Disease and Destiny in Plague Literature from Early Modern to Postmodern Times
Chapter Five: The Doctor’s Dilemma. The Plague
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What is the novel, in fact, if not the universe where action finds its form, where the final words are said, the human being abandoned to the other human beings, where everything bears the mark of destiny.
—ALBERT CAMUS, THE REBEL
John Cruickshank in Albert Camus and the Literature of Revolt refers guardedly in the chapter titled “The Art of the Novel” to Camus’s The Plague (La peste) as a roman-mythe. Moreover, he notes that “the whole conception and construction of La peste make it one of the most impressive novels of recent times to which the term roman-mythe may be applied” (166). The designation is nonetheless deceptive, and Cruickshank himself qualifies the aptness of it. While it is true that in the broadest sense, in its narrative framework, Camus’s novel can be read as a roman-mythe, more narrowly, in its narrative detail—in that The Plague deals with a real event, a particular plague, ostensibly in the realistic manner of a chronicle—Cruickshank views the work as being not exclusively mythic. Rather, he places it also in the symbolist tradition, for concealed in what is present in a literal reading of the novel as realism, i.e., as a chronicle, is another, abstract and absent “mythic” reality.
Most plague texts have their genesis in fact. The Plague is no exception. Therefore, to study the aesthetics of plague literature—or more particularly, the aesthetic constructs of destiny in plague literature—is...
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