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  • 11/1/2003

Albert Camus

Albert Camus was born inMondovi, Algeria onNovember 7, 1913. He would learn early the sometimes senseless nature of life. Within a year of Camus' birth, his father, an impoverished agricultural worker of Alsatian origin, was killed inEurope fighting at the first battle of theMarne. His mother moved the family to the Belcourt district of Algiers where they lived with her mother who had also been widowed.
In primary school, Camus was fortunate enough to cross paths with a teacher, Louis Germain, who recognized the young boy's intellectual potential and encouraged him in his studies. By the time Camus received his baccalauréat in 1930, he was reading the likes of Gide, Montherlant and Malraux.
After taking a short break necessitated by a bout with tuberculosis, Camus continued his education at the University of Algiers. During this period, he supported himself by a wide variety of jobs which included giving private lessons, working for the Meteorological Institute, and selling spare parts for cars. It was also during this period that he, along with a number of other young left-wing intellectuals, founded the Théâtre du Travail in Algiers. Camus' first experience as a playwright came when this group created a "collective play" entitledRévolte dans les Asturies.
After earning a degree in philosophy, Camus relocated to Metropolitan France and took up journalism. In 1938, he accepted a post with the left-wing newspaperAlger-Républicain where he served alternately as sub-editor, social and political reporter, leader-writer, and book-reviewer. After World War II broke out, Camus used his literary talents to support the French Resistance, taking on the editorship ofCombat, an important underground paper. After the war, however, he gave up politics and journalism and devoted himself to writing. He soon established an international reputation with such works asThe Stranger (1946), The Plague(1948),The Rebel(1954) andThe Myth of Sisyphus(1955).
Although known primarily for his novels and philosophical works, Camus was also a man of the theatre. He served at various times as actor, director, playwright and translator for the stage. The themes of Camus' dramatic works hinge around man's realization of the "absurd" nature of the universe, and the inevitable clash of this realization with his desire for understanding. However, Camus' dramatizations of the "absurd" are very different from the "theatre of the absurd" of such playwrights asIonesco orBeckett. LikeSartre, Camus prefers characters who are capable not only of perceiving their plight, but of articulating it clearly.

The two most important of Camus' plays areCaligula (performed 1945, written 1938) andCross Purpose (1944). InCaligula, a young Roman emperor comes face to face with the terrible lack of meaning in the universe after the senseless death of his beloved sister Drusilla. In order to teach the world the true nature of life, Caligula goes on a murderous spree, killing his subjects indiscriminately. After this act of rebellion fails, he chooses to court his own assassination.
InCross Purpose, Camus' second play, a man returns home after travelling the world for 20 years. His mother and sister keep an inn where, unbeknownst to him, they murder and rob rich travellers so that they will one day be able to move to the sea-shore. Unable to find the right words to reveal his identity, the prodigal son decides tospend the night in his family's inn posing as a stranger, thus becoming the next victim. When his identity is discovered, a string of suicides is set into motion--a theme which Camus would later explore in his philosophical work,The Myth of Sisyphus.
Camus wrote two other original plays,State of Siege (1948) and The Just Assassins (1949). After this, his work for the stage consisted solely of translations and adaptations. The most brilliant of these were adaptations of Faulkner'sRequiem for a Nun (1956) and Dostoevsky'sThe Possessed (1959). In 1957, he was awarded the Nobel Prize for Literature. He responded with characteristic humility, insisting that he would have voted for Malraux.
OnJanuary 4, 1960, Camus was killed in an automobile accident while returning to Paris with his friend and publisher Michel Gallimard. He was only forty-six years old and had written as recently as 1958, "I continue to be convinced that my work hasn't even been begun." Adding to the tragedy was the fact that Camus disliked cars and had intended to return to Paris by train until Gallimard convinced him to change his mind. The return half of a rail ticket was found unused in his pocket.

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