Albert Camus : a collecting history

The University Library collects a great deal of work by and about Albert Camus. In 2013, the 100th anniversary of his birth, he is indisputably an important literary figure whose influence extends beyond French literature. Gallimard recently estimated that sales of works by Camus now exceed 22 million copies. L’étranger has sold 8 million copies, La peste more than 4 million.

However, when his first books were published, how were his contemporaries—librarians, academics, and the book-buying and reading public—to know that Camus would become such an important figure? Similarly, how can librarians now know who will be the Camus of the current generation of novelists? The University Library actively collects works of contemporary French literature, but its collections are, by necessity, imperfect and incomplete. We cannot buy all important authors in their first edition, nor can we even identify them all as they are still writing and publishing.

Some of the UL's earliest received Camus books.

Some of the UL’s earliest received Camus books.

The example of Camus provides an insight into the importance of the decisions of language librarians working to create a great collection of literature, as well as the activities of the UL’s Legal Deposit English-language material to supplement these decisions.

The first appearance of a work by Camus in the University Library was in June 27, 1946, when an English translation of L’Étranger (first published, 1942) was deposited with the library on Legal Deposit (classmark : 1946.7.858). After the War English translations of Camus followed quickly after the French originals, and were immediately acquired.

Up until Camus’ death in 1960, the UL received the following books through the Legal Deposit system, all published in London :

  • Caligula, and, Cross purpose (first published 1938 and 1944)
    (English translation published 1947 and received 1948 ; 1948.7.1373)
  • Plague (first published 1947)
    (English translation published and received 1948 ; 1948.7.1616)
  • The Fall (first published 1956)
    (English translation published and received 1957 ; 1957.8.51)
  • Exile and the kingdom (first published 1957)
    (English translation published and received 1958 ; 1958.8.374)
  • L’Étranger
    (French text with English introduction and notes  published and received 1958 ; 1958.6.12)
  • La Peste (first published 1947)
    (French text with English introduction and notes  published and received 1959 ; 1959.6.124)

However, the Library was much slower in acquiring the original French texts. Collecting started in earnest in the mid-1950s, our first French language copy of L’Étranger having been bought in 1954, with several other of his works purchased in the same year. Since Camus’ death, a number of early gaps in the Library’s holdings of Camus have gradually been filled, either through active purchasing of antiquarian copies of his works, or through gifts. The Library currently has 10 1940s Camus imprints. We did not acquire a 1946 edition of his title Lettres à un ami allemand until the 1990s.

Lettres a un ami allemand (dedication)

Lettres à un ami allemand (dedication)

The Library is still expanding its collection of works by and about Camus: in 2012 we received a donated copy of a Greek translation of Homme révolté from the University of Bradford (2013.8.3982) and most notably another copy (New acquisition) of Lettres à un ami allemand presented by Camus to Raymond Queneau with the inscription “A Queneau, ces dissertations nocturnes, cordialement Camus”– an allusion to the author’s statement “La médiation se fait dans la nuit” on page 32 of the text.

Volumes of unpublished correspondence between Camus and Roger Martin du Gard, Francis Ponge and Louis Guilloux have appeared in the last few months. Le monde en partage : itinéraires d’Albert Camus, by his daughter Catherine, was published in September.

Josh Hutchinson

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