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The First Man by Albert Camus

The First Man (edition 1996)

by Albert Camus

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2,044166,031 (3.78)36
A fictionalized autobiography, covering his youth in Algeria. It is filled with details of the white working class to which he belonged and there is the undercurrent of a boy's search for a father figure, his own killed in World War I. He describes the intervention of a school teacher who obtained for him a scholarship, first step on the road to the 1957 Nobel Prize for literature.… (more)
Title:The First Man
Authors:Albert Camus
Info:Vintage Books (1996), Paperback, 325 pages
Collections:Your library

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The First Man by Albert Camus


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English (9)  Spanish (4)  Dutch (1)  Hebrew (1)  French (1)  All languages (16)
Showing 1-5 of 9 (next | show all)
When he died in a tragic and unforeseen car crash in 1960, novelist and existentialist Albert Camus had a draft of this work in his briefcase. It was not published until the 1990s, but is the most autobiographical of Camus’ works. The main character, like the author, grew up impoverished in Algeria and escaped a life of the same through education. This tale, properly characterized as a coming-of-age novel, shares how the great writer and future Nobel-Prize winner understood his maturity into an adult man.

The protagonist Jacques Cormery grew up not knowing his father. The father was never married to Cormery’s mother and died in battle in World War I. Jacques’ mother was partially deaf and also mute. His grandmother lived with the family, but was illiterate. So his family background was not ideal for social ascent. He attended school, and a teacher appreciated his keen mind. Through this teacher’s involvement, he won a scholarship to the lycée, the French equivalent of the gymnasium or an advanced high school.

His studies at the lycée opened the world to him, both intellectually and interpersonally. Despite gaining and growing, Jacques was still a child in the eyes of his mother and grandmother. Like many Americans who are the first in their families to attend college, achieving adulthood is not an automatic process; the world of work, not study, is viewed as the threshold. Thus, he was forced to labor during a summer break. This experience not only won him money for himself and for his family, but it also won him enduring respect of the matriarchs in his life.

This work is frankly not as great as The Myth of Sisyphus, The Stranger, or The Plague. That might be due to the fact that we have only a draft, not a finished product. The writing is good, but just not entirely polished. The value resides in its autobiographical nature and in its portrayal of pre-World-War-II Algeria through the eyes of an attentive but impoverished young lad. The reader cannot help but wonder what might have become of this text had Camus lived past 1960.

Incidentally, it took 30+ years for this text to be published because Camus’ family was afraid the unpolished nature would discredit his notoriety. Fortunately, his philosophical and literary greatness has withstood the tests of time. Accordingly, Albert’s daughter Catherine felt free enough to share this tale with the world. For us, it contains the unvarnished passion of rolling sentences and cultural acuity. Fans of Camus (like myself) will enjoy gaining a deeper understanding of this great twentieth-century figure, about how he as a child transformed into a man of courage. ( )
  scottjpearson | Feb 19, 2021 |
The First Man is not explicitly philosophic as his other novels are; it is grounded, temporal, and immediate, and while still romantic, it is not as melodramatic. It is not filled with cheap, lyrical, emotional hedonism like his earlier works; it is heavier; made of flesh and blood. I think this represents an evolution in his writing towards a Dostoevskian mimicry, which started in a childish nascent form in The Stranger, advanced in The Fall significantly, and became the most reified in The First Man. It's hard to walk in the Dostoevskian universe and not be changed by your journey; even a militant Atheist like Camus began to question his dogma the more he journeyed into those worlds, and The First Man puts this development on full display. It makes one wonder how different Camus' philosophic/ religious beliefs would have changed if he had had more time to walk down this path before his untimely death.

Despite being less explicitly philosophic, the linear third-person narration remains romantic, filled with the personification of natural forces (the clouds waited in anticipation, the sky abandoned itself) and the omniscient detailing beyond what the characters notice. In terms of narration, The Fall is significantly more advanced and Dostoevskian, but The First Man does keep the focus on the people and does not contain long-winded sweeping romantic commentary on humanity. His writing style is a mixture of Conrad and Faulkner, caught between anthropomorphizing and deconstructing. As in all his works, he uses poetic and cheap synaesthesia descriptions throughout The Plague like "echoing twilight."

One of his most intimate and autobiographical, I enjoyed The First Man more than his other novels. It isn't preaching a contradictory semi-nihilism, it's just a story of life as he experienced it. ( )
  tnewcomb | Jun 5, 2020 |
Stunning, meditative prose that rises near the level of Faulkner's. (The author's influence is everywhere apparent in this fragment.) Incomplete, yet whole, this novel is more evocative than most of Camus's more frequently cited works. ( )
  BeauxArts79 | Jun 2, 2020 |
Alger. Une charrette cahotée dans la nuit transporte une femme sur le point d'accoucher. Plus tard, naît le petit Jacques, celui-là même que l'on retrouve dès le second chapitre, à 40 ans. Devant la tombe de son père, visitée pour la première fois, il prend soudain conscience de l'existence de cet inconnu. Dans le bateau qui l'emporte vers sa mère à Alger, commence la brutale remontée dans cette enfance dont il n'a jamais guéri. Les souvenirs de l'école, de la rue et de la famille jaillissent, faits de soleil et d'ombre. Mais à l'ombre et à la misère, il découvre qu'il a répondu, toujours, par une "ardeur affamée", une "folie de vivre" indéfectibles malgré ce père qui lui a manqué. Le Premier homme est le roman auquel travaillait Camus au moment de mourir. Les nombreuses notes en bas de page, hésitations ou rajouts de l'écrivain retrouvés dans son manuscrit sont un émouvant témoignage de l’œuvre en cours. Une œuvre ambitieuse, aux accents autobiographiques évidents, dans laquelle Camus a cherché à dire ses "raisons de vivre, de vieillir et de mourir sans révolte".

4e de Couv.
"En somme, je vais parler de ceux que j'aimais", écrit Albert Camus dans une note pour Le premier homme. Le projet de ce roman auquel il travaillait au moment de sa mort était ambitieux. Il avait dit un jour que les écrivains "gardent l'espoir de retrouver les secrets d'un art universel qui, à force d'humilité et de maîtrise, ressusciterait enfin les personnages dans leur chair et dans leur durée". Il avait jeté les bases de ce qui serait le récit de l'enfance de son "premier homme". Cette rédaction initiale a un caractère autobiographique qui aurait sûrement disparu dans la version définitive du roman. Mais c'est justement ce côté autobiographique qui est précieux aujourd'hui. Après avoir lu ces pages, on voit apparaître les racines de ce qui fera la personnalité de Camus, sa sensibilité, la genèse de sa pensée, les raisons de son engagement. Pourquoi, toute sa vie, il aura voulu parler au nom de ceux à qui la parole est refusée.
  Haijavivi | Jun 11, 2019 |
In this unfinished novel, Camus gives a poignant and richly detailed semi-autographical account of a childhood in Algeria. The notes included here make it clear that this was intended as part of a much more ambitious work, but what remains is very readable and moving. ( )
  bodachliath | Nov 4, 2014 |
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» Add other authors (24 possible)

Author nameRoleType of authorWork?Status
Camus, Albertprimary authorall editionsconfirmed
Camus, CatherineEditorsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
Hapgood, DavidTranslatorsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
Lund, Hans PeterTranslatorsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
Sterre, Jan Pieter van derTranslatorsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
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A fictionalized autobiography, covering his youth in Algeria. It is filled with details of the white working class to which he belonged and there is the undercurrent of a boy's search for a father figure, his own killed in World War I. He describes the intervention of a school teacher who obtained for him a scholarship, first step on the road to the 1957 Nobel Prize for literature.

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