Albert Camus, 1913-1960 by Philip Thody: reviewed

This fascinating text discusses the life and work of a major contributor to thinking in the twentieth century. It is a revealing and illuminating book which traces the development of a philosopher, writer and activist. A lot of information can be gleaned from a fairly thorough piece of scholarship.

Clearly, the main problem with writing about Camus is to avoid hagiography. Thody managed this in diverse ways. Firstly, he stressed the importance of context in influencing the reception of the contributions of Camus. Secondly, he was critical of some of the work of Camus, particularly the attempts to compose political dramas for the theatre. Thirdly, he outlined the strength of some of the contentions of Sartre in the debates between the two writers.

Nevertheless, the biography does have its limitations. Importantly, it could have been more interesting if a wider range of sources had been used in its production. Furthermore, it should not have been excessively preoccupied with matters of trivia epitomised by clumsy analysis like this:

“The difficulty here is partly the traditional one of distinguishing the author from the narrator in almost any novel written in the first person…There are so many cases where Clamence is expressing Camus’ own ideas that it is impossible to see at what point we should start to reject his views because, after all, he is intended to be a false prophet.”

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