Plague and Terror, Priest and Atheist
2. A Happy Death – The Happiness of Non-Being 19
19 CHAPTER 2 A Happy Death – The Happiness of Non-Being After his early essays and short memoirs, A Happy Death (La Mort Heureuse) was Camus’s first attempt at a novel, the literary form which he already felt was to be his most important.1 His journals and note-books show that he worked on it and thought about its construction through 1937 and 1938, that is, aged twenty-four and twenty-five. He showed a draft to Jacques Heurgon, who had been a professor of Latin at the University of Algiers when Camus was a student there. Heurgon thought, correctly, that the brutal murder that opened the story was ‘inadequately integrated with the literary passages.’2 Other judges whose opinion Camus respected made further criticisms. His notes show that he had tried to put into it almost every significant episode of his life, but it was impossible to make them work as one coherent novel. By the end of 1938 he had decided not to attempt to have it published; he did not even show it to Charlot, who had published his earlier writings. But by that time Camus was already at work on The Outsider, which as we shall see does form a psycho- logically compact whole, developing tremendous force. The theme of A Happy Death is the protagonist Patrice Mersault’s unscrupulous pursuit of what Camus at the time thought of as ‘happi- ness.’ One thing that Mersault (and Camus) felt sure of was that it was impossible to be happy if one had...
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