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The Fall by Albert Camus

The Fall (original 1956; edition 1991)

by Albert Camus (Author)

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7,124761,081 (3.89)1 / 165
Elegantly styled, Camus' profoundly disturbing novel of a Parisian lawyer's confessions is a searing study of modern amorality.
Title:The Fall
Authors:Albert Camus (Author)
Info:Vintage (1991), Edition: Reissue, 160 pages
Collections:Your library

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The Fall by Albert Camus (Author) (1956)


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» See also 165 mentions

English (63)  French (5)  Spanish (3)  Danish (2)  Dutch (1)  Italian (1)  Portuguese (1)  All languages (76)
Showing 1-5 of 63 (next | show all)
Fall from Grace
Review of the Recorded Books audiobook edition (2018) narrated by Edoardo Ballerini of the translation by Justin O'Brien of the French language original "La Chute" (1956)

The Fall was another classic that I picked up from Audible's recent $3 to $5 titles sale, especially due to it being narrated by Edoardo Ballerini, whom I have always found to be a very reliable voice performer. I'll confess that I have not read very much Camus previously, beyond The Stranger, and a collection of plays. My recent read of Patti Smith's Dedication (2017) (read in Estonian as "Pühendumus" (2022)), which included her trip to Camus' home and grave, was another sign, as I'll often select a next read based on a suggestion from a previous one.

See cover at https://i.pinimg.com/originals/7c/7e/6a/7c7e6aece3828c84c678fa8b9da5da32.jpg
The cover of the first English language edition "The Fall" (1957) translated by Justin O'Brien and published by Hamish Hamilton. Image sourced from Pinterest.

As anticipated, the narration performance was excellent, with Ballerini adding the attraction of a charismatic companion which is rather essential to understand why a stranger would listen to another person's monologues for an extended number of days. The story starts with the visitor encountering Jean-Baptiste Clamence in a bar called Mexico City in the heart of Amsterdam. The visitor gradually hears Clamence's life story, which tells his tale of descent from being a respected Parisian lawyer to an awakening knowledge of his hypocrisy, and then an abandonment of conventional life.

I was looking up further background on The Fall and found that the extended essay on English Wikipedia was enormously informative (spoilers obviously if you click through). It especially brings home the point that Amsterdam's canal system can be viewed as similar to the circles of Hell in Dante's Inferno and that the bar Mexico City (which was an actual real-life location) is then situated in a place symbolic of the innermost last circle of Hell.

I'd certainly recommend the English Wikipedia summary as an Afterword, especially if your edition of The Fall lacks an Introduction or Other Notes, as this one does.

See photograph at https://upload.wikimedia.org/wikipedia/commons/thumb/a/af/Amsterdam_airphoto.jpg...
Aerial photograph of Amsterdam showing its canal system. Image sourced from Wikipedia. ( )
  alanteder | Jun 17, 2022 |
The narrator is in a pub in Amsterdam and tells his life story to one of the other customers.

The book consists of a monologue, since we don’t directly hear anything the listener says, though we understand that he does say a few things.

The narrator calls himself Jean-Baptiste Clamence and is what he terms a “judge-penitent”. I don’t know what he means by this. But on the net I found the following explanation:

“Judging himself and judging you are actually the same thing. That's what it means to be a judge-penitent: (he confesses his own sins (he is penitent), while condemning you for yours (he is the judge)”.

He tells the listener that he used to be a defence lawyer who “specialized in good causes”, in defending “”victims”.

He has a good appearance and could “strike a noble pose”, He had the satisfaction of being on the right side in court.

He was beyond reproach in his professional life and never took bribes. He refused the Legion of Honour several times and never made a poor client pay.

He used to help blind men across the street and liked to give to beggars.

Being polite was a great joy to him. He derived pleasure from giving.

At night he went out dancing to the point of fatigue.

He tells his new ”friend”. “People are two-faced: they cannot love unless they love themselves.

The two agree to meet in the pub every day, so Jean-Baptiste can continue his story.

“I felt as though I was partly unlearning what I had never learned and yet knew so well: I mean, how to live.”

He talks about how servitude, preferably with a smile, is unavoidable.

He admits to being supremely vain. He has never been able to speak without boasting. He has always considered himself more intelligent than anyone, but also more sensitive and more skilled, and the best lover.

He saw only superiority in himself, in everything.

He had an astonishing ability to forget.

Everything “slid over” him.

He lived from day to day.

”Women, from one day to the next.” “All those friends hardly loved, those cities hardly visited and those women hardly possessed!”

Should women be possessed? (My comment)

His memory came back, unpleasant memories like being attacked by a motorcyclist, and someone calling him “You pathetic creature”.

He states: “Every intelligent man --- dreams of being a gangster and ruling over society by violence alone” (!!)

There were “sweet dreams of oppression” within him.

He found out that he was on the side of the guilty, the defendants, only to the extent that their crime did not cause any harm to him.

He reveals that he has always been a success with women, without trying too hard. He was always considered charming and attractive and made the most of it.

He loved women, which meant that he never loved any one of them.

I won’t reveal the content of the book any further, but will say that I found it difficult to understand, and this seems to be the general point of view.

Camus states elsewhere that what Jean-Baptiste says is not a confession but an account of the times””.

The book is excellently written, very readable and absorbing.

Shortly after the publication of the book Camus was awarded the Nobel Prize for Literature. Not bad for a man whose mother was illiterate and had difficulty in communicating orally. Camus must have received many genes for brilliance and communication from his father, who was killed in World War 1 when Albert was less than a year old. ( )
  IonaS | Jun 4, 2022 |
A short story that bears rereading to get the gist of the plot, a tale of depth where more is happening than what is going on the surface. Also a healthy knowledge of the Bible will illuminate a lot. ( )
  charlie68 | Mar 18, 2022 |
Jean-Baptiste Clamence was a highly successful lawyer in Paris. While behaving with a veneer of virtue and modesty, he felt himself to be above those around him and in a position where he could judge them as human beings. He would engage in minor acts of charity but always to satisfy his own self-regard rather than out of the spirit of true generosity. He felt like a Nietzschean superman, and that success in life was his destiny. This feeling of being above everything suffered a shock when, crossing the Pont des Arts over the Seine, he heard a splash in the water and a woman’s voice, but did nothing to investigate or raise an alarm. This experience came back to haunt him as years passed, and often when crossing the river (and once on a transatlantic trip) he would hear a woman’s laughter.

His sense of superiority and self-confidence began to break down. For the first time in his life he became aware that others were judging him. Clamence asserts that people judge others so as to avoid being judged themselves. He tried to escape from his new feelings by strategies such as showing his true contempt for others, pursuing true love with women and finally settling for debauchery to give him a feeling of immortality. None of these succeeded. He had become aware that his judgments of others were wrong and that he must judge his own guilt.

He left Paris and settled in Amsterdam, a dark city of concentric canals, possibly an allusion to Dante’s Inferno, and far from the sun of the Mediterranean. (Because of guilt, he cannot settle in Greece to live in the sun, a Camusian paradise, and remarks that Parisians must wash themselves before going to Greece). The book consists of his dialogue with a new friend he meets in an Amsterdam bar. We only have Clamence’s side of the conversation. He says he became a “judge penitent” in response to the laughter. Judgment by others is worse than judgment by God. Christ was crucified because he realized he was not innocent (as a result of the news of his birth leading to the massacre by Herod of the innocent newborns). We humans crucify each other. As a judge penitent, his purpose is to end the laughter and avoid the judgment of others, even though there appears to be no escape from this. But the technique is to spread the condemnation to everyone by persuading others to judge themselves as critically as he judges himself. “I am for any theory that refuses to grant man innocence, for any practice that treats him as guilty . . . . When everyone is guilty, we will have democracy.” Consistent with this belief in everyone’s guilt, he also denounces liberty and freedom, which might suggest one could take steps to free oneself from guilt. He also claims that all people desire to be slaves because of fear of freedom.

At the end of the book, we learn that his friend is also a Parisian lawyer. Clamence confesses that the goal of his conversation has been to encourage his acquaintances to judge themselves as he has been doing and in this way he can assert his superiority over them as they begin to blubber in facing the truth about themselves. However, he is not succeeding with his new friend. He makes further confessions, including that he stole the painting above the bar in the Amsterdam pub Mexico City. At the end of the book he has caught a fever and is weak. He is unable to make his new friend suffer. One wonders if his weakening state is linked to this failure and if his death is imminent.

The book is full of Clamence’s cynical witticisms that remind one of Dostoevsky’s Notes from Underground. “A single sentence will suffice for modern man: he fornicated and read the papers.” On friendship he writes: “Friendship . . . Is long and hard to obtain, but when one has it there’s no getting rid of it, one simply has to cope with it.” On the death of friends and relatives: “Have you noticed that death alone awakens our feelings? How we love the friends who have just left us? How we admire those of our teachers who have ceased to speak, their mouths filled with dirt!” “But do you know why we are always more just and more generous toward the dead? The reason is simple. With them there is no obligation. They leave us free and we can take our time, fit the testimonial in between a cocktail party and a nice little mistress, in our spare time, in short. If they force us to do anything, it would be to remember them, and we have a short memory.” “[D]on’t believe your friends when they ask you to be sincere with them. They merely hope you will encourage them in the good opinion they have of themselves by providing them with the additional assurance they will find in your promise of sincerity. How could sincerity be a condition of friendship? … [I]f you are in that situation, don’t hesitate: promise to tell the truth and then lie as best you can. You will satisfy their hidden desire and doubly prove your affection.” On intelligent men: “The truth is that every intelligent man, as you know, dreams of being a gangster and of ruling over society by force alone.” These quotations just touch the surface.

Clamence may represent Camus himself. The quote from Lermontov’s A Hero of our Time at the beginning of the Vintage English edition suggests he may be a composite of the vices of the current Parisian generation. Or maybe Camus is Clamence’s friend, who withstands Clamence’s efforts to make him judge himself guilty. Or most likely both characters reflect different aspects of Camus’s character. ( )
2 vote drsabs | Feb 21, 2022 |
کتاب جالب و متفاوتی بود. اما متاسفانه فایل صوتی دو فصل آخری که من داشتم، کار نمی کرد و طبیعتا آخرش رو با جزییات نتونستم گوش کنم. ( )
  Milad_Gharebaghi | Jan 14, 2022 |
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» Add other authors (29 possible)

Author nameRoleType of authorWork?Status
Camus, AlbertAuthorprimary authorall editionsconfirmed
Meister, Guido G.Translatormain authorsome editionsconfirmed
Buss, RobinTranslatorsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
Maclaine Pont, AnneTranslatorsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
Mattauch, AlfredIllustratorsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
O'Brien, JustinTranslatorsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
Stuart, GilbertTranslatorsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
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Some were dreadfully insulted, and quite seriously, to have held up as a model such an immoral character as A Hero of Our Time; others shrewdly noticed that the author had portrayed himself and his acquaintances...A Hero of Our Time, gentlemen, is in fact a portrait but not of an individual; it is the aggregate of the vices of our whole generation intheir fullest expression. LERMONTOV
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May I, monsieur, offer my services without running the risk of intruding?
Information from the Italian Common Knowledge. Edit to localize it to your language.
L'Olanda è un sogno, caro signore, un sogno d'oro e di fumo, più fumoso di giorno e più dorato di notte, e giorno e notte questo sogno è popolato di Lohengrin come questi, che trascorrono in sogno su nere biciclette dagli alti manubri, cigni neri che girano senza tregua per tutto il paese, intorno ai mari, lungo i canali.
Io riprendevo forza e poi la riperdevo. La vita diventava meno facile: quando il corpo è triste, il cuore langue. Mi sembrava di disimparare in parte quello che non avevo mai imparato e che tuttavia sapevo così bene: vivere, voglio dire.
Gliel'ho detto, si tratta di sfuggire al giudizio. Siccome sfuggirvi è difficile, mentre riuscire a far ammirare e insieme scusare la propria natura è buona creanza, cercano tutti di essere ricchi. Perché? Se lo è mai chiesto? Per essere potenti, certo. Ma soprattutto perché la ricchezza sottrae al giudizio immediato, ti libera dalla folla della metropolitana per chiuderti in una carrozzeria nichelata, isola in vasti parchi ben custoditi, vetture letto, cabine di lusso. La ricchezza, caro amico, non è ancora l'assoluzione, è la condizionale, che fa sempre comodo.
Fatto sta che, dopo lunghi studi su me stesso, ho scoperto la duplicità profonda della creatura. Allora, a furia di frugare nella memoria, ho capito che la modestia mi aiutava a brillare, l'umiltà a vincere e la virtù ad opprimere. Facevo la guerra con mezzi pacifici, e alla fine, per mezzo del disinteresse, ottenevo ciò che agognavo.
Ma di nuovo trovai un ostacolo in me stesso. Questa volta fu il fegato, insieme ad una stanchezza così grande che ancora me la porto dietro. Uno gioca a fare l'immortale, e in capo a qualche settimana non sa nemmeno più se potrà strascicarsi fino al giorno dopo.
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Elegantly styled, Camus' profoundly disturbing novel of a Parisian lawyer's confessions is a searing study of modern amorality.

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