Alister Pearson returns to 1957 when legendary absurdist Albert Camus won the prestigious Nobel Prize for Literature
On this week in 1957, Albert Camus was awarded the prestigious Nobel Prize for Literature “for his important literary production, which with clear-sighted earnestness illuminates the problems of the human conscience in our times.” Upon accepting the award in Stockholm, he made sure to give credit to “all those who, sharing in the same fight, [who] have not received any privilege, but have on the contrary known misery and persecution.” Camus was one of the key writers working for the underground magazine Combat in Paris during its occupation by the Germans in the Second World War and so rightly felt a degree of guilt that he was the one receiving the recognition for his bravery to prolong the freedom of literature when many others aided the fight with him and suffered much more.
But with his degree of guilt came a degree of pride and gratitude at the same time as Camus recognised his own privilege of being able to fulfil his writing potential in a more liberal climate after a long history of repression. Reflecting on the horrors of his century he said: “for more than twenty years of an insane history, hopelessly lost like all the men of my generation in the convulsions of time, I have been supported by one thing: by the hidden feeling that to write today was an honour.”
The decision for Camus to be awarded the prize was not without controversy. Although he never directly criticised the Algerian absurdist for it, Jean-Paul Sartre felt that the writer must always turn down such awards as he should “refuse to let himself be transformed into an institution, even if this occurs under the most honourable circumstances, as in the present case.” There is speculation that Sartre was jealous that Camus was offered the award seven years earlier than the French existentialist but no substantiated evidence supports it.
A more in-depth biography of Camus’ life by Aidan Gregory is available on The Mancunion website.