A Happy Death
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In his first novel, A Happy Death, written when he was in his early twenties and retrieved from his private papers following his death in I960, Albert Camus laid the foundation for The Stranger, focusing in both works on an Algerian clerk who kills a man in cold blood. But he also revealed himself to an extent that he never would in his later fiction. For if A Happy Death is the study of a rule-bound being shattering the fetters of his existence, it is also a remarkably candid portrait of its author as a young man.
As the novel follows the protagonist, Patrice Mersault, to his victim's house -- and then, fleeing, in a journey that takes him through stages of exile, hedonism, privation, and death -it gives us a glimpse into the imagination of one of the great writers of the twentieth century. For here is the young Camus himself, in love with the sea and sun, enraptured by women yet disdainful of romantic love, and already formulating the philosophy of action and moral responsibility that would make him central to the thought of our time.
Translated from the French by Richard Howard
don’t leave me any illusions.” He changed his tone: “But you’re right to be hard. Still, there’s something I’d like to say to you.” And he broke off again. Mersault came over and sat down, facing him. “Listen,” Zagreus resumed, “and look at me. I have someone to help me, to set me on the toilet, and afterwards to wash me and dry me. Worse, I pay someone for it. Yet I’ll never make a move to cut short a life I believe in that much … I’d accept even worse—blind, dumb, anything, as long as I feel in
suffer so distinctly here what was absurd and miserable in even the tidiest lives showed him the shameful and secret countenance of a kind of freedom born of the suspect, the shady. Around him the flaccid hours lapped like a stagnant pond—time had gone slack. Someone knocked violently, and Mersault, startled, realized that he had been awakened by the same knocking. He opened the door to find a little old man with red hair bent double under Mersault’s two suitcases, which looked enormous in his
exchanging anything but the presence of their bodies. And then last night, Mersault had discovered again a familiar and overwhelming miracle on Lucienne’s lips. Until then what moved him had been her way of clinging to his clothes, of following him, of taking his arm—her abandonment and her trust that touched him as a man. Her silence, too, by which she put all of herself into each momentary gesture and emphasized her resemblance to the cats, a resemblance to which she already owed the gravity
characterizing all her actions. Yesterday, after dinner, they had strolled together on the docks. They had stopped against the ramp leading up to the boulevard, and Lucienne had pressed against Mersault. In the darkness, he felt under his fingers the cool prominent cheekbones and the warm lips which opened under his pressure. Then there was something like a great cry within him, gratuitous yet ardent. From the starry night and the city that was like a spilled sky, swollen with human lights under
and connect the atonal descriptions to the lyrical accents. Thus we come to the novel’s final form, its contraction into two parts, which can be explained by two reasons: first, Camus’s embarrassment regarding the erotic or emotional episodes. He had to restrict them. In the outline mentioned above, the second part, after “Gaining Time,” announced “Encounter with Lucienne,” then “Catherine’s departure.” Camus either could not or would not organize enough material under these headings.