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Opinion

‘A Happy Death,’ a little-known precursor to renowned author

March 10, 2016

While many of us are familiar with the novel “The Stranger” by Albert Camus, less know the book that it was originally supposed to be. “A Happy Death” is the novel that Camus had written originally. The novel was nearly lost, as Camus did not publish it after writing it, instead opting to leave it alone. While it was written between 1936-1938 it was not published until the year 1971, more than 10 years after the death of Camus.

It is not entirely known why the book was not published; most likely Camus was not pleased with the final result. “A Happy Death” may be seen as semi-autobiographical as it draws upon the life of Camus.

Camus, was a Pied-Noir, or Frenchmen born in French Algeria and his life there is clearly what modeled the main character in the novel. While the subsequent world war and later war of independence, turned Algeria into a more dangerous place, a reader can almost imagine being there with the main character, Patrice Mersault, on the beach in Northern Algeria.

“A Happy Death” can almost be seen as a draft of “The Stranger,” as there are so many similarities. One main similarity is the main character; in “The Stranger,” he is known only by his surname Mersault, however in “A Happy Death,” the main character is named Patrice Mersault. There are several other characters by the same name in the two novels as well. “A Happy Death” does an excellent job of painting a portrait of life in French Algeria. It shows that Algeria is more than a former pirate colony, but a land of beauty and thought.

The central theme of death and existential thought is the same between the two, however “A Happy Death” focuses more on happiness and mortality, where “The Stranger” is about morality and judgement. Both are examples of the absurdist philosophy. Absurdism can be paraphrased as the struggle of man searching for the meaning of life, and the inability to do so.

Much of what Camus saw in his life could be described as absurd, especially World War II. Camus saw the senseless destruction and wholesale murder — never before had anything of such magnitude passed. It is impossible to find meaning in all that happened; for Camus it is merely absurd. While the essay “The Myth of Sisyphus” is the chief example of absurdism from Camus, the influences are clearly seen in “A Happy Death.”

“A Happy Death” can be seen as cheerier than “The Stranger,” which was written in 1941 during the Nazi occupation of France. It is natural that the wartime book would be more pessimistic, and it is an example of how time period and setting can affect the novels being written. It is fortunate that the novel was found, otherwise it may have been lost to time. I would recommend this book to anyone with an interest in Camus, philosophy, absurdism or someone who is looking for a good, quick read. At the time of writing, the book is available at the Chalmer Davee Library for all UWRF students interested.