One of France's most high-profile writers, Albert Camus experienced both public adulation and acrimonious rejection in a career cut short by a fatal car accident in 1960. From humble origins in a European family living in colonial Algeria, Camus established himself as a successful novelist, with best-selling titles such as The Outsider and The Plague coming to be translated into scores of languages and earning him a reputation as a figure who captured the mood of the age. It was a world dominated, he reflected ruefully, by war and violence. The Liberation of France towards the end of the Second World War saw him emerge as one of the country's most prominent journalists at the newspaper Combat. But his subsequent position-taking on the Cold War in which, not unlike Orwell, he distanced himself from those sympathetic to the Soviet Union left him adrift from many on the Left in post-war metropolitan France. The worsening conflict in his native Algeria in the mid to late 1950s accentuated his sense of alienation as voices within France increasingly called into question the country's role in North Africa.
Camus reflected on 'all the errors, contradictions and hesitations' that had marked his involvement with Algeria but he remained viscerally linked to the place of his birth. Edward J. Hughes analyses the life of an author whose work and position-taking were the subject of both intense interest and scrutiny. 'I do not guide anyone', he was to plead in his last interview, thereby reinforcing the paradox of a leading figure who in private wrestled with the challenge of pursuing his craft as a writer in an age of pressing ideological conflict.
Edward J. Hughes is Professor of French at Queen Mary University of London. His books include Writing Marginality in Modern French Literature: From Loti to Genet (2001) and Proust, Class, and Nation (2011). He edited The Cambridge Companion to Camus (2007).