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Camus, Albert

life french values france

(French, 1913–60)

Camus was brought up in Algeria before moving to France and becoming a journalist. During the war he was active in the Resistance. In his first novel, The Outsider (1942), Meursault is a young French-Algerian clerk who leads a perfectly ordinary life until he is put on trial for shooting an Arab in self-defence. He refuses to feign any of the emotions that might gain the court's sympathy (it is revealed he slept with a woman on the evening of his mother's funeral, and that he did not cry). The court regards him as sub-human and condemns him to death; as death approaches, he realizes how much he values life. The flat, neutral, journalistic tone of the novel gives it extraordinary power. The Plague (1947), based on a real outbreak of typhoid in Algeria in 1941–2, is an allegory of the German occupation of France. Initially unable to believe the invasion of plague rats, the inhabitants of Oran are quarantined and assaulted by loss and grief. The Fall (1956) is a monologue whose narrator has been forced to recognize the complacent hypocrisy of his life. He has flung himself into debauchery and then into self-judgement, and now tells the story of his fall to an acquaintance in Amsterdam.

Camus's writing explores the irrational and contradictory nature of the human predicament—often through characters who rebel against conventional values. The world he explores is ‘Absurd’ (a term used to categorise the work of a number of his contemporaries, particularly playwrights): it is incomprehensible and purposeless. Camus was awarded the Nobel Prize for Literature in 1957.

Samuel Beckett, Jean-Paul Sartre, Franz Kafka, Jean Genet  JR

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