Even if you’ve read Albert Camus’s slim novel of detachment repeatedly, there are still a few things you may not know about the masterpiece.
1. ALBERT CAMUS WROTE THE STRANGER AND THE MYTH OF SISYPHUS IN THE SAME YEAR.
Camus was busy when he was 28 years old. In addition to penning The Stranger, in 1942 he also wrote and published the 112-page essay The Myth of Sisyphus, an examination of subjects as lofty as the meaning of life, absurdity, and suicide.
2. CAMUS CARRIED THE MANUSCRIPT FOR THE STRANGER WITH HIM AS HE FLED THE NAZIS.
As if all that writing wasn’t enough to keep Camus occupied, the early 1940s were a tumultuous time in European history. Camus began his writing career during the ascension of Germany’s Third Reich and endured the occupation of his Paris home and the surrounding areas. He was forced to flee the French capital in 1940, relocating to the cities of Clermont-Ferrand and Lyon before ultimately returning to his native Algeria. During this period, Camus got married and then almost immediately lost his job, but held tight to his The Stranger manuscript through the years of travel.
3. THE BOOK WAS A HIT IN ANTI-NAZI CIRCLES.
As The Stranger was published in France at a time when the country’s print output suffered from German censorship, Nazi officials inspected the novel for potential instances of defamation to the Third Reich. Although Camus’s work passed muster with Hitler’s regime, The Stranger was immediately popular among anti-Nazi Party activists. The antiestablishment sensibilities of the story were subtle enough to sail past the censors, but the subtext read loud and clear to those harboring enmity from an increasingly powerful Germany.
4. THE STRANGER’S INFLUENCES WERE MOSTLY AMERICAN.
Camus’s style and ideology are often linked to French writer and philosopher Jean-Paul Sartre (a connection Camus always dismissed), but his chief literary influences, at least those that shaped the construction of The Stranger, were mostly American novelists. Camus drew inspiration from the works of Ernest Hemingway, William Faulkner, John Dos Passos, and James M. Cain when writing his 1942 novel.
5. CAMUS DIDN’T LIKE WHEN PEOPLE CALLED THE NOVEL “EXISTENTIALIST.”
Not only did Camus resent comparison to the style and philosophy of Sartre (a man he otherwise respected), the author contested the idea that he or his works might be categorized under the umbrella of existentialism. The writer instead indicated that his works were nearer absurdism, but he also confessed to being annoyed by the word.
6. THE BOOK HAS MORE THAN ONE ENGLISH TITLE.
Certain versions of The Stranger have been translated into English under a second title: The Outsider. Both the earliest English-language incarnation of the book, handled by British author Stuart Gilbert in 1946, and some of the most recent, by British author Sandra Smith in 2013, bear the latter handle.
7. THE OPENING LINE OF THE STRANGER HAS NEVER BEEN FULLY TRANSLATED.
As a result of the varied translations, readers have seen disparate takes on the novel’s iconic opening line. In its original French, the book opens as such: “Aujourd’hui, maman est morte.” In the absence of a literal English variant that would appropriately carry over the sentiment of the statement (the closest technical reproduction might read, “Today, mom is dead,” which betrays the original tense and spirit of Camus’ line), translators have braved a number of different routes.
Gilbert’s 1946 translation begins, “Mother died today.” Since the release of this translation, scholars have protested that the formal “mother” conflicts with the emotion suggested by the familiar “maman.” Nevertheless, Joseph Laredo and Kate Griffith’s independent 1982 versions inherited Gilbert’s “mother.”
Six years later, American author Matthew Ward translated The Stranger anew with the opener, “Maman died today,” maintaining the French in lieu of a superior English substitute. Although Ward’s take on the line is widely accepted as preferable to those of Gilbert, Laredo, and Griffith, scholars continue to debate the ideal translation of the sentence, batting around possibilities of “mommy” and “mom” and questioning the relocation of “today” to the end of the statement from its position at the front of the original.
8. NEITHER HAS ITS FINAL LINE.
The complexity of The Stranger’s closing line has likewise rendered it a tough nut to crack for English translators. A standout piece of the original French passage reads, “Comme si cette grande colère m’avait purgé du mal, vidé d’espoir, devant cette nuit chargée de signes et d’étoiles, je m'ouvrais pour la première fois à la tendre indifférence du monde.”
A special challenge arises in appropriating the idea represented by the word “tendre,” which carries a connotation unsatisfied by its closest English equivalents. While a literal translation might suggest utilization of the word “gentle,” Gilbert’s reproduction opts for “benign,” and Laredo’s for “gentle.” However, each has been criticized for falling shy of the character emanated by Camus’s “tendre” in this passage.
9. THE AUTHOR TOOK HEAT FOR AN EARLY SYNOPSIS HE PROVIDED FOR THE STRANGER.
After stamping an early edition of his book with the introductory tagline, “In our society any man who does not weep at his mother's funeral runs the risk of being sentenced to death,” Camus withstood some misinterpretation of his vantage point thereafter, clarifying in 1955 with the following passage: “I summarized The Stranger a long time ago, with a remark I admit was highly paradoxical…I only meant that the hero of my book is condemned because he does not play the game.” Even after this explanation, some scholars accused Camus of an overly simplistic understanding of his own text.
10. A SECONDARY CHARACTER IN THE BOOK GOT HIS OWN SPINOFF.
The nameless Arab who suffers the wrath of Camus’s homicidal protagonist Meursault found a somewhat brighter fate 70 years after his original appearance in the text. In 2013, writer Kamel Daoud published the spinoff novel The Meursault Investigation, fleshing out the identity and backstory of The Stranger’s anonymous murder victim.
11. CAMUS MAY HAVE CONSIDERED THE STRANGER THE “SECOND DRAFT” OF ANOTHER BOOK.
Four years before the The Stranger’s original publication, Camus had completed a strikingly similar story about a man named Mersault (as it was spelled in this story) who callously kills an innocent acquaintance for selfish reasons. Apparently unhappy with the piece, Camus tucked it away and turned his focus to reworking the protagonist and the events surrounding him. After Camus died in 1960, the manuscript for his original story was discovered and brought to international print. The novel was published in 1971, and translated to English a year later under the title A Happy Death.
12. FRENCH READERS VOTED THE STRANGER THE GREATEST BOOK OF THE 20TH CENTURY.
In 1999, Paris newspaper Le Monde asked its readers to name the best and most resilient pieces of literature published in the 20th century. The periodical opened the poll to 17,000 voters. The Stranger topped the list, beating out runners-up In Search of Lost Time by Marcel Proust, The Trial by Franz Kafka, and The Little Prince by Antoine de Saint-Exupéry.
13. AN ACCLAIMED TV DRAMA HAS A SPECIAL RELATIONSHIP WITH THE NOVEL.
Fans of Mad Men know to keep a lookout during any given episode for literary references. The Stranger holds a particularly prominent place in the academically inclined drama, which draws parallels between Meursault and Mad Men’s Don Draper. The American ad man, an outsider in the same vein as Meursault, unravels over the course of the series as the contrast between his stunted emotional capabilities and what is expected of him by society sharpens. The antepenultimate episode of the series all but names the book outright when Don is accused of being someone who “like[s] to play the stranger.”
14. THE ROCK BAND THE CURE WAS MISTAKEN FOR RACIST THANKS TO ITS LOVE FOR THE STRANGER.
The very first single released by the English rock band The Cure earns the band backlash to this day thanks to an unsurprising misinterpretation of its title and lyrics. “Killing an Arab” was recorded in 1976 as an homage to Camus’s novel. Songwriter Robert Smith aimed to detail the events and themes of the story in the track’s lyrics, explaining that “Killing an Arab” was meant to be “a short poetic attempt at condensing my impression of the key moments” of The Stranger. In light of the public’s reading of the band’s intentions as culturally insensitive, The Cure has occasionally opted to perform the song with the revised lyric, “Kissing an Arab.”