Albert Camus Wins the Nobel Prize & Sends a Letter of Gratitude to His Elementary School Teacher (1957)

Image by Unit­ed Press Inter­na­tion­al, via Wiki­me­dia Com­mons

What would you do if you won a Nobel Prize? Who would you thank? We’ve all won­dered about it, per­haps not about the Nobel specif­i­cal­ly, but about some poten­tial­ly lega­cy-con­firm­ing prize or oth­er — maybe an Oscar, maybe a MacArthur Fel­low­ship. When Albert Camus, the short-lived French nov­el­ist-philoso­pher who wrote such endur­ing works as The Stranger and The Myth of Sisy­phus, won the Nobel for Lit­er­a­ture in 1957for his impor­tant lit­er­ary pro­duc­tion, which with clear-sight­ed earnest­ness illu­mi­nates the prob­lems of the human con­science in our times,” he thanked an ele­men­tary-school teacher. “One could argue that, in the his­to­ry of the field, few teacher-pupil rela­tion­ships have had more dra­mat­ic impact than that of Louis Ger­main on his young pupil Albert Camus,” says Chica­go Tri­bune arti­cle pub­lished dur­ing an upswing in Amer­i­can inter­est in Camus’ work. That hap­pened soon after the pub­li­ca­tion of his unfin­ished auto­bi­o­graph­i­cal nov­el The First Man, a “clas­sic sto­ry of a poor boy who made good” whose appen­dix includes the author’s real-life cor­re­spon­dence with his for­mer teacher.

One of these let­ters Camus wrote to Ger­main not long after win­ning the Nobel. (You can hear his actu­al accep­tance speech here.) He no doubt saw the old­er man’s for­ma­tive influ­ence as essen­tial to the work that brought that pres­ti­gious prize his way, since, as Let­ters of Note puts it, “he was just 11-months-old when his father was killed in action dur­ing The Bat­tle of the Marne; his moth­er, par­tial­ly deaf and illit­er­ate, then raised her boys in extreme pover­ty with the help of his heavy-hand­ed grand­moth­er. It was in school that Camus shone, due in no small part to the encour­age­ment offered by his beloved teacher.” Though nev­er thrilled about pub­lic hon­ors of this type, Camus nonethe­less knew a chance to express long-felt grat­i­tude when he saw it, and to Ger­main he wrote these sen­tences as brief and as pow­er­ful as many in his books: 

19 Novem­ber 1957

Dear Mon­sieur Ger­main,

I let the com­mo­tion around me these days sub­side a bit before speak­ing to you from the bot­tom of my heart. I have just been giv­en far too great an hon­our, one I nei­ther sought nor solicit­ed.

But when I heard the news, my first thought, after my moth­er, was of you. With­out you, with­out the affec­tion­ate hand you extend­ed to the small poor child that I was, with­out your teach­ing and exam­ple, none of all this would have hap­pened.

I don’t make too much of this sort of hon­our. But at least it gives me the oppor­tu­ni­ty to tell you what you have been and still are for me, and to assure you that your efforts, your work, and the gen­er­ous heart you put into it still live in one of your lit­tle school­boys who, despite the years, has nev­er stopped being your grate­ful pupil. I embrace you with all my heart.

Albert Camus

For more such mem­o­rable cor­re­spon­dence, do con­sid­er hav­ing a look at Let­ters of Note’s new­ly pub­lished book, Let­ters of Note: An Eclec­tic Col­lec­tion of Cor­re­spon­dence Deserv­ing of a Wider Audi­ence.

Want to down­load a Camus audio book for free? Start a 30-day free tri­al with and you can down­load one of his major works in unabridged for­mat. You can keep the book regard­less of whether you con­tin­ue with their great pro­gram or not. There are no strings attached.

Relat­ed Con­tent:

On His 100th Birth­day, Hear Albert Camus Deliv­er His Nobel Prize Accep­tance Speech (1957)

Albert Camus Writes a Friend­ly Let­ter to Jean-Paul Sartre Before Their Per­son­al and Philo­soph­i­cal Rift

Albert Camus Talks About Adapt­ing Dos­toyevsky for the The­atre, 1959

The Fall by Albert Camus Ani­mat­ed

Col­in Mar­shall hosts and pro­duces Note­book on Cities and Cul­ture and writes essays on cities, lan­guage, Asia, and men’s style. He’s at work on a book about Los Ange­les, A Los Ange­les Primer. Fol­low him on Twit­ter at @colinmarshall or on Face­book.

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Comments (13)
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  • rashid pitafi says:

    Albert’s books “the stranger” and “the fall” left great impact on my men­tal approach.

  • Jhimli Dhar says:

    you may like it.….….……

  • Kevin says:

    As a French, I think you should keep no-trans­late titles : L’E­tranger, Le pre­mier Homme…
    Apart from my quib­ble, I must say that I com­plete­ly unknew Camus wrote a let­ter to his key­stone teacher : Mon­sieur Ger­main and the strong links of grat­i­tude he had.

    Thanks for this moment of cul­ture.

  • Laura says:

    this is gen­uine mod­esty!

  • Federico Sollazzo says:

    ‘Fed­eri­co Sol­laz­zo — Attual­ità di Albert Camus’

  • ben says:

    could put a link here to the orig­i­nal text — its not like camus writes in eng­lish is it :P

  • Gabriel says:


    The orig­i­nal lan­guage text can be found here, and it also includes the teacher’s reply.

  • Carlos Mijares says:

    Agreed! Best Author of all!

  • Charles says:

    Me impre­siona y emo­ciona como la primera ves q leu00ed, sobre este vu00ednculo, de exepciu00f3n, cada vez q lo hago, la conmociu00f3n me invade, creo q pocas veces se debe haber dado una cir­cun­tan­cia = y su00ed ha ocur­ri­do, difi­cul­to q haya tenido un resul­ta­do, algo cer­cano a este.….….….…..diria q increible.….….….

  • Federico Sollazzo says:

    Fed­eri­co Sol­laz­zo, “A Pos­si­ble Lega­cy of Albert Camus. A Crit­i­cal Read­ing,”. «Cog­i­to», n. 2, 2014, pp. 51–59:

  • Jill Dixon says:

    Thank you so much for this I would dear­ly love to hear the teach­ers reply in Eng­lish

  • Catherine Myrna PInchinat says:

    I wish to have more infor­ma­tion on your Art(drawing) course and some pas­tel water col­or free of charge.

    I want to hear from you as soon as you have a chance;

    Please find my address:

    Cather­ine Myr­na PInchi­nat

    St.Francis Res­i­dence I
    125 @ East 24th Street,
    New-York, 10010–2907
    Unit # 514.

  • James Mary says:

    Dear @openculture,

    Thank you for shar­ing this heart­warm­ing let­ter from Albert Camus to his ele­men­tary school teacher. It’s always inspir­ing to read about peo­ple who show grat­i­tude towards those who have helped shape their lives. Teach­ers play a sig­nif­i­cant role in our per­son­al and intel­lec­tu­al devel­op­ment, and it’s impor­tant to acknowl­edge and appre­ci­ate their hard work.

    Camus’ let­ter reminds us that a sim­ple expres­sion of grat­i­tude can have a pro­found impact on some­one’s life. It also high­lights the impor­tance of edu­ca­tion and the last­ing influ­ence teach­ers can have on their stu­dents.
    We join Camus in express­ing our grat­i­tude to all the teach­ers who have made a pos­i­tive dif­fer­ence in our lives. Thank you for shar­ing this beau­ti­ful sto­ry.

    Best regards,
    James Mary

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