Albert Camus

Start Your Free Trial

Download Albert Camus Study Guide

Subscribe Now

Introduction

(Contemporary Literary Criticism)

Albert Camus 1913–1960

French-Algerian novelist, dramatist, essayist, short story writer, journalist, and critic.

The following entry presents an overview of Camus's career through 1997. See Albert Camus Short Story Criticism, Albert Camus Literary Criticism (Volume 1), and Volumes 2, 4, 9, 11, 32.

A celebrated novelist and postwar intellectual, Albert Camus is considered one of the most important writers of the twentieth century. His short novel L'etranger (1942; The Stranger) and existentialist treatise Le mythe de Sisyphe (1942; The Myth of Sisyphus) are regarded as seminal works of "absurdism," a literary philosophy founded on the belief that human existence is inherently meaningless and futile. The long essay L'homme révolté (1951; The Rebel) and subsequent novels La peste (1947; The Plague) and La chute (1956; The Fall) fortified Camus's reputation as a formidable independent thinker and uncompromising artist. Public and critical interest in his work was renewed by the posthumous publication of his unfinished novel Le premier homme (1994; The First Man). His Nobel prize-winning novels, essays, and plays evince his commitment to social justice and the possibility of moral integrity in the modern world. Once hailed as the conscience of France, Camus is an internationally renowned literary figure whose poignant metaphysical concerns and arresting prose style exert a profound influence on contemporary letters.

Biographical Information

Born in Mondovi, Algeria, a French colony in North Africa until 1962, Camus was raised in poverty by his illiterate Spanish mother. His father, an itinerant laborer of French descent, was fatally wounded in the First World War before Camus reached his first birthday. In 1914 Camus moved with his brother and emotionally detached mother into a small apartment in Algiers which they shared with his uncle and grandmother. The adverse circumstances of his upbringing forged a lasting respect for his hardworking mother and the plight of the underprivileged. With the encouragement of Louis Germain, an elementary school teacher who early recognized Camus's abilities, he won a competitive grant to enter the Grand Lycée in Paris in 1924. At the Grand Lycée, Camus's intellectual mentor was philosophy teacher Jean Grenier, whom he later studied under at the University of Algiers. Shortly before enrolling at the University of Algiers at age sixteen, Camus suffered a near fatal bout with tuberculosis, a chronic illness whose physical and emotional effects haunted him for the remainder of his life. After a period of convalescence, he began studies in philosophy and literature at the University of Algiers, from which he graduated in 1936. While still a student, Camus married briefly and divorced; he remarried Francine Faure in 1940. Camus became increasingly involved in political activities during the 1930s. He joined the Communist Party in 1935, though resigned his membership in 1937 over ideological differences. He published his first two books, L'envers et l'endroit (1937; The Right Side and the Wrong Side) and Noces (1937; Nuptials), the same year. He also wrote and abandoned his first novel La morte heureuse (1971; A Happy Death). Between 1935 and 1938, Camus was active as an actor, writer, and producer with Theatre du travail (Labor Theater), renamed Theatre de I'equipe (Team Theater) after he abandoned the Communist Party. During the Second World War, Camus wrote The Myth of Sisyphus and The Stranger while living in France and Algeria. He also wrote for Combat, the clandestine newspaper of the French Resistance, through which he met existentialist philosopher Jean-Paul Sartre and Simone de Beauvoir. Upon the Allied liberation of Paris in 1944, Camus was awarded the Medal of the Liberation. Acclaim for The Stranger and his contributions to Combat, which he presided over as editor until 1947, quickly established Camus as a foremost French writer and intellectual of the postwar period. Over the next decade he produced The Plague, The Rebel , and...

(The entire section is 45,028 words.)