Camus, Albert

The Columbia Encyclopedia, 6th ed.
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Camus, Albert

Albert Camus (älbĕr´ kämü´), 1913–60, French writer, b. Algiers. Camus was one of the most important authors and thinkers of the 20th cent. While a student at the Univ. of Algiers, he formed a theater group and adapted, directed, and acted in plays. He became active in social reform and was briefly a member of the Communist party. Shortly after his essay Noces [weddings] appeared (1939), he went to Paris as a journalist. In World War II he joined the French resistance and was principal editor of the underground paper Combat.

Noted for his vigorous, concise, and lucid style, Camus soon gained recognition as a major literary figure. His belief that man's condition is absurd identified him with the existentialists (see existentialism), but he denied allegiance to that group; his works express rather a courageous humanism. The characters in his novels and plays, although keenly aware of the meaninglessness of the human condition, assert their humanity by rebelling against their circumstances.

The philosophical essays in Le Mythe de Sisyphe (1942, tr. The Myth of Sisyphus, 1955) formulate his theory of the absurd and are the philosophical basis of his novel L'Étranger (1942, tr. The Stranger, 1946) and of his plays Le Malentendu (1944, tr. Cross Purpose, 1948) and Caligula (1944, tr. 1948). The essay L'Homme révolté (1951, tr. The Rebel, 1954), dealing with historical, spiritual, and political rebellion, treats themes found in the novels La Peste (1947, tr. The Plague, 1948) and La Chute (1956, tr. The Fall, 1957). Other works include the plays L'État de siège (1948, tr. State of Siege, 1958) and Les Justes (1950, tr. The Just Assassins, 1958), journalistic essays, and stories. Camus was awarded the 1957 Nobel Prize in Literature. The last book he published in his lifetime was Chroniques algériennes (1958, tr. Algerian Chronicles, 2013), a group of articles that express conflicted feelings regarding his homeland—supporting Arab political rights while opposing an independent Algeria. The first draft of an autobiographical novel, found in a briefcase after his death in a car crash, was published as Le Premier Homme (1994, tr. The First Man, 1995).

See Camus at Combat: Writing 1944–1947, ed. by J. Levi-Valensi (2007); his Notebooks: 1935–1951, (2 vol., tr. 1963–65, repr. 1998) and Notebooks: 1951–1959 (tr. 2008); C. Camus (his daughter), Albert Camus: Solitude and Solidarity (2012); biography by O. Todd (1997); R. Zaretsky, Albert Camus: Elements of a Life (2010); studies by G. Brée (4th ed. 1972), D. Lazere (1973), L. Braun (1974), P. McCarthy (1982), B. L. Knapp, ed. (1988), D. Sprintzen (1988), H. Bloom, ed. (1989, repr. 2003), P. Thody (1989), D. R. Ellison (1990), J. McBride (1992), C. S. Brosman (2001), and M. Longstaffe (2007).

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