The Plague

By Albert Camus


Albert Camus (1913-1960) was born into a humble working-class family in Mondovi, Algiers on the 7th November 1913. His mother was illiterate and his father died just a year later in the Battle of the Marne. His childhood was subsequently poor though not unhappy and he later translated the poverty of his childhood onto focusing his view of existence. He believed that human suffering and happiness stood out more clearly against a stark setting. In 1923 he went to Algiers to study philosophy where he was influenced by the humanism of Jean Grenier and the pessimism of Nietszche and Schopenhauer. Having denounced all rational explanations of the world he began a search for salvation in a world that seemed meaningless. A subsequent preoccupation with death and salvation can also be interpreted as Camus' personal experience of the fragility of life. For at 17, he was viciously attacked by tuberculosis, an illness that was to recur and to lead him to develop a strong sense of the necessity for self-domination and control, and above all over death. A second attack in 1937 meant he was rejected from military service. Instead he went to Paris where he became a member of the communist party for several years and worked on the newspaper Paris Soir. His play Caligula appeared in 1939 whilst his first two novels, The Outsider and the long essay The Myth of Sisyphus were published in 1942 bringing him sudden fame. In 1941, with the German Occupation of France, Camus became one of the intellectual leaders of the French Resistance, editing and contributing to the magazine Combat that he had also helped to found. The War Years and those immediately following were Camus' most prolific period. Through his novels, The Plague (1947) and The Fall (1956), and to a lesser extent in his play The Just (1949), he explored his theory of "The Absurd" - the dichotomy between man and the universe, a notion now synonymous with his name. These also established his international reputation and in 1957 he was awarded the Nobel Prize for literature. Throughout the 1950s he renewed his interest in the theatre, skilfully adapting and translating works such as Faulkner's Requiem for a Nun and Dostoevsky's The Possessed. In 1960 he was tragically killed in a road accident leaving the public with the unfinished manuscript of his last novel, The First Man, (which appeared in 1994 to widespread critical acclaim.) His famous contemporary Jean-Paul Sartre paid just tribute to him in his obituary notice when he wrote, "Camus could never cease to be one of the principal forces in our cultural domain, nor to represent, in his own way, the history of France and of this century".