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© Roger-Viollet
1913 – 1960
French writer, philosopher and novelist; winner of the Nobel Prize for Literature in 1957
“But what then is capital punishment, if not the most premeditated of murders, to which no criminal’s deed, no matter how calculated, can be compared?”
Albert Camus

Camus leads a fundamental fight against the death penalty. He is with Hugo the most prolific and involved French writer on the subject.

In L’Étranger (1942), the author stigmatizes capital punishment throughout Meursault’s absurd journey. In La Peste (1947), he recounts the striking scene of an execution by shooting. Reflections on the guillotine, a real indictment, is for this purpose the synthesis theorizing all of his abolitionist thought.

Of his father, of whom he knew nothing but a few photographs and the tragic circumstances of his death on the front lines of the Great War, he nevertheless retains an anecdote. It is the founding event for the orphan writer, to such an extent that he recounts it in three of his works: L'Étranger, Réflexions sur la guillotine and Le Premier Homme. Lucien Camus, revolted by his crime, goes to the execution of an agricultural worker condemned for having killed an entire family with a hammer. But he returns home, disgusted. “What he saw that morning he didn’t tell anyone. My mother only says that he came home in a hurry, his face upset, refused to speak, lay down on the bed for a moment and suddenly began to vomit. The horror of the scene revolted him: “Instead of thinking of the massacred children, he could only think of this panting body that had just been thrown on a board to cut off its neck [2]. And the writer continues: "You have to believe that this ritual act is very horrible to manage to overcome the indignation of a simple and upright man so that a punishment which he considered a hundred times deserved had not finally had no other effect than to return his heart. This is the story that Albert inherited from his father. Nausea in the face of the guillotine slicing necks. He concludes: "When the supreme justice only makes the honest man whom it is supposed to protect vomit, it seems difficult to maintain that it is intended, as it should be its function, to bring more peace and order in the city. On the contrary, it is clear that it is no less revolting than the crime and that this new murder, far from repairing the offense done to the social body, adds a new stain to the first [4]. For Camus, the death penalty is unjustifiable. Apart from the fact that society itself does not believe in its exemplarity, it has never been proven that the capital punishment has made a single murderer retreat. As a result, he denounces the concealment of executions within prisons from 1939. By hiding the shame, no one cares anymore since we no longer see the atrocity of the torture.

Another stage in Camus' abolitionist journey occurs when François Mauriac, at the Liberation, asks for pardon in the name of charity for the collaborators. Camus answers him through the newspaper Combat, that he wants justice before charity. However, he retracts and this is how, like Marcel Aymé – author of the much noticed and controversial La Tête des autres – Albert Camus asks for the pardon of Robert Brasillach, beyond contempt and hatred. what he felt for him. But General de Gaulle refused to pardon, and Brasillach was shot on February 6, 1945 at Fort Montrouge. However, Camus does not give up his fight, and he pursues all his life his action in favor of those sentenced to death, in France and abroad.

Because For Camus, wherever it exists, the death penalty is a cruel, inhuman and degrading punishment.

[1] Albert Camus, Reflections on the Guillotine, in Arthur Koestler and Albert Camus, Reflections on Capital Punishment.
[2] Ibid.
[3] Ibid.
[4] Ibid.


Marie Bardiaux-Vaïente

Regarding “I want to live”! film by Robert Wise: Camus will refer to it in most of his works and will fight it constantly. "What would be the use of American cinema if it did not serve to confront us with the realities of our time. […] The day of true civilization is yet to come, in America as in France, but the honor of this film is to contribute at least to its advent. (Albert Camus, “I want to live”, Close-Up, March 12, 1959)

Reflections on the Guillotine

Authors: Albert Camus, Arthur Koestler
Publication date: 2002
Place of publication: Paris
Edited by: Folio (« poche »)

Written when execution by guillotine was still legal in France, Albert Camus' devastating attack on the 'obscene exhibition' of capital punishment remains one of the most powerful, persuasive arguments ever made against the death penalty.

I want to live!

Directed by Robert Wise
Genre: Drama / Biography
Duration: 120 minutes
Release date: 1958

Based on authentic facts, this film tells the story of Barbara Graham, sentenced to death for a murder she did not commit. Ed Montgomery, a journalist convinced of her innocence, tries in vain to save her. (Film often referred to by Camus)

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