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Remembering Albert Camus

Fifty years ago today the writer Albert Camus was killed in a car accident. He was only 47 years old and had recently become one of the youngest recipients of the Nobel Prize for Literature. Eric de Bellefroid wrote an excellent évocation of Camus (Albert Camus, l’enfant de la mer et du soleil, December 28) for La Libre Belgique, from which I quote the following excerpt (my translation):

Albert Camus was "born poor but under a happy sky," on November 7, 1913, in Mondovi (Deraan), Algeria, the son of a French farm laborer, who would die in Saint-Brieuc at the very beginning of the First World War, and a cleaning woman of Spanish origin, herself in poor health and illiterate. He grew up with her and her brother (his uncle, a paralytic) in the modest Belcourt neighborhood of Algiers. That is where his teacher, Louis Germain, soon discovered his talent and found him a scholarship. Camus later expressed filial devotion to him, including in his Discours de Suède, in 1958, just after receiving his Nobel Prize.

The scarlet sun of the sea shone on his adolescence. An excellent student, swimmer, and dancer, he became, at age 15 in 1928, the goalie for the soccer team of the Racing universitaire d’Alger club. People were already calling him “le petit prince.” A prince who, in high school, met his second mentor, the Catholic philosopher Jean Grenier, who gave him a taste for literature. He also contracted tuberculosis and found himself condemned to a life of convalescence, from which came his intense love of life.

As a philosophy student in Algiers, where his health prevented him from completing an agrégation, Camus discovered Malraux and, through him, his calling as a politically engaged writer. His philosophy thesis was on neoplatonism and Christian thought. In 1935, he joined the Communist Party and began his Carnets. Shortly thereafter he left the Party over the Algerian question and, in 1938, started a career in journalism at the Alger Républicain.
Reading this feature article recently made me realize that I should have the students in a French class read Camus's L’Étranger this semester, as a counterpoint to Sartre's Huis clos, which we are finishing at the moment. The intersection of both works with Catholic thought should make for interesting discussion. You may have read recently about Nicolas Sarkozy's attempt to move Camus's remains to the Pantheon, which was opposed by the author's children, who saw it as an attempt to use Camus for political gain. In lieu of the traditional formula, let us say "Rest in non-existence, Albert Camus."


jfl said...

He resisted the seduction of totalitarianism when it wasn't at all cool to do so. He saw the EU coming when most people thought it was a pie in the sky. He was against the death penalty on principle, even when it was 'inconvenient'. And even Hoover's FBI could not fail but to attest: "[Camus] champions a noble, courageous, but decidedly atheistic humanism." Right on, FBI. For once.

Anonymous said...

We read L'Etranger and Huis Clos together when I was in High School back in the 80s. It's a good combo but I remember being happy that those two novels were followed up by Candide!

Anonymous said...

Camus' The Fall has had an enduring impact on my life and way of seeing the Christian this day we mourn the loss of a great literary giant....