Camus, "The Plague"


Albert Camus’s novel "The Plague" (La peste), published in 1947, tells the story of a group of characters living through an outbreak of contagious disease in the 1940s, in the Algerian city of Oran, then part of France. There was no such outbreak, Camus never lived through a plague, and the novel has usually been understood as an allegory for the human condition. However, Camus’s plague is so vividly imagined and perceptive that it will immediately strike any reader in 2020 with its startling insight into what living through a pandemic feels like at all of its different stages.

Heroes, Victims, and Lovers in "The Plague"

Presented by Barry McCrea

The different fates of Camus’s characters and what they mean.

The Politics of Camus’s Imaginary Plague

Presented by Barry McCrea

How Camus decided to use the predicament of a pandemic as a way to explore other questions.

Coming out of Lockdown

Presented by Barry McCrea

What we can learn from the end of Camus’s novel.

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Presented by Barry McCrea

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Featured Speakers:

  • Susan Ohmer, The William T. and Helen Kuhn Carey Associate Professor of Modern Communication, University of Notre Dame
  • Kieron Webb, Head of Conservation, British Film Institute
  • Rev. Jim Lies C.S.C., Director for Academic Initiatives & Partnerships, University of Notre Dame, London, England

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Thank you for your participation!

You’ve now completed all four parts of the Kylemore Book Club series, “Literature & film in Lockdown.” Stay tuned as we will be releasing a new podcast with reading notes from the four live sessions we hosted with Professor Barry McCrea.  

We look forward to seeing you back for the second Kylemore Book Club.  In the meantime, be sure to check out the other series, podcasts, articles, and videos on ThinkND.

Reflection & Discussion Questions

  • Were you left with any questions stemming from Barry’s remarks?
  • One of the things we saw in the Decameron, is that Boccaccio describes the lockdown in a very clinical way. Can you describe what lockdown looks like for you in your location?
  • Comment on a specific detail from the lockdown that is reflected from the lectures
  • Now that the lockdown has started to ease, what are some observations that you’ve had about yourself? About the world?
  • Plague literature reveals incongruities between class and social stratification, what is it about pandemics that unveil societal construct that up until the affliction we are willing to ignore?
  • History has much to teach us about the spread of this invisible enemy. Scientists and writers have predicted that another epidemic was bound to come, and yet lawmakers, politicians and the general public seem to be caught unawares to the extent to which a pandemic can affect us. Why are we so quick to ignore the past lessons from history and literature. 
  •  Surviving a plague gives us a heightened sense of being mortal. But the way in which people deal with the lock down are quite different. From living in isolation and austerity (stocking up on toilet paper etc) to living to all sorts of excess and overindulgence. What can literature reveal about the polarity of human response?
  • Please share a specific detail from Boccaccio’s description of the plague that corresponds to your experience of COVID-19.
  • What was the emotional experience like when you moved from the Introduction to the First Story of the reading?
  • Was there anything cooked up by the young people in the reading that is helpful to you in managing the psychological experience of COVID-19?

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