Albert Camus: The Plague (1947), Resistance, Rebellion, and Death (1960)


“In January 1941, Albert Camus began work on a story about a virus that spreads uncontrollably from animals to humans and ends up destroying half the population of ‘an ordinary town’ called Oran, on the Algerian coast. The Plague, published in 1947, is frequently described as the greatest European novel of the postwar period. As the book opens, an air of eerie normality reigns. The town’s inhabitants lead busy money-centered and denatured lives. Then, with the pacing of a thriller, the horror begins. The narrator, Dr. Rieux, comes across a dead rat. Then another and another. Soon an epidemic seizes Oran, the disease transmitting itself from citizen to citizen, spreading panic in every street. To write the book, Camus immersed himself in the history of plagues. He read about the Black Death that killed an estimated 50 million people in Europe in the 14th century, the Italian plague of 1630 that killed 280,000 across Lombardy and Veneto, the great plague of London of 1665 as well as plagues that ravaged cities on China’s eastern seaboard during the 18th and 19th centuries. Camus was not writing about one plague in particular, nor was this narrowly, as has sometimes been suggested, a metaphoric tale about the Nazi occupation of France. He was drawn to his theme because he believed that the actual historical incidents we call plagues are merely concentrations of a universal precondition, dramatic instances of a perpetual rule: that all human beings are vulnerable to being randomly exterminated at any time, by a virus, an accident or the actions of our fellow man. The people of Oran can’t accept this. Even when a quarter of the city is dying, they keep imagining reasons it won’t happen to them. They are modern people with phones, airplanes and newspapers. They are surely not going to die like the wretches of 17th-century London or 18th-century Canton. ‘It’s impossible it should be the plague, everyone knows it has vanished from the West,’ a character says. ‘Yes, everyone knew that,’ Camus adds, ‘except the dead.’ For Camus, when it comes to dying, there is no progress in history, there is no escape from our frailty. Being alive always was and will always remain an emergency; it is truly an inescapable ‘underlying condition.’ Plague or no plague, there is always, as it were, the plague, if what we mean by that is a susceptibility to sudden death, an event that can render our lives instantaneously meaningless. …”
NY Times: Camus on the Coronavirus (March 2020)
LitHub: What We Can Learn (and Should Unlearn) From Albert Camus’s The Plague
Open Culture: Why You Should Read The Plague, the Albert Camus Novel the Coronavirus Has Made a Bestseller Again
Reading Camus’ The Plague in a Time of Pandemic (March 2020)
***NYBooks: On ‘The Plague’
W – The Plague, W – Resistance, Rebellion, and Death
Commentary Magazine: Lionel Abel (Feb. 1, 1961)
amazon: The Plague, Resistance, Rebellion, and Death

About 1960s: Days of Rage

Bill Davis - 1960s: Days of Rage
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