The Red and the Black & The Stranger?

Did Albert Camus find inspiration for his most famous character, Meursault, in the figure of that errant nincompoop Julien Sorel from Stendhal's The Red and the Black? [1. Looking around the web after writing this, I find that John Leonard, reviewing a biography of Camus in the NY Times in 1979, compared Camus to Sorel, but not to Camus' character Meursault.] I cannot be the first to notice this genealogical line of descent, but I can't remember ever having seen it remarked upon. (Not that I am anything like a scholar of the French novel.) Camus wrote in 1955, "I summarized The Stranger a long time ago, with a remark I admit was highly paradoxical: 'In our society any man who does not weep at his mother's funeral runs the risk of being sentenced to death.' I only meant that the hero of my book is condemned because he does not play the game." [2. Carroll, David. Albert Camus the Algerian: Colonialism, Terrorism, Justice. New York: Columbia University Press, 2008.] Julien's problem is that he sees the nature of the game but cannot keep himself from being caught up in it. In any case, both characters face execution by the guillotine with courage, both have been read as modern Christ figures (Sorel is the son of a carpenter!) Both commit their crimes with a pistol & in a state of what we would now I think call derealization.

Author: jd

Joseph Duemer is Professor of Literature Emeritus at Clarkson University in northern New York state. His most recent book of poems is Magical Thinking from Ohio State University Press. Since the mid-1990s he has spent a good deal of time in Vietnam, mostly Hanoi. He lives with his wife Carole & five terriers (four Jack Russells & one Patterdale) on the stony bank of the Raquette River in South Colton.