Everyone knows The Stranger but fewer know the novel that Camus wrote before it – A Happy Death – with a character also named Mersault, also around 150 pages, also split into two parts, where the first part involves a murder that is supposed to guide the character, throughout the second part, to The Truth. Fewer know because Camus never published it; it came out ten years after his death.
First of all, I’ve always thought it a brilliant idea for an artist to make a matrix of characters in one piece and then go through many other subsequent pieces where the stories are totally different stories but characters have the same names. Except they’re not the same – they’re different characters (i.e. they act in totally different ways; they’re linked by name only). This instance of Camus is basically this – though he never used Mersault again. I’ve always thought of the Tom and Hucks in Tom Sawyer followed by Huckleberry Finn to be switched around characters. And so forth.
In addition to this thought: this can happen, in a different way, with actors. Cassavetes sort of does this by constantly casting the same people in his little adventures. Same actors isn’t quite the same as same character name. But it’s all very psychological for a view. I have some thoughts on this, see if I ever write on it.
Anyways! Second of all, there’s been some academic debate over the connection of A Happy Death and The Stranger. The former was written 1936-1938. The Stranger finally came out in 1942. In that time he also wrote Myth Of Sisyphus, which, if Albert is anything like most people, probably took a lot longer to write and involved a lot more thought than either of the novels.
But anyway, that time frame is a long one – four years. A lot happens in four years. Story time: I was talking to someone who will not be named, but relevantly was ate the age of 48. I said I had known someone “a long time.” He asked me to be specific. “A year and a half,” I said. My friend scoffed – this was no time at all. But this is for a 48 year old. Camus was 23 when he started writing A Happy Death (a great age for a first novel, if I do say so myself), and 29 when it was finally published.
When you’re 48 (apparently?) some things slow, you ease into a certain disposition / mindset / way of thinking / way of living, and so “a long time, AKA a year and a half” turns into something closer to five years. A lot happens in a year and a half when you’re in your 20s if you’re living right – and Yes, that is a value judgment I have just made. When you’re in your mid-20s, and you’re living, and maybe traveling, or moving; working, and interacting with people externally as well as yourself internally, and absorbing, and thinking – then a lot can happen in a week, much less a month, much less a year. And of course, 48 year olds can do all these things quite easily (especially the one in question!), but the passage of time (or perception of it) changes the older you get. To not be agist or make a value judgment on something I don’t actually know what I’m talking about, I’ve heard it argue that it’s biological. So.
This leads me to wonder how much A Happy Death and The Stranger are really connected. The philosophy is different, and interestingly, changes from Death’s pro-life to Stranger’s pro-death-which-is-pro-life. This is the obvious difference, it’s the main argument in the academic sphere of how little they’re connected. And it leads me to wonder what happened in those years between the two. I’m sure further clues are in The Myth Of Sisyphus and some asshole academic’s secondhand literature. But life’s too short – I’ll save the secondhand material for when my life isn’t changing every other day.
With it being said that I’d imagine the novels are different, I guess I should say that I’m a little surprised. Because that much time had passed – all inside of Camus mid-late 20s – and Camus was still knitting the ideas of one thing with the ideas of another (see first paragraph for specifics). I suppose it makes sense that both Mersaults lead a laconic sort of life (not mentally, but physically… and attitudinally). Perhaps Camus rested easy on his laurels in his 20s? Before Combat and the Brown Shirts, of course.