Albert Camus Talks About Nihilism & Adapting Dostoyevsky’s The Possessed for the Theatre, 1959

If there is no God, said Fyodor Dostoyevsky, life is meaningless. And without meaning, men and women will “go stark, raving mad.” For the deeply skeptical and agnostic Albert Camus, Dostoyevsky’s books were a revelation. While he couldn’t agree with the Russian novelist’s prescription of faith in an unseen deity, Camus felt Dostoyevsky had convincingly described the tragedy of man’s existence in an indifferent universe.

Camus first read Dostoyevsky when he was 20 years old, and later called it a “soul-shaking experience.” He was moved by the moral weight of Dostoyevsky’s words. When the horrors of Stalin’s purges came to light, Camus refused to look away. As he later said, “The real 19th century prophet was Dostoyevsky, not Karl Marx.”

One of Dostoyevsky’s works that affected Camus the most was the apocalyptic 1872 novel The Possessed, which in recent years has been translated as Demons or The Devils. It’s a complex story of a conflicted Russian society as it descends into anarchy and chaos with the spread of nihilism. The themes explored in The Possessed were so absorbing to Camus that in 1959 he published a three-act stage adaptation, Les Possédés. The play premiered on January 28, 1959 at the Théâtre Antoine in Paris, and on that day he gave an interesting interview with Pierre Dumayet for French television, which you can watch in the video above. In the program handed out at the theater that night, Camus described the novel’s importance: “Les Possédés is one of the four or five works that I rank above all others. In more ways than one, I can say that it has enriched and shaped me.”

You can download a copy of The Possessed and other works by Dostoevsky from our collection of 375 Free eBooks. Major works by the great Russian author can also be found in our Free Audio Books collection.

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