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Women of Victor Hugo
Albert Camus and his Torrid Affairs - Poets & Storytellers
70    Dibyendu Banerjee    10/09/2021   

Albert Camus, a second-generation French in Algeria, was born on 7 November 1913 in a working-class neighbourhood in Mondovi in French Algeria to Lucien Camus, a poor French agricultural worker and Catherine Hélène Camus. Unfortunately, within a year of his birth, his father died in the Battle of the Marne in 1914 during World War II. After that, his mother of Spanish-Balearic ancestry moved with her two sons to a working-class district of Algiers, where they all lived together with his maternal grandmother and a paralysed uncle in a two-room apartment, while their mother did housework to support her family. During his childhood, Camus entered primary school in 1918 and developed a love for football and swimming. In the school, he was fortunate enough to be taught by an outstanding teacher, Louis Germain, who helped him to win a scholarship to continue his studies at the famous Algiers lycée, a high school, in 1923.

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However, the first severe attack of tuberculosis in 1930 put an end to his sporting career, interrupted his studies and he had to leave the unhealthy apartment on medical ground. He moved out of his home for 15 years to stay with his uncle Gustave Acault, a butcher. During that time, Camus supported himself by a variety of jobs and finally, got registered at the University of Algiers as a student of philosophy.

albert camus

At the age of 20, Camus became involved in a relationship with Simone Hié, whom he married on 16 June 1934 and divorced in 1936. However, at the university, he obtained a degree in 1936, after representing his thesis on the relationship between Greek and Christian thought in the philosophical writings of Plotinus and St Augustine. In the same year, he joined the newly founded Algerian Communist Party and in 1938, began working for the leftist newspaper Alger républicain. However, as the newspaper was banned in 1940, Camus fled to Paris and took a new job as the editor-in-chief at Paris-Soir. When the outbreak of World War II began to affect France, he volunteered to join the army, but failed to qualify as he had suffered from tuberculosis. However, just before the invasion of Nazi Germany, Camus fled to Lyon, where he married pianist and mathematician Francine Faure.

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During the French Occupation, he took an active role in the underground resistance movement against the Germans and also became part of a circle of intellectuals that included Jean-Paul Sartre, Simon de Beauvoir, André Breton and others, including the charismatic actress Maria Casarès, with whom he would later have an affair.

albert camus
With Francine Faure, after he received the Noble Prize

By the end of the Great War, Camus had established himself as a celebrated writer known for his role in the Resistance. Apart from his several long essays and articles, his brilliant first novel, The Outsider, begun before the war and published in 1942, was followed by The Plague (1947), a symbolic account of the fight against an epidemic in Oran, The Fall (1956), a philosophical novel and The Exile and the Kingdom (1957), a collection of short stories. Camus was awarded the coveted Nobel Prize for Literature in 1957, at the early age of 44, the second-youngest recipient of the prize, after Rudyard Kipling, who was 42. However, the news shocked him, as he expected that André Malraux was the right person to be honoured with the prestigious award. Unfortunately, he died untimely at the age of 46 on 4 January 1960, in the small town of Villeblevin, about 125 km from Paris, when the car crashed into a plane tree on a long straight stretch, killing him instantly.

Camus was a womaniser throughout his life and had numerous affairs. Although he was not conventionally handsome, his features appealed to women.

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Well known for his brand of existentialist absurdism, he believed that life had no meaning. But he believed in the infinite richness of existence, believed that it is natural to love and to be loved without any restriction. He maintained that there is no harm in loving two women and if two, there should not be any restriction for more.

albert camus
With Simone Hie

Camus married Simone Hié, an Algiers starlet with a provocative cigarette holder and fiancée of the poet Max-Pol Fouchet, on 16 June 1934. Although she suffered from an addiction to morphine, a drug she used to ease her menstrual pains, Camus married Simone as he wanted to help her fight her addiction. But they were divorced in 1936, as Camus discovered that she was in a relationship with a doctor and soon after that, he met another femme fatale, Christiane Galindo in 1937. Obviously beautiful, dark-haired and tanned, the daughter of a schoolteacher, who without complaint went to her Remington to type the manuscripts of her lover, which continued throughout the whole life of Albert Camus.

However, soon after his divorce, Camus mate Francine Faure, who will become his wife and the mother of the twins, Catherine and Jean. She was lovely with her pretty face with high Tatar cheekbones, an excellent pianist, inimitable in Bach, and mathematician. Little saucy, but full of restraint, she knows how to be desired by her lovers. It strikes the young Camus in the heart and after long procrastination, he civilly married Francine Faure on 3 December 1940 in Lyon.

albert camus
With Francine Faure

But Camus did not seem to regard marital relationships as central to his sex life. Although he married twice, he hated the institute of marriage, argued ardently against it, dismissing it as an unnatural and undue restriction. He always cautiously handled his mistresses with equally perplexing affectionate excuses, even before he planned his wedding to Francine. He strongly felt that his relationship with Francine, as the mother of his two children, would be more appropriate for a sister, allowing him erotic freedom. Even, he explained his attitude to Francine in a letter, wherein he tried to clarify that Francine is his sister, she resembles him and one should not marry his sister. Probably his lovers also felt that he had to take care of his wife Francine, a nervous and depressive woman, on whom he based the character in La Chute or The Fall, who throws herself into the Seine. In a letter to one of his lovers, Lucette Meurer, Camus once admitted that, apart from his lovers, his intimate circle consists mostly of women.

Nevertheless, theatre has always been the main concern of Camus' life and the blessed opportunity to approach women. From 1936, Camus, a young Algerian communist, animates the Théâtre du Travail, a troop of committed amateurs who mix up intellectuals, proletarians and pretty women. Shortly after, he founded the Théâtre de l'Equipe with the motto of work, research and audacity. The actress Blanche Balain took part in the adventure of a troop polarised around this young man, tubercular but indefatigable. Camus honours his female friendships, while Jeanne Sicard and Marguerite Dobrenn also do not hesitate to go on stage.

albert camus
Albert Camus and Maria Casarès

On 19 March 1944, Michel Leiris, a French surrealist writer and ethnographer, organised a small meeting in his house for the reading of a text by Picasso, where Albert Camus met the 22-year-old charming Maria Casarès, a genius actress, daughter of the Republican Minister of War, exiled in France in 1936. With a hoarse voice and the theatre in the skin, she was a genius and intelligent actress, superb in beauty, beyond the classic canons. Maria Casarès was 21 and Albert Camus was 30, when they first kissed after a rehearsal for his play and they became lovers on 6 June1944, which continued till his untimely death in 1959. In the evening of June 5, 1944, the lovebirds left Dullin's by bike, a bit tipsy, she on the handlebars, the very day before the D-Day landings. She was probably his only lover, who had a relationship of equality with him. Between a trip to a nightclub and fierce rehearsals of Camus's play Le misentendu, they never leave each other. Their relationship was fiery but forbidden, like that of Romeo and Juliet.

albert camus
Maria Casares

By the time Francine left Algeria and joined her husband in Paris in September 1944, the unrestrained Maria became impatient to remain as a mere mistress, much to the despair of Francine. It is maintained by many that his obsessive womanising pushed Francine to a depressive mental breakdown. However, young María was also unable to take it anymore, she did not want to continue the relationship with Francine beside him. She gave Camus an ultimatum, either to leave his wife or to leave her alone and although Albert did not believe in marriage, he could not think of leaving his wife and returned to his marital bed. However, the split made Albert miserable. Although they exchanged letters for the next 15 years, he suffered intensely burning with desire for Maria.

albert camus
Maria Casares in 1948 film The Charterhouse of Parma

However, that was not the end of the story. They accidentally met again, four years after the breakup, on Boulevard Saint-Germain in Paris, on the 6th of June. Once again, they got into the volcanic trap, which they could not or did not sincerely try to escape from and Camus again became engaged in his double life. Although again, María threatened to break up, she never did. On his part, Albert wanted to make both his mistress and the wife happy, which was an impossible mission. He was aware that he was responsible for his wife’s mental breakdown and had a guilty conscience for the pain he caused her. However, Camus and Casares wrote letters to each other almost every day, letters filled with passion and a burning desire. A collection, containing more than 860 of their intimate letters, burning with passionate longing from their 13-year affair, was published in 2017, evidencing one of the most interesting love affairs in the literary history of France.

albert camus
Mette Iver

Only two years before his life was cut short by a car crash, Albert Camus met 21- year-old Mette Ivers, a Danish painter in February 1957, at the Café de Flore in Paris. He had invited her over to his table, impressed her with a chat about Piero della Francesca, an Italian painter of the Early Renaissance and eventually, she became one of his mistresses, the last love of his life. Mi brought a refreshing and reviving effect on Camus, who was suffering at that time from panic attacks as well as recurring bouts of tuberculosis. She pursued him for swimming and even accompanied him to watch football matches. However, nobody was aware of her contribution, until Olivier Todd depicted all about her and called her Mi in his 1996 biography of Albert Camus.

albert camus
Catherine Sellers

In 1956, Camus spotted a young woman, a slender and cultivated actress, Catherine Sellers, in Tchekhov’s Seagull, who later played the role of a Nun in his adaptation of Faulkner’s novel, Requiem. She was one among the three women, whom Camus wrote, just before the fatal accident, which took his life on 4 January 1960. In his letter dated 31 December 1959, Camus informed her about his arrival on Tuesday by car and spiritedly expressed his happiness at the idea of seeing her again.

Albert Camus, who like his friend Jean-Paul Sartre, became a living intellectual icon, never had any shortage of Bohemian young women, keen to be closely associated with him. However, unlike Sartre, aided and abetted by Simone de Beauvoir, Camus did not use women. It may seem strange, but he was not attracted to Beauvoir, rather rebuffed her, as he did not want to be the subject of pillow talk between Sartre and herself. He was not guilty of Don Juanism and each time he fell in love, he made his partner happy. Even, just before his marriage, he carried on his affairs, sending immensely passionate letters to his mistresses, just like a crazy, foolish, romantic young man. However, his mistresses were aware of his commitment to his wife and Camus seemed to cherish it deeply in his own flawed ways.

albert camus

Till his premature death, Camus kept intermittent but stable relationships with four women, his second wife Francine Faure, Spanish actress María Casares, Stage actress Catherine Sellers; and the 22-year-old Danish painter Mette Ivers or simply Mi, the latest addition to the list during the last years of her life. In the days before his death in the car crash on 4 January 1960, he had posted letters to his three ladyloves with whom he had arranged a meeting, each in turn. The letter dated 29 December 1959, was written to Mette Ivers alias Mi, announcing that he would shortly be returning to Paris from Lourmarin and expressing the hope that the frightful separation would at least made them feel more than ever the constant need they have for each other. The second, posted on the 30th, was written to the Spanish actress Maria Casarès, whom he addressed as his superb and informed that they would be reunited on Tuesday and begin their romance anew. Finally, the third, dated December 31, was addressed to Catherine Sellers, the actress who played the role of a Nun in his adaptation of Faulkner’s Requiem in 1956. In the letter, he informed her about his arrival on Tuesday by car and expressed his happiness at the idea of seeing her again.

However, Camus kept none of those meticulously planned rendezvous and left the world in a haste.

albert camus
The monument to Camus built in Villeblevin, where he died
Women of Victor Hugo
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Author Details
Dibyendu Banerjee
Ex student of Scottish Church College. Served a Nationalised Bank for nearly 35 years. Authored novels in Bengali. Translated into Bengali novels/short stories of Leo Tolstoy, Eric Maria Remarque, D.H.Lawrence, Harold Robbins, Guy de Maupassant, Somerset Maugham and others. Also compiled collections of short stories from Africa and Third World. Interested in literature, history, music, sports and international films.
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