Albert Camus

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Camus, Albert (Vol. 2)

(Contemporary Literary Criticism)

Camus, Albert 1913–1960

A Nobel Prize-winning French existentialist novelist, essayist, and playwright, Camus is best known for The Stranger.

In La Chute [The Fall] Albert Camus renounces the paradoxical and arbitrary optimism of his preceding books, the hope born of despair to which Le Mythe de Sisyphe [The Myth of Sisyphus], La Peste [The Plague] and L'Homme révolté [The Rebel] testify. He does not deny his past attempts to tailor to man's measure the enormity that overwhelms him, but he relaxes for a moment, to catch his breath a bit, and mildly complain. Not so happy as to want to prove his happiness to himself in order to be less uncomfortable, Sisyphus, suffering and in despair, looks for a change of position so that his grief may be lulled to sleep or dismissed. Thus, La Chute came into being, the most beautiful book that Albert Camus has written since Le Mythe de Sisyphe. Since L'Etranger [The Stranger], too, the real subject of which was already the guilt of the innocent.

Claude Mauriac, "Albert Camus," in his The New Literature, translated by Samuel I. Stone (George Braziller, Inc.: from The New Literature by Claude Mauriac; reprinted with permission of the publisher; copyright © 1959 by George Braziller, Inc.), Braziller, 1959, pp. 103-17.

[Step] by step [Camus] became almost wholly a moralist, a definer and upholder of formal values.

Looking back on his work as a whole, one can see that even his fiction consists of short moral anecdotes. The extraordinary success of his first "récit" and most unqualified artistic success, The Stranger, surely rests not on the kind of powerfully sufficient image of life that is the imaginative artist's challenge and delight, but rather on an explicit idea of life. The Stranger, in itself Camus's one "nihilist" work of fiction (and succeeded by the antinihilistic The Plague), owes its great popularity to the fact that it speaks for widespread feelings of alienation from social cant. Vivid and acridly ironic as many details in the book are, the hero of The Stranger represents the bitterness of the early Camus rather than the bewildered and self-pitying clerk that Meursault is supposed to be. The beautiful last pages, in which the condemned man welcomes death as freedom, can only be read as Camus's own austere philosophical testament. The very titles of his books—The Stranger, The Rebel, The Fall—denote stages in one man's struggle for moral clarity, while the curt simplicity and tense balances of his style represent, in fact, that need to embody a position, to fix a value, which is typical of those for whom a moral, once defined, is a lesson to be followed. It is typical of Camus, who, I think, did not read English, that he was instinctively drawn to Emerson, the author of so many moral "gems" and epigrammatic conclusions about life, and that he was always quoting Emerson's admirer Nietzsche, whose writing is probably the most brilliant example of this genre that we have had in modern times.

The moralist is always one who tries to prescribe for life, for whom man has a destiny that he can put into words. The background of Camus's concern with this is significant: it is his awareness of death, of war, of the afflictions rained on our generation by totalitarianism…. All his life Camus felt himself surrounded by death—his death and that of a whole generation….

Albert Camus wrote like a condemned man. To me, it is this desperate emphasis on the value of life that is the key to his moral urgency….

I read these essays [Resistance, Rebellion and Death ] with constant agreement and respect and yet with pity, for Camus's life was harder than even he thought it was. Camus thought that truth will live for man if only he defines it closely and truly enough. But truth is never something that man controls. And the very closeness with which Camus tried so hard to condense the truth is one of the most poignant things about his life. There was a fundamental distrust that he could not conquer, a space across which...

(The entire section is 3,517 words.)