Top 10 interesting facts about Albert Camus

Albert Camus is a world famous French writer. Even if you don’t read in French, you’ve probably heard of his works, as most have been translated into English! The Outsider, ringing any bells? We can thank Mr. Camus for this novel. 

Albert Camus lived a full, albeit short, life. He died very tragically and unexpectedly. He was involved with the French Resistance movement during World War II, and he was also a philosopher! Are you curious yet? You’ve come to the right place. Keep reading for my top 10 most interesting facts about Albert Camus.

1. Albert Camus was a French novelist

Albert Camus is most famous for his novels. However, his first work was a play called, Revolte dans les Asturies (Revolt in the Asturias in English), and was published when he was 23 years old. He wrote the play with three of his friends, and it was about a Spanish miners who revolted against the Spanish government in 1934.

Camus

Albert Camus in 1957 by United Press International – WikiCommons

The following year, Camus published his first novel, L’Envers et l’Endroit (Betwixt and Between in English). As he continued to fine-tune his craft, Camus decided to publish his works in what he called “cycles.” Each cycle included a novel, an essay and a play. Over his life time, he published two complete cycles, and a third that was incomplete.

The first cycle includes L’Étranger (The Outsider in English, a novel), Le Mythe de Sysiphe (The Myth of Sisyphus in English, an essay) and Caligula, a play. Camus is probably most famous for his novel The Outsider. It tells the tale of Meursault, a French man who is living in Algeria.

The second cycle consists of La Peste (The Plague in English, a novel), L’Homme révolté (The Rebel in English, an essay) and Les Justes (The Just Assassins in English, a play). The third cycle includes Camus’ final, and unfinished, novel, Le Premier Homme (The First Man in English).

2. Albert Camus grew up in Algeria

Brothers

Albert Camus and his older brother Lucien in 1920 by an unknown photographer – WikiCommons

Albert Camus was born in 1913 in a town called Mondovi in Algeria (today the town is called Dréan). Camus never knew his father, as he was killed in the Battle of Verdun during World War I in 1914. His mother was deaf and illiterate, and the family was fairly poor. Although Camus was born in Algeria, he was a French citizen.

Camus was a studious child, and he showed an interest in writing and philosophy at an early age. He went to the University of Algiers, where he earned Bachelor’s degree in philosophy.

Camus’ early life in Algeria would go on to influence him in many ways. He was known as an anti-colonialist, and didn’t approve of the way the French treated native Algerians. He identified with many different political parties throughout his life, and he was very active in politics in the country. When the leftist newspaper he was working for, Alger Républicain, was banned in Algeria in 1940, he moved to Paris.

3. Albert Camus was a part of the French Resistance during World War II

Liberation

The Liberation of Paris in 1944 by Jack Downey, U.S. Office of War Information – WikiCommons

Very soon after Camus made the move to Paris, World War II had officially broken out in France. He wanted to join the French army, but he was turned away because he had suffered from tuberculosis when he was 17 years old.

When the Germans invaded Paris, Camus decided to leave the capital. He moved to Lyon, where he married Francine Faure, a pianist and mathematician. The pair had met in Algiers in 1937, and married in Lyon in 1940. Camus and Francine moved back to Algeria briefly, but then had to relocate to the French Alps because of Camus’ tuberculosis.

Camus then moved back to Paris in 1943. By this time, Camus had already published his first cycle of work and had begun working on the second cycle. Thanks to the fame garnered from his first cycle, he was connected with the French philosophers Jean-Paul Sartre, Simone de Beauvoir and André Breton. I’ll fill you in more on these relationships later!

When Camus returned to Paris for the second time, since he couldn’t help the war effort as a soldier, the author decided to join the French Resistance movement. He signed on to work as a journalist and editor for the underground Resistance newspaper, Combat. He continued to write for the newspaper even after Paris had been liberated!

4. Albert Camus’ most famous novel almost didn’t get published

L’Étranger

L’Étranger (The Outsider) by Albert Camus – WikiCommons

The Outsider is arguably Camus’ most famous novel. Clearly drawing from his own experiences as a French person living in Algeria, as I’ve already mentioned that the novel tells the story of Meursault, a French man who is living in Algeria.

Camus originally sent his story to the writer André Malraux in 1941. While Malraux was very impressed by the work of the then unknown writer, he ran into a problem once he decided that he wanted to publish the book. WWII had hit France hard, and there were shortages everywhere, meaning there wasn’t enough paper to print The Outsider!

Malraux even went so far as to ask Camus to send paper from Algeria in order to publish the book. In the end, Malraux was able to scrounge up enough sheets of paper to print 4,000 copies of the book.

As of today, more than 10 million copies of The Outsider have been sold. The only other French book in history to have sold more copies is The Little Prince!

5. Albert Camus is the second youngest person to ever win the Nobel Prize in Literature

Camus

Albert Camus in 1957 by Robert Edwards – WikiCommons

In 1957, Camus was awarded the Nobel Prize in Literature for his “important literary production, which with clear-sighted earnestness illuminates the problems of the human conscience in our times.”

Camus was 44 years old when he won, making him the second youngest person ever to be awarded the Nobel Prize in Literature. He comes second only to Rudyard Kipling, who was 42 years old when he was awarded the same honor.

Camus was shocked to learn that he had won. Thanks to the money that comes with the award, he was able to continue writing. Notably, he adapted a Fyodor Dostoyevsky’s novel Demons into a play, which was met with great success in Paris!

6. Albert Camus was also a philosopher

Myth

Le Mythe de Sisyphe (The Myth of Sisyphus) by Albert Camus – WikiCommons

Camus is associated with several types of philosophy. Much to his chagrin, he is most often linked to existentialism, although he often rejected it in many of his works. He was most likely linked to this movement due to his relationships with philosophers like Jean-Paul Sartre.

Camus is also associated with Absurdism, a branch of philosophy which studies the absurdity of life. According to Camus, the definition of the Absurd is, “that which is meaningless. Thus man’s existence is absurd because his contingency finds no external justification.” While this idea can have fairly negative connotations, Camus did believe that life was worth living, whether it was absurd or not. He just wants us to recognize absurdity as a fact, accept it and deal with it!

His first cycle of writing touches on this subject, particularly in the essay The Myth of Sisyphus. That’s not all! Camus also discusses Absurdism in The Outsider, Caligula, Betwixt and Between, The Plague, and another collection of essays: Noces (Nuptials in English).

7. Albert Camus had a tense relationship with Jean-Paul Sartre

Simone de Beauvoir with Jean-Paul Sartre

Fellow philosophers Simone de Beauvoir and Jean-Paul Sartre in 1939 – WikiCommons

Camus first met fellow philosopher Sartre in Paris during WWII. But, before the philosophers met in person, Camus read and reviewed Sartre’s novel Nausea. At the time, Camus was working as a writer for various magazines and newspapers, and praised the novel. But, he also used the review as an opportunity to disagree with much of what Sartre had to say.

He is quoted as saying that the Sartre had written a book in which, “remarkable fictional gifts and the play of the toughest and the most lucid mind are both lavished and squandered.” Ouch! Talk about a backwards compliment.

If you think that Sartre took the review sitting down, you’re wrong. After Camus had published Myth of Sisyphus, Sartre responded to the younger author’s original quip by writing, “M. Camus has the affectation of quoting the works of Jaspers, Heidegger, Kierkegaard, without, however, fully understanding them.”

If these writers lived in modern times, you could say that their back and forth resembled a playful battle that we sometimes see on social media networks like Twitter. Only, in their time, these one-liners were published in newspapers and magazines!

8. Albert Camus had a complicated personal life

Maria Casarès

One of Albert Camus’ mistresses, the Spanish actress Maria Casarès – WikiCommons

Camus was married twice in his lifetime, but was known as a womanizer. His first marriage was to a drug addict named Simone Hié. She was addicted to morphine, and I imagine that Camus thought of her as a damsel in distress that he could save. The couple was married from 1934-1940, but had unofficially split by 1936.

In 1940, Camus married his second wife Francine. They would go on to have 2 children together, twins named Catherine and Jean. But, just because Camus was married with children didn’t mean that he was faithful.

He had many extramarital affairs, including one with the famous Spanish actress Maria Casarès. He met Casarès when he was in Paris and hanging around with Sartre, de Beauvoir and Breton.

He also had relationships with a friend named Christiane Galindo, an actress named Lucette Meurer and another woman named Yvonne Ducailar. Camus maintained simultaneous relationships with these three mistresses and his wife at the same time.

9. Albert Camus died in a tragic car accident

Plaque

The bronze plaque on the monument to the French writer and philosopher Albert Camus in Villeblevin, where he died – WikiCommons

In 1960, when Camus was just 46 years old, he died in a car accident in Villeblevin, France. He was on his way out of Paris for a vacation with his publisher, Michel Gallimard. You may recognize the name Gallimard as it is still a major French publishing house today.

In a spur of the moment decision, Camus decided to drive with Gallimard rather than take the train with his wife and children. Chillingly, an unused train ticket was found in Camus’ pocket at the time of his death.

The handwritten manuscript of The First Man was found in the wreckage from the accident. This is one of two novels by Camus to be published posthumously.

10. Two of Albert Camus’ works were published after his death

Happy Death

La mort heureuse (A Happy Death) by Albert Camus – WikiCommons

Seeing as though Camus died so unexpectedly, it should come as no surprise that he had several works in the making at the time of his death. The first is called La mort heureuse (A Happy Death in English), and tells the story of a man named Patrice Mersault. Many critics compare him to the character Meursault in The Outsider.

The second is The First Man. 144 pages of the handwritten manuscript was found in the wreckage of the car accident that claimed Camus’ life. This book wasn’t published until 1995, and is an autobiographical novel on his childhood in Algeria. It was published in its incomplete form, just as Camus had left it.

Conclusion

Albert Camus is a major figure in French literature. He lived a very interesting life in Algeria and France in the 20th century, and his novels, essays and plays are definitely worth reading!

Have I inspired you to pick up something by Camus? I hope so! The Outsider is a great place to start.

If you want even more advice on what French literature you should read, I encourage you to sign up for one of our walking tours in Paris! All of our guides are local experts, and they’re sure to have plenty of titles to share with you. Click here to learn more and to make your booking.

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