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Camus, Albert (1913–1960)

Title: Albert Camus
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French journalist, existentialist novelist, essayist, playwright, and philosopher. Albert Camus was born to a poor family in Mondovi, Algeria, on 7 November 1913. His father died in World War I. Camus received early intellectual encouragement from a primary school teacher and went on to study at the University of Algiers. For a brief time in the 1930s, he was a member of the French Communist Party. In 1938, he moved to Paris and worked as a journalist. During World War II he edited the French Resistance newspaper Combat, which he founded with fellow existentialist writer Jean-Paul Sartre.

In postwar France, Camus and Sartre achieved recognition and, eventually, fame as engaged intellectuals. Camus' celebrity rested largely on his two great novels, L'Étranger (The Stranger, 1942), a fictional exploration of the utter emptiness and random depravity of modern-day life, and La Peste (The Plague, 1947), a nuanced parable of the injustice and absurdity of the German occupation of France. The philosophy inherent in L'Étranger was presaged at length in Camus' Le Mythe de Sisyphe (The Myth of Sisyphus, 1942), which lent him a reputation as an existentialist, a label that Camus himself rejected.

Camus' 1951 book, L'Homme Révolté (The Rebel), drew withering, condescending criticism from Sartre. In it Camus condemned revolutionary violence, especially that which justified itself with the idea of history as the moral force. This was not, however, a completely original viewpoint, as the philosopher Karl Popper, in 1945, had argued in similar vein in The Open Society and Its Enemies. Nevertheless, for Camus L'Homme Révolté signaled a break from the rigidities and hypocrisy of Stalinist-Marxism that was so popular among certain postwar French intelligentsia. His anti-Stalinism was publicly evident in 1956 when he criticized the Soviet invasion of Hungary and welcomed the Polish revolt. During the Algerian War (1954–1962), Camus was torn between an emotional response to the land of his birth and orthodox leftist political thinking on colonialism. In 1957 he won the Nobel Prize for Literature. Camus died after a car accident on 4 January 1960 in Villeblerin, France.

Paul Wingrove


Further Reading
Lottman, Herbert R. Albert Camus: A Biography. Garden City, NY: Doubleday, 1979.; McCarthy, Patrick. Camus. New York: Random House, 1982.; Thody, Philip. Albert Camus. New York: Knopf, 1968.; Todd, Olivier. Albert Camus: A Life. Translated by Benjamin Ivry. New York: Knopf, 1997.
 

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