French writer and philosopher Albert Camus was killed in a car wreck 52 years ago today. The author was a passenger in a spots car that wrecked on slick streets en route to Paris from the South of France. In 2010, an Italian academic suggested the car had been sabotaged by Soviet spies, a claim that has been unconfirmed. In any event, Camus was killed instantly.
At the time, the story in the Los Angeles Times called Camus "one of the first of Europe's postwar 'angry young men.'" When he died at age 46, Camus' had already published the novels "The Stranger," "The Plague" and "The Fall," six plays, many short stories and the nonfiction work that explored his philosophical ideas. He was awarded the Nobel Prize for Literature in 1957.
In his Nobel acceptance speech Camus said, "what has supported me through all my life, even in the most contrary circumstances: the idea that I have of my art and of the role of the writer.... Often he who has chosen the fate of the artist because he felt himself to be different soon realizes that he can maintain neither his art nor his difference unless he admits that he is like the others. The artist forges himself to the others, midway between the beauty he cannot do without and the community he cannot tear himself away from. That is why true artists scorn nothing: they are obliged to understand rather than to judge."
Three people survived the crash that killed Camus: Michel Gallimard, his wife and their daughter. Gallimard, who died of his injuries a few days later, was the nephew of Camus' publisher, Gaston Gallimard. Camus had been carrying the manuscript of a novel-in-progress with him; the pages were found in a briefcase that survived the wreck.
Camus' widow decided the book should not be published, but after she died his children undertook the project. It was published in 1995 in English as "The First Man."
"To read 'The First Man' is to visit a tomb and find that a spring is bubbling from it," Richard Eder wrote in our review. "It has a first-draft sappiness, perhaps, but the theme that underlies it -- the betrayal of the roots by the tree -- is authentic to Camus' life, his difficult choices and his writings."
-- Carolyn Kellogg
Image: An Everyman's Library anthology of three books and selected essays by Camus.