Albert Camus was born on 7 November 1913, in Mondovi, Algeria. His father, Lucien, died in 1914, during World War I's Battle of the Marne. War was to remain a constant throughout Camus' life -- and his literature.
Camus' mother was left to raise her son alone, in extreme poverty. Widowed and apparently deaf, there was little possibility of her earning a reasonable income. She moved the family to Rue de Lyon, in the Belcourt section of Algiers. Belcourt was a crowded, almost third-world neighborhood. The family was forced to move to the region so a grandmother could raise Albert and his older brother. Albert's grandmother was dying of liver cancer, while an uncle living in the house was paralyzed. Camus' family represented all human misery and misfortune.
According to Camus' accounts, his mother was permanently melancholy. To escape this home life, Camus buried himself in studies and participation in local athletic teams. He distinguished himself in sports as a leader and competitor. In academics, Camus also excelled. When Camus entered the local Belcourt schools, an instructor named Louis Germain noticed young Albert's intellect. The teacher tutored Albert, helping him pass the lycée entrance exams in 1923. A lycée is an exclusive secondary school for students destined to university -- as Albert was.
An important step out of poverty, Camus was accepted into the University of Algiers' school of philosophy. In 1930, his studies were interrupted by severe tuberculosis. The disease took one of his most important possessions -- his strength. As a result of the disease, Camus reduced his studies to a part-time pursuit. Albert would attend lectures at the University of Algiers from 1932 through 1953, never losing his enthusiasm for learning.
Between 1931 and 1935, Camus worked in a string of low-paying jobs, including positions as a police clerk and salesman. He also had a brief marriage during this period, which ended in divorce. Sadly, Camus wanted to be a teacher, but could never pass the medical exam due to his tuberculosis.
While a student at the University, Camus joined and left the Communist Party. His stormy relationship with the party continued throughout his life. Still, he remained a socialist, and founded The Workers' Theater in 1935. The Workers' Theater was intended to present socialist plays to Algiers' working population. Camus hoped to educate the workers, in accordance with his own beliefs. The theater company survived until 1939.
Between 1937 and 1939, Camus wrote for the Alger-Républicain, a socialist paper. As a reporter, he compiled a detailed account of the lives of poor Arabs in Kabyles. Camus later published a collection of essays on the conditions and ethnic discrimination faced by the Arabs in Actuelles III. In late 1939 and early 1940, he edited another socialist paper, the Soir-Républicain His editorship lasted only a few short months, as the paper closed in the midst of tensions between Algiers and France.
In 1940, Camus left Algiers for Paris, hoping to establish himself as a reporter in the leftist press. Unfortunately, the German army invaded France, and Camus returned to North Africa. The invasion of France left a terrible impression upon Camus.
Camus remarried in Africa, and found a teaching position in Oran. During the coming year he produced some of his greatest essays and short stories. In less than a year, Camus wrote drafts of The Stranger, The Myth of Sisyphus, and The Plague. In addition to these works, Camus filled notebooks with his thoughts on philosophy and politics.
In 1941 Camus was compelled to return to France and join the French Resistance. He joined a clandestine resistance cell known as "Combat" -- also the name of the organization's newspaper. Camus became editor of Combat in 1943, editing the newspaper for four years. His columns and reports often called upon people to act in accordance with strict moral principals. It was during this period that Camus formalized his philosophy that human life was sacred, no matter how inexplicable existence of life might be.
Following the war, Camus toured the United States. Camus found that French Existentialism, as promoted by Jean-Paul Sartre, was widely misunderstood as a philosophy of hopelessness. Camus did hold that life was absurd -- defying logical explanation, and ultimately irrational. However, Camus considered life valuable and worth defending. While the American public thought existentialism was devoid of morality, Camus' experiences in Algiers and France had led to a strong ethical system.
In 1944, at the age of thirty-one, Camus was a leading voice of social change. He belonged to no political party and was fiercely independent. His rejection of Marxism led to attacks from the Communists in France and other countries. Camus responded by attempting to for a socialist party of his own. While the political party never matured, it was clear Camus spoke for many French workers.
Camus succumbed to illness in 1949, a relapse of his tuberculosis accompanied by other difficulties. For two years he remained in seclusion, writing and publishing political essays. Camus recovered in 1951, and published The Rebel, a collection of his thoughts on metaphysical, historical, and artistic rebellion. The book so angered some of his counterparts that he was ostracized by many French intellectuals. It was this work that led to Camus' split with longtime friend Jean-Paul Sartre.
The stress of The Rebel's reception among philosophers and historians led Camus to seek out more relaxing work. He spent the next few years translating his favorite plays. This work as a translator led to successful French-language productions of plays by Larivey, Buzzati, and William Faulkner.
The Fall was published in 1956, marking Camus' return to novels. The book was well received, bringing Camus back into favor in intellectual circles. The following year, Camus was awarded the Nobel Prize for Literature.
It seems almost fitting that Camus died at the pinnacle of his career as a writer. Camus died in a freak automobile accident near Sens, France, on January 4, 1960.
(Courtesy of Christopher Scott Wyatt)