Notes from the Shire: The Plague, Then and Now


A seminal work of 20th Century literature is as timely, and urgent, as ever. 

Published in 1946, The Plague by Albert Camus was regarded by some critics as a metaphor of French resistance to Nazi occupation in World War II. Others saw it as a challenge to religious orthodoxy, and a stark statement of a world without a God.

Camus's tale begins with the discovery of dead rats in the Algerian port of Oran. The rats are a nuisance: they're squishy when trod upon, and go through absurd gyrations before falling down dead. But soon the rodent corpses are found everywhere: streets, alleyways, stores, apartments, and the town has trouble carting them all away. Then, they suddenly disappear.

Once they're gone, townspeople start getting sick. The political hierarchy at first turns a blind eye, and containment measures are slow to be enforced. People start to go mad, and people start to die. Eventually, a quarantine is put into place, and armed sentries are posted throughout the town: no one can leave, and no one can enter. Once a week, death statistics are released. Each week, the number grows higher. A switch is made to daily death reports, because 130 is a less alarming number than 910. 


Dr. Bernard Rieux takes it upon himself to battle the plague. He's not alone. He has associates in the medical field, and friends and acquaintances are there to help. Daily, he goes about his rounds. Rieux is a stoic, a man who cannot comprehend how God could countenance needless suffering. Yet he perseveres.

Readers saw the profoundly humane message of Camus, displayed through Rieux and other characters. Often fatigued, physically removed from family and loved ones, and seeing the ravages of the plague up close daily, they uniformly exhibit a calm dignity in comforting and trying to cure the afflicted. Always a sensitive, searching artist, Camus in The Plague faces barren darkness head-on, and ultimately concludes that the human spirit, with or without a deity, prevails.

And so it shall today.


Mike is an avid reader of History, Politics, Art, Literature, and Poetry. He plays the piano, tennis, and chess with varying degrees of accomplishment. He especially enjoys Saratoga, its bucolic surroundings, and its proximity to urban centers. Buy his book about the denizens of Saratoga here.

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The Plague (Vintage International) Cover Image
ISBN: 9780679720218
Availability: Click Title for IN STOCK Location
Published: Vintage - May 7th, 1991

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