Re-reading Albert Camus’ The Plague.
First published 1947. A classic of world literature. Camus was a hero of the intellectual Resistance; a charismatic advocate of radical social and political change. His allegory of the wartime occupation of France reopened a painful chapter in the recent French past but in an indirect and ostensibly political key.
Illness, exile, and separation were present in Camus’ life as in his novel, and his reflections upon them form a vital counterpoint to the allegory. Disease, separation, and exile are conditions that come upon us unexpectedly and unbidden. They exemplify the ‘absurdity’ of the human condition and the seemingly chance nature of human undertakings.
Camus became ‘weary of the world in which he lived’, all he could offer with any certainty was ‘some feeling for his fellow men and was determined for his part to reject any injustice and any compromise’.
He took a strong position towards ideological dogma, political or judicial murder and all forms of ethical irresponsibility.
The Plague is above all a moral tale. The ‘plague’ transcends political labels. Camus was aiming at dogma, conformity, compliance and cowardice in all their intersecting public forms.
Camus was a moralist who unhesitatingly distinguished good from evil but abstained from condemning human frailty.
The Plague has outlived its origins as an allegory of occupied France but has transcended its era.
“Fifty years after its first appearance, in an age of post-totalitarian satisfaction with our condition and prospects, when intellectuals pronounce the End of History and politicians proffer globalization as a universal palliative, the closing sentence of Camus’ great novel rings truer than ever: (Rieux) Knew that…the plague bacillus never dies or vanishes entirely…it can remain dormant for dozens of years in furniture or clothing…perhaps the day will come when, for the instruction or misfortune of mankind, the plague will rouse its rats and send them to die in some well-contented city.”*
*Introduction to The Plague, Penguin Classics, Penguin Group (Australia), 2009.
Copyright* Gallimard (Paris)1947
Introduction copyright * Tony Just, 2001