Albert Camus, French novelist and dramatist, was awarded the 1957 Nobel Prize for Literature. Although he is generally thought of as being French, he was actually born in Algeria into a French ‘pied-noir‘ settler family. His father was French, his mother was of Spanish descent. Camus grew up in poverty in the proletarian neighbourhood of Belcourt in Algiers. His natural talent was spotted by teacher Louis Germain who helped the young Camus win a high school scholarship. Camus would later dedicate his 1957 Nobel Prize acceptance speech to Germain. While at school Camus developed a love of football and played well in goal. He wanted to play professionally but tuberculosis, a disease that would plague him for life, ended these dreams. Later in 2013, the international community of lovers of the written word will celebrate the centenary of the laureate’s birth (November 7th).
Not only did Camus’ mother hail from Spain, but from the Balearic Islands, and from Menorca in particular. Apparently, Camus visited Menorca to connect with his mother’s and grandmother’s roots, the grandmother also being Menorcan. Camus also visited Mallorca, where he met his first wife, Simone Hié, then a morphine addict. His stay in Palma is told in the chapter Love of Life from his book The Wrong Side and the Right Side. Interesting reading, I think.
If you felt like it, you could retrace Camus’ steps in Palma with a copy of this text in hand, next time the opportunity arises.
In Carrer Llotgeta, you could visit the Bar Flexas (see photo above). This is not the bar which Camus describes, but there you can see details of a typical bar in Palma’s historic centre around the 1930’s and 40’s. In Plaça Santa Eulàlia, Carrer Morey and Carrer d’Almudaina, you can see Can Oleo and Can Bordills, both of them possible examples of the courtyards that Camus describes. Keep going until you reach the Cathedral. La Seu (the Cathedral) is described by Camus in the first of his Notebooks with the comment “bad taste and master workmanship”. I suggest you enter the Cathedral and admire the reform carried out under Antoni Gaudí’s orders, undervalued and harshly criticized at the time. Return through the narrow streets behind La Seu towards Plaça Sant Francesc and enter the stunning cloisters of the Església de Sant Francesc there.
Camus was the second youngest recipient of the Nobel Prize for Literature (after Rudyard Kipling) when he became the first African-born writer to receive the award, in 1957.
Albert Camus lived in impoverished conditions during his childhood in the Belcourt section of Algiers, his father having died when he was barely one year old. In 1923, he was accepted into the Lycée and eventually to the University of Algiers. However, he contracted tuberculosis in 1930, which forced him to make his studies a part-time pursuit. He took odd jobs including private tutor, car parts clerk and work for the Meteorological Institute. He completed his Licence de philosophie (BA) in 1935; in May of 1936, he successfully presented his thesis on Plotinus, Néo-Platonisme et Pensée Chrétienne for his Diplôme d’études supérieures (roughly equivalent to an M. A. by thesis). The rest is history.
I read some of Camus’ oeuvre when I was an angry young man, in particular The Plague and The Stranger. Later on, I had the opportunity to see his plays Caligula and The Just Assassins on stage.
In the 1950s Camus devoted his efforts to human rights. In 1952 he resigned from his work for UNESCO when the UN accepted Spain as a member under the leadership of General Franco. In 1953, he criticized Soviet methods to crush a workers’ strike in East Berlin. In 1956, he protested against similar methods in Poland (protests in Poznań) and the Soviet repression of the Hungarian revolution in October.
He maintained his pacifism and resistance to capital punishment anywhere in the world. One of his most significant contributions to the movement against capital punishment was an essay collaboration with Arthur Koestler, the writer, intellectual and founder of the League Against Capital Punishment.
In 1957, Camus was awarded the Nobel Prize in literature, officially not for his novel The Fall, published the previous year, but for his writings against capital punishment in the essay Réflexions Sur la Guillotine. When he spoke to students at the University of Stockholm, he defended his apparent inactivity in the French/Algerian conflict and stated that he was worried about what could happen to his mother who still lived in Algeria. This led to further ostracism by French left-wing intellectuals.
Camus is also the shortest-lived of any literature Nobel laureate to date, having died in a car crash only three years after receiving the award.
Camus was interred in the cemetery at Lourmarin, Vaucluse, Provence-Alpes-Côte d’Azur, France .
A brave angry young man in my books.