Albert Camus was born in Mondovi, Algeria, on this day in 1913. Camus’s father, a day laborer, died in WWI, and Camus was brought up by his illiterate, deaf mother and his grandmother. In The First Man, his last, incomplete novel, Camus included many details of his impoverished early life — no electricity, water, bathroom, or even oven, Camus and his brother in charge of taking family food to a local shopkeeper for cooking. The following is excerpted from Elizabeth Hawes’s recent biography-memoir, titled Camus, a Romance,as an admission of being captivated by her subject:
Camus’s own life could be understood as a response to his mother’s — his ambitions as a reaction to her docility and his tireless activism as engendered by her passivity — for it was in almost every way an antithesis. Camus knew this. He dedicated The First Man, the first of the books he intended to write about love, to the widow Camus, “to you who will never be able to read this book.” In a note to himself, he wrote of “the story of two people joined by the same blood and every kind of difference. She similar to the best this world has, and he quietly abominable. He thrown into all the follies of our time; she passing through the same history as if it were that of any time. She silent most of the time, with only a few words at her disposal to express herself; he constantly talking and unable to find in thousands of words what she could say with a single one of her silences. Mother and son.”
Camus’s notebooks also sketch out, in emotional if not actual detail, the intended conclusion of his last novel:
The end…. “Return the land. Give all the land to the poor, to those who have nothing and who are so poor that they never wanted to have and to possess, to those in the country who are like her, the immense herd of the wretched, mostly Arab and a few French…and then I, poor once more and forever, cast into the worst of exiles at the end of the earth, I will smile and I will die happy, knowing that those I revered, she whom I revered, are at last joined to the land I so loved under the sun where I was born.”
Daybook is contributed by Steve King, who teaches in the English Department of Memorial University in St. John’s, Newfoundland. His literary daybook began as a radio series syndicated nationally in Canada. He can be found online at todayinliterature.com.