Albert Camus and the Balearic Islands

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Albert Camus, French novelist and dramatist, was awarded the 1957 Nobel Prize for Literature. Although he is generally thought of as being French, he was actually born in Algeria into a French settler family. His father was French, his mother was of Spanish extraction.

 

Camus is often associated with Existentialism, but he preferred to be known as a man and a thinker, rather than as a member of a school or ideology. He preferred persons over ideas. In an interview in 1945, Camus rejected any ideological associations: “No, I am not an existentialist. Sartre and I are always surprised to see our names linked….”. 

Not only did the mother hail from Spain, but from the Balearic Islands, and from Menorca in particular. Apparently, Camus visited Menorca to connect with his mother’s and grandmother’s roots, the grandmother also being Menorcan.

 

Camus also visited Mallorca, where he met his first wife, Simone Hié, then a morphine addict. His stay in Palma is told in the chapter Love of life from his book The Wrong Side and the Right Side. Interesting reading, I think.

 

May I suggest you retrace Camus’ steps in Palma de Mallorca with a copy of this text in hand, next time the opportunity arises?

 

– Carrer Llotgeta: Bar Flexas. This is not the bar which Camus describes, but you can see details there of a typical bar of Palma’s historic centre from the 1930’s and 40’s.

– Go to Plaça Santa Eulàlia and take Calle Morey and Calle Almudaina, where you can see Can Oleo and Can Bordills, both of them possible examples of the courtyards that Camus describes. Keep going until you reach the Cathedral.

– La Seu (the Cathedral): In his first of the Notebooks, Camus adds a comment on the Palma Cathedral: “bad taste and master workmanship”. I suggest you enter and admire the reform carried out under Antonio Gaudí’s orders, undervalued and harshly critizised at the time.

– Return through the narrow streets behind La Seu towards Plaça Sant Francesc and enter the most beautiful Cloisters of the Iglesia de San Francisco there.

Camus was the second youngest recipient of the Nobel Prize for Literature (after Rudyard Kipling) when he became the first African-born writer to receive the award, in 1957. 

Albert Camus lived in poor conditions during his childhood in the Belcourt section of Algiers, his father having died when he was barely one year old. In 1923, he was accepted into the Lycée and eventually to the University of Algiers. However, he contracted tuberculosis in 1930, which put an end to his football activities and forced him to make his studies a part-time pursuit. He took odd jobs including private tutor, car parts clerk and work for the Meteorological Institute. He completed his licence de philosophie (BA) in 1935; in May of 1936, he successfully presented his thesis on Plotinus, Néo-Platonisme et Pensée Chrétienne for his diplôme d’études supérieures (roughly equivalent to an M. A. by thesis). The rest is history.

I read some of Camus’ oeuvre when I was an angry young man, in particular The Plague and The Stranger. Later on, I had the opportunity to see his plays Caligula and The Just Assassins on stage.

 

In the 1950s Camus devoted his efforts to human rights. In 1952 he resigned from his work for UNESCO when the UN accepted Spain as a member under the leadership of General Franco. In 1953, he criticized Soviet methods to crush a workers’ strike in East Berlin. In 1956, he protested against similar methods in Poland (protests in Poznań) and the Soviet repression of the Hungarian revolution in October.

He maintained his pacifism and resistance to capital punishment anywhere in the world. One of his most significant contributions to the movement against capital punishment was an essay collaboration with Arthur Koestler, the writer, intellectual and founder of the League Against Capital Punishment.

In 1957, Camus was awarded the Nobel Prize in literature, officially not for his novel The Fall, published the previous year, but for his writings against capital punishment in the essay Réflexions Sur la Guillotine. When he spoke to students at the University of Stockholm, he defended his apparent inactivity in the French/Algerian conflict and stated that he was worried what could happen to his mother who still lived in Algeria. This led to further ostracism by French left-wing intellectuals.

Camus is also the shortest-lived of any literature Nobel laureate to date, having died in a car crash only three years after receiving the award.

 

Camus was interred in the cemetery at Lourmarin, Vaucluse, Provence-Alpes-Côte d’Azur, France (see photo above).

 

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A brave angry young man in my books. 

 

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