Albert Camus’ The Fall and the First Person


“May I, monsieur, offer my services without running
the risk of intruding?”

This is the opening of Albert Camus’ novela “The Fall” as a vivid
monologue in the “First Person” perspective, where the “I” and
“you” used by a single person creates a dynamic and intriguing
narration in fiction.

The main character, Jean-Baptiste Clamence, a judge residing in
Amsterdam, tries to help a foreigner in a bar to order drinks while
starting a conversation about the bartender’s bad temper and the
city. “Are you staying long in Amsterdam? A beautiful city, isn’t it?
Fascinated?” The dialogue continues but we, the readers, only can
hear the narrator and imagine what the other unknown character
“You’re leaving already? Forgive me for having perhaps detained
you. No, I beg you; I won’t let you pay”. A relationship has been
established between two persons as the judge answers, “I shall
certainly be here tomorrow, as I am every evening, and I shall be
pleased to accept your invitation.

The two characters will meet again and a conversation will
continue with Clamence’s voice revealing his background, his
personal existential problems including a past experience that
changed his life and makes him discover how empty and absurd
his life was before.

Other writers such as Sandor Marai and Walker Percy, they both
distinctively adopt the ”First Person” style in their novels Portraits
of a Marriage and Lancelot which are full of wonderful introspective
dialogues and clearly reveal the main characters’ internal emotions
and their past.

Albert Camus, a 1957 Nobel Prize winner in literature, is one of the
most influential French existentialist writers who have succeeded
in applying the beauty of excellent literary skills on philosophy. An
optimist but also a nostalgic solitary rebel, as the title of one of his
most important essays L'Homme révolté suggests, he openly
opposed the totalitarianism of what he described as “fallen
revolutions” and “worn-out ideologies”, i.e. Communism and
Fascism, which inspired the destructive mass movements. He was
not afraid to be isolated by opposing the popular ideas at that time,
which led him to break with Sartre and other powerful intellectuals
in the 50s that dominated the cultural scene in France.
Unfortunately Camus died relatively young in a tragic car accident
in 1960.

He sought solitude and the belief that a personal experience could
be a persuasive reference for literary and philosophical writing
which are reflected in his works especially notably in The Fall, a
truly engaging novella which I think everybody should read.

1. Albert Camus. “The Fall.” Translated from the French by Justin
O’Brien, Alfred A. Knopf, 1991. iBooks.

2. Sándor Márai. “Portraits of a Marriage.” translated from the
Hungarian by George Szirtes.” Alfred A. Knopf, 2011 iBooks.

3. Walker Percy. “Lancelot”. Open Road Media, 2011

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