September 20, 2017
Albert Camus, The Outsider
-- I thought it was because I let you win at roulette?
-- That is another reason.... There is a man arrived in Casablanca on his way to America. He will offer a fortune to anyone who will furnish him with an exit visa.
-- Yeah? What's his name?
-- Victor Lazlo.
-- Victor Lazlo?
-- Rick, that is the first time I have ever seen you so impressed.
-- He's succeeded in impressing half the world.
-- Rick, Lazlo must never reach America. He stays in Casablanca....
Camus' first and most famous novel L'Etranger, translated as The Stranger, or The Outsider, was published on May 19th, 1942, the same year as Casablanca was released. Like the movie, the book was popular from the start, though it was not until the 60s and 70s that both began to reach legendary status. The most reproduced photographs of Albert Camus even show him looking like Humphrey Bogart: overcoated, cigaretted, and attractively worn-out.
The more remarkable parallel is that the novel too managed to slip by the Nazis. With the paper shortage, getting a book published in France during WWII was difficult enough; getting clearance from the Propaganda Ministry was an even larger obstacle. The Nazis of 1942 were not the avid burners of a decade earlier, but the prohibitions were systematic and effective: nothing against Hitler and Homeland, nothing for Jews, nothing subversive or -- in Nazi Newspeak -- "inflammatory." That the watchdogs of totalitarianism should judge The Outsider to be apolitical and harmless may be one of the larger ironies in the history of publishing and censorship. The novel has become one of the 20th century's most famous arguments, if not anthems, against the compulsions of state and society.
Camus felt that his novel was misinterpreted by not just the Reich but the first reviewers. Despite understanding and endorsement by the Paris intellectuals, the popular view was that, from its very first paragraph, The Outsider was a cold and gloomy existentialist tract:
By the fifties, these messages had gotten through, and the novel, as well as Camus himself, began their rise to almost cult status. The philosophical debate in post-war Europe about absurdity and existentialism had something to do with this, but so did the Bogart good looks. Having once been accused of passive despair, Camus now found himself besieged by the lobbies of social causes and political prisoners and attractive women. The record shows that he responded enthusiastically to many petitions.
By 1959, Camus had wearied of the political attention, especially the increasingly bitter attacks by the radical Left upon what they viewed as his sell-out to moderation. With the money from his 1957 Nobel Prize, he bought a country retreat, and began work on the novel he hoped would be his masterpiece, and redeem the political years that, he now felt, had somehow been not only a loss but a facade:
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