November 7 celebrates the birth of writer Albert Camus.
Born in Mondovi, Algeria, in 1913, his mother was an illiterate charwoman and
his father, an itinerant agricultural laborer who was killed in WW I in the
Battle of the Marne. Camus's mother was shocked by the news of her
husband's death and suffered a stroke that left her speech permanently
impaired. Her son, who was friends with French existentialist
philosopher Jean-Paul Sartre throughout the 1940s but broke with him over Sartre's
support of Stalinist politics, grew up in poverty.
When Camus was a teenager, he contracted tuberculosis.
He recovered, but the disease haunted him for the rest of his life. As
a young man, he tried to become a philosophy teacher, but he was turned
away because of his illness.
Camus began writing in the late Thirties, and his reputation
as a writer with a strong, young voice spread throughout Algeria. He also became active in theater. In 1938, he moved
to France, where the following year he divorced his first wife, Simone Hié,
who was a morphine addict. From 1938 to 1940, he worked for the
Alger-Républicain and, in 1940, for the Paris-Soir. He
married Francine Faure in 1940. He once said, "The only thing is to
decide which is the most aesthetic form of suicide: marriage and a
40-hour-a-week job, or a revolver."
In 1940, he moved to an Algerian town called Oran, where he spent time on
the beach. One day, he witnessed some Arab men get into a fight with a
friend of his, who threatened them with a pistol. Camus worked the
scene into a novel called L'etranger (The Stranger), which he
had begun in Algeria before the war. He completed the book in Paris
shortly before the German tanks rolled into the city.
The book is considered one of the greatest of all hard-boiled novels.
It begins, "Mother died today. Or maybe yesterday, I don't know."
The narrator kills someone and goes to prison, where he eventually
reconciles himself to his situation. He says, "For the first time, in
that night alive with signs and stars, I opened myself to the gentle
indifference of the world. Finding it so much like myself—so like a
brother, really—I felt that I had been happy and that I was happy again."
During WW II, Camus worked for the French resistance
movement to help undermine the German Vichy government and its occupation of
France. Afterwards, he was
a reader and editor of the Espoir series at Gallimard publisher from 1943 and,
with Sartre, founded the left-wing newspaper, Combat, which Camus
The Stranger was published in 1942, followed by a collection of essays
The Myth of Sisyphus (1943). Camus also wrote The Plague
(1947), a novel about the way ordinary people react to a disease that
strikes their city. He won the Nobel Prize for Literature in 1957.
Camus lived by his own existentialist philosophy. He once
said, "You will never be happy if you continue to search for what happiness
consists of. You will never live if you are looking for the meaning of
Although The Plague made him wealthy enough to quit
his job at a publishing house, Camus enjoyed his work and decided to stay.
He was killed in 1960 in an automobile accident after his boss convinced him to
drive one night to Paris instead of taking the train. His unused train ticket lay in his
pocket, and the manuscript of his last novel was found in the wreckage.
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