was born in Mondovi, Algeria on November 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 in Europe fighting at the first
battle of the Marne. 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" entitled Révolte
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 newspaper Alger-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 of Combat, 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 as The Stranger (1946), The
Plague (1948), The Rebel (1954) and The Myth of
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 as Ionesco or Beckett. Like Sartre,
Camus prefers characters who are capable not only of perceiving
their plight, but of articulating it clearly.
The two most important of Camus' plays are Caligula
(performed 1945, written 1938) and Cross Purpose (1944).
In Caligula, 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.
In Cross 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 to spend 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's Requiem
for a Nun (1956) and Dostoevsky's The Possessed (1959).
In 1957, he was awarded the Nobel Prize for Literature. He responded
with characteristic humility, insisting that he would have voted
On January 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.