Camus, The Stranger

avon

Forum Staff
May 2008
14,253
#1

Image source.




Albert Camus, The Stranger (L'etranger), 1953.

Text available here.



Thread opens Sunday, 06 March, 2011.


[ame="http://www.amazon.co.uk/gp/aw/d/0141182504/ref=mp_s_a_2?qid=1299310315&sr=8-2"]The Outsider (Penguin Modern Classics):Amazon:Books@@AMEPARAM@@http://ecx.images-amazon.com/images/I/51Fe7mKqesL.@@AMEPARAM@@51Fe7mKqesL[/ame]​
 

avon

Forum Staff
May 2008
14,253
#3

Albert Camus was neither idealist nor rationalist. His novels and philosophical tracts all display a practical mind and he maintained that life was to be lived rather than be whittled away pondering the Existential ‘meanings’ of man’s actions.

There being few material benefits to remaining, Camus left Algeria for Paris in March 1940, where his friend, journalist Pascal Pia, had found him a copy-job on Paris-Soir (also known as Soir-Républicain, it was something of a sensationalist newspaper). He moved from one grimy hotel to the next until the staff of Paris-Soir left the city to evade the advancing German army in June. When they left, Camus took with him the manuscript of the novel he had been working for more than a few years and had only finished the month previously: L’Etranger. The novel was only one of the projects at which he worked during these years. His earliest published works were the essays of Betwixt and Between (1937) and Nuptials (1939). He also wrote the posthumously published novel A Happy Death, which he never tried to get published. The relationship between A Happy Death and The Stranger is intricate. For a time during 1937 and 1938 Camus worked away at both novels, but later focussed exclusively on The Stranger before setting to work on Caligula and, more importantly to the present discussion, The Myth of Sisyphus.

For Camus, these three works comprised a cycle of the absurd, although Caligula went through further revisions after The Stranger and The Myth of Sisyphus were completed. Carrying all three works around with him during the traumas and travails of 1940, he completed the first part of The Myth of Sisyphus in September and the second early in 1941. The French surrender and division brought further change to Camus’ life as Paris-Soir established themselves at Clermont-Ferrand and then Lyon. In early December 1940 Camus and Francine Faure married and our troubled author lost his position as Paris-Soir cut staff. Camus and his fiery wife decided to return to Algeria. Faure’s family owned a property in Oran where Albert hoped to get a teaching post. Although supposedly completed, The Stranger would appear to have been further revised during this year. Just how far these revisions went is hard to say. At all events a version was sent by Camus in Oran to Pia in Lyon in April 1941 (Cf. Lottman, p. 249).

No matter, what is clear is that Camus sent a version from Oran to Pascal Pia in Lyon in April 1941. Pia sent it to André Malraux on whose recommendation the book was accepted for publication by Gallimard. Gaston Gallimard showed The Stranger to the Occupation authorities who gave their ascent to its publication. When the book appeared in June 1942 two copies were sent – as with each new book – to the Propaganda-Staffel. It was well-received in anti-Nazi circles, despite its limited print-run of just 4400 copies.

So that, somewhat briefly, is the context within which The Stranger appeared. It is, I think, interesting that it was Camus’ working-class Algerian background that brought him to narrative themes and philosophy that were widely appealing in Occupied Paris of 1942.

Further reading:
[ame="http://www.amazon.com/Albert-Camus-Biography-Herbert-Lottman/dp/3927258067/ref=sr_1_1?ie=UTF8&qid=1299413810&sr=8-1"]Amazon.com: Albert Camus: A Biography (9783927258068): Herbert R. Lottman: Books@@AMEPARAM@@http://ecx.images-amazon.com/images/I/417A0R7PBRL.@@AMEPARAM@@417A0R7PBRL[/ame]
 

avon

Forum Staff
May 2008
14,253
#4
In a PM, Patito da Hule brought an interesting point to my attention that is worth touching upon here:

I located the book, but I have the American (Matthew Ward) translation rather than the English (Gilbert) translation, which has some fairly trivial differences, but there's an important one.

The first sentence is translated "Maman died today" instead of "Mother died today." Aside from the American v. English differences, such differences as this preserve the informality or familiarity of the original to some degree.

The story is loaded with ennui, and I believe with Camus the ennui are almost as important as the story itself, just as the missing punctuation in a Saramago novel or the short letters in an e e cummings poem.
The very first paragraph of the novel poses the issue of language:
'Aujourdhui, maman est morte. Ou peut-être hier, je ne sais pas. J’ai reçu un télégramme de l’asile: 'Mère décédée. Enterrement demain. Sentiments distingués.' Cela ne veut rien dire. C’était peut-être hier.'
The difference between 'maman' and 'Mère' is subtle but I'm not concerned that it’s all that important. The informal/formal switch seems to conceal the realities of bereavement and leaves open the question of Mersault's reaction to the telegram. My translation (by Joseph Laredo) also uses 'Mother' for both instances, but Mersault's unemotional response still struck me. I think that's the main point of the passage. In fact, its interesting that he criticizes the content by noting that it 'doesn’t mean anything'.
 
Jan 2009
3,333
Minneapolis, MN
#5
I hope this forum will generated some lively discussion. For my own part, I read some of Camus’s writings when my youngest daughter was in high school and discussed them with her, but I do not understand Camus. Nor do I understand his existentialism or phenomenology. I will make a few remarks about him though.

First, whenever I see his name, my first thought is that qāmūs is the Arabic word for dictionary. Thus his name seems appropriate for such an Algerian wordsmith. Such a word association, of course, is personal and, in this case, somewhat absurd. But such word associations and connections are not. They are automatic for fluent speakers of the language. Such is the subtlety of Camus’s French. We are, unfortunately, reading the book in translation, and are bound to miss much of that subtlety. In his critique of The Stranger, Sartre makes the point that Camus uses short simple sentences in the perfect tense. I don’t know French, but I understand from Latin that the perfect refers to a simple act completed in past time. It is, as in English, past tense and, as in Russian, perfect aspect. To Sartre, this breaks up the narration to discrete instants of discontinuous time. Secondly, Sartre mentions that Meursault consistently refers to his mother as the affectionate maman, This adds to the tension we experience in his seeming absence of feeling about his mother’s death. Enough said about the subtleties of language. We need only be aware that we are missing such subtleties by reading something in translation. (We miss similar subtleties in reading Shakespeare because of the dated language!)
 

avon

Forum Staff
May 2008
14,253
#6
We need only be aware that we are missing such subtleties by reading something in translation. (We miss similar subtleties in reading Shakespeare because of the dated language!)
Years ago I supplemented my income by making musical arrangements for various musicians. For those who are not clear on what this entails, it simply means taking a piece of music and rewriting it for another medium (Orchestra to brass band; string quartet to wind ensemble etc). The results of such transpositions are always that the original is lost to a new version. Perhaps I am somewhat biased, but I don't think the new is necessarily cheaper than the original. I think the same might also be the case with literature. Take for example the opening statement of The Stranger from Wikipedia (with modest reformatting by myself):

The three translations differ much in tone; Gilbert's translation is formal, notable in the initiating sentence of the first chapter. The French original is: "Aujourd'hui, maman est morte. Ou peut-être hier, je ne sais pas. J'ai reçu un télégramme de l'asile: Mère décédée. Enterrement demain. Sentiments distingués. Cela ne veut rien dire. C'était peut-être hier" --

Gilbert's 1946 translation is:
"Mother died today. Or, maybe, yesterday; I can't be sure. The telegram from the Home says: Your mother passed away. Funeral tomorrow. Deep sympathy. Which leaves the matter doubtful; it could have been yesterday."​

Laredo's 1982 translation is:
"Mother died today. Or maybe yesterday, I don't know. I had a telegram from the home: 'Mother passed away. Funeral tomorrow. Yours sincerely.' That doesn't mean anything. It may have been yesterday."​

Ward's 1988 translation is:
"Maman died today. Or yesterday maybe, I don't know. I got a telegram from the home: Mother deceased. Funeral tomorrow. Faithfully yours. That doesn't mean anything. Maybe it was yesterday."​

[Maman is informal French for the informal English Mum/Mam/Mom; a strict translation of the opening line would be "Today, mama died."] A critical difference of translation is in the connotation of the original French emotion in the story's key sentence, i.e. "I laid my heart open to the benign indifference of the universe" versus "I laid my heart open to the gentle indifference of the universe" (original French: la tendre indifférence du monde = literally, "the tender indifference of the world").


http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/The_Stranger_(novel)

I confess to having un légère préférence to Laredo's, but that's the version I have read. But certainly, each has a quality.
 
Jan 2009
3,333
Minneapolis, MN
#7
Mais oui!

I only think everyone should be aware of the subtleties of language difference when reading any translated literature. For this reason, I have always, at least until the last few years, preferred reading literature in the original language. But holding strictly to that, I would never have read a lot that I have read and enjoyed.

The Stranger was Camus’s first novel, and for many writers their first novel is autobiographical. Do you suppose there is an autobiographical element to this one? Consider the opening paragraph of Camus’s Reflections on the Guillotine, and compare it to Meursault’s mention of his own father in the last chapter of The Stranger. Here is that paragraph from Camus’s essay:

REFLECTIONS ON THE GUILLOTINE


Shortly before the war of 1914, an assassin whose crime was particularly repulsive (he had slaughtered a family of farmers, including the children) was condemned to death in Algiers. He was a farm worker who had killed in a sort of bloodthirsty frenzy but had aggravated his case by robbing his victims. The affair created a great stir. It was generally thought that decapitation was too mild a punishment for such a monster. This was the opinion, I have been told, of my father, who was especially aroused by the murder of the children. One of the few things I know about him, in any case, is that he wanted to witness the execution, for the first time in his life. He got up in the dark to go to the place of execution at the other end of town amid a great crowd of people. What he saw that morning he never told anyone. My mother relates merely that he came rushing home, his face distorted, refused to talk, lay down for a moment on the bed, and suddenly began to vomit. He had just discovered the reality hidden under the noble phrases with which it was masked. Instead of think ing of the slaughtered children, he could think of nothing but that quivering body that had just been dropped on to a board to have its head cut off.​
 

avon

Forum Staff
May 2008
14,253
#8
PART ONE:

Chapter I:
First day: Thursday. News of mother's death. Arrival at Marengo. The wake.
Second day: Friday. The funeral procession and burial.

Chapter II:
Third day: Saturday. Meursault's meeting with Marie at beach. They spend the night together.
Fourth day: Sunday. Marie has left. Meursault spends a restless day.

Chapter III:
Fifth day: Monday. Meursault agrees to help Sintes punish sweetheart.

Chapter IV:
Eleventh day: Sunday. Day at the beach with Marie.

Chapter V:
A weekday during third week. Meursault accepts Raymond's invitation to spend following Sunday at friend's beach house. Agrees to marry Marie.

Chapter VI:
Eighteenth day. Sunday. The murder.


PART TWO:

Chapter I:
No precise time given. Meursault is interrogated by prosecuting attorney.

Chapter II:
No precise time given. Meursault relates prison experiences and meditations, Marie's visit. (All we know is that it is eleven months since the murder. So, some time in May.)

Chapter III:
First day of trial. (June, a year after murder.) Witnesses heard.

Chapter IV:
Second day of trial. Meursault sentenced to death after final speeches of attorneys.


PART THREE:

Chapter V:
Again, no precise time given: sometime after trial. Meursault's meditations on death and possibility of escape. The chaplain's visit.
 
Jan 2009
3,333
Minneapolis, MN
#9
The Stranger was written during a period when Camus was a great admirer of Sartre. His philosophy was very much influenced by the latter, and after The Stranger was published they became very close friends for about ten years. Camus's mature philosophy was less extentialist than suggested in The Stranger.

In 1955, Camus wrote a preface for The American University edition of The Stranger. I copied that preface here:

Preface to The Stranger

I summarized The Stranger a long time ago, with a remark that I admit was highly paradoxical: “In our society any man who does not weep at his mother’s funeral runs the risk of being sentenced to death.” I only meant that the hero of my book is condemned because he does not play the game. In this respect, he is foreign to the society in which he lives; he wanders, on the fringe, in the suburbs of private, solitary, sensual life. And this is why some readers have been to look upon him as a piece of social wreckage. A much more accurate idea of the character, or, at least, one much closer to the author’s intentions, will emerge if one asks just how Meursault doesn’t play the game. The reply is a simple one: he refuses to lie. To lie is not only to say what isn’t true. It is also and above all, to say more than is true, and, as far as the human heart is concerned, to express more than one feels. This is what we all do, every day, to simplify life. He says what he is, he refuses to hide his feelings, and immediately society feels threatened. He is asked, for example, to say that he regrets his crime, in the approved manner. He replies that what he feels is annoyance rather than real regret. And this shade of meaning condemns him.

For me, therefore, Meursault is not a piece of social wreckage, but a poor and naked man enamored of a sun that leaves no shadows. Far from being bereft of all feeling, he is animated by a passion that is deep because it is stubborn, a passion for the absolute and for truth. This truth is still a negative one, the truth of what we are and what we feel, but without it no conquest of ourselves or of the world will ever be possible.

One would therefore not be much mistaken to read The Stranger as the story of a man who, without any heroics, agrees to die for the truth. I also happened to say, again paradoxically, that I had tried to draw in my character the only Christ we deserve. It will be understood, after my explanations, that I said this with no blasphemous intent, and only with the slightly ironic affection and artist has the right to feel for the characters he has created.
This notion of the "Christ figure" has been a recurrent theme in critical essays ever since. I don't know whether Camus actually had the idea when he wrote the novel, but it seems to have developed very early in his writings. How do you think it fits in with the storry?
 
Jan 2009
3,333
Minneapolis, MN
#10
"My reasoning wants to be faithful to the evidence that aroused it."
(The Myth of Sisyphus)

From the stranger:
Last sentence of Chapter 1 is, "I knew I was going to go to bed and sleep for twelve hours."

Chapter 2: "[R]eally nothing had changed."

Chapter 3: "And in old Salomano's room, the dog whimpered softly."

Chapter 4: "I wasn't hungry and I went to bed without any dinner."

Chapter 5: "'I hope the dogs don't bark tonight. I always think its mine.'"

Really, nothing has changed.

Chapter 6: "Then I fired four more times at the motionless body...And it was like knocking four quick times on the door of unhappiness."

According to one theory of (literary) deconstruction, the novel or drama proceeds in four phases. The first ends at the first major development point in the plot. In this novel, that is very clearly here at the end of Part I, halfway through the novel. As I noticed that, I wondered whether Albert Camus subscribed to that theory? At any rate, from that point of view it is noteworthy that Camus chose this point to end part I.

As Avon noted in transcribing the TOC, each chapter involves one point of development in the plot also. These are the chapters that develop our principal characters--again, the purpose of "phase 1" of the deconstructed novel.
 

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