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The Plague by Albert Camus

The Plague (original 1947; edition 1991)

by Albert Camus, Stuart Gilbert

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16,204208250 (3.95)2 / 545
Chaos prevails when the bubonic plague strikes the Algerian coastal city of Oran. A haunting tale of human resilience in the face of unrelieved horror, Camus' novel about a bubonic plague ravaging the people of a North African coastal town is a classic of twentieth-century literature.
Title:The Plague
Authors:Albert Camus
Other authors:Stuart Gilbert
Info:Vintage (1991), Edition: 2nd printing, Paperback, 320 pages
Collections:Your library

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The Plague by Albert Camus (1947)


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English (169)  Italian (9)  Dutch (8)  Spanish (7)  French (3)  Catalan (3)  German (2)  Swedish (2)  Portuguese (Portugal) (2)  Hebrew (1)  Danish (1)  Portuguese (1)  All languages (208)
Showing 1-5 of 169 (next | show all)
I have long been interested in plague literature, so I'm not sure why it has taken me so long to get round this example. It's a great entry in the genre, too. It does some of the things that most plague lit does (describes the various kinds of reactions people have to the disaster and uses those reactions to examine human nature, for example), but Camus goes farther and gives us more detailed character studies, using the plague as a backdrop for their reactions and interactions. It's a particularly fascinating - and in several ways troubling - read right now; both the parallels and some of the divergent points are sad-making when compared to how our society is handling our current outbreak. ( )
  electrascaife | Dec 8, 2021 |
Given our own COVID plague, I finally screwed up my courage to read this now that vaccinations are underway.
Camus deftly captures many of the nuances of human behavior under such circumstances; and I appreciated his exploration of religion under such circumstances; and I thought the narrator’s dispassionate delivery added to the examination of the circumstances. ( )
  jimgosailing | Nov 18, 2021 |
Reading this book during a Covid-19 pandemic, one can't help but find similarities. The isolation, the number of deaths, the sadness, the quarantine. It is a good narrative but I found it lacked in female characters. Yes, it's not a recent book but having the perspective of both men and women is important. I felt rather detached while reading, maybe because my reality isn't as bad as the one described in the book.
Still, it is a remarkable account of resilience and courage. ( )
  _Marcia_94_ | Sep 21, 2021 |
The last time I read a Camus book was 17 years ago, and it was a life-changing experience. Ever since then, I have studiously avoided Camus' writing in case his other novels were similarly affecting.

But with the onset of Covid-19 and so many people in my literary circles reading or re-reading the Plague, plus with it being Camus' best known and most commercially successful work, I thought this would be a good time to give it a go.

Fortunately, The Plague wasn't life-changing for me. Merely very good!

The Plague is straightforward but philosophical; stark yet nuanced; distant, but still emotive. And it is utterly prescient for our times, despite being published in 1947. His explanations of human behaviour can absolutely be applies to how people have behaved regarding Covid-19; I wonder if he would be amused or saddened to know that.

Camus writes always with such stark simplicity. I don't mean simplicity to say that his concepts are low-brow, but more that his statements are concise and accessible, and with hindsight amazingly obvious; you wonder why you never noticed before the things that he is pointing out.

But the secret to that, of course, is that Camus' understanding of life and other people was extraordinarily good. He had a depth of insight that cut straight to the heart of things, and enabled him to hone in on the "heart" of the matter.

Towards the end, Camus linked the concept of the bubonic plague with a wider human issue, a metaphorical and intellectual plague that society suffers from (which he describes as a kind of lack of empathy, cruelty in-built into the system.)

Note: I'd like to give special mention to Grand, the aspiring author who the doctor befriends. Grand is obsessed with getting his first line perfectly right, so utterly perfect that a publisher will read it and buy the book on the spot. Consequently, he never progresses past the first sentence. I think we have all been there, Grand!

I do not want to write spoilers for this review but I would like to leave some slightly spoilerific quotes at the end, in case you don't feel like sifting through all of my Goodreads highlights. Some of them are simply magnificent.

SELECTED QUOTES (minor spoilers)


"Pestilence is in fact very common, but we find it hard to believe in a pestilence when it descends upon us. There have been as many plagues in the world as there have been wars, yet plagues and wars always find people equally unprepared."


"When war breaks out people say: ‘It won’t last, it’s too stupid.’ And war is certainly too stupid, but that doesn’t prevent it from lasting. Stupidity always carries doggedly on, as people would notice if they were not always thinking about themselves."


"[T]hey did not believe in pestilence. A pestilence does not have human dimensions, so people tell themselves that it is unreal, that it is a bad dream which will end. But it does not always end and, from one bad dream to the next, it is people who end"


"The people of our town were no more guilty than anyone else, they merely forgot to be modest and thought that everything was still possible for them, which implied that pestilence was impossible. They continued with business, with making arrangements for travel and holding opinions. Why should they have thought about the plague, which negates the future, negates journeys and debate? They considered themselves free."


"Figures drifted through his head and he thought that the thirty or so great plagues recorded in history had caused nearly a hundred million deaths. But what are a hundred million deaths? When one has fought a war, one hardly knows any more what a dead person is. And if a dead man has no significance unless one has seen him dead, a hundred million bodies spread through history are just a mist drifting through the imagination."


"‘Have pity, doctor!’ said Mme Loret, mother of the chambermaid who worked at Tarrou’s hotel. What did that mean? Of course he had pity. But where did that get anyone?"


"Every evening mothers would shout like that, in a distraught manner, at the sight of bellies displaying all their signs of death; every evening hands would grasp Rieux’s arms, while useless words, promises and tears poured forth; and every evening the ambulance siren would set off scenes of distress as pointless as any kind of pain. At the end of a long succession of such evenings, each like the next, Rieux could no longer hope for anything except a continuing series of similar scenes, forever repeated. Yes, the plague, like abstraction, was monotonous. Only one thing may have changed, and that was Rieux himself. He felt it that evening, beneath the monument to the Republic, aware only of the hard indifference that was starting to fill him, still looking at the hotel door where Rambert had vanished.

At the end of these harrowing weeks, after all these evenings when the town poured into the streets to wander round them, Rieux realized that he no longer needed to protect himself against pity. When pity is useless one grows tired of it. And the doctor found his only consolation for these exhausting days in this feeling of a heart slowly closing around itself. He knew that it would make his task easier."


"For them the plague was only an unpleasant visitor which would leave one day as it had entered. They were scared but not desperate and the time had yet to come when the plague would seem to them like the very shape of their lives and when they would forget the existence that they had led in the days before."


"‘And this is something that a man like yourself might understand; since the order of the world is governed by death, perhaps it is better for God that we should not believe in Him and struggle with all our strength against death, without raising our eyes to heaven and to His silence.’"


I can imagine what this plague must mean to you.’

‘Yes,’ said Rieux. ‘An endless defeat.’


"Without memory and without hope, they settled into the present. In truth, everything became present for them. The truth must be told: the plague had taken away from all of them the power of love or even of friendship, for love demands some future, and for us there was only the here and now."


"Thank goodness, at least, that he was tired. If Rieux had been more alert, this smell of death everywhere might have made him sentimental. But there is no room for sentimentality when you have only slept for four hours. You see things as they are, that is to say in the light of justice – ghastly and ridiculous justice."


"‘Nothing in the world should turn you away from what you love. And yet I, too, am turning away, without understanding why.’"


"Already at that time he had been thinking about the silence that rose from the beds where he had left men to die. It was always the same pause, the same solemn interval, the same lull that followed a battle, it was the silence of defeat. " ( )
  Sunyidean | Sep 7, 2021 |
There’s nothing like a plague year to make me decide to finally read Camus’s fictional account of a plague year, set in the Algerian city of Oran. I’d always heard that it wasn’t “really” about the plague or about North Africa, but about the outbreak of fascism in Europe and France’s subsequent Nazi occupation.
This supposition, which Camus seems to have endorsed at times, finds support in a quotation from Daniel Defoe that prefaces the book. Surprisingly, the words don’t come from Defoe’s Journal of the Plague Year, an obvious model for La Peste, but from his more popular Robinson Crusoe. According to this motto, it’s just as reasonable to represent one sort of imprisonment by another as it is to represent something real by something fictional.
So I began reading with the expectation that the book was an allegory for the Nazi occupation of France, but before long dropped the idea. One problem with that supposition was soon pointed out by Sartre: the source of the evil that afflicts the population of Oran is a microbe, invisible without a microscope, and it never appears as a character in the book. We simply read of its effects. To read this as an allegory for the flesh-and-blood agents of occupation, who were all too visible to the people of France, strikes me, too, as disproportionate.
Therefore, I agree with those who say that this book isn’t an allegory but offers analogies for the experience of the people of occupied France. The most striking is the realization of Dr. Rieux as the plague ebbs: the infection is never really gone. It withdraws but will always reappear. As current events show, this is true both of the plague and the bacillus of racial superiority.
Dr. Rieux is the central character of the book, yet Camus created several other memorable characters. One is Tarrou, who doesn’t live in Oran but gets stranded there when the city locks down, keeps notes of what he sees and experiences, and becomes Rieux’s friend. Although a non-believer, he aims for sainthood, to which Dr. Rieux replies that it’s even harder to be human, which is what he is striving for. This is undoubtedly a reflection of Camus’s own philosophy. Yet, one thing I enjoyed about the book is that such philosophical epigrams are spread among different characters so that no one of them serves as the author’s surrogate. There is even dignity and wisdom in the figure of Father Paneloux, a Jesuit priest who early in the book gives the sermon one could expect, in which he interprets the outbreak of the plague as God’s judgment on the sinful population of Oran. Nevertheless, he works at Rieux’s side as the number of cases grows, despite the underlying tension of whether to trust God or medicine. He stands with Rieux at the bedside of the infant son of Orthon, the judge, and is shaken at the suffering and death of this innocent. Paneloux’s faith is shaken, but he doesn’t renounce it. He delivers a second sermon that reflects his struggle, then falls ill and dies.
Rather than describe the other characters, I’ll mention that they are almost exclusively European males. There are few women, and they are in minor roles, and no Arabs, although they would have been the majority in that Algerian city. Given Camus’s advocacy of Algerian rights, this surprised me.
I chose to read this in French, which made the reading slow-going for me, but it was worth it to savor the quality of Camus’s prose. The edition I used seems to be meant for school use; short essays round out the book discussing the genre, Camus’s life and work, and other helpful topics. A unique feature of the series seems to be that one essay devotes itself to the cover art, in this case, a painting by Goya, relating it to the book. ( )
  HenrySt123 | Jul 19, 2021 |
Showing 1-5 of 169 (next | show all)
Chaos prevails when the bubonic plague strikes the Algerian coastal city of Oran. A haunting tale of human resilience in the face of unrelieved horror, Camus' novel about a bubonic plague ravaging the people of a North African coastal town is a classic of twentieth-century literature.
added by Lemeritus | editWorldCat Abstract

» Add other authors (59 possible)

Author nameRoleType of authorWork?Status
Albert Camusprimary authorall editionscalculated
Buss, RobinTranslatorsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
Chacel, RosaTranslatorsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
Corsari, WillyTranslatorsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
Dal Fabbro, BeniaminoTranslatorsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
Gilbert, StuartTranslatorsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
Jenner, JamesNarratorsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
Judt, TonyEditorsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
Mannerkorpi, JuhaTranslatorsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
Mannerkorpi, JukkaTranslatorsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
Meister, Guido G.Translatorsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
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'It is as reasonable to represent one kind of imprisonment by another, as it is to represent anything that really exists by that which exists not! -' ('Robinson Crusoe's preface' to the third volume of Robinson Crusoe, Daniel Defoe).
First words
The unusual events described in this chronicle occurred in 194- at Oran.
Les curieux événements qui font le sujet de cette chronique se sont produits en 194., à Oran.
Le matin du 16 avril, le docteur Bernard Rieux sortit de son cabinet et buta sur un rat mort, au milieu du palier
"Oran, however, seems to be a town without intimations; in other words, completely modern."
The distinction can be made between men and, for example, dogs; men’s deaths are checked and entered up.
"They fancied themselves free, and no one will ever be free so long as there are pestilences."
"In normal times all of us know, whether consciously or not, that there is no love which can't be bettered; nevertheless we reconcile ourselves more or less easily to the fact that ours has never risen above the average."
"You'd almost think they expected to be given medals for it. But what does that mean—'plague'? Just life, no more than that."
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Chaos prevails when the bubonic plague strikes the Algerian coastal city of Oran. A haunting tale of human resilience in the face of unrelieved horror, Camus' novel about a bubonic plague ravaging the people of a North African coastal town is a classic of twentieth-century literature.

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Orano è colpita da un'epidemia inesorabile e tremenda. Isolata con un cordone sanitario dal resto del mondo, affamata, incapace di fermare la pestilenza, la città diventa il palcoscenico e il vetrino da esperimento per le passioni di un'umanità al limite tra disgregazione e solidarietà. La fede religiosa, l'edonismo di chi non crede alle astrazioni, ma neppure è capace di "essere felice da solo", il semplice sentimento del proprio dovere sono i protagonisti della vicenda; l'indifferenza, il panico, lo spirito burocratico e l'egoismo gretto gli alleati del morbo. Scritto da Camus secondo una dimensione corale e con una scrittura che sfiora e supera la confessione, "La peste" è un romanzo attuale e vivo, una metafora in cui il presente continua a riconoscersi.
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Penguin Australia

3 editions of this book were published by Penguin Australia.

Editions: 0141185139, 0141045515, 0141049235


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