Wednesday, May 19, 2010


"And I can say that at the end of the eleven months that this investigation lasted, I was almost surprised that I had ever enjoyed anything other than those rare moments when the judge would lead me to the door of his office, slap me on the shoulder, and say to me cordially, 'That's all for today, Monsieur Antichrist.' I would then be handed back over to the police." (Camus, L'Etranger, Part 2, Chapter 1, pg. 71)

Albert Camus’s first and most famous novel L'Etranger (The Stranger, or The Outsider) was published on this day in 1942. This was the same year as the movie Casablanca was released; the most reproduced photographs of Albert Camus show him looking like Humphrey Bogart — overcoated, cigaretted, and attractively worn-out. More interestingly, people like Victor Laslo, the Resistance leader that escaped Casablanca taking Rick's one and only with him, did so with the help of people like Albert Camus. Camus was Algerian-French, and too tubercular to join the army; instead he while he convalesced on a farm, during his trips to Saint-Etienne he helped the underground railway that shipped Jews and political refugees from southern France to Oran, then west across Morocco to Casablanca, then Lisbon and out.

Another remarkable parallel is that The Stranger also 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 Stranger to be harmlessly apolitical may be one of the larger ironies in the history of publishing and censorship.

The Stranger by Albert Camus. Vintage Books, New York. 1954 (1942).

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