The literary influences of Albert Camus

Albert Camus

At the end of Camus’s Lyrical and Critical Essays,  the genius, immensely explorative author of thought-provoking works like The Stranger and The Myth of Sisyphus provides a glimpse into his literary influences during a series of interviews.

When asked about his reputation as a revolutionary writer, Camus states,

I don’t know what that means. If it is revolutionary to ask oneself questions about one’s art, then perhaps…but I cannot imagine literature without style. I know of only one revolution in art; it belongs to all ages, and consists of the exact adjustment of form to subject matter, of language to theme. From this point of view, I love, deeply, only the great classical French literature. It is true that I include here Saint-Evremond and the works of the Marquis de Sade. It is also true that I exclude certain academician, both present and past.

When discussing how he got his urge to write he responds that as a young man he was lent the work Le Douleur by Andre de Richaud, which described a world he knew – poor areas and nostalgias he felt. This inspired him to search for his own self-expression.

Jean Grenier, also a writer, was his mentor and key philosophical inspiration. Camus notes Les Iles as an admirable book by him.

Malraux, Andre Gide, Tolstoi, Dostoevski, and Montherlant reigned over his youth, the first two in particular. The Gide of Pretextes taught him how to constrain his anarchy and limit his art. He was also influenced by Moliere.

When asked if Franz Kafka is an influence he says no and claims Kafka is too fantastical; however, Herman Melville’s Moby Dick was an inspiration for his conception of the Absurd. But in a footnote, it states that during the writing of The Myth of Sisyphus Camus was deeply troubled, even obsessed, with Kafka and toward the end of his life rendered him unlimited homage.

He says of Rene Char, who is the one cited in that footnote, that he is one of the greatest contemporary French poets.

The Plague was written in the vein of American authors like Faulkner and Steinbeck, but he doesn’t have much regard for the American novel besides some enthusiasm for Faulkner. He would, in fact, give one hundred Hemingways for one Stendhal or one Benjamin Constant.

Others he enjoyed according to Philip Thody (the editor of the book) in the introduction include Madame de Lafayette, Martin du Gard, the Greeks, Shakespeare, and the Spanish playwrights of the Golden Age as dramatists.