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This report is taken from PN Review 47, Volume 12 Number 3, January - February 1986.

Albert Camus James Malpas

A fortnight before his fatal accident on 4 January 1960, Camus wrote to his friend, the poet Rene Char, in terms that can be read as a testimonial to his life and work: 'In the brief time that is given him, he warms and illuminates without turning from his mortal road. Sown by the wind, harvested by the wind, ephemeral seed and nevertheless creative sun, such is man, through the centuries, proud to live a single instant.'

The tone recalls Greek tragedy - blind Oedipus confronting his fate - and it is this perception of the paradoxical strength and fragility to be found in the human condition that gives both grandeur and sensitivity to his writing. It proposes an understanding of ancient and natural forces as a basis for a reconstruction of human life in a new and epic simplicity. There are stylistic derivations from Gide's Nourritures Terrestres and the writings of his mentor Jean Grenier, but without the literary stress and strain that permeates Gide's work, in particular, with an alien bravado. Gide expands into a hedonistic adoption of all nature for his purposes, which include shocking the bourgeois from suburban complacency into a fresh awareness of nature's powers. By contast, Camus attempts to pare away all that is merely picturesque so as to apprehend the 'two or three great and simple images' in whose presence he felt his heart first opened. But an honesty that refused to construct a system from these images also saves ...

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