The Stranger by Albert Camus
The Stranger (L’Étranger (Fr), The Outsider (UK)) is a 1942 novel by French author Albert Camus. Its theme and outlook are often cited as examples of Camus’s philosophy of the absurd and existentialism, though Camus personally rejected the latter label.
The title character is Meursault, an indifferent French Algerian (“a citizen of France domiciled in North Africa, a man of the Mediterranean, an homme du midi yet one who hardly partakes of the traditional Mediterranean culture”). He attends his mother’s funeral. A few days later he kills an Arab man in French Algiers, who was involved in a conflict with a friend. Meursault is tried and sentenced to death. The story is divided into two parts, presenting Meursault’s first-person narrative view before and after the murder, respectively.
In January 1955, Camus wrote:
I summarized The Stranger a long time ago, with a remark 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.
The Stranger’s first edition consisted of 4,400 copies and was not an immediate best-seller. But the novel was well received, partly because of Jean-Paul Sartre’s article “Explication de L’Etranger,” on the eve of publication of the novel, and a mistake from the Propaganda-Staffel. Translated four times into English, and also into numerous other languages, the novel has long been considered a classic of 20th-century literature. Le Monde ranks it as number one on its 100 Books of the Century.
The novel was twice adapted as films: Lo Straniero (1967) (Italian) by Luchino Visconti and Yazgı (Fate) by Zeki Demirkubuz (Turkish).
The Stranger is not merely one of the most widely read novels of the 20th century, but one of the books likely to outlive it. Written in 1946, Camus’s compelling and troubling tale of a disaffected, apparently amoral young man has earned a durable popularity (and remains a staple of U.S. high school literature courses) in part because it reveals so vividly the anxieties of its time. Alienation, the fear of anonymity, spiritual doubt–all could have been given a purely modern inflection in the hands of a lesser talent than Camus, who won the Nobel Prize in 1957 and was noted for his existentialist aesthetic. The remarkable trick of The Stranger, however, is that it’s not mired in period philosophy.
The plot is simple. A young Algerian, Meursault, afflicted with a sort of aimless inertia, becomes embroiled in the petty intrigues of a local pimp and, somewhat inexplicably, ends up killing a man. Once he’s imprisoned and eventually brought to trial, his crime, it becomes apparent, is not so much the arguably defensible murder he has committed as it is his deficient character. The trial’s proceedings are absurd, a parsing of incidental trivialities–that Meursault, for instance, seemed unmoved by his own mother’s death and then attended a comic movie the evening after her funeral are two ostensibly damning facts–so that the eventual sentence the jury issues is both ridiculous and inevitable.
Meursault remains a cipher nearly to the story’s end–dispassionate, clinical, disengaged from his own emotions. “She wanted to know if I loved her,” he says of his girlfriend. “I answered the same way I had the last time, that it didn’t mean anything but that I probably didn’t.” There’s a latent ominousness in such observations, a sense that devotion is nothing more than self-delusion. It’s undoubtedly true that Meursault exhibits an extreme of resignation; however, his confrontation with “the gentle indifference of the world” remains as compelling as it was when Camus first recounted it. –Ben Guterson –This text refers to the Paperback edition.
From Library Journal
The new translation of Camus’s classic is a cultural event; the translation of Cocteau’s diary is a literary event. Both translations are superb, but Ward’s will affect a naturalized narrative, while Browner’s will strengthen Cocteau’s reemerging critical standing. Since 1946 untold thousands of American students have read a broadly interpretative, albeit beautifully crafted British Stranger . Such readers have closed Part I on “door of undoing” and Part II on “howls of execration.” Now with the domestications pruned away from the text, students will be as close to the original as another language will allow: “door of unhappiness” and “cries of hate.” Browner has no need to “write-over” another translation. With Cocteau’s reputation chiefly as a cineaste until recently, he has been read in French or not at all. Further, the essay puts a translator under less pressure to normalize for readers’ expectations. Both translations show the current trend to stay closer to the original. Marilyn Gaddis Rose, SUNY at Binghamton
Copyright 1988 Reed Business Information, Inc. –This text refers to the Paperback edition.