Classic Author Focus: Albert Camus

Albert Camus

I think it’s interesting that the quick biographies on the internet of Albert Camus all call him a French writer and philosopher even though he was born in Algeria and lived there until he moved to Paris as an adult. I know that Algeria was a French territory at the time, but it would still seem to me that he would be claimed by Algeria. Camus is described on Wikipedia as being born to Pied Noir parents, which are described as people of European descent who were born in Algeria during French rule, most of whom left the country after Algerian Independence (although he was already gone by that time). He lived in a poor neighborhood, his father, an agricultural worker, having died in the Battle of Marne in 1914 and his mother having to work as a house cleaner to support his family.

He was able to gain a scholarship to better schools with the help of a teacher and he was a gifted athlete, although his studies and athletic career were interrupted by bouts of tuberculosis. Because he had to study only part-time while he worked at various odd jobs, he enrolled at the University of Algiers when he was 20, where he studied philosophy and the work of author-philosophers such as Dostoevsky, Melville, and Kafka.

Camus married at 20 to Simone Hié, a morphine addict, whose addiction he was attempting to help fight. However, after he discovered she was having an affair with her doctor, the couple divorced. He joined the French Communist Party in 1934 and worked on a leftist newspaper until he moved to Paris to become editor-in-chief of Paris Soir. In Paris, he completed The Stranger, a philosophical essay The Myth of Sisyphus, and the play Caligula.

Although he attempted to join the French army when the Germans invaded, he was not accepted because of his history of tuberculosis. Having lost his job at Paris-Soir, he fled Paris and ended up in Lyon, where he married pianist and mathematician Francine Faure. The couple moved briefly back to Algiers and then to the French Alps because of his health. He took an active role in the French Resistance and returned to Paris, where he worked as a journalist and editor of a banned newspaper, Combat.

By the end of the war, Camus was a celebrated writer. He wrote against French colonialism and was a strong supporter of European integration. His writings dealt with such subjects as the isolation of man, the problem of evil, and the estrangement of man from himself. In 1957, he won the Nobel Prize for Literature. He died in a car accident at the age of 46.

Dates: 1913-1960

Most popular works: The Stranger, The Plague, The Fall, Requiem for a Nun, The Possessed

Other works: A Happy Death, The First Man, The Crisis of Man, The Myth of Sisyphus, and many more


14 thoughts on “Classic Author Focus: Albert Camus

  1. Actually, Camus never accepted the idea of an Algeria independent from France, and considered the party working towards independence to be fascist. So he would probably be horrified by the idea of calling him an Algerian. Sometimes we tend to impose our 21st century Western categories, but they may different for people of other times and countries

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  2. I confess that I always thought about Camus as a French writer but you are so right that having been born and brought up in Algeria during his formative years, that country has an even stronger claim to him. Thank you for pointing this out as I am sure his writing was shaped to a large extent by his background!

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    1. I actually thought about this a lot, and about colonialism. If you were born in Kenya or India of British parents during the colonial period, you would probably call yourself British, not Kenyan or Indian. On the other hand, if you were born in Australia, you’d probably call yourself Australian. I’m not sure why, and maybe these different countries had different relationships with their “mother” countries.

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      1. That’s an interesting observation. I was born in post colonial India and I am thinking of writers like Rudyard Kipling, George Orwell and Gerald Durrell who were born during the colonial period in India but are considered English writers even by Indians. One writer Ruskin Bond decided to stay back in India when the British left and he is a grand old man now who lives in the mountains in Himalayas and considers himself completely Indian.

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  3. This is really interesting, thank you! I was listening to a 72 year old Algerian women on the radio today who cried when she talked about French rule, it still hurt so much. I wonder if he saw himself as French because of his parents, he would seem Algerian to me?

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  4. A great overview! This is one of my favourite authors, even among existentialists and I feel that I understand his feelings and thoughts instinctively. The Stranger and Myth of Sisyphus are great books, so is The Plague, and I have recently read The Fall as well and found it equally thought-provoking. I find that even his narrative books hide insightful philosophical essays. The interesting fact is that Camus wasn’t even supposed to travel to Paris by car when he was killed because his own family took the train (and there was even a train ticket in his pocket). He was persuaded last minute.

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