Albert Camus was an important novelist and playwright as well as a philosophical essayist and journalist. He translated and adapted the works of Spanish, Russian, and American writers such as Pedro Calderón de la Barca, Lope de Vega Carpio, Fyodor Dostoevski, William Faulkner, and James Thurber. During World War II, he was the anonymous editor of Combat, and he often practiced the trade of journalism during his brief life.
At the early age of forty-four, Albert Camus accepted the Nobel Prize in Literature. He had already been feted by the literary elite of Paris and had himself become the center of a cause célèbre due to his criticism of Soviet Marxism and its concomitant lack of a humanistic face. More than thirty years after Camus’s death, the philosophic and aesthetic values found in his writings continue to attract a wide audience, from American high school students to deconstructionists. Few contemporary writers have provoked more thoughtful discussion concerning the human condition and the themes of absurdity, revolt, and fraternity found in the human struggle. Perhaps Camus’s principal achievement centers on his refusal to make a distinction between his writings and his own actions. In his works, these actions take “form” in his protests against racism, intolerance, and human indignity, wherever they may be found. Camus’s durability may, in the final analysis, rest as much on the character of the writer as on his art.
Considered by many to have been the outstanding figure in his generation of French letters (rivaled only by his sometime friend and colleague Jean-Paul Sartre), Albert Camus is best remembered as the author of thought-provoking essays, such as Le Mythe de Sisyphe (1942; The Myth of Sisyphus, 1955) and L’Homme révolté (1951; The Rebel, 1956), and novels such as L’Étranger (1942; The Stranger, 1946), La Peste (1947; The Plague, 1948), and La Chute (1956; The Fall, 1957). L’Exil et le royaume (Exile and the Kingdom, 1958), a collection of thematically linked but otherwise widely varied short stories, appeared in 1957 to considerable acclaim.
Despite a lifelong interest and participation in the theater, frequently as actor or director, Albert Camus never achieved with his plays the success that his essays and prose fiction enjoyed. Still, the plays are valuable for their development of the themes that preoccupied him throughout his career. It was his single-minded engagement with these fundamental moral and philosophical dilemmas that won for him a reputation as the conscience of his generation—a reputation confirmed in 1957 by the Nobel Prizein Literature, which he received when he was only forty-three years old.
Albert Camus (kah-MEW) considered his vocation to be that of novelist, but the artist in him was always at the service of his dominant passion, moral philosophy. As a result, Camus was led to cultivate several other literary forms that could express his central concerns as a moralist: the short story, drama, and nonfiction forms such as the philosophical essay and political journalism, all of which he practiced with enough distinction to be influential among his contemporaries. Moreover, these works were generally written side by side with his novels; it was Camus’s customary procedure, throughout his brief writing career, always to be working on two or more compositions simultaneously, each expressing a different facet of the same philosophical issue. Thus, within a year of the publication of his most celebrated novel, The Stranger, there appeared a long essay titled Le Mythe de Sisyphe (1942; The Myth of Sisyphus, 1955), a meditation on the meaning of life in an irrational universe that begins with the assertion that the only serious question confronting modern man is the question of suicide and concludes with a daring argument that finds in the legend of Sisyphus a strangely comforting allegory of the human condition. Sisyphus, who becomes in Camus’s hands an exemplary existentialist, spent his days in the endlessly futile task of pushing a boulder to the top of a hill from which it always rolled down again. Every human life is expended as meaninglessly as that of Sisyphus, Camus argues, yet one must conceive of Sisyphus as happy, because he was totally absorbed by his assigned task and found sufficient satisfaction in its daily accomplishment, without requiring that it also...
To the immediate postwar public, not only in France but also throughout Europe, Albert Camus seemed a writer of unassailable stature. Although Camus himself repudiated the designation, he was regarded worldwide as one of the two principal exponents of existentialism (the other was Jean-Paul Sartre), the single most influential philosophical movement of the twentieth century. Indeed, the existentialist worldview—according to which the individual human being “must assume ultimate responsibility for his acts of free will without any certain knowledge of what is right or wrong or good or bad”—has profoundly shaped the values of countless people who have never read Camus or Sartre.
Bloom, Harold, ed. Albert Camus. New York: Chelsea House, 1989. A collection of essays written by some of the principal scholars of Camus’s oeuvre. Among the contributors are Victor Brombert, Roger Shattuck, Paul de Man, Patrick McCarthy, and David R. Ellison. Harold Bloom’s introduction, though brilliant in its own virtuosity, may lack a certain humanistic understanding.
Brée, Germaine. Camus. Rev. ed. New Brunswick, N.J.: Rutgers University Press, 1972. A comprehensive study of the inner life and fictional universe of Camus. While drawing a sympathetic portrait of the writer, Brée gives particular importance to the...