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My blog nick-name is SIR HUGH. I'm not from the aristocracy - my middle name is Hugh which relates to the list of 282 hills in Scotland compiled by Sir Hugh Munro in 1891. I climbed my last one (Sgurr Mor) on 28th June 2009


Tuesday, 31 March 2020

La Peste

Tuesday 31st. March 2020

I wanted to post my reply to Gimmer on my last but one post "News from the USA"  because I reckon not many people look back at older posts to see later comments and this matter is so topical and worth more general airing.

 My reply to gimmer:

One of thr most influential books I have ever read is The Plauge (La Peste), Albert Camus. unfortunately the English translation is poor but the good news is that it is easy to read in French for anybody with a reasonsble acquataince with the language and I strongly recommend it.

Below is an exchange I had with my brother RR on his blog a few days ago:


"...The fictional story is told through the eyes of the local doctor, Rieux; his commitment to his task is complete, but his attitude is dispassionate. As we would hope of people in charge; Trump showing how not to do it. There is nothing to be gained by getting excited and uttering overworked words like “menace”.

Rieux and the others do what they do because the need is obvious; discussion is unnecessary. The solutions are mainly traditional, tried and true; good results at first seem distant but it’s important to be patient. Without articulating that need.

Best of all, courage is inferred, never stated. People volunteer for difficult work and some die. But no one dwells on this, calling it a tragedy; it was to be expected." 

My reply:

"La Peste made perhaps the greatest lasting impression on me of any novel I have read and that has been with me now for many years. It is one of the few books I have read in the French language after reading it in English. That demonstrated how bad a translation can be. I seem to remember the scene where the child dies and Rieux (I think) questions the priest about there being a bountiful god being particularly badly handled. That is shameful especially as that is one of the fundamental issues Camus is putting up for consideration."

By slight coincidence with your refernce to Naziism many have suggested that La Peste is, apart from its main theme, also an analogy to the Nazi supression of France.


  1. I've only read it in translation Conrad, but it made a powerful impression on me too. I think I've read that Camus himself said that it was intended as an allegorical reference to the Nazi occupation.

  2. Mark - Well at least I got one comment! As my brother obsereved that reference to the Nazi analogy hardly matters, but like most works of art it pays to consider the perspective in time as it was when the art was created.

  3. A good choice of reading in our present-day plague. I fished out my copy [in English] and discover I read it in 1967. I remember it well. I've another two by him which were easier reading The Outsider, about a misfit, and Exile and the Kingdom, short stories.
    When I bought them they were published in the upmarket Penguin Modern Classic series but still only 3/6. May read one of the short stories tonight.

  4. More than twenty years elapsed between my reading the translation and the original. Too long to make a useful comparison, although I think I could tell at the time that Constance Garnett's translations of the Russians could surely stand a little improvement (This turned out to be the case.). There have probably been other translations although I'm surprised the Penguin proved to be duff; that must have been what I read. Penguin could usually be relied on for attention to detail and a superb list of authors. Camus's style as a writer - laconic, even slightly flat - might have created difficulties for the translator. One cannot translate that which is not there.

  5. BC - I have also read The Outsider (L'Etranger) - a macabre story but very highly acclaimed, more so I think than La Peste.


    RR - Noted. I have just found a kind of review I wrote for my French lesson with Sheila which I am going to try and scan and publish.

  6. I recall trying to help with the translation of that section - and deciding i had better french than the translator (ha !) - that incident decided me against reading the translation and now never have read the novel: its summary does parallel the present matter presciently - although the basic protocols are time tested over the centuries, they always catch us - almost everywhere - disbelieving and unprepared. As said before, like war itself.