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Portrait of Albert Camus

Albert Camus (November 7, 1913 - January 4, 1960) was a Nobel Prize winning French author, playwright, and journalist. He is best known for his novels The Stranger (1942), about a man whose consciousness awakens only when faced with execution, and The Plague (1947), about a town's struggle against an epidemic.

Although Camus did not consider himself a philosopher, he addressed philosophical questions in his writings. His "philosophy of the absurd," which he presented in his essay The Myth of Sisyphus (1942), posits that life has no intrinsic meaning in itself but can be given meaning by how it is lived. This belief pervades all of Camus' works.

Camus was awarded the Nobel Prize for Literature in 1957. He was killed in an automobile accident at the age of 46.

Biography

Albert Camus

1998 drawing of Albert Camus by Mexican artist Eduardo Pola.

Albert Camus was born in Mondavi, Algeria, in 1913 to working-class parents. His father Lucien was killed in World War I while Albert was still an infant. His mother Catherine raised Albert and his brother Lucien on her widow’s pension and income from a cleaning job. Camus was a bright student and, encouraged by a teacher, he applied for and received a scholarship which allowed him to continue on to secondary school. His studies were interrupted in 1930 by an attack of tuberculosis, and he would suffer from ill health for the rest of his life.

Between 1933 and 1936, he studied philosophy at the University of Algiers while working at various jobs to support himself. In 1934, he married Simone Hié, an attractive but wild woman he had known since the age of 15. Having earned his graduate degree and a teaching license, Camus found himself unable to obtain a teaching position due to poor health. At the same time, his marriage was deteriorating, due mainly to Simone’s drug addiction and infidelity, and they separated late in 1936.

The following year, Camus, who had been a Communist Party member briefly during university years, became staff writer for a new left-wing newspaper, Algiers Républicain. He wrote editorials as well as literary articles and also served as an investigative reporter for the paper while privately working on a novel, a play, and an essay. After the start of World War II, the paper was heavily censored due to its anti-war position, and it was eventually closed down in 1940. Camus moved to France briefly to work as an editorial secretary for the Paris-Soir newspaper, but left after German occupation began and returned to Algeria with his new wife, Francine Faure.

In 1941, Camus finally completed the manuscripts he had been working on. While the play, Caligula, would wait its turn, the novel, The Stranger, and the essay, The Myth of Sisyphus, were accepted by Gallimard, a publishing house in Paris. Camus was ill and convalescing near Lyons in 1942 when The Stranger was published and became a literary sensation. Allied landing in North Africa in November cut off Camus from his wife in Algeria, and he returned to Paris. He was welcomed into the intellectual circle which included such notable figures as Jean-Paul Sartre, Simone de Beauvoir, and Pablo Picasso. Camus worked as a manuscript reader for Gallimard while writing his next novel, The Plague. He also worked for the Resistance as editor of Combat, their underground newspaper, during this period. After the Liberation of Paris, Combat was openly published and Camus became famous as a journalist.

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Albert Camus in Stockholm, Sweden on December 10, 1957, after having received the Nobel Prize for Literature.

Caligula opened to good reviews in September 1945, but Camus was unhappy. He was never pleased with any reviews, always feeling misunderstood even when praised. His health was poor, and he was afraid he would die before completing his works. The Plague (1947) was a great commercial success and Camus was financially prospering. Privately, however, he was depressed and losing many of his friends over politics. With the publication of The Rebel (1951), a controversial essay criticizing both the USSR and the French left-wing (which at the time was politically disastrous), he lost the rest of his friends, including Sartre with whom he had a public feud. His reputation would not recover till the publication of a new novel, The Fall (1956), considered by some to be his best work. With violence escalating in the Algerian War of Independence, Camus was also worried for his family. He tried to negotiate a civilian truce but was unsuccessful, his position being unpopular with both sides (he condemned all violence and, while supporting equal rights for the Arab population, opposed Algerian independence).

Camus was awarded the Nobel Prize for Literature in 1957. The prize, given traditionally to authors near the end of their career, further depressed Camus who felt prematurely written off. The publicity and the need to field questions on Algerian politics made the situation worse, and Camus suffered anxiety and panic attacks. With part of the prize money, he bought a home in the small town of Lourmarin as a refuge from Paris where he could write in semi-seclusion. After spending Christmas there in 1959, Camus was planning to take the train to Paris when Michel Gillimard dropped by with his family and persuaded him to drive back with them instead. On January 4, 1960, the second day of the journey, Michel lost control of the car and both he and Camus were killed in the accident.

Selected works

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Front cover of a French edition of The Stranger.

Novels

  • The Stranger (L’Étranger), also translated as The Outsider (1942)
  • The Plague (La Peste) (1947)
  • The Fall (La Chute) (1956)

Plays

  • Caligula (1944)
  • The Just Assassins (Les Justes) (1950)
  • The Possessed (Les Possédés), adapted from Dostoevsky (1959)

Essays

  • The Myth of Sisyphus (Le Mythe de Sisyphe) (1942)
  • The Rebel (L’Homme révolté) (1951)

External links

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