Authors: Albert Camus

  • Last updated on December 10, 2021

Algerian-born French novelist, playwright, and essayist

Author Works

Long Fiction:

La Mort heureuse, wr. 1936-1938, pb. 1971 (A Happy Death, 1972)

L’Étranger, 1942 (The Stranger, 1946)

La Peste, 1947 (The Plague, 1948)

La Chute, 1956 (The Fall, 1957)

Le Premier Homme, 1994 (The First Man, 1995)

Short Fiction:

L’Exil et le royaume, 1957 (Exile and the Kingdom, 1958)

Drama:

Caligula, wr. 1938-1939, pb. 1944 (English translation, 1948)

Le Malentendu, pr., pb. 1944 (The Misunderstanding, 1948)

L’État de siège, pr., pb. 1948 (State of Siege, 1958)

Les Justes, pr. 1949 (The Just Assassins, 1958)

Caligula and Three Other Plays, pb. 1958

Les Possédés, pr., pb. 1959 (adaptation of Fyodor Dostoevski’s novel; The Possessed, 1960)

Nonfiction:

L’Envers et l’endroit, 1937 (“The Wrong Side and the Right Side,” 1968)

Noces, 1938 (“Nuptials,” 1968)

Le Mythe de Sisyphe, 1942 (The Myth of Sisyphus, 1955)

L’Homme révolté, 1951 (The Rebel, 1953)

L’Été, 1954 (“Summer,” 1968)

Carnets: Mai 1935-février 1942, 1962 (Notebooks: 1935-1942, 1963)

Carnets: Janvier 1942-mars 1951, 1964 (Notebooks: 1942-1951, 1965)

Lyrical and Critical Essays, 1968 (includes “The Wrong Side and the Right Side,” “Nuptials,” and “Summer”)

Correspondance: 1939-1947, 2000

Biography

Albert Camus (kah-mew), the Algerian-born French writer of novels, short stories, dramas, essays, and journalism, was one of the most significant literary figures of the twentieth century. He recoiled from the dogmas of totalitarianism and organized religion that dictated human behavior, from existentialism’s despairing emphasis on anxiety and forlornness, and from nihilism’s insistence that human behavior did not matter. Instead, he achieved a literature of exigent moral questioning that clung to a Hellenistic faith in individualism, seeking a formula through which a person could live in dignity and decency within a godless, irrational, “absurd” universe.{$I[AN]9810001149}{$I[A]Camus, Albert}{$I[geo]ALGERIA;Camus, Albert}{$I[geo]FRANCE;Camus, Albert}{$I[tim]1913;Camus, Albert}

Albert Camus

(©The Nobel Foundation)

Camus grew up in poverty. After his father died of war wounds ten months after the boy’s birth, his illiterate mother was forced to earn a meager living as a cleaning woman. Encouraged by a remarkable teacher in grade school, he won a scholarship to an Algerian lycée, where he studied philosophy and read widely but also played soccer and swam. In 1930, he had the first of what were to be many attacks of tuberculosis. In 1934, he entered a disastrous one-year marriage. He also joined the Communist Party, only to leave it three years later.

During the mid-to late 1930’s, Camus began the notebooks that he kept from then on; he also wrote journalistic essays, founded a theatrical company, and wrote his first novel, A Happy Death (though it was not published until 1971), which can be considered a preliminary study for The Stranger. In 1939, he was rejected for military service because of his tuberculosis. Camus married the Algerian-born Francine Faure in December, 1940. Possessed by a Don Juanesque need to conquer women, however, he had many affairs, as well as a liaison with the actress Maria Casarès that lasted intermittently from 1944 until his death in 1960.

In 1942, Camus left Algeria for Paris, working there as a journalist and publisher’s editor; in 1943, he became editor of the resistance newspaper Combat. That same year, Camus also published what were to prove his two most influential texts: The Stranger and The Myth of Sisyphus. Together with his play Caligula, these works develop, narrate, and dramatize his core concept of absurdism. For Camus, the absurd is the void between the human need for a universe that is coherent, lucid, and rational and the reality of the universe as largely incoherent, meaningless, and irrational.

In The Myth of Sisyphus, Camus argues that human beings should renounce any nostalgia for a divinely ordered world and should instead adopt an ethic of heroic hedonism, of passionately lucid living. Accordingly, the protagonist of The Stranger, Meursault, recognizes the world’s conventions and codes as arbitrary and senseless. He comes to realize that he has loved life intensely for its physical pleasures and therefore greets his death by execution exultantly. In Caligula, the Roman emperor seeks to educate his subjects for an absurd world by torturing and killing a large number of them, finally inciting the patricians to rebel against his monstrous rule and murder him.

The next cycle of Camus’s works centering on the absurd is best represented by his long essay The Rebel and his novel The Plague. In The Rebel, Camus rejects both the metaphysical attempts to abolish an absurd universe incarnate in religion and the political attempts to cancel absurdism exemplified by totalitarian political regimes. In The Plague, he presents a variety of human responses to the plague’s toll of undeserved suffering and unjust death.

Camus’s career in the 1950’s was characterized by extreme tensions. His friendship with the philosopher Jean-Paul Sartre ended in a sharp public dispute because Sartre condoned Stalinism, which Camus vehemently condemned. When Algeria’s Muslims demanded that the land of his birth become a nation independent of France, Camus found himself unable either to support or to oppose their uprising. His notebooks show that his mood during this decade was frequently depressed. He developed a writer’s block that lasted for years and was only partially thawed by the composition of what was to be his last complete novel, The Fall.

The Fall is an ironic, deceptive book in which the first-person narrator, Jean-Baptiste Clamence, tells his life story to an unnamed, silent auditor who may well be humankind. Overcome by guilt from not aiding a suicidal woman, Clamence seeks to expiate his failure by attempting to baptize his listeners into a tyranny of universal sin and shame. For Camus, such a judgment amounts to a false clemency; he regarded guilt as accidental, relative, and individual, whereas personal freedom and dignity were a human being’s most cherished values.

In 1957, Camus, then forty-four, was awarded the Nobel Prize in Literature; he was its second-youngest recipient. He thereupon began work on what he announced would be his first long novel, to be entitled Le premier homme (the first man). He had written approximately one hundred pages of the work when on January 4, 1960, the sports car in which he was riding as a passenger smashed into two trees, killing him instantly. After his death, Camus’s reputation fluctuated, with the Anglo-American world continuing to admire his work and the younger generation of French readers almost ignoring it. His stature as a courageously committed humanistic writer, impatient with mysticism and skeptical regarding all ideological claims, however, should survive the ebb and flow of popular sentiment.

BibliographyBloom, 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 aesthetic values in Camus’s works. Also includes a chapter on the short story “The Renegade” from Exile and the Kingdom.Bronner, Stephen Eric. Camus: Portrait of a Moralist. Minneapolis: University of Minnesota Press, 1999. Provides a thorough, detailed account of the life and work of Camus, but assumes that the reader is familiar with key places and figures in Camus’s life. Black-and-white photos and a chronology put events and Camus’s influence on history and literature into perspective.Carroll, David. Albert Camus, the Algerian: Colonialism, Terrorism, Justice. New York: Columbia University Press, 2007. Analyzes Camus’s novels, short stories, and political essays within the context of the author’s complicated relationship with his Algerian background. Concludes that Camus’s work reflects his understanding of both the injustice of colonialism and the tragic nature of Algeria’s struggle for independence. Includes bibliography and index.Cruickshank, John. Albert Camus and the Literature of Revolt. 1959. Reprint. Westport, Conn.: Greenwood Press, 1978. Important work on Camus as writer and philosopher includes a general discussion of his principal ideas as they relate to the literature and historical events of the period. Offers interesting comments concerning American literary influences on Camus.Dunwoodie, Peter. Camus: “L’Envers et L’endroit” and “L’Exil et le royaume.” London: Grant and Cutler, 1985. Presents an introductory discussion of the short story as genre and then looks for–in the best treatment in a single volume–the central themes and metaphors of the short stories contained in Exile and the Kingdom.Ellison, David R. Understanding Albert Camus. Columbia: University of South Carolina Press, 1990. A good general introduction to Camus’s work.Hawes, Elizabeth. Camus, a Romance. New York: Grove Press, 2009. This thoroughly research biography puts Camus’ writing into the context of his life and the times in which he lived. His novels, plays, essays, and letters reveal his personal struggles, from his impoverished childhood to his failing health as an adult. This is by far the most detailed and well-researched biography of Camus ever written.Hughes, Edward J., ed. The Cambridge Companion to Camus. New York: Cambridge University Press, 2007. Examines Camus’s major works as well as his life, including his poverty-stricken childhood, his education, and his political beliefs. Includes reference citations in English and French.Hurley, D. F. “Looking for the Arab: Reading the Readings of Camus’s ‘The Guest.’” Studies in Short Fiction 30 (Winter, 1993): 79-93. A detailed, close reading that argues against the prevailing critical notion that the Arab prisoner in Camus’s story is an idiot or a beast.Fitch, Brian T. The Narcissistic Text: A Reading of Camus’ Fiction. Toronto: University of Toronto Press, 1982. This creative book examines Camus’s major works of fiction from the perspective of reader-response criticism. Fitch stresses the numerous ambiguities in The Stranger, The Plague, and The Fall.Jackson, Tommie L. The Existential Fiction of Ayi Kwei Armah, Albert Camus, and Jean-Paul Sartre. Lanham, Md.: University Press of America, 1997. Examines the existential writings of the three authors. Includes bibliographical references and an index.Kamber, Richard. On Camus. Belmont, Calif.: Wadsworth/Thomson Learning, 2002. A volume in the Wadsworth Philosophers series. Includes bibliographical references.Kellman, Steven G., ed.“The Plague”: Fiction and Resistance. New York: Twayne, 1993. Discusses the novel in separate sections devoted to literary and historical context and to different readings of the work. Individual chapters examine major characters as well as the mysterious narrator.King, Adele, ed. Camus’s “L’Étranger”: Fifty Years On. New York: St. Martin’s Press, 1992. Addresses the contexts and influences of the novel, its reception and influence on other writers, textual studies, and comparative studies. Includes an informative introduction.Lazere, Donald. The Unique Creation of Albert Camus. New Haven, Conn.: Yale University Press, 1973. This fascinating psychoanalytic reading of Camus’s works enriches appreciation of Camus’s style. Lazere’s final chapter summarizes American critical reactions to Camus’s works.Lottman, Herbert R. Albert Camus. 1979. Corte Madera, Calif.: Gingko Press, 1997. Extremely well-documented biography is based on extensive interviews with people who knew Camus well.McBride, Joseph. Albert Camus: Philosopher and Littérateur. New York: St. Martin’s Press, 1992. A narrowly focused study. Includes bibliographical references and an index.McCarthy, Patrick. Camus. New York: Random House, 1982. A meticulous attempt to reconstruct Camus through his childhood and early influences. Also covers every major phase of the author’s life and work. Includes notes and brief bibliography.Merton, Thomas. Albert Camus’ ‘The Plague’: Introduction and Commentary. New York: Seabury Press, 1968. This book proposes a profound theological interpretation of The Plague. Thomas Merton, a Trappist monk and a famous writer, shows that the two sermons delivered by Friar Paneloux in this novel distort the traditional Christian concept of grace.Oxenhandler, Neal. Looking for Heroes in Postwar France: Albert Camus, Max Jacob, Simone Weil. Hanover, N.H.: University Press of New England, 1996. Provides social context.Rhein, Phillip H. Albert Camus. Rev. ed. Boston: Twayne, 1989. Useful introduction to Camus’s life and work includes chapters on his childhood, his understanding of the absurd, his career in the theater, his view of humanity and rebellion. Includes notes and bibliography.Rizzuto, Anthony. Camus: Love and Sexuality. Gainesville: University Press of Florida, 1998. Presents both biographical material and literary and psychological analysis in addressing the evolution of Camus’s use of the themes of love and sex in his fiction. Includes bibliography and index.Sprintzen, David. Camus: A Critical Examination. Philadelphia: Temple University Press, 1988. Delves into the biographical experience that informs Camus’s work. Includes chapters on The Stranger, Camus’s drama, his interpretation of social dislocation, society and rebellion, revolt and history, metaphysical rebellion, confrontations with modernity, and the search for a style of life. Includes notes and bibliography.Suther, Judith D., ed. Essays on Camus’s “Exile and the Kingdom.” University, Miss.: Romance Monographs, 1981. An important collection of translated critical pieces written by international scholars using different literary approaches to the short stories of Camus. Interesting introductions by Germaine Brée and the editor.Tarrow, Susan. Exile from the Kingdom: A Political Rereading of Albert Camus. University: University of Alabama Press, 1985. Combines a study of Camus’s journalism with his fiction. As the title indicates, particular emphasis is placed on Camus’s short stories.Todd, Olivier. Albert Camus: A Life. Translated by Benjamin Ivry. New York: Alfred A. Knopf, 1997. Making use of materials such as unpublished letters made available after the death of Camus’s widow, this detailed biography reveals much about Camus’s love affairs and his many important friendships.
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