. Roy C. Caldwell cites him as one of the figures often mentioned in the French press as influencing the novelist Jean-Philippe Tous-saint, a recent darling of French fiction.22


Notwithstanding Camus’s own disclaimers concerning existentialism, as well as the carefully shaded distinctions made by critics between his work and that of the mid-twentieth-century French existentialists, Camus has long been studied in connection primarily with Sartre and, to a lesser degree, Beauvoir, especially as feminist criticism has brought her work more into the public eye. The connections among those three fashionable writers, which were established in 1943 and the years immediately following and which flourished for a half-dozen years, are part of the common popular image of the period and of existentialism—as a cultural phenomenon in Paris as much as a philosophic position. Another author mentioned frequently in connection with these three is Maurice Merleau-Ponty, a philosopher of the phenomenologist school and for years a friend of Sartre and Beauvoir. Like Camus, Merleau-Ponty ultimately denounced both Soviet practice and theory and adopted positions that Sartre and Beauvoir saw as bourgeois and pro-Western.

Sartre and Camus in particular appear to form an historical pair, their friendship and certain similarities between them overshadowing their differences, which have been called one of the great debates of postwar French culture.23 The pedagogical and critical pairing persists, somewhat like that of Gide and Proust for earlier decades of the twentieth century, despite the enormous differences between those two modernists. Similarly, for many students of French literature, the names of Honore de Balzac and Gustave Flaubert are linked together in nineteenth-century literary history, as are Voltaire and Jean-Jacques Rousseau one hundred years or so before—again, despite great aesthetic and philosophic differences in each case.

Such pairings of authors are understandable if somewhat crude, intellectually speaking, and they are particularly to be expected on the part of those approaching French literature from the outside, whether in the classroom or on their own. In the case of Camus and Sartre, the pairing is justifiable to some degree and is useful as a first approach to reading, but one must eventually confront the necessity of drawing important distinctions.24 There are many overlapping areas in their careers and personalities, beyond their acquaintance and joint participation in certain enterprises. (Camus contributed articles to Sartre’s journal Les Temps Modernes; Sartre wrote for Combat while Camus was the editor; Camus was the first choice to play Garcin in Sartre’s play Huis clos; and the two often signed the same political petitions.) Each had personal charm, early and ultimately enormous success, and interest in theater; each rejected many of the assumptions of earlier fiction and owed a debt to American novelists; and each was politically active, though ultimately in different directions.

Pairing does not mean identity, however. The well-advised reader will keep in mind the historic dispute between Camus and Sartre concerning L’Homme révolté, as well as the breakup of their friendship, in order to offset the misapprehensions of their earliest commentators and the subsequent echoes of these distorted views. Readers should understand that, while Camus’s literary and philosophic works belong in the vein of existential writing, he did not embrace Sartre’s brand of existentialism, nor did he set out to illustrate and publicize it. Sartre, for his part, did not like Le Mythe de Sisyphe.25

Nor were Camus’s and Sartre’s backgrounds really the same, as Camus took pains to point out on occasion. Camus was a Mediterranean man, spiritually wedded to the sea and to the cultural traditions that he associated with it—especially Greek culture, including Neoplatonic thought. To the degree that Christianity was familiar to him, it was in the form of Catholicism, especially that of St. Augustine. Sartre, in contrast, was a man of northern France; his mother’s family, from Alsace, was Protestant. Camus came from the most modest of homes, poverty-stricken by most standards, and comfortable only in comparison to the conditions in which the Arab and Berber populations lived in Algeria. Sartre belonged to the bourgeoisie; the households of both his grandparents and his mother and stepfather were comfortable. Sartre was never seriously ill as a young man, and physical disturbances at the height of his career were caused primarily by his abuse of stimulants. He appeared to view death abstractly, whereas for Camus it had been and remained a serious personal threat. Camus married twice and had children; Sartre never married. Camus bought a property in the south of France as a vacation home and a site for working; Sartre lived in hotel rooms for most of his life.

Reading the texts of Camus and Sartre against one another and comparing the authors’ positions is a possible strategy. Thus, Camus’s concision of style and narrative illustrated in L’Etranger and La Chute can be contrasted with Sartre’s prolixity and much more complex and extensive (though not more artistic) narratives in his series Les Chemins de la liberte (The Roads to Freedom, 1945-1949). The value given by Camus to the absurd’as the condition that must be acknowledged and maintained by human beings’is quite different from Sartre’s ultimate shrugging off of “absurdity” as merely a fact and a point of departure from which men must go on to remake society. Camus’s love of nature and the importance given in his work to its major elements as he knew them in Algeria’sea, sun, sky, sand, and stones’can be contrasted with Sartre’s rejection of “nature” as anything but a set of human concepts, and his own personal dislike of vegetation and the countryside. (He did not even like to eat raw vegetables.) The individualism of L’Etranger, Caligula, and Le Mythe de Sisyphe stands in opposition to Sartre’s rejection of individualism as an unjustified bourgeois and idealistic position that must be replaced by a Marxist understanding of groups. The moral hesitations in Les Justes can be contrasted with the intransigence of Hugo in Sartre’s play Les Mains sales (1948; translated as Dirty Hands, 1949). Camus’s strongly worded rejection of Stalinism and its abuses must be contrasted with Sartre’s ultimate preference for the Soviet Union (despite quarrels with the French Communist Party from time to time). A useful comparison can be made if one reads La Peste first from the sympathetic perspective of the one who wrote it and then from the point of view of Sartre’s rigid and anti-individualistic socialist moralism. The most trenchant distinction between the two authors is, ultimately, one that arose in specific political circumstances. Sartre’s attacks on Camus for not intervening on the side of the rebels in the Algerian war and thus for playing the conservatives’ game revealed the deep political differences between them and the impossibility, finally, of assimilating the work and positions of one with the other.

While Beauvoir and Camus appear to be mentioned and read side-by-side less frequently, the contrasts between them call for comment. In most of her novels—L’Invitèe (1943; translated as She Came to Stay, 1949), Le Sang des autres (1945; translated as The Blood of Others, 1948), Les Mandarins (1954; translated as The Mandarins, 1956), Les Belles Images (1966; translated, 1968), and La Femme rompue (1967; translated as The Woman Destroyed, 1969)—Beauvoir was concerned either partly or mostly with the feminine condition. It was also a major topic in all four volumes of her memoirs and her study Le Deuxieme Sexe (1949; translated as The Second Sex, 1953). Camus never put the condition of women at the center of his writing, although it would be false to assert that women were not a concern. To recent feminist critics, as to Beauvoir herself, Camus was an illustration of machismo—an ethos of male domination by which woman was always the other, object rather than subject, and often marginalized. Moreover, he did not attempt to define a general ethical position, as Beauvoir did in Pour une morale de I’ambiguitè (1947; translated as The Ethics of Ambiguity, 1948). Camus’s political positions stood in contrast to hers, as they did to Sartre’s.

Camus’s fiction and lyrical essays can also be usefully studied along with some of the works of Gide.26 Both writers had lung disease, and both used North Africa (which Gide visited on many occasions) as the setting for major works, including lyrical writings—Camus’s Noces and Gide’s Les Nourritures terrestres— praising the natural beauty of North Africa and meditating on death at some of the loveliest sites in this region. Both authors examined the relationship between ethics and individual development in connection with the high value they placed on personal experience and the goal of increasing it and its meaning to the highest possible degree. There is also considerable similarity between the form of Camus’s short narrative works and Gide’s recits (short narratives), such as L’Immoraliste (1902; translated as The Immoralist, 1930) and La Symphonie pastorale (1918; translated as The Pastoral Symphony, 1931). It is noteworthy that Gide and Camus both had recourse to Greek myth in their writings, as did Sartre and Beauvoir, as well as several other well-known French authors of the twentieth century, particularly in drama. These included Jean Anouilh, Jean Giraudoux, and Jean Cocteau, whose plays are sometimes studied along with those of Camus for their use of Greek myth and for chronological reasons.

Another French author whose work is appropriately examined with that of Camus is Andre Malraux. Great differences separate them, including Malraux’s concern for transcendence, in contrast to Camus’s insistence upon immanence. But both, as agnostic humanists, appear as heirs of Nietzsche’s nihilism and the “death of God” that he announced; both were drawn into supporting communism for a few years before turning against its tyranny; and each devised a humanism of fraternity, illustrated in La Peste and in Malraux’s novels La Condition humaine and L’Espoir (1937; trans lated as Man’s Hope, 1938). Among earlier French authors, Camus can usefully be paired with Voltaire (1694-1778). Both were deeply involved in issues of their time and used the genres of fiction, essay, and drama to convey their views, either directly or subtly. Sartre compared L’Etranger to Voltaire’s philosophical tales, such as Zadig (1747) and Candide, because of the philosophic principles in fic tional form. Some of their views are close, moreover—dislike of fanaticism, insistence on moderation, and suspicion of authority—and Camus can rightly be considered a modern philosophe.27

Camus is also studied, especially in advanced courses on French or other Francophone literature, with the authors of the Ecole d’Alger (School of Algiers), also called the Ecole nord-africaine—writers from Algeria (or, in a few cases, Tunisia) who gathered in Paris in 1945 and afterward, as well as some younger authors subsequently grouped with them. These writers were associated with the publisher Edmond Chariot, who published Camus’s first two essay collections. The Ecole d’Alger included Jules Roy, Emmanuel Robles, Jean Amrouche, Gabriel Audisio, Armand Guibert, Claude de Freminville, Renè-Jean Clot, and, later, Jean Pèlègri. Even though Camus did not play the role of leader, he was the acknowledged model and inspiration for these writers. Roy spoke later of “the importance, the immensity of the role that Camus would play in literature and even more in the destiny of us who were born in Algeria.”28 As one important part of Francophone literature, incorporating elements from both before and after 1962, when Algeria won its independence, the Ecole d’Alger has been examined increasingly in recent years. The school has been considered both from a sympathetic point of view, as a peripheral but important part of French literature, and from the hostile viewpoint of postcolonial theory, which considers the cultural products originating in colonies or former colonies but created by those of European descent to be offensive, inauthentic, and exploitative. (All of the authors in the group except for Amrouche were of European descent.)

In classroom discussions, textbooks, and critical surveys of many sorts, Camus is often treated in connection with authors from other countries, particularly those whose work is seen as existential or inspired by protest. With Herman Melville in particular parallels are often drawn, to which Camus himself contributed by writing an essay on Melville and praising him in Le Mythe de Sisyphe and elsewhere, calling him a great philosophical novelist in the company of Leo Tolstoy, Fyodor Dostoyevsky, Proust, and Faulkner.29 Various themes and figures appear in the works of Melville and Camus: the figure of the stranger, the Christ figure, and the themes of alienation and the absurd. Likewise, whether they antedate or postdate Camus, the works of major American novelists of the twentieth century, including Ernest Hemingway, Saul Bellow, and Walker Percy, present several points of contact with those of Camus, and he is often treated with them.30 He has been read along with a group of British authors who came to prominence in the 1950s called the “angry young men,” which included John Osborne, Kingsley Amis, John Wain, and Alan Sillitoe, because these writers’ discontent with society and its institutions seems foreshadowed by the attitude of Meursault and the critique of the system of justice in L’Etranger. Similarly, Camus has been read along with novelists of the Beat Generation in America such as Jack Kerouac and William Burroughs, because their anarchic, nihilistic spirit and amoral accumulation of experience can usefully be compared and contrasted with views explored in Le Mythe de Sisyphe and with Meursault’s character.

In South America, Camus’s writings, particularly L’Homme révolté, have been reread in the past decades in connection with the works of the Peruvian novelist Mario Vargas Llosa (1936-), whose interest in French literature led him to consider, at one time or another, four French authors as his masters—Victor Hugo, Flaubert, Sartre, and Camus—and to write on the last three. For some years, as an unswerving believer in Marxist revolution, Vargas Llosa was under the sway of Sartre’s thought and took his side, after the fact, in his dispute with Camus, accusing the latter of a “purely rhetorical” doctrine. Vargas Llosa was persuaded that violence, which Camus had identified as endemic to socialist dictatorships such as that of the Soviet Union, and to any other programmed society, would disappear when Communist states matured, and that Camus’s analysis of revolution was entirely wrong: “It is enough to read The Rebel to realize that [Camus’s] thought is vague and superficial: banalities and empty formulas abound, problems always lead into the same blind alleys which he paces interminably like a prisoner in his tiny cell,” he wrote in the 1960s.31 By 1975 Vargas Llosa had repudiated his earlier denunciations, saying, “On my own, after a number of lapses, I came to exactly the same conclusions as Camus.”32 He then embraced what he called Camus’s “reformismo libertario” (anarchistic reformism).33 Vargas Llosa’s writings are marked by some of the same warnings concerning history and ideology that appear directly or indirectly in such works as L’Homme révolté, Les Justes, and “Le Rénégat”; by the themes of civilization and barbarity that inform much of Camus’s writing; and sometimes by an irony not unlike Camus’s.34

Among the authors most frequently, and justifiably, studied with Camus is Dostoyevsky, with whose work Camus became familiar in the 1930s. In 1938 he helped the Thèòtre de I’Equipe stage his dramatic adaptation of The Brothers Karamazov in Algiers. In 1959 Camus adapted Dostoyevsky’s The Possessed for the theater and directed the production himself in Paris. Moreover, he discussed Dostoyevsky and quoted from his work on more than one occasion, notably in Le Mythe de Sisyphe, in which Ivan Karamazov, the Grand Inquisitor, and Stavrogin are examined and Kirilov, the protagonist in The Possessed, is given as an example of the absurd man, illustrating existential freedom.

Like Dostoyevsky, Camus was interested in questions of crime, guilt, and responsibility; unlike him, Camus did not accept the notion of sin. Readers of La Peste will recall the scene in which, after the agony and death from the plague of Judge Othon’s little boy, the narrator (Rieux) confronts the Jesuit priest Paneloux, who has preached resignation to divine will, with the challenge: “Ah! celui-là, au moins, ètait innocent, vous le savez bien! … Je refuserai jusqu’à la mort d’aimer cette crèation oil des enfants sont torturès” (Oh, he at least was innocent, you know perfectly well! … I shall refuse until I die to love the creation in which children are tortured).35 This speech is clearly an echo of the protests made by Ivan Karamazov against a world “founded on absurdities” and the tortures of the innocent. “And if the sufferings of children go to make up the sum of sufferings which is necessary for the purchase of truth, then I say beforehand that the entire truth is not worth such a price.”36 Ivan, however persuasive he may appear to present-day readers, is not Dostoyevsky’s ultimate spokesman; in his dark world, acceptance of the Christian notions of sin, shared responsibility, guilt, and redemption is viewed as essential—the only possible salvation.

There are likewise parallels between Dostoyevsky’s Notes from Underground (1864) and Camus’s work, touching especially on the themes of nihilism and alienation.37 Similarly, it is easy to read Dostoyevsky’s Crime and Punishment (1866) in association with L’Etranger, since the two novels explore crime from psychological and philosophical angles and have unusual protagonists.

Another author often read with Camus is the Austrian Kafka, whose fictional parables about lost or guilty souls call for comparison with Camus’s novels; indeed, the philosopher Gabriel Marcel called Camus a “Mediterranean Kafka.”38 It is noteworthy that Kafka suffered from tuberculosis and died from the disease. His work is frequently cited by critics and by existential writers themselves as illustrating a world of hopelessness and despair. Camus often mentioned Kafka and devoted an essay to him that was published in a postwar edition of Le Mythe de Sisyphe. Both authors dealt with symbols and wrote works that have been viewed as allegories; both were concerned either explicitly or metaphorically with totalitarian regimes; and both have been viewed by psychoanalytical critics as suffering in one way or another from their relationship with their fathers. Camus and Kafka differ greatly, however, with respect to the paternal image: whereas Camus never knew his father and felt a lifelong regret at this absence, Kafka suffered from a powerful and lifelong inferiority complex in regard to his father, a distant, arbitrary, and cruel authority figure. This complex is illustrated in nearly all of his writings, with their theme of culpability.

Especially pertinent to a comparison of the two authors is Kafka’s The Trial (1914), since it deals with accusation and judgment, like L’Etranger.39 Joseph K., the protagonist and the accused, has no understanding of the crime with which he has been charged, nor can he comprehend, still less survive within, the court system that holds him as in a vise. There are significant differences, however: Meursault, in L’Etranger, who is similarly a victim of the court system, has at least committed a crime that he himself and his friends recognize as such, though not in the degree asserted by the prosecution (that is, premeditated murder, a capital crime). Moreover, while recognizing the causal connection between his shooting and the victim’s death, and thus society’s need for retribution, Meursault, who does not acknowledge moral guilt, ends his story with what is often seen as an epiphany—an affirmation of the self. In contrast, Joseph K., even though denying his guilt and struggling to counteract the inscrutable mechanism that condemns him, is unable to go beyond this condemnation and achieve any sort of transfiguration. An interesting, if debatable, contrast between the two has been offered by Murray Krieger:

If Joseph K. barely makes it into the tragic realm, Meursault … never comes close—or perhaps passes far beyond. If K. has tried less manfully than other prisoners in our literature to thrust through the wall, Meursault takes his only prideful consolation in his refusal to try his hand against it at all. It is not that he accepts it; he is further from acceptance than K. It is just that, like Melville’s Bartleby, who also ends up a literal prisoner looking at a blank wall…. Meursault, yawning at such metaphysical problems as acceptance or defiance, simply would “prefer not to” and stares blankly.

Krieger concludes that while Kafka’s vision risks moving from the tragic to the merely ironic, Camus “speaks from beyond the farthest reach of the tragic vision.”40

The contrast between the respective visions of the two authors is borne out in another work by Camus that can be read in connection with Kafka, La Chute, in which Clamence’s fraudulent protests of guilt serve only to point to others’ depravity. Krieger views this novel as a parody of tragedy: “Camus refuses to allow guilt to man since, following upon the tragic vision that relies upon claims to human guilt, our consciousness of it incapacitates us for the action which Camus’s naturalistic liberalism requires.”41 In another vein, Camus’s story “Le Rénégat” can usefully be studied in connection with Kafka’s story “In the Penal Colony” (1919).


1. R. W. B. Lewis, The Picaresque Saint (Philadelphia & New York: Lippincott, 1959), p. 93.

2. The classroom edition of La Chute for Anglophone students of French edited by Ruth Mulhauser, Marjorie Kupersmith, and Jacques Lusseyran (Englewood Cliffs, N.J.: Prentice-Hall, 1965) is, however, out of print, unlike the perennial text of L’Etranger, edited by Germaine Bree and Carlos Lynes Jr. (Englewood Cliffs, N.J.: Prentice-Hall, 1955).

3. Oreste F. Pucciani, ed., The French Theater Since 1930 (Boston: Ginn, 1954).

4. André Lagarde and Laurent Michard, XX’ siecle (Paris: Bordas, 1962), pp. 607-624.

5. Jean-Jacques Brochier, Albert Camus, philosophe pour classes terminales (Paris: Balland, 1970). This volume was later revised, but Brochier did not change his opinions much. See Olivier Todd, Albert Camus: Une vie (Paris: Gallimard, 1996), p. 759.

6. Richard Ellmann and Charles Feidelson Jr., eds., The Modem Tradition: Backgrounds of Modem Literature (New York: Oxford University Press, 1965).

7. Maynard Mack and others, eds., World Masterpieces, revised edition, volume 2: Literature of Western Culture Since the Renaissance (New York: Norton, 1965), p. 1262. The section titled “Symbolism and the Modern School” was edited by Kenneth Douglas.

8. Albert Camus, L’Exil et le royaume, edited by B. F. Bart (New York: Scribners, 1965), p. xx.

9. Camus, L’Etranger, edited by Brée and Lynes, p. vi.

10. Joseph D. Gauthier, S.J., and Lewis A. M. Sumberg, eds., Les Grands Ecrivains francais (New York: Holt, Rinehart & Winston, 1965).

11. Gauthier, ed., Variété (New York: Holt, Rinehart & Winston, 1960).

12. Henri Clouard and Robert Leggewie, eds., Anthologie de la litterature francaise, revised and enlarged edition, volume 2 (New York: Oxford University Press, 1975).

13. Morris Bishop, ed., A Survey of French Literature, revised edition, volume 2: The Nineteenth and Twentieth Centuries (New York: Harcourt, Brace & World, 1965).

14. Brée, ed., Twentieth Century French Literature (New York: Macmillan, 1962).

15. Germaine Bree and Alexander Y. Kroff, eds., Twentieth Century French Drama (New York: Macmillan, 1969).

16. Antoine Compagnon, “The Diminishing Canon of French Literature in America, “Stanford French Review, 15, nos. 1-2 (1991): 104, 105, 106, 114.

17. Steven G. Kellman, “The Plague”: Fiction and Resistance (New York: Twayne, 1993), p. 9.

18. Denis Hollier, A New History of French Literature (Cambridge, Mass.: Harvard University Press, 1989), pp. 913, 972, 975-976.

19. Richard Thieberger, in his Albert Camus: Eine Einfuhrung in sein dichterisches Werk (Frankfurt: Diesterweg, 1960). Thieberger was among those who almost immediately saw L’Etranger as a precursor of the new novel. See also Patricia J. Johnson, Camus et Robbe-Grillet: Structure et techniques narratives dans “Le Renegat” de Camus et “Le Voyeur” de Robbe-Grillet (Paris: Nizet, 1972).

20. Leo Bersani, Balzac to Beckett: Center and Circumference in French Fiction (New York: Oxford University Press, 1970), p. 12.

21. Alain Robbe-Grillet, Pour un nouveau roman (Paris: Editions de Minuit, 1963); translated by Richard Howard as For a New Novel (New York: Grove, 1966).

22. Roy C. Caldwell, “Jean-Philippe Toussaint,” in The Contemporary Novel in France, edited by William Thompson (Gainesville: University Press of Florida, 1995), p. 370.

23. Tony Judt, Past Imperfect: French Intellectuals, 1944’1956 (Berkeley: University of California Press, 1992), p. 11.

24. See Germaine Bree, Camus and Sartre; Crisis and Commitment (New York: Dell, 1972); and Eric Werner, De la violence au totalitarisme: Essai sur la pensee de Camus et Sartre (Paris: Calmann-Levy, 1972). Many articles and discussions in books on Camus and Sartre address the same question of rapprochement, comparison, and contrast.

25. Camus, Essais, edited by R. Quilliot and L. Faucon (Paris: Gallimard, 1965), p. 1460.

26. See, for instance, Leon S. Roudiez, “L’Etranger, La Chute and the Aesthetic Legacy of Gide,” French Review, 32 (February 1959): 300-310.

27. See Patrick Henry, Voltaire and Camus: The Limits of Reason and the Awareness of Absurdity (Banbury, U.K.: Voltaire Foundation, 1975); and Haydn T. Mason, “Voltaire and Camus,” Romanic Review, 59 (October 1968): 198-212.

28. Jules Roy, Chant d’amour pour Marseille (Marseilles: Jeanne Lafitte, 1987), p. 15.

29. Roudiez, “Strangers in Melville and Camus,” French Review, 31 (January 1958): 217-226; Roudiez, “Camus and Moby-Dick,” Symposium, 15 (Spring 1961): 30-40; Leon F. Seltzer, “Camus’ Absurd and the World of Melville’s Confidence-Man,” PMLA, 82 (1967): 14-27; and Roger Shattuck, “Two Inside Narratives: Billy Budd and L’Etranger,” Texas Studies in Literature and Language, 4 (Autumn 1962): 314-320.

30. See Catharine Savage Brosman, Existential Fiction (Detroit: Gale/Manly, 2000), pp. 211-223. Sartre noted the resemblance with Hemingway, probably exaggerating it.

31. Mario Vargas Llosa, quoted in Efrain Kristal, Temptation of the Word: The Novels of Mario Vargas Llosa (Nashville: Vanderbilt University Press, 1998), pp. 22; 208, n. 82.

32. Ibid., p. 101.

33. Vargas Llosa, Entre Sartre y Camus (Rio Piedras, PR.: Ediciones Huracan, 1981), p. 9. See also his The Perpetual Orgy: Flaubert and Madame Bovary, translated by Helen Lane (New York: Farrar, Straus & Giroux, 1986).

34. Vargas Llosa has said, “I think that Camus was very lucid with regard to two things: the first was that history is not everything…. The second is the danger of ideology.” Quoted in Braulio Munoz, A Storyteller: Mario Vargas Llosa Between Civilization and Barbarism (Lanham, Md.: Rowman & Littlefield, 2000), pp. 122-123.

35. Camus, Théâtre, récits, nouvelles, edited by R. Quilliot (Paris: Gallimard, 1962), pp. 1394-1395.

36. Fyodor Dostoyevsky, The Brothers Karamazov, 2 volumes, translated by David Magarshack (Harmondsworth, U.K.: Penguin, 1958), I: 285, 287.

37. On these various questions concerning Camus and Dostoyevsky, see Ray Davison, Camus: The Challenge of Dostoevsky (Exeter, U.K.: University of Exeter Press, 1997).

38. Gabriel Marcel, “Sartre, Camus, Malraux’Philosophie und Dichtung des Existentialismus,” Universitas, 21 (1966): 1019-1026.

39. See Phillip H. Rhein, The Urge to Live: A Comparative Study of Franz Kafka’s Der Prozefs and Albert Camus’ L’Etranger (Chapel Hill: University of North Carolina Press, 1964).

40. Murray Krieger, The Tragic Vision: Variations on a Theme in Literary Interpretation (Chicago & London: Phoenix/University of Chicago Press, 1960), pp. 144-145.

41. Ibid., p. 146.

Study Questions

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  1. How does Camus write his illness into his imaginative work? In what texts does he do this?
  2. Identify occurrences of the theme of guilt in Camus’s fiction and drama in addition to La Chute. How is the theme treated in each?
  3. What features of North African topography and climate are featured in L’Etranger, La Peste, “La Femme adultere,” and “L’Hote”? How are they connected, explicitly or implicitly, to the themes of each work?
  4. Sigmund Freud spoke of “civilization and its discontents.” What elements in Camus’s fiction, drama, and essays might constitute his version of “civilization and its discontents”?
  5. Trace references to and appearances of a maternal figure in Camus’s writing, including the posthumously published works, and identify in each case Camus’s attitude toward these maternal figures.
  6. What features of Camus’s career and work may have entered into the decision by the Swedish Academy to award him the Nobel Prize in literature in 1957? In what ways was the award appropriate or inappropriate, depending on one’s view?
  7. In which works does existential anguish come through clearly in Camus’s writing? What forms does it take and how is it treated?
  8. What are some of the connections in plot, theme, characterization, and setting between La Mort heureuse and L’Etranger?
  9. What fictional works and plays by Camus have as a theme either indifference to communication among human beings or the failure of communication when attempted? How is the theme handled in each work, and what conclusions can the reader draw from Camus’s treatment of this theme?
  10. In what works does Camus reveal something of his attitude toward mainland France and the rest of Europe? Describe the components of this attitude.
  11. How does Camus work into his writings the associated themes of judgment and justice? What distinctions does he make between judgment and justice?
  12. Why is Camus’s name so often associated with Jean-Paul Sartre’s? To what degree is this association justified?
  13. What does Martha mean in the play Le Malentendu when she says to Maria, “This is the normal order of things”?
  14. How is the theme of solitude explored in the stories that make up L’Exil et le royaume?
  15. To what American authors of the early or mid twentieth century might Camus be usefully compared, and in what ways?
  16. What features of Amsterdam or its history could have entered into Camus’s choice to set La Chute in that city?
  17. Camus told the critic Jean-Claude Brisville that in Le Premier Homme he planned to show the great influence of women in his life and accordingly would give them important roles, unlike in his previous fiction, in which they were “mythical.” How do women appear in Camus’s three novels published during his lifetime (L’Etranger, La Peste, and La Chute) and in the short stories, and in what way might they be justifiably termed mythical?
  18. In what passages of L’Etranger does an emotional language replace the flat style of reporting in the rest of the novel? Why did Camus choose this emotional language or allow it to appear in these passages?
  19. What are some of the ironies in Camus’s life and career? What elements in his work can be viewed as a commentary, intended or otherwise, on such ironies?
  20. In addition to the types of absurd man named and analyzed in Le Mythe de Sisyphe, which characters in Camus’s drama or fiction could be called types of the absurd hero or heroine? In what ways?
  21. To what degree and in what ways did Camus leave himself open to the charge of indifference to the plight of the Arab and Berber populations in Algeria?
  22. What explains the immediate and lasting success of L’Etranger? Is the high reputation of the novel warranted?
  23. Did Camus excel as a dramatist? What characteristics of his plays contribute to their dramatic impact? What are their weaknesses?
  24. What are the references and implications of the two nouns in the title L’Exil et le royaume?
  25. Francois Mauriac, a Catholic novelist, said of Marcel Proust’s work, “God is terribly absent.” Would this phrase fit Camus’s writings? Is there any element in them that might suggest a religious dimension? If not, suggest why critics nonetheless persist in asserting that Camus could conceivably have developed a religious sense (some say he might even have converted), whereas it appears universally agreed that Sartre and Simone de Beauvoir would not have done so under any conceivable circumstance.
  26. When Camus’s work is viewed broadly, what features does it seem to have in common with the general features of twentieth-century literature’in any specific sense’and what elements seem traditional or retrogressive?
  27. Identify traits and details concerning Jean-Baptiste Clamence in La Chute that may justify the common claim that he is a portrait of Camus himself.
  28. Cite a few factual incidents known by Camus that seem to have acted on his creative imagination and show how they were shaped in his writing.
  29. Omitting his journalistic pieces, in which of Camus’s works do the various wars of the twentieth century appear? How are they treated?
  30. What principles do Camus’s writings, including personal statements, suggest as a means of assessing oneself? To what degree are these principles morally and psychologically adequate?

Selected Bibliography

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The following is a list primarily of English-language works, but some works in French are also included for their historic importance, special value, or interest.


Beebe, Maurice. “Criticism of Albert Camus: A Selected Checklist of Studies in English.” Modem Fiction Stud ies, 10 (Autumn 1964): 303-314.

Gay-Crosier, Raymond. “Albert Camus.” In A Critical Bibliography of French Literature, volume 6: The Twentieth Century, edited by Douglas W. Alden and Richard A. Brooks, part 3. Syracuse: Syracuse University Press, 1980.

Hoy, Peter C. Camus in English. Wymondham, U.K.: Brewhouse Press, 1968.

Roeming, Robert F. Camus: A Bibliography. Madison: University of Wisconsin Press, 1968.


Grenier, Roger. Albert Camus, soleil et ombre: Une biographie intellectuelle. Paris: Gallimard, 1987. Places the conception and realization of Camus’s works in a biographic context.

Lenzini, Jose. L’Algerie de Camus. Aix-en-Provence: Edisud, 1987. Includes photographs, drawings, and paintings of Algiers and other sites as Camus knew them, with commentaries by various figures and quotations from Camus. Conveys the feel of the city and identifies particular locations mentioned in Camus’s works.

Lottman, Herbert R. Albert Camus: A Biography. Garden City, N.Y.: Doubleday, 1979.1 Revised edition, Corte Madera, Cal.: Gingko Press, 1997. A detailed sequential account of the author’s life and career; easier to consult and more comprehensive than Olivier Todd’s biography, Albert Camus: Une vie. General index; illustrated.

McCarthy, Patrick. Camus. New York: Random House, 1982. A highly readable biography that includes many pages of commentary on Camus’s works.

Todd, Olivier. Albert Camus: Une vie. Paris: Gallimard, 1996. Translated by Benjamin Ivry as Albert Camus: A Life. New York: Random House, 1997. Includes many pertinent, apt remarks and much information not available to Lottman when he was writing his biography. Todd includes quotations from unpublished letters but is less thorough than Lottman in some respects, for example, in discussing Camus’s childhood.


Akeroyd, Richard H. The Spiritual Quest of Albert Camus. Tuscaloosa, Ala.: Portals Press, 1976. A short study, with index.

Albérés, R.-M., ed. Camus. Paris: Hachette, 1964. An invaluable collection of essays and statements. In French.

Amiot, Anne-Marie, and Jean-Francois Mattei, eds. Albert Camus et la philosophie. Paris: Presses Universitaires de France, 1997. A collection of sixteen essays in French by Jean Sarrochi, Jaqueline Lévi-Valensi, and other eminent specialists.

Banks, G. V Camus: L’Etranger. London: Edward Arnold, 1976. Revised edition, Glasgow: University of Glasgow French and German Publications, 1992. A brief, lucid guide in English, with excellent observations.

Beauclair, Michelle. Albert Camus, Marguerite Duras, and the Legacy of Mourning. New York: Peter Lang, 1998. Brings together somewhat arbitrarily two French writers who dealt with death and mourning, and studies their attitudes, partly from a psychological perspective, using the theories of Sigmund Freud and Jacques Lacan. Duras’s LAmant and Camus’s L’Etranger, La Chute, and other works are considered.

Bloom, Harold, ed. Albert Camus. New York & Philadelphia: Chelsea House, 1989. A collection of previously published articles and book chapters on various works by Camus from such eminent critics as Victor Brombert, Roger Shattuck, Paul de Man, and Rene Girard (whose commentary is quite idiosyncratic). Introduction by Bloom. All selections are in English.

Brée, Germaine. Camus and Sartre: Crisis and Commitment. New York: Delacorte, 1972. Compares thoughtfully the two writers and stresses their differences. Deals in particular with the question of ethics versus aesthetics.

Brée and Margaret Guiton. “Albert Camus: The Two Sides of the Coin.” In their An Age of Fiction: The French Novel from Gide to Camus. New Brunswick: Rutgers University Press, 1957. Revised and enlarged as The French Novel from Gide to Camus. New York: Harcourt, Brace & World, 1962. Emphasizes philosophical elements in the novels. Offers comparisons between Camus and Jean-Paul Sartre and Camus and Andre Malraux.

Brée, ed. Camus: A Collection of Critical Essays. Englewood Cliffs, N.J.: Prentice-Hall, 1962. A useful, if dated, collection of essays, some by writers who knew Camus personally, on a wide range of topics, and often within students’ range.

Brombert, Victor. The Intellectual Hero: Studies in the French Novel, 1880-1955. Chicago & London: University of Chicago Press, 1960. Authoritative examinations, sometimes stressing the existentialist vein, of works by Camus and various con-temporaries.

Bronner, Stephen Eric. Camus: Portrait of a Moralist. Minneapolis & London: University of Minnesota Press, 1999. Includes a useful chronology and index.

Brosman, Catharine Savage, ed. Dictionary of Literary Biography, volume 72: French Novelists, 1930-1960. Detroit: Gale/Bruccoli Clark Layman, 1988. Includes lengthy essays, with bibliographies, on Camus and other major novelists of the period.

Burnier, Michel-Antoine. Choice of Action: The French Existentialists on the Political Front Line, translated by Bernard Murchland. New York: Vintage, 1969. Includes a chapter by Murchland titled “Sartre and Camus: The Anatomy of a Quarrel.”

Champigny, Robert. A Pagan Hero: An Interpretation of Meursault in Camus’ “The Stranger.” Philadelphia: University of Pennsylvania Press, 1970. A close, concentrated study, by a sympathetic critic, of Meursault and the narrative devices by which his story is told.

Cruickshank, John. Albert Camus and the Literature of Revolt. New York: Oxford University Press, 1960. A careful study of Camus’s fiction and drama by a knowledgeable critic.

Cruickshank, ed. French Literature and Its Background, volume 6: The Twentieth Century. London: Oxford University Press, 1970. Includes essays on Camus and Sartre and the novel of action, as well as background essays on French literature and World War II.

Davison, Ray. Camus: The Challenge of Dostoevsky. Exeter: University of Exeter Press, 1997. A substantial study, focusing on such themes as the absurd, revolt, nihilism, suicide, and other Camusian topics in connection with Fyodor Dostoyevsky. Davison considers Le Mythe de Sisyphe and other works, including Le Premier Homme. Particularly valuable for the discussion of Camus’s adaptation of Dostoyevsky’s The Possessed. Bibliography and index.

Dunwoodie, Peter, and Edward J. Hughes. Constructing Memories: Camus, Algeria, and “Le Premier Homme.” Stirling, U.K.: Stirling French Publications, 1998.

Falk, Eugene H. Types of Thematic Structure: The Nature and Function of Motifs in Gide, Camus, and Sartre. Chicago & London: University of Chicago Press, 1967. Discusses the matic expression by means of structure, images, and motifs, in L’Etranger and works by others. Useful for principles of literary analysis.

Frohock, W. M. Style and Temper: Studies in French Fiction, 1925-1960. Cambridge, Mass.: Harvard University Press, 1967. Includes sections on Camus and important contemporaries.

Gay-Crosier, Raymond. L’Envers d’un échec: étude sur le theatre d’Albert Camus. Paris: Lettres Modernes/ Minard, 1967. By an eminent Camus scholar. Extensive bibliography.

Guicharnaud, Jacques, and June Beckelman. Modern French Theatre from Giraudoux to Beckett. New Haven: Yale University Press, 1961. Includes a chapter on the drama of Camus and Sartre.

Hanna, Thomas. The Thought and Art of Albert Camus. Chicago: Regnery, 1958. Though published decades ago, this sympathetic study by a professional philosopher remains valuable.

Hayat, Jeannine. Jules Roy: Ombre et présence d’Albert Camus. Paris & Caen: Minard, 2000. An important historical and thematic study emphasizing the connections between Camus and his friend Jules Roy.

Histoires d’un livre: L’Etranger d’Albert Camus: Catalogue edite a l’occasion de l’exposition inaugurale presentee au Centre National des lettres a Paris, du 13 octobre au 9 novembre1990. Paris: IMEC, 1990. Traces the gestation of L’Etranger through notebooks, La Mort heureuse, and the manuscript of 1942; then surveys the critical reception and adaptations.

Hughes, Edward J. Camus: Le Premier Homme; La Peste. Glasgow: University of Glasgow French and German Publications, 1995. A perceptive introduction and commentary. In English.

Jones, Rosemarie. Camus’ “L’Etranger” and “La Chute.” London: Grant & Cutler, 1980. An introduction for students.

Keefe, Terry, and Edmund Smyth. Auto-biography and the Existential Self: Studies in Modern French Writing. New York: St. Martin’s Press, 1995. Deals with Camus and several con-temporaries.

Kellman, Steven G. The Plague: Fiction and Resistance. New York: Twayne, 1993. A good English-language guide to the novel, furnishing con-text and other useful materials as well as a reading of the work.

Kellman, ed. Approaches to Teaching Camus’s “The Plague.” New York: Modern Language Association, 1995. Despite the suggestion that this is a handbook for teachers only, some chapters are suitable for stu-dents as well. Good bibliography.

King, Adele. Camus. Edinburgh & London: Oliver ’ Boyd, 1964. A brief but worthy introduction, well balanced, focusing on Camus’s fiction and thought and including a survey of other criticism.

King, ed. Camus’s “L’Etranger”: Fifty Years On. London: Macmillan, 1992. Includes an introduction and essays, all in English, on a wide variety of topics, including the reception of L’Etranger abroad, Camus’s depiction of Arabs, ethnic and colonial questions, women in L’Etranger, and comparative studies.

Knapp, Bettina L., ed. Critical Essays on Albert Camus. Boston: G. K. Hall, 1988. Comprises new essays written for this volume and reprinted pieces from various periods, some by Rene Char, Sartre, and other well-known commentators. All in English.

Krieger, Murray. The Tragic Vision: Variations on a Theme in Literary Interpretation. Chicago & London: University of Chicago Press, 1960. Includes discussions of Camus and several of his contemporaries.

Lazare, Donald. The Unique Creation of Albert Camus. New Haven & London: Yale University Press, 1973. A broad-based study directed toward American readers.

Lebesque, Morvan. Camus. Paris: Seuil, 1963. In French. Not suitable for reference (no index, and the chronology has errors) but valuable for its sympathetic approach to Camus as a man and a writer, viewed from the perspective of the early 1960s. Includes many photographs not often reproduced elsewhere.

Lehan, Richard. A Dangerous Crossing: French Literary Existentialism and the Modern Novel. Carbondale & Edwardsville: Southern Illinois University Press/ London & Amsterdam: Feffer & Simons, 1973. Examines Sartre and Camus, then American novelists in light of their work.

Maquet, Albert. The Invincible Summer, translated by Herma Briffault. New York: George Braziller, 1958. Translation of an early general study, treating all of Camus’s main works.

McBride, James. Albert Camus: Philosopher and Litterateur. New York: St. Martin’s Press, 1992. A study of Camus’s conception of the absurd, as illustrated in L’Etranger and Le Mythe de Sisyphe, from a Christian viewpoint. Special attention is paid to the philosophies of St. Augustine and Friedrich Nietzsche and their connections with Camus. Includes an English translation of Camus’s thesis.

Moeller, Charles. Litterature du XX’ siecle et christianisme. volume 1: Le Silence de Dieu. Paris ’ Tournai: Casterman, 1953. Although dated, a valuable study because of its highly sympathetic treatment of Camus by a Catholic critic.

O’Brien, Conor Cruise. Albert Camus of Europe and Africa. New York: Viking, 1970. A short discussion of L’Etranger, La Peste, and La Chute. Critical of Camus’s response to the Algerian crisis and views on colonialism, but tactful in judging him.

Parker, Emmett. Albert Camus: The Artist in the Arena. Madison: University of Wisconsin Press, 1965. A responsible and thoughtful study that surveys, among other topics, Camus’s views on justice in Algeria.

Roblès, Emmanuel. Albert Camus et la treve civile. Philadelphia: Celfan Edition Monographs, 1988. A brief but invaluable account by close friend of Camus who witnessed his controversial visit to Algiers in 1956.

Roston, Jacqueline Gabrielle. Camus’s Récit “La Chute”: A Rewriting Through Dante’s “Commedia.” New York: Peter Lang, 1985. Assuming the presence of one masterpiece in another, Roston examines connections between Dante’s great poem and Camus’s novel, using also, as context, the poetics of Paul Valery. Photoreproduction of a typescript.

Royle, Peter. The Sartre-Camus Controversy: A Literary and Philosophical Critique. Ottawa: University of Ottawa Press, 1982. A short study, including chapters on L’Etranger, La Peste, L’Homme revoke, and works by Sartre. No index.

Sartre, Jean-Paul. “Albert Camus.” In his Situations, IV. Paris: Gallimard, 1964. Reprint of an article in France-Observateur, no. 505 (7 January 1960). Translated in Critical Essays on Albert Camus, edited by Knapp.

Sartre. “Explication de L’Etranger.” In his Situations, I. Paris: Gallimard, 1947. Reprint of an article in Cahiers du Sud, no. 253 (1943); translated by Annette Michelson in Sartre, Literary and Philosophical Essays. London: Rider, 1955. Translation reprinted in Camus: A Collection of Critical Essays, edited by Brée.

Sartre. “Rséponse a Albert Camus.” In his Situations, IV. Paris: Gallimard, 1964. Reprint of an article in Les Temps Modernes, no. 82 (August 1952).

Showalter, English, Jr. Exiles and Strangers: A Reading of Camus’s “Exile and the Kingdom.” Columbus: Ohio State University Press, 1984. A valuable study of the short-story collection.

Showalter. The Stranger: Humanity and the Absurd. Boston: Twayne, 1989. Comments on English translations, surveys the critical reception, and offers a reading of L’Etranger.

Sprintzen, David. Camus: A Critical Examination. Philadelphia: Temple University Press, 1988. A lengthy study with a bibliography and index.

Thody, Philip. Albert Camus: A Study of His Work. New York: Grove, 1957. A careful and thoughtful study of Camus’s fiction, drama, and essays.

Zyla, Wolodymyr T., and Wendell M. Aycock, eds. Albert Camus’ Literary Milieu: Arid Lands. Lubbock: Inter-departmental Committee on Comparative Literature, Texas Tech University, 1976. Essays by Brian Fitch, Anna Balakian, Thomas Bishop, and others on connections between Camus and Samuel Beck-ett, Voltaire, Valery, the Flemish painters Hubert and Jan van Eyck, and additional topics.


Albert Camus. Paris: Minard, 1968- . Revue des Lettres Modernes series. An irregularly appearing serial devoted to French-language scholarship on Camus, with a table of contents at the end of each volume. The “Carnet bibliographique” rubric, which has appeared irregularly, includes up-to-date bibliographic information. Eighteen volumes have been published through 2000.

Archives Albert Camus. Paris: Minard, 1970-. Occasional volumes in the Archives des Lettres Modernes series.

Cahiers Albert Camus. Paris: Gallimard, 1971-. A series of miscellaneous volumes, including primary texts.


Ageron, Charles-Robert. Modern Algeria: A History from 1830 to the Present, translated and edited by Michael Brett. Trenton, N.J.: Africa World Press, 1991. A useful and reliable handbook, clearly written and organized, by an eminent specialist. Good bibliography.

Audisio, Gabriel. L’Opera fabuleux. Paris:Julliard, 1970. A memoir of life in Algiers by a writer somewhat older than Camus who served as a mentor to him and others.

Beauvoir, Simone de. La Force des choses. Paris: Gallimard, 1963. Translated by Richard Howard as Force of Circumstance. New York: Putnam, 1965. Depicts in a personal, often biased manner much of the literary scene in Paris and political and social events from 1945 through 1962; deals with Camus and the dispute over L’Homme révolte.

Beauvoir. Les Mandarins. Paris: Gallimard, 1954. Translated by Leonard M. Friedman as The Mandarins. Cleveland: World, 1956. In fictional form based considerably on fact, gives a sense of life in Paris from the last months of the war through its after-math; portrays Camus to some degree under the guise of Henri, a journalist.

Behr, Edward. The Algerian Problem. London: Hodder & Stoughton, 1961. Reprint, Westport, Conn.: Green-wood Press, 1976. Gives a brief history of Algeria from 1830, then concentrates on the political and military situation in the twentieth century, through 1960.

Brogan, D. W The French Nation: From Napoleon to Petain. London: Hamilton, 1957. A thoughtful survey of modern French society by a highly respected scholar. Index but no bibliography.

Brosman, Catharine Savage. Art as Testimony: The Work of Jules Roy. Gainesville: University of Florida Press, 1989. A study of one of Camus’s closest friends, also an Algerian, which sheds light on the military and political situations in Algeria and Camus’s positions on them.

Brosman. Existential Fiction. Detroit: Gale/ Manly, 2000. A general introduction to the background of existentialism and to the existential dimension of literature as a whole, as well as a survey of French existential writing, with sections on Beauvoir, Sartre, Camus, and several others.

Brosman, ed. Dictionary of Twentieth Cen tury Culture: French Culture, 1900-1975. Detroit: Gale/Manly 1994. Includes short articles on Camus’s literary contemporaries, as well as the Left Bank, World War II, the Occupation, the Algerian war, French theaters and directors, French newspapers, and major political figures.

Caute, David. Communism and the French Intellectuals: 1914-1960. New York: Macmillan, 1964. An authoritative study, still valuable despite its date. Treats such topics as nationalism and colonialism, over which the French intellectuals (including Communists) fought. Several references to Camus.

Chambard, Claude. The Maquis: A History of the French Resistance Movement, translated by Elaine P. Halperin. Indianapolis: Bobbs-Merrill, 1976. Traces the early stages of the Resistance and the spread of Resistance networks. Clearly written, with many interesting facts, anecdotes, and sketches of important figures.

Dobrez, L. A. C. The Existential and its Exits: Literary and philosophical perspectives on the works of Beckett, Ionesco, Genet & Pinter. London: Athlone / New York: St. Martin’s Press, 1986. A philosophical examination, dealing with such concepts as angst, being, nothingness, and authenticity, and relating the authors named in the title to Camus and others.

Dostoyevsky, Fyodor. The Brothers Karamazov, translated by David Magar-shack, 2 volumes. Harmondsworth, U.K.: Penguin, 1958.

Dostoyevsky. The Devils (The Possessed), translated by Magarshack. Baltimore: Penguin, 1962.

Dostoyevsky. Notes from Underground, translated and annotated by Richard Pevear and Larissa Volokhonsky. New York: Knopf, 1993.

Dunwoodie, Peter. Writing French Algeria. Oxford: Clarendon Press, 1998. Deals with literary treatments of Algeria in French from the Romantics through the Ecole d’Alger, and includes post-colonial criticism of attitudes displayed in these writings. Scholarly but quite readable.

Fowlie, Wallace. Dionysus in Paris: A Guide to Contemporary French Theater. New York: Meridian, 1960. Useful for a short sketch of Camus as a dramatist and glimpses of his plays as produced during his lifetime, along with general information on modern French drama.

Furniss, Edgar S., Jr. France, Troubled Ally. New York: Praeger, 1960. Covers the Fourth and Fifth Republics, with useful chapters on Algeria and the Algerian war.

Gordon, David C. The Passing of French Algeria. London: Oxford University Press, 1966. A mid-length history of Algeria, the war, and the aftermath of the conflict, by a highly regarded historian. Includes profiles of some indigenous Algerian writers, including Jean Amrouche, Mouloud Feraoun, and Kateb Yacine.

Hazareesingh, Sudhir. “The Political Roles of Intellectuals.” In his Political Traditions in Modern France. Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1994. An erudite but readable study, mentioning Camus, Sartre, and many other well-known figures and providing the background to their activity.

Home, Alistair. A Savage War of Peace: Algeria 1954-1962. New York: Viking, 1978. A lengthy, detailed study for those wishing to pursue their reading beyond the basic facts of the Algerian conflict. Well-researched.

Judt, Tony. Past Imperfect: French Intellectuals, 1944-1956. Berkeley: University of California Press, 1992. An outstanding study of politics and thought in the period, viewed from many angles and conveying brilliantly the intellectual atmosphere while examining the positions of Camus, Sartre, Catholic intellectuals, and many other figures on such questions as postwar purges in France, Soviet expansionism, trials, and labor camps.

Kaufmann, Walter, ed. Existentialism from Dostoevsky to Sartre. New York: Meridian, 1956. Still useful, despite its age. Includes an introduction and translated selections from such writers as Dostoyevsky, Soren Kierkegaard, Karl Jaspers, Martin Heidegger, Nietzsche, Sartre, and Camus.

Keegan, John. The Second World War. New York: Viking, 1989. A lucid history by one of the world’s foremost authorities. Parts 1 and 4 deal with the war in the West (France, the Low Countries, England, and Italy). Illustrated; index.

Knight, Everett W. Literature Considered as Philosophy: The French Example. London: Routledge & Kegan Paul, 1957. An excellent handbook on the connections between philosophy and twentieth-century French literature, with chapters or sections on Camus, Edmund Husserl, Andre Gide, Antoine de Saint-Exupery, Malraux, Sartre, and associated topics.

Lawson, Don. The French Resistance. New York: Wanderer, 1984.

Lejeune, Philippe. On Autobiography, translated by Katherine Leary; edited, with a foreword, by Paul John Eakin. Minneapolis: University of Minnesota Press, 1989. Comprises three chapters from Lejeune’s Le Pacte autobiographique (1975), an important study of the genre of autobiography as a critical watershed, as well as selections from other texts.

Lichtheim, George. Marxism in Modern France. New York: Columbia University Press, 1966. An authoritative and readable examination of the place of Marxism in French thought in the middle of the twentieth century and of the activities of the Communist Party and fellow travelers.

Lottmann, Herbert R. The Purge. New York: Morrow, 1986. A clearly written study of anti-Nazi purges and punishments, or l’epuration, by the French, starting with trials and executions in Algeria in 1943 and going through the 1950s. Several references to Camus.

McBride, William L, ed. Sartre’s French Contemporaries and Enduring Influences. New York ’ London: Garland, 1997. Comprises twenty-one highly philosophical essays by respected scholars on various topics connected to French existential writing and on such figures as Maurice Merleau-Ponty, Gilles Deleuze, Sartre, Beauvoir, and Camus, who is treated as a thinker (by Thomas Hanna) and as an adversary of Sartre and Francis Jeanson.

Memmi, Albert. The Colonizer and the Colonized. Introduction by Jean-Paul Sartre. Translated by Howard Greenfeld. Boston: Beacon, 1965. Examines colonialism from the viewpoint of an indigenous North African, a contemporary of Camus’s whose approach to the topic contrasts with that of Camus. The French original of this essay, now considered a classic, dates from 1957.

Les Pieds Noirs. Foreword by Emmanuel Robles. Paris: Philippe Lebaud, 1982. An illustrated collection of essays concerning Algerians of European ancestry of all classes, their history from the nineteenth through the twentieth century, and their customs and achievements.

Schoenbrun, David. Soldiers of the Night: The Story of the French Resistance. New York: Dutton, 1980.

Smith, Colin. Contemporary French Philosophy: A Study in Norms and Values. New York: Barnes & Noble, 1964. Includes a section on Camus’s thought, with philosophical commentary on L’Etranger and La Peste.

Sulzberger, C. L. World War II. Boston: Houghton Mifflin, 1987. Chapters 24 and 40 relate the blitzkrieg (lightning war) of May-June 1940 and the struggle to liberate Western Europe (1944’ 1945). Maps on pp. 230-231 are particularly useful. Illustrated; index.

Talbott, John. War Without a Name: France in Algeria, 1954-1962. New York: Knopf, 1980. An examination of the Algerian war. Discusses, among other topics, the attitudes of the French intellectuals toward the war, the views of prominent Catholics, and the issue of civil disobedience.


Albert Camus: A Self-Portrait. Learning Corp. of America, 1972 . Nineteen-minute movie directed by Fred Orjain, featuring Camus talking about French theater and scenes of Algeria.


Most of Camus’s papers remain in the possession of his children, Catherine and Jean Camus, and are not available for inspection except with their permission. Camus’s portion of his unpublished correspondence with Jules Roy is in the Bibliotheque Saint-Charles in Marseilles; Roy’s portion, formerly in the 1MEC archives in Paris, has been transferred to the Fonds Camus of the Bibliotheque Mejane Aix-en-Provence. Two other sets of correspondence (partly in originals, partly in photocopies) are in the Special Collections division of the library at the University of Florida, Gainesville. See articles by Raymond Gay-Crosier summarizing their contents: “Une Correspondance inedite de 1’epoque du Theatre de 1’Equipe,” Albert Camus, 14 (1991): 165-172 (letters to Francoise Maeurer); and “Encore une correspondance inedite: Albert Camus-Yvonne Ducailar, 1939-1946,” Albert Camus, 15 (1993): 183-196. A typescript of Camus’s unpublished handwritten corrections of 1939 and 1941 for Caligula is held in the same collection. Some Camus papers are in the collection of the Harry Ransom Humanities Research Center at the University of Texas, Austin.


Albert Camus Critical Interpretation Home-page. This site features several English translations of short essays by Camus, including an excerpt from his essay “Between Yes and No,” in a readable format. It also offers student essays on aspects of Camus’s work, including comparative approaches.

Albert Camus Discussion Group. This discussion group is devoted to information about Camus’s life, his works, and existential philosophy.

Albert Camus Photo Gallery. Several photos of Camus as a child and as an adult can be viewed here.

Albert Camus: A Self-Portrait. Learning Corp. of America, 1972. Nineteen-minute movie directed by Fred Orjain, featuring Camus talking about French theater and scenes of Algeria.

Raymond Gay-Crosier summarizing their contents: “Une Correspondance inedite de 1’epoque du Theatre de 1’Equipe,” Albert Camus, 14 (1991): 165-172 (letters to Francoise Maeurer); and “Encore une correspondance inedite: Albert Camus-Yvonne Ducailar, 1939-1946,” Albert Camus, 15 (1993): 183-196. A typescript of Camus’s unpublished handwritten corrections of 1939 and 1941 for Caligula is held in the same collection. Some Camus papers are in the collection of the Harry Ransom Humanities Research Center at the University of Texas, Austin.

Albert Camus: The Stranger. This site includes a biography of Camus, a plot summary of L’Etranger, and a few excerpts from Camus’s writings. Its best feature is a definition of existentialism, with links to biographical entries on philosophers such as Nietzsche, Heidegger, and Sartre.

Caligula: A Play by Albert Camus. Critical reactions to Camus’s play and various productions of it are featured on this site. It also focuses on the figure of Caligula, both as he appears in the play and as he is viewed by historians.

Camus Studies Association. This site is devoted to the activities of the Camus Studies Association and provides information on membership. The Association’s vice president, Raymond Gay-Crosier, maintains a bibliography on the site. Accessible in French or English, the bibliography covers books and articles published on Camus in the 1990s.

The Existence of Albert Camus. A well-organized source for information on Camus’s life and writing, this site includes a bibliography of his works, as well as excerpts of criticism from published sources and student essays. The site also features a useful listing of quotations from Camus arranged by subject. It has extensive links to other sites and to articles about Camus from American newspapers such as The New York Times and The Boston Globe, including an interview with the writer’s daughter, Catherine Camus.

The Existence of Albert Camus Forum. This is a discussion group allowing participants to exchange comments on Camus’s literary and philosophical writings.

Existentialism: Albert Camus. This site provides information on Camus’s life and works, including a chronology and a list of quotations with their sources. It also features a few links to sites on other existentialist writers.

The First Man. Part of a series of web pages designed to encourage book clubs, this site provides questions to enhance discussions of Camus’s unfinished novel. It includes a bibliography of related fiction and nonfiction by other authors.

The Stranger Review Questions. This site consists of comprehension questions to aid teachers covering The Stranger in the classroom.


1. There is a subsequent printing of the Doubleday edition, also dated 1979, that is paginated differently from the first printing. All page references in this volume are keyed to the first printing.


Albert Camus World Literature Analysis


Camus, Albert (Vol. 1)