Penguin Moderns: Albert Camus and John Steinbeck

Create Dangerously by Albert Camus **** (#17)
9780241339121In Create Dangerously, French-Algerian author Albert Camus ‘argues passionately that the artist has a responsibility to challenge, provoke and speak up for those who cannot’.  This ‘powerful speech’ has been accompanied by two other pieces, which were also delivered orally, entitled ‘Defences of Intelligence’ and ‘Bread and Freedom’.  The speeches were delivered between 1945 and 1957.

In ‘Create Dangerously’, Camus says, in rather a poignant manner: ‘In any case, our era forces us to take an interest in it.  The writers of today know this. If they speak up, they are criticized and attacked. If they become modest and keep silent, they are vociferously blamed for their silence.’  The three speeches collected here, the style of which is quite similar, are intelligent, fascinating, and well-informed.  They are filled with thoughtful ideas and discussion pieces.  It seems fitting, in our current tumultuous global climate, to end with the following quote, taken from ‘Bread and Freedom’: ‘… we shall henceforth be sure… that freedom is not a gift received from a State or a leader but a possession to be won every day by the effort of each and the union of all.’
The Vigilante by John Steinbeck ***** (#18) 9780241338957
I adore John Steinbeck; in everything which I have read of his, I have been struck by the clarity of his writing, and the depth of emotion which he demonstrates.  I was thus very excited to read this selection of his short stories, presented as the eighteenth Penguin Modern book.  Collected here are three stories – ‘The Vigilante’, ‘The Snake’, and ‘The Chrysanthemums’ – set in the Salinas Valley in California, in which Steinbeck ‘explores mob violence, a disturbing encounter and a bitter betrayal’.  All have been taken from Steinbeck’s short story collection, The Long Valley, which was first published in 1938.

The content here is varied.  ‘The Vigilante’ focuses upon a man who first storms a jail along with others, and then watches the lynching of a black prisoner, recounting his experience to a bartender whom he meets later the same evening.  The protagonist of ‘The Snake’ is about a scientist who ‘could kill a thousand animals for knowledge, but not an insect for pleasure’; a woman comes into his seaside laboratory, and requests some rather unusual things of him.  ‘The Chrysanthemums’ tells the story of a farmer’s wife in a rural part of California, who meets a new acquaintance, and learns quite as much from him as she teaches him.

Throughout these stories, Steinbeck’s prose has a pitch and tone which is customary with, and unique to, his work.  He manages to fit so much into a deceptively simple sentence; for instance, in ‘The Vigilante’, he writes: ‘The park lawn was cut to pieces by the feet of the crowd’, conjuring up myriad questions in the reader’s mind.  Steinbeck’s long fiction really packs a punch, and these stories are no different; indeed, I found them quite difficult to read in places.  Their scenes are haunting and memorable.  The stories collected in The Vigilante are fantastic in their breadth, and in the brutality and beauty which sears from the pages.

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One thought on “Penguin Moderns: Albert Camus and John Steinbeck

  1. Pingback: Best Books of 2018 | theliterarysisters

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