The Plague: Biography

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Albert Camus was born on November 7, 1913, in Dréan (Mondovi), El Taref, French Algeria, the second son of Lucien Camus, a vineyard supervisor, who died in World War I. Camus was raised in poverty by his illiterate mother, Catherine-Hélène Sintès Camus, in his grandmother's house in the poor section of Algiers. He was a bright student and was accepted at the Grand Lycée in 1923 and then, the University of Algiers. In 1930, due to tuberculosis, he had to stop playing soccer at university and become a part-time student, taking odd jobs. He completed a B.A. in philosophy in 1935 and wrote a thesis on Neo-platonism and Christian thought for an advanced degree in 1936.


He joined the French Communist Party in 1935 as a way to fight class and racial inequality in Algeria. He also joined the Algerian People's Party, which got him into trouble with the communists. He was called a Trotskyite and expelled from the Communist Party in 1937. Camus wrote pieces for the anarchists and supported their cause in uprisings in East Germany in 1953, in Poland in 1956, and in the Hungarian Revolution of 1956.


In 1934, Camus married Simone Hié, but the marriage ended in divorce. In 1935, he founded the Worker's Theater (Théâtre du Travail), renamed Team Theater (Théâtre de l'Equipe) in 1937, for which he acted and wrote adaptations. He later wrote his own plays in the 1940s and 1950s, such as the absurdist Caligula (1944) and State of Siege (1948). From 1937 to 1939 he wrote for a socialist paper, Alger-Républicain. When he wrote an article on poor peasants of Kabylie, a Berber tribal people, he lost his job. He then wrote for the Soir-Républicain from 1938 to 1940. He was rejected by the French army because of his tuberculosis. In 1940, he married Francine Faure, a pianist and mathemetician from Oran. They had twins, Catherine and Jean, in 1945.


During World War II, Camus was at first a pacifist until he witnessed the Germans executing a man in Paris. He moved as a writer with the staff of Paris-Soir to Bordeaux and brought out his first books, The Stranger and The Myth of Sisyphus in 1942. The same year he went briefly to Oran, Algeria, with his wife but was separated from her during the war. Camus worked for the French Resistance as editor of the underground newspaper, Combat, and met Jean-Paul Sartre, the existential philosopher. They and other radicals continued to meet after the war at the Café de Flore in Paris to discuss philosophy. Camus joined a group advocating a European Federation, an early vision of a European Union.


When his tuberculosis returned, Camus lived in seclusion for two years, writing The Rebel (1951), an analysis of rebellion and rejection of communism. This alienated him from Sartre and other leftist intellectuals. Camus declared he was not an existentialist but an absurdist. His position was made clear in The Myth of Sisyphus and in The Stranger (1942) and The Plague (1947).Camus won the French Prix des Critiques for The Plague. He illustrates the human sense of alienation from the universe but takes a humanist position on humans being capable of surpassing their own limitations. Like Dr. Rieux in The Plague, Camus believed in working for a better world in his efforts for human rights in the 1950s, opposing capital punishment and Soviet aggression. In the Algerian War of 1954, he worked for a truce and liberation of Algerian prisoners. He was awarded the Nobel Prize for Literature in 1957, the year after he published his novel, The Fall (1956). He died in a car accident in France on January 4, 1960 at the age of 46. Two works were published posthumously, A Happy Death (1970), and The First Man (1995).

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