Pagina principale A Happy Death

A Happy Death

Is it possible to die a happy death? This is the central question of Camus' astonishing early novel, published posthumously and greeted as a major literary event. It tells the story of a young Algerian, Mersault, who defies society's rules by committing a murder and escaping punishment, then experimenting with different ways of life and finally dying a happy man. In many ways, "A Happy Death" is a fascinating first sketch for "The Outsider", but it can also be seen as a candid self-portrait, drawing on Camus' memories of his youth, travels and early relationships. It is infused with lyrical descriptions of the sun-drenched Algiers of his childhood - the place where, eventually, Mersault is able to find peace and die 'without anger, without hatred, without regret'.
Anno:
1972
Editore:
Alfred A. Knopf, Inc.
Lingua:
english
Pagine:
75
ISBN 10:
0394718658
File:
PDF, 585 KB
Download (pdf, 585 KB)

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A Happy Death, Albert Camus's previously unpublished first novel, written when he was in his early
twenties, foreshadows his brilliant work, The Stranger. But in it Camus reveals much more of himself
than he did in his later, more mythic fiction. Through young Patrice, the protagonist, the reader feels in
touch with the young Camus-his joy in the sea, sun, his native Algeria, his relationships with women, his
need of them and detachment from them, the intense alienation he experienced as a traveler in Central
Europe. And it is from his early intimations of death, movingly evoked, that the novel draws its themehow one is to live in order to have the right death.
A Happy Death is the first of the "cahiers" that Camus left unpublished, whose publication will complete
his literary oeuvre.
"Cahier I"
A
Happy Death

Albert Camus
Translated from the French by Richard Howard
Afterword and Notes by Jean Sarocchi
Vintage Books
A Division of Random House, New York
Cover photo: F. Corbineau/"Realities"
First Vintage Books Edition, May, 1973 Copyright © 1972 by Alfred A. Knopf, Inc. All rights reserved
under International and Pan-American Copyright Conventions. Published in the United States by Random
House, Inc., New York, a: simultaneously in Canada by Random House of Can Limited, Toronto.
Originally published in France by Editions Gallimard, Paris. Copyright © 1971 by Editions Gallimard.
This edition was originally published by Alfred A. Knopf, Inc., in May 1972.
Library of Congress Cataloging in Publication Data
Camus, Albert, 1913-1960. A happy death.
(His Cahier 1)
Translation of La mort heureuse.
I. Title. [PZ3.C1574Hap4] [PQ2605.A3734] 843'.9'14 ISBN 0-394-71865-8

72-8028

Manufactured in the United States of America B9876543
The publication of the Cahiers Albert Camus has been decided upon by the writer's family and publishers,
in answer to the wishes of many scholars and, more generally, of all those interested in his life and
thought.
It is not without some scruple that this pu; blication has been undertaken. A severe critic of his own work,
Albert Camus published nothing heedlessly. Why, then, offer the public an abandoned novel, lectures,
uncollected articles, notebooks, drafts?
Simply because, when we love a writer or study him closely, we often want to know everything he has
written. Those responsible for Camus* unpublished writings consider it would be a mistake not to
respond to these legitimate wishes and not to satisfy those who desire to read A Happy Death, for
example, or the travel diaries.
Scholars whose research has led them—on occasion during Camus' lifetime—to consult his youthful
writings or later texts which remain unfamiliar or even unpublished, believe that the writer's image can
only be clarified and enriched by making them accessible.
The publication of the Cahiers Albert Camus is under the editorship of Jean-Claude Brisville, Roger
Grenier, Roger Quilliot and Paul Viallaneix.
Contents
1 Part One Natural Death
2

55 Part Two
Conscious Death
153 Afterword
169 Notes and Variants
Part One
Natural Death
1
It was ten in the morning, and Patrice Mersault was walking steadily toward Zagreus' villa. By now the
housekeeper had left for the market, and the villa was deserted. It was a beautiful April morning, chilly
and bright; the sky was radiant, but there was no warmth in the glistening sunshine. The empty road
sloped up toward the villa, and a pure light streamed between the pines covering the hillside. Patrice
Mersault was carrying a suitcase, and as he walked on through that primal morning, the only sounds he
heard were the click of his own footsteps on the cold road and the regular creak of the suitcase handle.
Not far from the villa, the road crossed a little square decorated with flowerbeds and benches. The effect
of the early red geraniums among gray aloes, the blue sky, and the whitewashed walls was so fresh, so
childlike that Mersault stopped a moment before walking on through the square. Then the road sloped
down again toward Zagreus' villa. On the doorstep he paused and put on his gloves. He opened the door
which the cripple never locked and carefully closed it behind him. He walked down the hall to the third
door on the left, knocked and went in. Zagreus was there, of course, a blanket over the stumps of his legs,
sitting in an armchair by the fire exactly where Mersault had sat two days ago. He
was reading, and his book lay open on the blanket; there was no surprise in his round eyes as he stared up
at Mersault, who was standing in front of the closed door. The curtains were drawn back, and patches of
sunshine lay on the floor, the furniture, making objects glitter in the room. Beyond the window, the
morning rejoiced over the cold, golden earth. A great icy joy, the birds' shrill, tentative outcry, the flood
of pitiless light gave the day an aspect of innocence and truth. Mersault stood motionless, the room's
stifling heat filling his throat, his ears. Despite the change in the weather, there was a blazing fire in the
grate. And Mersault felt his blood rising to his temples, pounding at the tips of his ears. Zagreus' eyes
followed his movements, though he did not say a word. Patrice walked toward the chest on the other side
of the fireplace and put his suitcase down on a table without looking at the cripple. He felt a faint tremor
in his ankles now. He took out a cigarette and lit it—clumsily, for he was wearing gloves. A faint noise
behind him made him turn around, the cigarette between his lips. Cagreus was still staring at him, but had
just closed the book. Mersault—the fire was painfully hot against his knees now—could read the title
upside down: The Courtier by Baltasar Gracian. Then he bent over the chest and opened it. The revolver
was still there, its lustrous black, almost feline curves on the white letter. Mersault picked up the envelope
with his left hand and the revolver with his right. After an instant's hesitation, he thrust the gun under his left arm and opened the envelope. It contained one large
sheet of paper, with only a few lines of Za-greus' tall, angular handwriting across the top:
"I am doing away with only half a man. It need cause no problem—there is more than enough here to pay
off those who have taken care of me till now. Please use what is left over to improve conditions of the
men in death row. But I know it's asking a lot."
Expressionless, Mersault folded the sheet and put it back in the envelope. As he did so the smoke from
his cigarette stung his eyes, and a tiny chunk of ash fell on the envelope. He shook it off, set the envelope
3

on the table where it was sure to be noticed, and turned toward Zagreus, who was staring at the envelope
now, his stubby powerful fingers still holding the book. Mersault bent down, turned the key of the little
strongbox inside the chest, and took out the packets of bills, only their ends visible in the newspaper
wrappings. Holding the gun under one arm, with the other hand he methodically filled up the suitcase.
There were fewer than twenty packets of hundreds, and Mersault realized he had brought too large a
suitcase. He left one packet in the safe. Then he closed the suitcase, flicked the half-smoked cigarette into
the fire and, taking the revolver in his right hand, walked toward the cripple.
Zagreus was staring at the window now. A car drove slowly past, making a faint chewing sound.
Motionless, Zagreus seemed to be contemplating all
the inhuman beauty of this April morning. When he felt the barrel against his right temple, he did not turn
away. But Patrice, watching him, saw his eyes fill with tears. It was Patrice who closed his eyes, He
stepped back and fired. Leaning against the wall for a moment, his eyes still closed, he felt his blood
throbbing in his ears. Then he opened his eyes. The head had fallen over onto the left shoulder, the body
only slightly tilted. But it was no longer Zagreus he saw now, only a huge, bulging wound of brain, blood,
and bone. Mersault began to tremble. He walked around to the other side of the armchair, groped for
Zagreus' right hand, thrust the revolver into it, raised it to the temple, and let it fall back. The revolver
dropped onto the arm of the chair and then into Zagreus' lap. Now Mersault noticed the cripple's mouth
and chin—he had the same serious and sad expression as when he was staring at the window. Just then a
shrill horn sounded in front of the door. A second time. Mersault, still leaning over the armchair, did not
move. The sound of tires meant that the butcher had driven away. Mersault picked up his suitcase, turned
the doorknob gleaming suddenly in a sunbeam, and left the room, his head throbbing, his mouth parched.
He opened the outer door and walked away quickly. There was no one in sight except a group of children
at one end of the little square. He walked on. Past the square, he was suddenly aware of the cold, and
shivered under his light jacket. He sneezed twice, and the valley
filled with shrill mocking echoes that the crystal sky carried higher and higher. Staggering slightly, he
stopped and took a deep breath. Millions of tiny white smiles thronged down from the blue sky. They
played over the leaves still cupping the rain, over the damp earth of the paths, soared to the blood-red tile
roofs, then back into the lakes of air and light from which they had just overflowed. A tiny plane hummed
its way across the sky. In this flowering of air, this fertility of the heavens, it seemed as if a man's one
duty was to live and be happy. Everything in Mersault fell silent. He sneezed a third time, and shivered
feverishly. Then he hurried away without glancing around him, the suitcase creaking, his footsteps loud
on the road. Once he was back in his room, and had put the suitcase in a corner, he lay down on his bed
and slept until the middle of the afternoon.
2
Summer crammed the habor with noise and sunlight. It was eleven thirty. The day split open down the
middle, crushing the docks under the burden of its heat. Moored at the sheds of the Algiers Municipal
Depot, black-hulled, red-chimneyed freighters were loading sacks of wheat. Their dusty fragrance
mingled with the powerful smell of tar melting under a hot sun. Men were drinking at a little stall that
reeked of creosote and anisette, while some Arab acrobats in red shirts somersaulted on the scorching
flagstones in front of the sea in the leaping light. Without so much as a glance at them, the stevedores
carrying the sacks walked up the two sagging planks that slanted from the dock to the freighter decks.
When they reached the top, their silhouettes were suddenly divided between the sea and the sky among
the winches and masts. They stopped for an instant, dazzled by the light, eyes gleaming in the whitish
crust of dust and sweat that covered their faces, before they plunged blindly into the hold stinking of hot
blood. In the fiery air, a siren blew without stopping.
Suddenly the men on the plank stopped in confusion. One of them had fallen, and was caught between the
planks, his arm pinned under his body, crushed under the tremendous weight of the sack, and he screamed
with pain. Just at this moment, Pa4

trice Mersault emerged from his office, and on the doorstep, the summer heat took his breath away. He
opened his mouth, inhaled the tar vapors, which stung his throat, and then he went over to the stevedores.
They had moved the man who had been hurt, and he was lying in the dust, his lips white with pain, his
arm dangling, broken above the elbow. A sliver of bone had pierced the flesh, making an ugly wound
from which blood was dripping. The drops rolled down his arm and fell, one by one, onto the scorching
stones with a tiny hiss, and turned to steam. Mersault was staring, motionless, at the blood when someone
took his arm. It was Emmanuel, one of the clerks. He pointed to a truck heading toward them with a salvo
of backfires. "That one?" Patrice began to run as the truck drove past them, chains rattling. They dashed
after it, swallowed up by dust and noise, panting and blind, just conscious enough to feel themselves
swept on by the frenzied effort of running, in a wild rhythm of winches and machines, accompanied by
the dancing masts on the horizon and the pitching of the leprous hulls they passed. Mersault was the first
to grab hold, confident of his strength and skill, and he jumped onto the moving truck. He helped
Emmanuel up, and the two men sat with their legs dangling in the chalk-white dust, while a luminous
suffocation poured out of the sky over the circle of the harbor crowded with masts and black cranes, the
uneven cobbles of the dock jarring Emmanuel and Mersault as the truck
gained speed, making them laugh until they were breathless, dizzied by the jolting movement, the searing
sky, their own boiling blood.
When they reached Belcourt, Mersault slid off with Emmanuel, who was singing now, loud and out of
tune. "You know," he told Mersault, "it comes up in your chest. It comes when you feel good. When
you're in the water." It was true: Emmanuel sang when he swam, and his voice, hoarse from shouting,
inaudible against the sea, marked time for the gestures of his short, muscular arms. They were walking
down the rue de Lyon, Mersault tall beside Emmanuel, his broad shoulders rolling. In the way he stepped
onto the curb, the way he twisted his hips to avoid the crowd that occasionally closed in on him, his body
seemed curiously young and vigorous, capable of bearing him to any extreme of physical joy. Relaxed, he
rested his weight on one hip with a self-conscious litheness, like a man whose body has acquired its style
from sports. His eyes sparkled under the heavy brows, and as he talked to Emmanuel he would tug at his
collar with a mechanical gesture to free his neck muscles, tensing his curved mobile lips at the same time.
They walked into their restaurant, sat down at a table, and ate in silence. It was cool inside, among the
flies, the clatter of plates, the hum of conversation. The owner, Celeste, a tall man with huge mustaches,
walked over to greet them, scratching his belly under his apron. "Pretty good," Celeste answered them,
"good for an
old man." Celeste and Emmanuel exchanged exclamations and thumped each other on the shoulder. "Old
men," Celeste said, "you know what old men are, they're all the same. Shitheads. They tell you a real
man's got to be fifty. But that's because they're fifty. I knew this one guy who could have his good times
just with his son. They'd go out together. On the town. They'd go to the Casino, and this guy would say:
'Why should I hang around with a lot of old men! Every day they tell me they've taken some medicine,
there's always something wrong with their liver. I have a better time with my son. Sometimes he picks up
a whore, I look the other way, I take the streetcar. So long and thanks. Fine with me.' " Emmanuel
laughed. "Of course," Celeste said, "the guy was no authority, but I liked him all right." He turned to
Mersault. "Anyway, it's better than this other guy I knew. When he made his money, he would talk with
his head way up making gestures all the time. Now he's not so proud of himself—he's lost it all."
"Serves him right," Mersault said.
"Oh, you can't be a bastard in life. This guy took it while he had it, and he was right. Almost a million
francs he had . . . Now if it had been me!"
"What would you do?" Emmanuel asked.
"I'd buy myself a cabin on the beach, I'd put some glue in my navel, and I'd stick a flag in there. Then I'd
wait to see which way the wind was blowing."
5

Mersault ate quietly until Emmanuel started to tell Celeste how he had fought the battle of the Marne.
"See, they sent us Zouaves out in front . . ."
"Cut the bullshit," Mersault said calmly.
"The major said, 'Charge!' and we ran down into a kind of gully, only with trees in it. He told us to
charge, but no one was there. So we just marched right on, kept on walking. And then all of a sudden
these machineguns are firing right into us. We all fall on top of each other. There were so many dead and
wounded that you could have rowed a boat across the blood in that gully. Some of them kept screaming,
'Mama!' Christ, it was awful."
Mersault stood up and tied a knot in his napkin. The owner walked over to the kitchen door and chalked
the price of his dinner on it. When one of his customers hadn't paid up, Celeste would take the door off its
hinges and bring the evidence on his back. Rene, his son, was eating a boiled egg over in a corner. "Poor
kid," Emmanuel said, thumping his own chest, "he's had it." It was true. Rene was usually quiet and
serious. Though he was not particularly thin, his eyes glittered. Just now another customer was explaining
to him that "with time and patience, TB can be cured." Rene nodded and answered solemnly between
bites. Mersault walked over to the counter and ordered coffee, leaning on his elbows. The other customer
went on: "Did you ever know Jean Perez? He worked for the gas company. He's dead now. He had this
one bad lung. But
he wanted to get out of the hospital and go home. His wife was there, see. She was nothing but his horse.
You know, his sickness made him like that— he was always on top of her. She wouldn't want it, but he
had to. So two, three times, every day of the week—it ends up killing a sick man." Rene stopped eating, a
piece a bread between his teeth, and stared at the man. "Yes," he said finally, "the thing comes on fast, but
it takes time to get rid of it." Mersault wrote his name with one finger on the steamed-over percolator. He
blinked his eyes. Every day his life alternated between this calm consumptive and Emmanuel bursting
into song, between the smell of coffee and the smell of tar, alienated from himself and his interests, from
his heart, his truth. Things that in other circumstances would have excited him left him unmoved now, for
they were simply part of his life, until the moment he was back in his room using all his strength and care
to smother the flame of life that burned within him.
"What do you think, Mersault? You've been to school," Celeste said.
"Oh, cut it out," Patrice said, "you'll get over it."
"You're touchy this morning."
Mersault smiled and, leaving the restaurant, crossed the street and went upstairs to his room. The
apartment was over a horse butcher's. Leaning over his balcony, he could smell blood as he read the sign:
"To Man's Noblest Conquest." He stretched out on his bed, smoked a cigarette, and fell asleep.
He slept in what used to be his mother's room. They had had this little three-room apartment a long time.
Now that he was alone, Mersault rented two rooms to a man he knew, a barrelmaker who lived with his
sister, and he had kept the best room for himself. His mother had been fifty-six when she died. A
beautiful woman, she had enjoyed—and expected to enjoy—a life of diversion, a life of pleasure. At
forty, she had been stricken by a terrible disease. She had had to give up her clothes, her cosmetics, and
was reduced to hospital gowns, her face deformed by terrible swellings; her swollen legs and her
weakness kept her almost immobilized, and she would grope frantically around the colorless apartment
she could no longer take care of, for she was half blind as well. The diabetes she had neglected had been
further aggravated by her careless life. Mersault had had to abandon his studies and take a job. Until his
mother's death, he had continued to read, to reflect. And for ten years, the sick woman endured that life.
The suffering had lasted so long that those around her grew accustomed to her disease and forgot that she
was deathly ill, that she would die. One day she died. People in the neighborhood felt sorry for Mersault.
6

They expected a lot from the funeral. They recalled the son's deep feeling for his mother. They warned
distant relatives not to mourn too much, so that Patrice would not feel his own grief too intensely. They
were asked to protect him, to take care of him. But Patrice, dressed in his best and with his hat in his
hand,
watched the arrangements. He walked in the procession, listened to the service, tossed his handful of
earth, and folded his hands. Only once did he look surprised, expressing his regret that there were so few
cars for those who had attended the service. That was all. The next day, a sign appeared in one of the
apartment windows: "For rent." Now he lived in his mother's room. In the past, the poverty they shared
had a certain sweetness about it: when the end of the day came and they would eat their dinner in silence
with the oil lamp between them, there was a secret joy in such simplicity, such retrenchment. The
neighborhood was a quiet one. Mersault would stare at his mother's slack mouth and smile. She would
smile back. He would start eating again. The lamp would smoke a little. His mother tended it with the
same exhausted gesture, extending only her right arm, her body slumped down in her chair. "You're not
hungry any more?" she would ask, a moment later. "No." He would smoke, or read. If he smoked, she
always said: "Again!" If he read: "Sit closer to the lamp you'll ruin your eyes." But now the poverty in
solitude was misery. And when Mersault thought sadly of the dead woman, his pity was actually for
himself. He could have found a more comfortable room, but he clung to this apartment and its smell of
poverty. Here, at least, he maintained contact with what he had been, and in a life where he deliberately
tried to expunge himself, this patient, sordid confrontation helped him to survive his hours of melancholy
and
regret. He had left on the door the frayed gray card on which his mother had written her name in blue
pencil. He had kept the old brass bed with its sateen spread, and the portrait of his grandfather with his
tiny beard and pale, motionless eyes. On the mantelpiece, shepherds and shepherdesses framed an old
clock that had stopped and an oil lamp he almost never lit. The dreary furnishings—some ricketry rattan
chairs, the wardrobe with its yellowed mirror, a dressing table missing one corner—did not exist for him:
habit had blurred everything. He moved through the ghost of an apartment that required no effort of him.
In another room, he would have had to grow accustomed to novelty, to struggle once again. He wanted to
diminish the surface he offered the world, to sleep until everything was consumed. For this purpose, the
old room served him well. One window overlooked the street, the other a yard always full of laundry,
and, beyond it, a few clumps of orange trees squeezed between high walls. Sometimes, on summer nights,
he left the room dark and opened the window overlooking the yard and the dim trees. Out of the darkness
the fragrance of orange blossoms rose into the darkness, strong and sweet, surrounding him with its
delicate shawls. All night during the summer, he and his room were enclosed in that dense yet subtle
perfume and it was as if, dead for days at a time, he had opened his window on life for the first time.
He wakened, his mouth full of sleep, his body
covered with sweat. It was very late. He combed his hair, ran downstairs, and jumped onto a streetcar. By
five past two he was in his office. He worked in a big room where the walls were covered with 414
pigeonholes into which folders were piled. The room was neither dirty nor sordid, but it suggested, at any
hour of the day, a catacomb in which dead hours had putrefied. Mersault checked shipping bills,
translated provision lists from English ships, and between three and four dealt with clients who wanted
crates or luggage shipped. He had asked for this work, which really wasn't a part of his job. But at the
start, he had found it a way of escaping into life. There were living faces, familiar encounters, and a
passing breath of life in which at least he felt his own heart beating. And it allowed him to avoid the faces
of the three secretaries and the supervisor, Monsieur Langlois. One of the secretaries was quite pretty and
had been recently married. Another lived with her mother, and the third was a dignified and energetic old
lady whom Mersault liked for her florid way of talking and her reticence about what Langlois called her
"misfortunes." The supervisor would engage in peremptory arguments with old Madame Herbillon, who
always emerged victorious. She despised Langlois for the sweat that pasted his trousers to his buttocks
when he stood up and for the panic which seized him in the presence of the head of the firm and
occasionally on the phone when he heard the name of some lawyer or even
7

some idiot with a de in front of his name. The poor man was quite unable to soften the old lady's heart or
to win his way into her good graces. This afternoon he was strutting around the middle of the office. "We
really get along very well together, don't we, Madame Herbillon?" Mersault was translating "vegetables,"
staring over his head at the lightbulb in its corrugated green cardboard shade. Across from him was a
bright-colored calendar showing a religious procession in Newfoundland. Sponge, blotter, inkwell, and
ruler were lined up on his desk. The windows near him looked out over huge piles of wood brought from
Norway by yellow and white freighters. Mersault listened. On the other side of the wall, life had its own
deep, muffled rhythm, a respiration that filled the harbor and the sea. So remote, and yet so close to him .
. . The six o'clock bell released him. It was a Saturday.
Once home, he lay down on his bed and slept till dinnertime. He made himself some eggs and ate them
out of the pan (with no bread; he had forgotten to buy any), then stretched out again and fell asleep at
once. He awoke the next morning just before lunchtime, washed and went downstairs to eat. Back in his
room he did two crossword puzzles, carefully cut out an advertisement for Kruschen Salts which he
pasted into a booklet already filled with jovial grandfathers sliding down banisters. Then he washed his
hands and went out onto his balcony. It was a beautiful afternoon. Yet the sidewalks were damp, the occasional passer-by in a hurry. Mersault stared after each one until he was out of
sight, then attached his gaze to a new arrival within his field of vision. First came families walking
together—two little boys in sailor suits, uncomfortable in their starched blouses, and a girl with a huge
pink bow and black patent-leather shoes. Behind them a mother in a brown silk dress, a monstrous
creature swathed in a boa, the father, more elegant, carrying a cane. In a little while it was the turn of the
young men of the neighborhood, hair slicked back and red neckties, close-fitting jackets with
embroidered pocket handkerchiefs, and square-toed shoes. They were on their way to the movies in the
center of town, and hurried toward the streetcar, laughing very loud. Then the street grew still again. The
afternoon diversions had begun. The neighborhood belonged to cats and shopkeepers. The sky, though
clear, was lusterless over the ficus trees lining the road. Across from Mersault, the tobacconist brought a
chair out in front of his door and straddled it, leaning his arms on the back. The streetcars that had been
crowded a little while ago were almost empty. In the little cafe Chez Pierrot, the waiter was sweeping
sawdust in the empty front room. Mersault turned his chair around, placed it like the tobacconist's, and
smoked two cigarettes one after the other. He went back into his room, broke off a piece of chocolate, and
returned to his balcony to eat it. Soon the sky darkened, then paled again. But the passing clouds had left a promise of rain over the street they dimmed. At
five, streetcars groaned past, jammed with soccer fans from the outlying stadiums perched on the runningboards and hanging from the handrails. On the next streetcar, he could identify the players
themselves by their canvas bags. They shouted and sang at the top of their lungs that their teams would
never die. Several waved to Mersault. One shouted: "We did it this time!" "Yes," was all Mersault
answered, nodding. Then there were more cars. Some had flowers wreathed in their bumpers and looped
around their fins. Then the light faded a little more. Over the roofs the sky reddened, and with evening the
streets grew lively again. The strollers returned, the tired children whining as they let themselves be
dragged home. The neighborhood movie houses disgorged a crowd into the street. Mersault could tell
from the violent gestures of the young men that they had seen some sort of adventure film. Those who
had been to movies in the center of town appeared a little later. They were more serious: for all their
laughter and teasing gestures, their eyes and their movements betrayed a kind of nostalgia for the magical
lives they had just shared. They lingered in the street, coming and going. And on the sidewalk across
from Mersault, two streams finally formed. One consisted of neighborhood girls, walking arm in arm,
bareheaded. The young men in the other cracked jokes which made the girls laugh and look
away. Older people went into the cafes or formed groups on the sidewalk which the human river flowed
around as if they were islands. The street-lamps were on now, and the electric light made the first stars
look faint in the night sky. An audience of one, Mersault watched the procession of people under the
lights. The streetlamps made the damp sidewalks gleam, and at regular intervals the streetcars would
throw reflections on shiny hair, wet lips, a smile, or a silver bracelet. Gradually the streetcars became
8

more infrequent, and the night was already black above the trees and the lamps as the neighborhood
gradually emptied and the first car crept across the street as soon as it was deserted again. Mersault
thought about dinner. His neck ached a little from leaning so long on the back of his chair. He went
downstairs to buy bread and macaroni, made his dinner and ate it. Then he returned to his balcony. People
were coming out again, the air had cooled. He shivered, closed his windows, and walked over to the
mirror above the fireplace. Except for certain evenings when Marthe came or when he went out with her,
and except for his correspondence with the girls in Tunis, his entire life lay in the yellowed image the
mirror offered of a room where the filthy oil lamp stood among the bread crusts.
"Another Sunday shot," Mersault said.
3
When Mersault walked through the streets in the evening, proud as he watched the lights and shadows
flicker across Marthe's face, everything seemed wonderfully simple, even his own strength and his
courage. He was grateful to her for displaying in public, at his side, the beauty she offered him day after
day like some delicate intoxication. An unno-ticeable Marthe would have made him suffer as much as a
Marthe happy in the desire of other men. He was glad to walk into the theater with her tonight, a little
before the film began, when the hall was nearly full. She went in ahead of him, drawing glances of
admiration, her flower-like face smiling, her beauty violent. Mersault, holding his hat in his hand, was
overcome by a wonderful sense of ease, a kind of inner awareness of his own elegance. His expression
grew remote and serious. He exaggerated his ceremonious manner, stepped back to let the usher pass,
lowered Marthe's seat for her. And he did all this less from conceit, from ostentation, than because of the
gratitude that made his heart suddenly swell, filling with love for all these people around him. If he gave
the usher too big a tip, it was because he did not know how else to pay for his joy, and because he
worshipped, by making this everyday gesture, a divinity whose brilliant smile glistened like oil in his
gaze. During the break between
films, strolling in the lobby lined with mirrors, he saw the face of his own happiness reflected there,
populating the place with elegant and vibrant images—his own tall, dark figure and Marthe smiling in her
bright dress. Yes, he liked his face as he saw it there, his mouth quivering around the cigarette between
his lips and the apparent ardor of his deep-set eyes. But a man's beauty represents inner, functional truths:
his face shows what he can do. And what is that compared to the magnificent useless-ness of a woman's
face? Mersault was aware of this now, delighting in his vanity and smiling at his secret demons.
Back in the theater, he remembered that when he was alone he never left his seat between films,
preferring to smoke and to listen to the records played while the lights were still on. But tonight the
excitement continued, and he felt that every chance of extending and renewing it was worth taking. Just
as she was sitting down, however, Marthe returned the greeting of a man a few rows behind them. And
Mersault, nodding in his turn, thought he noticed a faint smile on the man's lips. He sat down without
noticing the hand Marthe laid on his shoulder to catch his attention; a moment earlier he would have
responded to it with delight, as another proof of that power she acknowledged in him.
"Who's that?" he asked, waiting for the perfectly natural "who?" which in fact followed at once.
"You know. That man . . ."
"Oh," Marthe said. And that was all.
"Well?"
"Do you have to know?"
"No," Mersault said.
9

He glanced behind him: the man was staring at the back of Marthe's neck without moving a muscle of his
face. He was rather good-looking, his lips were very red and well shaped, but his eyes, which were set
shallowly in his face, had no expression in them. Mersault felt the blood pounding in his temples. In his
suddenly darkened vision, the brilliant hues of that ideal world where he had been living the last few
hours were suddenly soiled. He didn't need to hear what she would say. He knew: the man had slept with
Marthe. And what racked Mersault like panic was the thought of what this man might be thinking. He
knew what it was, he had often thought the same thing: "Show off all you want . . ." The idea that this
man was now imagining Marthe's every gesture, even her way of putting her arm over her eyes at the
moment of pleasure, that he too had once tried to pull her arm away in order to watch the tumultuous
surge of the dark gods in her eyes, made everything inside Mersault collapse, and tears of rage welled up
under his closed eyelids while the theater bell announced that the film was about to begin. He forgot
Marthe, who had been merely the pretext of his joy and was now the living body of his rage. Mersault
kept his eyes closed a long time, and when he opened them again, a car
was turning over on the screen, one of its wheels still spinning in complete silence, slower and slower,
dragging into its persistent circle all the shame and humiliation that had been awakened in Mersault's
angry heart. But a craving for certainty made him forget his dignity: "Marthe, was he ever your lover?"
"Yes," she said. "But I want to watch the picture."
That was the day Mersault began to be attached to Marthe. He had met her several months before, and he
had been astonished by her beauty, her elegance. Her golden eyes and carefully made-up lips in that
rather broad, regular face made her look like some painted goddess. The natural stupidity that glowed in
her eyes emphasized her remote, impassive expression. In the past, whenever Mersault had spent any time
with one woman, he made the first gestures of commitment, he was conscious of the disastrous fact that
love and desire must be expressed in the same way, and he would think about the end of the affair before
even taking her in his arms. But Marthe had appeared at a moment when Mersault was ridding himself of
everything, of himself as well. A craving for freedom and independence is generated only in a man still
living on hope. For Mersault, nothing mattered in those days. And the first time Marthe went limp in his
arms and her features blurred as they came closer—the lips that had been as motionless as painted flowers
now quivering and extended—Mersault saw in her not the future but all the force of his desire focused upon her
and satisfied by this appearance, this image. The lips she offered him seemed a message from a world
without passion and swollen with desire, where his heart would find satisfaction. And this seemed a
miracle to him. His heart pounded with an emotion he almost took for love. And when he felt the ripe and
resilient flesh under his teeth, it was as though he bit into a kind of fierce liberty, after caressing her a
long time with his own lips. She became his mistress that same day. After some time, their harmony in
lovemaking became perfect. But as he knew her better, she gradually lost the sense of strangeness, which
he would try to revive as he pressed upon her mouth. So that Marthe, accustomed to Mersault's reserve
and even coldness, had never understood why, in a crowded streetcar, he had one day asked for her lips.
Bewildered, she had held up her face. And he had kissed her the way he liked to, first caressing her lips
with his own and then slowly biting them. "What's come over you?" she asked him later. He had given
her the smile she loved, the brief smile which answers, and he had said: "I feel like misbehaving," and
had lapsed back into silence. She did not understand Patrice's vocabulary, either. After making love, at
that moment when the heart drowses in the released body, filled only with the tender affection he might
have felt for a winsome puppy, Mersault would smile at her and say, "Hello, image."
Marthe was a secretary. She did not love Mer-sault, but she was attached to him insofar as he intrigued
her and flattered her. Since the day when Emmanuel, whom Mersault had introduced to her, had told her:
"Mersault's a good guy, you know. He's got guts. But he doesn't talk—so people don't always realize what
he's like," she regarded him with curiosity. And since his lovemaking satisfied her, she asked nothing
more, adapting herself as best she could to a silent lover who made no demands and took her when she
wanted to come. She was only a little uneasy about this man whose weak points she could not discover.
10

But that night, as they left the movie theater, she realized that something could hurt Mersault. She said
nothing about it the rest of the evening, and slept in Mersault's bed. He did not touch her during the night.
But from now on she used her advantage. She had already told him she had had other lovers; now she
managed to find the necessary proofs.
The next day, departing from her usual practice, she came to his room after she had left the office. She
found Mersault asleep and sat down at the foot of the brass bed without waking him. He was in his
shirtsleeves, which exposed the white underside of his muscular brown forearms. He was breathing
regularly, chest and belly rising together. Two creases between his eyebrows gave him a look of strength
and stubbornness she knew very well. His hair curled around his tanned forehead, in which a vein
throbbed. Exposed this way, his arms lying close to
his sides, one leg bent, he looked like a solitary and obstinate god, flung sleeping into an alien world.
Staring at his sleep-swollen lips, she desired him, and just then Mersault half-opened his eyes and closed
them again, saying without anger: "I don't like being watched when I'm sleeping."
Marthe threw her arms around his neck and kissed him. He didn't move. "Oh, darling, another one of your
moods . . ."
"Don't call me 'darling,' please. I've already asked you not to."
She stretched out beside him and stared at his profile. "You remind me of someone that way, I wonder
who it is."
He pulled up his trousers and turned his back to her. Marthe frequently noticed Mersault's gestures in
strangers, in film actors; he took it as a sign of his influence over her, but now this habit which had often
flattered him was an irritation. She squeezed herself against his back and took all the warmth of his sleep
against her body. Darkness was falling fast, and shadows soon filled the room. Somewhere in the building
there were shouts, children crying, a cat mewing, the sound of a door slamming. The street-lamps came
on, flooding the balcony. Streetcars went by occasionally. And then the neighborhood smell of anisette
and roasting meat rose in heavy gusts from the street into the room.
Marthe felt sleepy. "You're mad at me, aren't you? It started yesterday . . . that's why I came. Aren't you
going to talk to me?" She shook him.
Mersault didn't move, his eyes tracing the curve ef light on a shoe under the dressing table: it was already
dark in the room. "You know that man yesterday? Well, I was just kidding. He was never my lover."
"No?"
"Well, not really."
Mersault said nothing. He could see the gestures so clearly, the smiles ... He clenched his teeth. Then he
got up, opened the windows, and sat down again on the bed. Marthe pressed against him, thrust her hand
between two buttons of his shirt and caressed his nipples. "How many lovers have you had?" he said
finally.
"Don't be like that."
Mersault said nothing.
"Maybe ten," she said.

11

With Mersault sleepiness always called for a cigarette, "Do I know them?" he asked as he took one out.
All he could see now was a white patch where Marthe's face was. "It's the same as when we make love,"
he realized.
"Some of them. Around here." She rubbed her face against his shoulder and spoke in that little girl's voice
she used to make Mersault treat her gently.
"Now listen to me," he said, lighting a cigarette. "Try to understand what I'm saying. Promise to tell me
their names. And I want you to promise to point out the others—the ones I don't know—if we pass them
in the street."
Marthe pulled away. "Oh no!"
A car sounded its horn right under the windows, then again, then twice more—long, fierce blasts. A
streetcar bell sounded somewhere in the night. On the marble top of the dressing table, the alarm clock
ticked coldly. Mersault spoke with deliberation: "I'm asking you to tell me because I know myself. If I
don't find out exactly who they are, each man I meet will make the same thing happen—I'll wonder, I'll
imagine. That's what it is, I'll imagine too much. I don't know if you understand . . ."
She understood, amazingly. She told him the names. There was only one he didn't recognize. The last she
named was a man he knew, and this was the one he thought about, because he was handsome and the
women ran after him. What astonished him about lovemaking was—the first time, at least—the terrible
intimacy the woman accepted and the fact that she could receive a part of a stranger's body inside her
own. In such intoxication and abandonment, in such surrender he recognized the exalting and sordid
power of love. And it was this intimacy that was the first thing he imagined between Marthe and her
lover. Just then she sat up on the edge of his bed and putting her left foot on her right thigh, took off one
shoe, then the other, dropping them next to the bed so that one was lying on its side, the other-standing on
its high heel. Mersault felt his throat tighten. Something was gnawing at his stomach.
"Is this the way you do it with Rene?" he said smiling.
Marthe looked up. "Don't get any funny ideas," she said. "We only did it once."
"Oh."
"Besides, I didn't even take my shoes off."
Mersault stood up. He saw her lying back, all her clothes on, on a bed like this one, and surrendering
everything, unreservedly. He shouted, "Shut up!" and walked over to the balcony.
"Oh darling!" Marthe said, sitting on the bed, her stocking feet on the floor.
Mersault controlled himself by watching the streetlamps glitter on the tracks. He had never felt so close to
Marthe. And realizing that at the same time he was letting her come a little closer to him, he felt pride
making his eyes sting. He walked back to her and pinched the warm skin of her neck under one ear. He
smiled. "And that Zagreus—who's he? He's the only one I don't know."
"Oh him," Marthe said with a laugh, "I still see him." Mersault pinched harder. "He was the first one, you
have to understand that. I was just a kid. He was older. Now he's had both legs amputated. He lives all
alone. So I go see him sometimes. He's a nice man, and educated. He still reads all the time—in those
days he was a student. He's always making jokes. A character. Besides, he says the same thing you do. He
tells me: 'Come here, image.' "

12

Merault was thinking. He let go of Marthe, and she fell back on the bed, closing her eyes. After a moment
he sat down beside her and bent over her
parted lips, seeking the signs of her animal divinity and the way to forget a suffering he considered
unworthy. But he did nothing more than kiss her.
As he walked Marthe home, she talked about Zagreus: "I've told him about you. I told him my darling
was very handsome and very strong. Then he said he'd like to meet you. Because—this is what he said:
The sight of a good body helps me breathe.'"
"Sounds pretty crazy."
Marthe wanted to please him, and made up her mind this was the moment to stage the little scene of
jealousy she had been planning, having decided she owed it to him somehow. "Oh, not so crazy as some
of your friends."
"What friends?" Mersault asked, genuinely startled.
"Those little grinds . . ."
The little grinds were Rose and Claire, students in Tunis whom Mersault used to know and with whom he
maintained the only correspondence in his life. He smiled and laid his hand on the nape of Marine's neck.
They walked a long time. Marthe lived near the parade grounds. Lights shone in all the upper windows of
the long street, although the dark, shuttered shopwindows had a forbidding look.
"Listen, darling, you don't happen to be in love with those little grinds by any chance, do you?"
"No."
They walked on, Mersault's hand on Marthe's neck covered by the warmth of her hair.
"Do you love me?" Marthe asked suddenly.
Mersault burst out laughing. "Now that's a serious question."
"Answer me!"
"People don't love each other at our age, Marthe— they please each other, that's all. Later on, when you're
old and impotent, you can love someone. At our age, you just think you do. That's all it is."
Marthe seemed sad, but he kissed her. "Goodnight, darling," she said. Mersault walked home through the
dark streets. He walked quickly, aware of how the muscles in his thighs played against the smooth
material of his trousers, and he thought of Zagreus and his amputated legs. He wanted to meet him, and
decided to ask Marthe to introduce them.
The first time Mersault saw Zagreus, he was annoyed. Yet Zagreus had tried to avoid anything that might
be embarrassing about two lovers of the same woman meeting in her presence. To do so, he had
attempted to make Mersault his accomplice by calling Marthe a "good girl" and laughing very loud.
Mersault had remained impassive. He told Marthe, as soon as they were alone, how much he had disliked
the encounter.
"I don't like half-portions. It bothers me. It keeps me from thinking. And especially half-portions who
brag."
13

"Oh you and your thinking," Marthe answered, not understanding. "If I paid any attention to you . . ."
But later, that boyish laugh of Zagreus', which had at first annoyed him caught Mersault's attention and
interest. Moreover, the obvious jealousy which had provoked Mersault's first judgment had disappeared
as soon as he saw Zagreus. Once when Marthe quite innocently referred to the time she had known
Zagreus, he advised her: "Don't bother. I can't be jealous of a man who doesn't have his legs any more. If
I ever do think about the two of you, I see him like some kind of big worm on top of you. And it just
makes me laugh. So don't bother, angel."
And after that he went back to visit Zagreus by himself. Zagreus talked a great deal and very fast,
laughed, then fell silent. Mersault felt comfortable in the big room where Zagreus lived surrounded by
books and Moroccan brass trays, the fire casting reflections on the withdrawn face of the Khmer Buddha
on the desk. He listened to Zagreus. What he noticed about the cripple was that he thought before he
spoke. Besides, the pent-up passion, the intense life animating this absurd stump of a man, was enough to
attract Mersault, to produce in him something which, if he had been a little less guarded, he might have
taken for friendship.
4
That Sunday afternoon, after talking and laughing a great deal, Roland Zagreus sat silent near the fire in
his big wheelchair, wrapped in white blankets. Mersault was leaning against a bookshelf, staring at the
sky and the landscape through the white silk curtains. He had come during a light rain and, not wanting to
arrive too early, had spent an hour wandering around the countryside. The day was dark, and even
without hearing the wind, Mersault could see the trees and branches writhing silently in the little valley.
The silence was broken by a milk wagon, which trundled down the street past the villa in a tremendous
racket of metal cans. Almost immediately the rain turned into a downpour, flooding the windowpanes. All
the water like some thick oil on the panes, the faint hollow noise of the horse's hoofs—more audible now
than the cart's uproar— the persistent hiss of the rain, this basket case beside the fire, and the silence of
the room—everything seemed to have happened before, a dim melancholy past that flooded Mersault's
heart the way the rain had soaked his shoes and the wind had pierced the thin material of his trousers. A
few moments before, the falling vapor—neither a mist nor a rain—had washed his face like a light hand
and laid bare his dark-circled eyes. Now he stared at the black clouds that kept pouring out of the sky, no
sooner blurred
than replaced. The creases in his trousers had vanished, and with them the warmth and confidence of a
world made for ordinary men. He moved closer to the fire and to Zagreus and sat facing him, in the
shadow of the high mantelpiece and yet within sight of the sky. Zagreus glanced at Mersault, then looked
away and tossed into the fire a ball of paper he had crumpled in his left hand. The gesture, as always
ridiculous, disconcerted Mersault: the sight of this mutilated body made him uneasy. Zagreus smiled but
said nothing, then suddenly thrust his face toward Mersault. The flames gleamed on his left cheek only,
but something in his voice and eyes was filled with warmth. "You look tired," he said.
Abashed, Mersault merely answered: "Yes, I don't know v/hat to do," and after a pause straightened up,
walked to the window, and added as he stared outside: "I feel like getting married, or committing suicide,
or subscribing to L'Illustration. Something desperate, you know."
Zagreus smiled. "You're a poor man, Mersault. That explains half of your disgust. And the other half you
owe to your own submission to poverty."
Mersault kept his back turned, staring at the trees in the wind. Zagreus smoothed the blanket over his
legs.
"You know, a man always judges himself by the balance he can strike between the needs of his body and
the demands of his mind. You're judging yourself now, Merasult, and you don't like the sentence.
14

You live badly. Like a barbarian." He turned his head toward Patrice: "You like driving a car, don't you?"
"Yes."
"You like women?"
"When they're beautiful."
"That's what I meant." Zagreus turned back to the fire. After a moment, he began: "All those things . . ."
Mersault turned around, leaning against the window, which yielded slightly to his weight, and waited for
the rest of the sentence. Zagreus remained silent. A fly buzzed against the glass. Mersault turned, caught
it under his hand, then let it go. Zagreus watched him and said, hesitantly: "I don't like talking seriously.
Because then there's only one thing to talk about—the justification you can give for your life. And I don't
see how I can justify my amputated legs."
"Neither do I," Mersault said without turning around.
Zagreus' young laugh suddenly burst out. "Thanks. You don't leave me any illusions." He changed his
tone: "But you're right to be hard. Still, there's something I'd like to say to you." And he broke off again.
Mersault came over and sat down, facing him. "Listen," Zagreus resumed, "and look at me. I have
someone to help me, to set me on the toilet, and afterwards to wash me and dry me. Worse, I pay
someone for it. Yet I'll never make a move to cut short a life I believe in that much
. . . I'd accept even worse—blind, dumb, anything, as long as I feel in my belly that dark fire that is me,
me alive. The only thing that would occur to me would be to thank life for letting me burn on." Za-greus
flung his body back in the chair, out of breath. There was less of him to see now, only the whitish
reflection the blankets left on his chin. Then he went on: "And you, Mersault, with a body like yours,
your one duty is to live and be happy."
"Don't make me laugh," Mersault said. "With eight hours a day at the office. Oh, it would be different if I
was free!" He grew excited as he spoke, and as occasionally happened, hope flooded him once more, even
more powerfully today because of Zagreus' reassurance. He believed that at last he could confide in
someone. He resisted the impulse for a moment, began to stub out a cigarette, then continued more
calmly: "A few years ago I had everything before me—people talked to me about my life, about my
future. And I said yes. I even did the things you had to do to have such things. But even back then, it was
all alien to me. To devote myself to impersonality—that's what concerned me. Not to be happy, not to be
'against.' I can't explain it, but you know what I mean."
"Yes," Zagreus said.
"Even now, if I had the time ... I would only have to let myself go. Everything else that would happen to
me would be like rain on a stone. The stone cools off and that's fine. Another day, the sun
bakes it. I've always thought that's exactly what happiness would be."
Zagreus had folded his hands to come down twice as hard, and the clouds swelled in a vague mist. The
room grew a little darker, as if the sky was pouring its burden of shadow and silence into it. And the
cripple said intensely: "A body always has the ideal it deserves. That ideal of a stone—if I may say so,
you'd have to have a demigod's body to sustain it."
"Right," Mersault said, a little surprised, "but don't exaggerate—I've done a lot of sports, that's all. And
I'm capable of going quite far in pleasure."

15

Zagreus reflected. "Yes—so much the better for you. To know your body's limits—that's the true
psychology. But it doesn't matter anyway. We don't have time to be ourselves. We only have time to be
happy. But would you mind defining what you mean by impersonality?"
"No," Mersault said, but that was all.
Zagreus took a sip of tea and set down his full cup. He drank very little, preferring to urinate only once a
day. He willed himself to reduce the burden of humiliations each day brought him. "You can't save a little
here, a little there," he had told Mersault one day. "It's a record like any other." For the first time a few
raindrops fell down the chimney. The fire hissed. The rain beat harder on the win-dowpanes. Somewhere
a door slammed. On the road, automobiles streaked by like gleaming rats.
One of them blew its horn, and across the valley the hollow, lugubrious blast made the wet space of the
world even larger, until its very memory became for Mersault an element of the silence and the agony of
that sky.
"I'm sorry, Zagreus, but it's been a long time since I talked about certain things. So I don't know any
more—or I'm not sure. When I look at my life and its secret colors, I feel like bursting into tears. Like that
sky. It's rain and sun both, noon and midnight. You know, Zagreus, I think of the lips I've kissed, and of
the wretched child I was, and of the madness of life and the ambition that sometimes carries me away. I'm
all those things at once. I'm sure there are times when you wouldn't even recognize me. Extreme in
misery, excessive in happiness—I can't say it."
"You're playing several games at the same time?"
"Yes, but not as an amateur," Mersault said vehemently. "Each time I think of that flood of pain and joy
in myself, I know—I can't tell you how deeply I know that the game I'm playing is the most serious and
exciting one of all."
Zagreus smiled. "Then you have something to do?"
Mersault said vehemently: "I have my living to earn. My work—those eight hours a day other people can
stand—my work keeps me from doing it." He broke off and lit the cigarette he had held till now between
his fingers. "And yet," he said, the
match still burning, "if I was strong enough, and patient enough . . ." He blew out the match and pressed
the tip against the back of his left hand. "... I know what kind of life I'd have. I wouldn't make an
experiment out of my life: I would be the experiment of my life. Yes, I know what passion would fill me
with all its power. Before, I was too young. I got in the way. Now I know that acting and loving and
suffering is living, of course, but it's living only insofar as you can be transparent and accept your fate,
like the unique reflection of a rainbow of joys and passions which is the same for everyone."
"Yes," Zagreus said, "but you can't live that way and work . . ."
"No, because I'm constantly in revolt. That's what's wrong."
Zagreus said nothing. The rain had stopped, but in the sky night had replaced the clouds, and the darkness
was now virtually complete in the room. Only the fire illuminated their gleaming faces. Zagreus, silent for
a long time, stared at Patrice, and all he said was: "Anyone who loves you is in for a lot of pain ..." and
stopped, surprised when Mer-sault suddenly stood up.
"Other people's feelings have no hold over me," Patrice exclaimed, thrusting his head into the shadows.
"True," Zagreus said, "I was just remarking on the fact. You'll be alone someday, that's all. Now sit
16

down and listen to me. What you've told me is interesting. One thing especially, because it confirms
everything my own experience of human beings has taught me. I like you very much, Mersault. Because
of your body, moreover. It's your body that's taught you all that. Today I feel as if I can talk to you
frankly."
Mersault sat down again slowly, and his face turned back to the already dimmer firelight that was sinking
closer to the coals. Suddenly a kind of opening in the darkness appeared in the square of the window
between the silk curtains. Something relented behind the panes. A milky glow entered the room, and
Mersault recognized on the Bodhisattva's ironic lips and on the cased brass of the trays the familiar and
fugitive signs of the nights of moonlight and starlight he loved so much. It was as if the night had lost its
lining of clouds and shone now in its tranquil luster. The cars went by more slowly. Deep in the valley, a
sudden agitation readied the birds for sleep. Footsteps passed in front of the house, and in this night that
covered the world like milk, every noise seemed large, more distinct. Between the reddening fire, the
ticking of the clock, and the secret life of the familiar objects which surrounded him, a fugitive poetry
was being woven which prepared Mersault to receive in a different mood, in confidence and love, what
Zagreus would say. He leaned back in his chair, and it was in front of the milky sky that he listened to
Zagreus' strange story.
"What I'm sure of," he began, "is that you can't be happy without money. That's all. I don't like
superficiality and I don't like romanticisim. I like to be conscious. And what I've noticed is that there's a
kind of spiritual snobbism in certain 'superior beings' who think that money isn't necessary for happiness.
Which is stupid, which is false, and to a certain degree cowardly. You see, Mersault, for a man who is
well born, being happy is never complicated. It's enough to take up the general fate, only not with the will
for renunciation like so many fake great men, but with the will for happiness. Only it takes time to be
happy. A lot of time. Happiness, too, is a long patience. And in almost every case, we use up our lives
making money, when we should be using our money to gain time. That's the only problem that's ever
interested me. Very specific. Very clear." Zagreus stopped talking and closed his eyes. Mersault kept on
staring at the sky. For a moment the sounds of the road and the countryside became distinct, and then
Zagreus went on, without hurrying: "Oh, I know perfectly well that most rich men have no sense of
happiness. But that's not the question. To have money is to have time. That's my main point. Time can be
bought. Everything can be bought. To be or to become rich is to have time to be happy, if you deserve it."
He looked at Patrice. "At twenty-five, Mersault, I had already realized that any man with the sense, the
will, and the craving for happiness was entitled to be rich. The craving for happiness seemed to me the
noblest thing in
man's heart. In my eyes, that justified everything. A pure heart was enough . . ." Still looking at Mer-sault,
Zagreus suddenly began to speak more slowly, in a cold harsh tone, as if he wanted to rouse Mersault
from his apparent distraction. "At twenty-five I began making my fortune. I didn't let the law get in my
way. I wouldn't have let anything get in my way. In a few years, I had done it—you know what I mean,
Mersault, nearly two million. The world was all before me. And with the world, the life I had dreamed of
in solitude and anticipation . . ." After a pause Zagreus continued in a lower voice: "The life I would have
had, Mersault, without the accident that took off my legs almost immediately afterwards. I haven't been
able to stop riving . . . And now, here I am. You understand—you have to understand that I didn't want to
live a lesser life, a diminished life. For twenty years my money has been here, beside me. I've lived
modestly. I've scarcely touched the capital." He passed his hard palms over his eyelids and said, even
more softly: "Life should never be tainted with a cripple's kisses."
At this moment Zagreus had opened the chest next to the fireplace and showed Mersault a tarnished steel
safe inside, the key in the lock. On top of the safe lay a white envelope and a large black revolver.
Zagreus had answered Mersault's involuntarily curious stare with a smile. It was very simple. On days
when the tragedy which had robbed him of
his life was too much for him, he took out this letter, which he had not dated and which explained his
desire to die. Then he laid the gun on the table, bent down to it and pressed his forehead against it, rolling
17

his temples over it, calming the fever of his cheeks against the cold steel. For a time he stayed like that,
letting his fingers caress the trigger, lifting the safety catch, until the world fell silent around him and his
whole being, already half-asleep, united with the sensation of the cold, salty metal from which death
could emerge. Realizing then that it would be enough for him to date his letter and pull the trigger,
discovering the absurd feasibility of death, he knew his imagination was vivid enough to show him the
full horror of what life's negation meant for him, and he drowned in his somnolence all his craving to live,
to go on burning in dignity and silence. Then, waking completely, his mouth full of already bitter saliva,
he would lick the gun barrel, sticking his tongue into it and sucking out an impossible happiness.
"Of course my life is ruined. But I was right in those days: everything for happiness, against the world
which surrounds us with its violence and its stupidity." Zagreus laughed then and added: "You see,
Mersault, all the misery and cruelty of our civilization can be measured by this one stupid axiom: happy
nations have no history."
It was very late now. Mersault could not tell what time it was—his head throbbed with feverish excitement. The heat and the harshness of the cigarettes he had smoked filled his mouth. Even the light around
him was an accomplice still. For the first time since Zagreus had begun his story, he glanced toward him:
"I think I understand."
Exhausted by his long effort, the cripple was breathing hoarsely. After a silence he nonetheless said,
laboriously: "I'd like to be sure. Don't think I'm saying that money makes happiness. I only mean that for
a certain class of beings happiness is possible, provided they have time, and that having money is a way
of being free of money."
He had slumped down in his chair, under his blankets. The night had closed in again, and Mer-sault could
scarcely see Zagreus now. A long silence followed, and Mersault, wanting to reestablish contact, to assure
himself of the other man's presence in the darkness, stood up and said, as though groping: "It's a beautiful
risk to take."
"Yes," Zagreus said, almost in a whisper. "And it's better to bet on this life than on the next. For me, of
course, it's another matter."
"A wreck," Mersault thought. "A zero in the world."
"For twenty years I've been unable to have the experience of a certain happiness. This fife which devours
me—I won't have known it to the full, and what frightens me about death is the certainty it will bring me
that my life has been consummated without me. I will have lived . . . marginally—do you
understand?" With no transition, a young man's laugh emerged from the darkness: "Which means,
Mersault, that underneath, and in my condition, I still have hope."
Mersault took a few steps toward the table.
"Think about it," Zagreus said, "think about it."
Mersault merely asked: "Can I turn on the light?"
"Please."
Zagreus' nostrils and his round eyes looked paler in the sudden glare. He was still breathing hard. When
Mersault held out his hand he replied by shaking his head and laughing too loud. "Don't take me too
seriously. It always annoys me—the tragic look that comes into people's faces when they see my stumps."
18

"He's playing games with me," Mersault thought.
"Don't take anything seriously except happiness. Think about it, Mersault, you have a pure heart. Think
about it." Then he looked him straight in the eyes and after a pause said: "Besides, you have two legs,
which doesn't do any harm." He smiled then and rang a bell. "Clear out now, it's time for pee-pee."
5
Walking home that Sunday evening, Mersault couldn't stop thinking about Zagreus. But as he walked up
the stairs to his room, he heard groans coming from the barrelmaker Cardona's apartment. He knocked.
No one answered, but the groans continued, and Mersault walked right in. The barrel-maker was huddled
on his bed, sobbing like a child. At his feet was the photograph of an old woman. "She's dead," Cardona
gasped. It was true, but it had happened a long time ago.
Cardona was deaf, half-dumb, a mean and violent man. Until recently he had lived with his sister, but his
tyranny had at last exhausted the woman, and she had taken refuge with her children. And he had
remained alone, as helpless as a man can be who must cook and clean for himself for the first time in his
life. His sister had described their quarrels to Mersault one day when she had met him in the street.
Cardona was thirty, short, rather handsome. Since childhood he had lived with his mother, the only
human being ever to inspire him with fear—superstitious rather than justified, moreover. He had loved
her with all his uncouth heart, which is to say both harshly and eagerly, and the best proof of his affection
was his way of teasing the old woman by mouthing, with difficulty, the worst abuse of priests and the
Church. If he had lived so
long with his mother, it was also because he had never induced any other woman to care for him.
Infrequent pickups in a brothel authorized him, however, to call himself a man.
The mother died. From then on, he had lived with his sister. Mersault rented them the room they
occupied. Each quite solitary, they struggled through a long, dark, dirty life. They found it hard to speak
to each other, they went for days without a word. But now she had left. He was too proud to complain, to
ask her to come back: he lived alone. Mornings, he ate in the restaurant downstairs, evenings up in his
room, bringing food from a char-cuterie. He washed his own sheets, his overalls. But he left his room
utterly filthy. Sometimes, though— soon after the sister had left him—he would start his Sundays by
taking a rag and trying to clean up the place. But his man's clumsiness—a saucepan on the mantelpiece
that had once been decorated with vases and figurines—showed up in the neglect in which everything
was left. What he called "putting things in order" consisted of hiding the disorder, pushing dirty clothes
behind cushions or arranging the most disparate objects on the sideboard. Finally he tired of making the
effort, no longer bothered to make his bed, and slept with his dog on the fetid blankets. His sister had said
to Mersault: "He carries on in the cafe, but the woman in the laundry told me she saw him crying when he
had to wash his own sheets." And it was a fact that, hardened as he
was, a terror seized this man at certain times and forced him to acknowledge the extent of his desolation.
Of course the sister had lived with him out of pity, she had told Mersault. But Cardona kept her from
seeing the man she loved. At their age, though, it didn't matter much any more. Her boyfriend was a
married man. He brought her flowers he had picked in the suburban hedgerows, oranges, and tiny bottles
of liqueur he had won at shooting galleries. Not that he was handsome or anything—but you can't eat
good looks for dinner, and he was so decent. She valued him, and he valued her—wasn't that love? She
did his laundry for him and tried to keep things nice. He used to wear a handkerchief folded in a triangle
and knotted around his neck: she made his handkerchiefs very white, and that was one of his pleasures.
But her brother wouldn't let him come to the house. She had to see him on the sly. Once she had let him
come, and her brother had caught them, and there had been a terrible brawl. The handkerchief folded in a
triangle had been left behind, in a filthy corner of the room, and she had taken refuge with her son.
Mersault thought of that handkerchief as he stared around the sordid room.
19

At the time, people had felt sorry for the lonely barrelmaker. He had mentioned a possible marriage to
Mersault. An older woman, who had doubtless been tempted by the prospect of young, vigorous caresses
. . . She had them before the wedding.
After a while her suitor abandoned the plan, declaring she was too old for him. And he was alone in this
little room. Gradually the filth encircled him, besieged him, took over his bed, then submerged everything
irretrievably. The place was too ugly, and for a man who doesn't like his own room, there is a more
accessible one, comfortable, bright, and always welcoming: the cafe. In this neighborhood, the cafes were
particularly lively. They gave off that herd warmth which is the last refuge against the terrors of solitude
and its vague aspirations. The taciturn creature took up his residence in them. Mer-sault saw him in one or
another every night. Thanks to the cafes, he postponed the moment of his return as long as possible. In
them he regained his place among men. But tonight, no doubt, the cafes had not been enough. And on his
way home, he must have taken out that photograph which wakened the echoes of a dead past. He
rediscovered the woman he had loved and teased so long. In the hideous room, alone with the futility of
his life, mustering his last forces, he had become conscious of the past that had once been his happiness.
Or so he must have thought, at least, since at the contact of that past and his wretched present, a spark of
the divine had touched him and he had begun to weep.
Now, as whenever he found himself confronting a brutal manifestation of life, Mersault was powerless,
filled with respect for that animal pain. He sat down on the dirty, rumpled blankets and laid one hand on
Cardona's shoulder. In front of him, on the oilcloth covering the table, was an oil lamp, a bottle of wine,
crusts of bread, a piece of cheese, and a tool box. In the corners of the ceiling, festoons of cobwebs. Mersault, who had never been in this room since his own mother's death, measured the distance this man had
traveled by the desolation around him. The window overlooking the courtyard was closed. The other
window was open only a crack. The oil lamp, in a fixture surrounded by a tiny deck of china cards, cast
its calm circle of light on the table, on Mersault's and Cardona's feet, and on a chair facing them.
Meanwhile Cardona had picked up the photograph and was staring at it, kissing it, mumbling: "Poor
Maman." But it was himself he was pitying. She was buried in the hideous cemetery Mersault knew well,
on the other side of town.
He wanted to leave. Speaking slowly to make himself understood, he said: "You-can't-stay-here-likethis."
"No more work," Cardona gasped, and holding out the photograph, he stammered: "I loved her, I loved
her," and Mersault translated: "She loved me." "She's dead," and Mersault understood: "I'm alone." "I
made her that for her last birthday." On the mantelpiece was a tiny wooden barrel with brass hoops and a
shiny spigot. Mersault let go of Cardona's shoulder, and he collapsed on the dirty pillows. From under the
bed came a deep sigh and a sickening smell. The dog dragged itself out, flattening its rump, and rested its head on Mersault's lap, its long ears pricked up, its golden eyes staring into his
own. Mersault looked at the little barrel. In the miserable room where there was scarcely enough air to
breathe, with the dog's warmth under his ringers, he closed his eyes on the despair that rose within him
like a tide for the first time in a long while. Today, in the face of abjection and solitude, his heart said:
"No." And in the great distress that washed over him, Mersault realized that his rebellion was the only
authentic thing in him, and that everything else was misery and submission. The street that had been so
animated under his windows the day before still swelled with life. From the gardens beyond the courtyard
rose a smell of grass. Mersault offered Cardona a cigarette, and both men smoked without speaking. The
last streetcars passed and with them the still-vivid memories of men and lights. Cardona fell asleep and
soon began snoring, his nose stuffed with tears. The dog, curling up at Mersault's feet, stirred occasionally
and moaned in its dreams. Each time it moved, its smell reached Mersault, who was leaning against the
wall, trying to choke down the rebellion in his heart. The lamp smoked, charred, and finally went out with
a stink of oil. Mersault dozed off and awakened with his eyes fixed on the bottle of wine. Making a
20

tremendous effort, he stood up, walked over to the rear window and stood there: out of the night's heart
sounds and silences mounted toward him. At the
limits of this sleeping world, a long blast from a ship summoned men to depart, to begin again.
The next morning, Mersault killed Zagreus, came home, and slept all afternoon. He awakened in a fever.
That evening, still in bed, he sent for the neighborhood doctor, who told him he had grippe. A man from
his office who had come to find out what was the matter took Mersault's resignation to Monsieur
Langlois. A few days later, everything was settled: an article in the newspaper, an investigation. There
was every motive for Zagreus' action. Marthe came to see Mersault and said with a sigh: "Sometimes
there are days when you'd like to change places with him. But sometimes it takes more courage to live
than to shoot yourself." A week later, Mersault boarded a ship for Marseilles. He told everyone he was
going to France for a rest. From Lyons, Marthe received a letter of farewell from which only her pride
suffered. In the same letter Mersault said he had been offered an exceptional job in central Europe.
Marthe wrote him at a general-delivery address about how much she was suffering. Her letter never
reached Mersault, who had a violent attack of fever the day after he reached Lyons, and took the first train
for Prague. As it happened, Martha told him that, after several days in the morgue, Zagreus had been
buried and that it had taken a lot of pillows to wedge his body into the coffin.
Part Two
Conscious Death
1
"I'd like a room," the man said in German.
The clerk was sitting in front of a board covered with keys and was separated from the lobby by a broad
table. He stared at the man who had just come in, a gray raincoat over his shoulders, and who spoke with
his head turned away. "Certainly, sir. For one night?"
"No, I don't know."
"We have rooms at eighteen, twenty-five, and thirty crowns."
Mersault looked through the glass door of the hotel out into the little Prague street, his hands in his
pockets, his hair rumpled. Not far away, he could hear the streetcars screeching down the Avenue
Wenceslas.
"Which room would you like, sir?"
"It doesn't matter," Mersault said, still staring through the glass door. The clerk took a key off the rack
and handed it to Mersault.
"Room number twelve," he said.
Mersault seemed to wake up. "How much is this room?"
"Thirty crowns."
"That's too much. Give me a room for eighteen."
Without a word, the man took another key off the rack and indicated the brass star attached to it: "Room
number thirty-four."
21

Sitting in his room, Mersault took off his jacket, loosened his tie, and mechanically rolled up his
shirtsleeves. He walked over to the mirror above the sink, meeting a drawn face slightly tanned where it
was not darkened by several days' growth of beard. His hair fell in a tangle over his forehead, down to the
two deep creases between his eyebrows, which gave him a grave, tender expression, he realized. Only
then did he think of looking around this miserable room which was all the comfort he had and beyond
which he envisioned nothing at all. On a sickening carpet—huge yellow flowers against a gray
background—a whole geography of filth suggested a grimy universe of wretchedness. Behind the huge
radiator, clots of dust; the regulator was broken, and the brass contact points were exposed. Over the
sagging bed dangled a flyspecked wire, at its end a sticky lightbulb. Mersault inspected the sheets, which
were clean. He took his toilet things out of the overnight bag and arranged them one by one on the sink.
Then he started to wash his hands, but turned off the tap and walked over to open the uncurtained
window. It overlooked a courtyard with a washing trough and a series of tiny windows in the walls.
Laundry was drying on a cord stretched between two of them. Mersault lay down on the bed and fell
asleep at once. He wakened with a start, sweating, his clothes rumpled, and walked aimlessly around the
room. Then he lit a cigarette, sat down on the bed, and stared at the wrinkles in his trousers. The sour taste of sleep mingled with the cigarette smoke. He stared at the room again, scratching his
ribs through his shirt. He was flooded by a dreadful pleasure at the prospect of so much desolation and
solitude. To be so far away from everything, even from his fever, to suffer so distinctly here what was
absurd and miserable in even the tidiest lives showed him the shameful and secret countenance of a kind
of freedom born of the suspect, the shady. Around him the flaccid hours lapped like a stagnant pond—
time had gone slack.
Someone knocked violently, and Mersault, startled, realized that he had been awakened by the same
knocking. He opened the door to find a little old man with red hair bent double under Mersault's two
suitcases, which looked enormous in his hands. He was choking with rage, and his wide-spaced teeth
released a stream of saliva as well as insults and recriminations. Mersault remembered the broken handle,
which made the larger suitcase so difficult to carry. He wanted to apologize, but had no idea how to say
he had never thought the porter would be so old. The tiny creature interrupted him: "That's fourteen
crowns."
"For one day's storage?" Mersault asked, surprised. Then he understood, from the old man's laborious
explanations, that the porter had taken a taxi. But Mersault dared not say that he himself could also have
taken a taxi in that case, and he paid out of sheer reluctance to argue. Once the door
was shut, Mersault felt inexplicable sobs swelling his chest. A nearby clock chimed four times. He had
slept two hours. He realized he was separated from the street only by the house opposite his window, and
he felt the dim, mysterious current of life so close to him. It would be better to go outside. Mersault
washed his hands very carefully. He sat down on the bed again to clean his nails, and worked the file
methodically. Down in the courtyard two or three buzzers rang out so emphatically that Mersault went
back to the window. He noticed that an arched passageway led through the house to the street. It was as if
all the voices of the street, all the unknown life on the other side of that house, the sounds of men who
have an address, a family, arguments with an uncle, preferences at dinner, chronic diseases, the swarm of
beings each of whom has his own personality, forever divided from the monstrous heart of humanity by
individual beats, filtered now through the passageway and rose through the courtyard to explode like
bubbles in Mersault's room. Discovering how porous he was, how attentive to each sign the world made,
Mersault recognized the deep flaw that opened his being to life. He lit another cigarette and hurriedly
dressed. As he buttoned his jacket, the smoke stung his eyes. He turned back to the sink, put cold water
on his eyes, and decided to comb his hair. But his comb had vanished. He was unable to smooth the
sleep-rumpled curls with his fingers. He went downstairs
as he was, his hair sticking up behind and hanging over his forehead. He felt diminished even further.
Once out in the street, he walked around the hotel to reach the little passageway he had noticed. It opened
onto the square of the old town hall, and in the heavy evening that sank over Prague, the Gothic steeples
22

of the town hall and of the old Tyn church were silhouetted, black against the dim sky. Crowds of people
were walking under the arcades lining the old streets. Each time a woman passed him, Mer-sault waited
for the glance that would permit him to consider himself still capable of playing the delicate and tender
game of life. But healthy people have a natural skill in avoiding feverish eyes. Unshaven, his hair
rumpled, in his eyes the expression of some restless animal, his trousers as wrinkled as his shirt collar,
Mersault had lost that wonderful confidence bestowed by a well-cut suit or the steering wheel of a car.
The light turned coppery, and the day still lingered on the gold of the baroque domes at the far end of the
square. He walked toward one of them, went into the church, and, overcome by the ancient smell, sat
down on a bench. The vaults above him were quite dark, but the gilded capitals shed a mysterious golden
liquid which flowed down the grooves of the columns to the puffy faces of angels and grinning saints.
Peace, yes, there was peace here, but so bitter that Mersault hurried to the threshold and stood on the
steps, inhaling the evening's cooler air, into which he would plummet. In
another moment, he saw the first star appear, pure and unadorned, between the steeples of Tyn.
He began to look for a cheap restaurant, making his way into darker, less crowded streets. Though it had
not rained during the day, the ground was damp, and Mersault had to pick his way among black puddles
glimmering between the infrequent paving stones. A light rain started to fall. The busy streets could not
be far away, for he could hear the newspaper vendors hawking the Narodni Politika. Mersault was
walking in circles now, and suddenly stopped. A strange odor reached him out of the darkness. Pungent,
sour, it awakened all his associations with suffering. He tasted it on his tongue, deep in his nose; even his
eyes, somehow, tasted it. It was far away, then it was at the next streetcorner, between the now-opaque
sky and the sticky pavement it was there, the evil spell of the nights of Prague. He advanced to meet it,
and as he did so it became more real, filling him entirely, stinging his eyes until the tears came, leaving
him helpless. Turning a corner, he understood: an old woman was selling cucumbers soaked in vinegar,
and it was their fragrance which had assaulted Mersault. A passer-by stopped, bought a cucumber which
the old woman wrapped in a piece of paper. He took a few steps, unwrapped his purchase in front of
Mersault and, as he bit into the cucumber, its broken, sopping flesh released the odor even more
powerfully. Mersault leaned against
a post, nauseated, and for a long moment inhaled all the alien solitude the world could offer him. Then he
walked away and without even thinking what he was doing entered a restaurant where an accordion was
playing. He went down several steps, stopped at the foot of the stairs, and found himself in a dim cellar
filled with red lights. He must have looked peculiar, for the musician played more softly, the
conversations stopped, and all the diners looked in his direction. In one corner, some whores were eating
together, their mouths shiny with grease. Other customers were drinking the brown, sweetish Czech beer.
Many were smoking without having ordered anything at all. Mersault went over to a rather long table at
which only one man was seated. Tall and slender with yellow hair, he was sprawled in his chair with his
hands in his pockets and pursed his chapped lips round a matchstick already swollen with saliva, sucking
it noisily or sliding it from one corner of his mouth to the other. When Mersault sat down, the man barely
moved, wedged his back against the wall, shifted the match in Mersault's direction and squinted faintly.
At that moment Mersault noticed a red star in his buttonhole.
Mersault ate the little he had ordered rapidly. He was not hungry. The accordionist was playing louder
now, and staring fixedly at the newcomer. Twice Mersault stared back defiantly and tried to meet the
man's gaze. But fever had weakened him.
The man was still staring. Suddenly one of the whores burst out laughing, the man with the red star
sucked noisily on his match and produced a little bubble of saliva, and the musician, still staring at
Mersault, broke off the lively dance tune he had been playing and began a slow melody heavy with the
dust of centuries. At this moment the door opened and a new customer walked in. Mersault did not see,
but through the open door the smell of vinegar and cucumbers pressed in upon him, immediately filling
the dark cellar, mingling with the mysterious melody of the accordion, swelling the bubble of saliva on
the man's matchstick, making the conversations suddenly more meaningful, as if out of the night that lay
23

upon Prague all the significance of a miserable suffering ancient world had taken refuge in the warmth of
this room, among these people. Mersault, who was eating some kind of over-sweetened compote,
suddenly at the end of his endurance, felt the flaw he carried within himself yield, exposing him still more
completely to pain and fever. He stood up abruptly, called to the waiter, and understanding nothing of his
explanations overpaid the check, realizing that the musician's gaze was once again fixed upon him. He
walked to the door, passing the accordionist, and saw that he was still staring at the place at the table
Mersault had just left. Then he realized that the man was blind, walked up the steps, and, opening the
door, was entirely engulfed by the omnipresent
odor as he walked through the little streets into the depths of the night.
Stars glittered over the houses. He must have been near the river; he could detect its muffled powerful
voice. In front of a little gate in a thick wall covered with Hebrew characters, he realized that he was in
the ghetto. Over the wall stretched the branches of a sweet-smelling willow. Through the gate he could
make out big brown stones lying among the weeds: it was the old Jewish cemetery of Prague. A moment
later Mersault realized he had been running and was now in the square of the old town hall. Near his hotel
he had to lean against a wall and vomit, retching painfully. With all the lucidity extreme weakness
affords, he managed to reach his room without making any mistakes, went to bed, and fell asleep at once.
The next day he was awakened by the newspaper vendors. The day was still overcast, but the sun glowed
behind the clouds. Though still a little weak, Mersault felt better. But he thought of the long day which
lay ahead of him. Living this way, in his own presence, time took on its most extreme dimensions, and
each hour seemed to contain a world. The important thing was to avoid crises like the one yesterday. It
would be best to do his sightseeing methodically. He sat at the table in his pajamas and worked out a
systematic schedule which would occupy each of his days for a week. Monasteries and baroque churches,
museums and the old parts of the city,
nothing was omitted. Then he washed, realized he had forgotten to buy a comb, and went downstairs as
he had the day before, unkempt and taciturn, past the clerk whose bristling hair, bewildered expression,
and jacket with the second button missing he noticed now, in broad daylight. As he left the hotel he was
brought to a halt by a childish, sentimental accordion tune. The blind man of the night before, squatting
on his heels at the corner of the old square, was playing with the same blank and smiling expression, as
though liberated from himself and entirely contained within the motion of a life which exceeded him.
Mersault turned the corner and again recognized the smell of cucumbers. And with the smell, his
suffering.
That day was the same as those which followed. Mersault got up late, visited monasteries and churches,
sought refuge in their fragrance of crypts and incense, and then, back in the daylight, confronted his secret
fears at every corner, where a cucumber vendor was invariably posted. It was through this odor that he
saw the museums and discovered the mystery and the profusion of baroque genius which filled Prague
with its gold magnificence. The altars, which glowed softly in the darkness, seemed borrowed from the
coppery sky, the misty sunlight so frequent over the city. The glistening scrolls and spirals, the elaborate
setting that looked as if it were cut out of gold paper, so touching in its resemblance to the creches made
for children at Christmas, the
grandiose and grotesque baroque perspectives affected Mersault as a kind of infantile, feverish, and
overblown romanticism by which men protect themselves against their own demons. The god worshipped
here was the god man fears and honors, not the god who laughs with man before the warm frolic of sea
and sun. Emerging from the faint fragrance of dust and extinction which reigned under the dim vaults,
Mersault felt he had no country. Every evening he visited the cloister of the Czech monks, on the west
side of the city. In the cloister garden the hours fluttered away with the doves, the bells chimed softly over
the grass, but it was still his fever which spoke to Mersault. Nonetheless, the time passed. But then came
the hour when the churches and monuments closed and the restaurants had not yet opened. That was the
dangerous time. Mersault walked along the Vltava's banks, dotted with flowerbeds and bandstands, as the
24

day came to an end. Little boats worked their way up the river from lock to lock. Mersault kept pace with
them, left behind the deafening noise and rushing water of a sluice gate, gradually regained the peace and
quiet of the evening, then walked on to meet a murmur which swelled to a terrible roar. At the new lock,
he watched the bright little dinghies vainly trying to pass over the dam without capsizing until one of
them passed the danger point and shouts rang out above the sound of the water. The rushing river with
its burden of shouts and tunes, the fragrance of gar-dens, full of the coppery glow of the setting sun and
the twisted, grotesque shadows of the statues on the Charles Bridge, made Mersault bitterly conscious of
his desolation: a solitude in which love had no part. Coming to a standstill as the fragrance of leaves and
water reached him, he felt a catch in his throat and imagined tears which did not come. Tears would be
for a friend, or for open arms. But tears gave way to the world without tenderness in which he was
immersed. Some evenings, always at the same times, he crossed the Charles Bridge and strolled through
the Hradcany district above the river, a deserted and silent neighborhood, though only a few steps from
the busiest streets in the city. He wandered among these huge palaces, across enormous paved courtyards,
past ironwork gates, around the cathedral. His footsteps echoed in the silence between high walls. A dim
noise from the city reached him here. There was no cucumber vendor in this district, but something
oppressive in the silence, in the grandeur of the place, so that Mersault always ended by walking back
toward the odor or the melody which henceforth constituted his only country. He ate his meals in the
restaurant he had discovered, for at least it remained familiar. He had his place beside the man with the
red star, who came only in the evenings, drank a beer, and chewed on his matchstick. At dinner, too, the
blind man played his accordion, and Mersault ate quickly, paid his check, and returned to his hotel and the unfailing sleep of a feverish child.
Every day he thought of leaving and every day, sinking a little deeper into desolation, his longing for
happiness had a little less hold over him. He had been in Prague four days now, and he had not yet bought
the comb whose absence he discovered each morning. Yet he had the vague sense of something missing,
and this was what he irresolutely waited for. One evening, he walked toward his restaurant down the little
street where he had first smelled the cucumbers. Already he anticipated that odor, when just before he
reached the restaurant, on the sidewalk opposite him, something made him stop, then come closer. A man
was lying there, arms folded, head fallen on the left cheek. Three or four people were standing against the
wall, apparently waiting for something, though very calm. One was smoking, the others were speaking in
low voices. But one man in shirtsleeves, his jacket over his arm, hat pushed back on his head, was
performing a kind of wild dance around the body, his gestures emphatic and disturbing. Overhead, the
faint light of a distant streetlamp mingled with the glow from the nearby restaurant. The man tirelessly
dancing, the body with its folded arms, the calm spectators, the ironic contrast and the inexplicable
silence—here at last, combining contemplation and innocence, among the rather oppressive interplay of
light and shadow, was a moment of equilibrium beyond which it seemed to
Mersault that everything would collapse into madness. He came closer: the dead man's head was lying in
a pool of blood. The head was turned so that it rested on the wound. In this remote corner of Prague,
between the faint light on the moist pavement, the long wet hiss of passing cars a few steps away, the
distant screech of occasional streetcars, death seemed insipid yet insistent too, and it was death's
summons, its damp breath, that Mersault sensed at the very moment he began walking away rapidly,
without turning back. Suddenly the odor, which he had forgotten, was all around him: he went into the
restaurant and sat down at his table. The man was there, but without his matchstick. It seemed to Mersault
that there was something distraught in his eyes. He dismissed the stupid notion that occurred to him. But
everything was whirling in his mind. Before ordering anything he jumped up and ran to his hotel, went to
his room, and threw himself on the bed. Something sharp was throbbing in his temples. His heart empty,
his belly tight, Mer-sault's rebellion exploded. Images of his life rushed before his eyes. Something inside
him clamored for the gestures of women, for arms that opened, and for warm lips. From the depth of the
painful nights of Prague, amid smells of vinegar and sentimental tunes, the anguished countenance of the
old baroque world which had accompanied his fever mounted toward him. Breathing with difficulty,
seeing nothing, moving mechanically, he sat up on
25

his bed. The drawer of the night table was open, lined with an English newspaper in which he read a
whole article. Then he stretched out on the bed again. The man's head had been lying on the wound, and
three or four fingers would have fit inside that wound. Mersault stared at his hands and his fingers, and
childish desires rose in his heart. An intense and secret fervor swelled within him, and it was a nostalgia
for cities filled with sunlight and women, with the green evenings that close all wounds. Tears burst from
his eyes. Inside him widened a great lake of solitude and silence above which ran the sad song of his
deliverance.
2
In the train taking him north, Mersault stared at his hands. The train's speed turned the lowering sky into
an onrush of heavy clouds. Mersault was alone in the overheated compartment—he had left suddenly in
the middle of the night, and with the dark morning hours ahead of him, he let the mild landscape of
Bohemia rush by, the impending rain between the tall silky poplars and the distant factory chimneys
filling him with an impulse to burst into tears. Then he looked at the white plaque with its three sentences:
Nicht hinauslehnen, E pericoloso sporgersi, II est dangereux de se pencher au-dehors. He looked again at
his hands, which lay like live, wild animals on his knees: the left one long and supple, the right thicker,
muscular. He knew them, recognized them, yet they were distinct from himself, as though capable of
actions in which his will had no part. One came to rest against his forehead now, pressing against the
fever which throbbed in his temples. The other slid down his jacket and took out of its pocket a cigarette
that he immediately discarded as soon as he became aware of an overpowering desire to vomit. His hands
returned to his knees, palms cupped, where they offered Mersault the emblem of his life, indifferent once
more and offered to anyone who would take it.
He traveled for two days. But now it was not an
instinct of escape which drove him on. The very monotony of the journey satisfied him. The train which
was jolting him halfway across Europe suspended him between two worlds—it had taken him abroad, and
would deposit him somewhere, draw him out of a life the very moment of which he wanted to erase and
lead him to the threshold of a new world where desire would be king. Not for a single moment was
Mersault bored. He sat in his corner, rarely disturbed by anyone, stared at his hands, then at the
countryside, and reflected. He deliberately extended his trip as far as Breslau, merely rousing himself at
the border to change tickets. He wanted to stay where he was, contemplating his freedom. He was tired
and did not feel well enough to move; he hoarded every last fragment of his strength, his hopes, kneaded
them together until he had refashioned himself and his fate as well. He loved these long nights when the
train rushed along the gleaming rails, roaring through the village stations where only a clock was
illuminated, the sudden stops among the clustered lights of city stations where there was no time to
discover where he was before the train was already swallowed up, a golden warmth cast into the
compartments and then gone. Hammers pounded on the wheels, the engine exhaled its cloud of steam,
and the robot gesture of the switchman lowering his red disc hurled Mersault into the train's wild course,
only his lucidity, his anxiety awake. The crosswork puzzle of lights and
shadows went on in the compartment, a black and gold motley: Dresden, Bautzen, Gerlitz, Lugknitz. The
long lonely night ahead of him, with all the time in the world to decide on the actions of a future life, the
patient straggle with the thoughts eluding him on a station siding, recaptured and pursued again, the
consequences reappearing and escaping once more before the dance of wires glistening under the rain and
the lights. Mersault groped for the word, the sentence that would formulate the hope in his heart, that
would resolve his anxiety. In his weakened state, he needed formulas. The night and then the day passed
in this obstinate struggle with the word, the image which from now on would constitute the whole tonality
of his mind, the sympathetic or miserable dream of his future. He closed his eyes. It takes time to live.
Like any work of art, life needs to be thought about. Mersault thought about his life and exercised his
bewildered consciousness and his longing for happiness in a train compartment which was like one of
those cells where a man learns to know what he is by what is more than himself.
26

On the morning of the second day, in the middle of a field, the train slowed down. Breslau was still hours
away, and the day broke over the vast Silesian plain, a treeless sea of mud under an overcast sky sagging
with rainclouds. As far as the eye could see and at regular intervals, huge black birds with glistening
wings flew in flocks a few yards above the
ground, incapable of rising any higher under a rain-swollen sky heavy as a tombstone. They circled in a
slow, ponderous flight, and sometimes one of them would leave the flock, skim the ground, almost
inseparable from it, and flap in the same lethargic flight, until it was far e