The Fall – Strong Truth Telling from Albert Camus

“The Fall” by Albert Camus

First, here are some quotes from “The Fall”

No man is a hypocrite in his pleasures.

People hasten to judge in order not to be judged themselves.


Wealth, cher ami, is not quite acquittal but reprieve, and that’s always worth taking.


It hurts me to confess it, but I’d give ten conversations with Einstein for an initial rendezvous with a pretty chorus girl.


“The Fall” is one of those books that I like to have a pen and some paper close by while reading, because there are many deep and meaningful quotes throughout the novel which I want to capture. Trouble is I would find myself copying several entire pages of the novel verbatim.

This novel starts out in a little bar in Amsterdam, the Mexico City. Our talkative hero Jean-Baptiste Clamence is speaking to a stranger at the bar. In fact the whole book is Clamence’s one sided monologue with this stranger. We never hear a word of the stranger’s side of the conversation, only Clamence.

After a few pleasantries, Clamence begins to explain his entire life to this stranger. Since the stranger never responds, soon it is apparent that Clamence is explaining his life to us, the readers. Clamence, a lawyer, does not charge his clients sufficiently so that they are obligated to him. In his romantic life, Clamence admits that he demands faithfulness from his women, yet has no compunction to be faithful himself. Clamence’s monologue soon takes the form of a confession.

Then Clamence recalls ‘the fall’. He is on a bridge, and there is also a woman on the other side of the bridge. He’s not paying too much attention, and after a few minutes the woman is no longer there. He rushes to the other side of the bridge and sees the woman struggling in the water. She must have fallen or jumped. Clamence does not act. He leaves the bridge, and the next day he will not read the newspaper so he won’t find out exactly what happened to the woman.

What would you do? Would it depend on how high above the water the bridge is? Would it depend on the weather conditions, the looks of the woman, how good a swimmer you are? Would it depend on how busy you were, whether or not you are supposed to meet someone?

As we listen, we begin to wonder if we would be as honest as Clamence if we were confessing our life. Throughout this one-sided conversation, Clamence calls himself a judge-penitent. What does he mean by that?
Clamence tells us what he means as follows.

The more I accuse myself, the more I have a right to judge you. Even better, I provoke you into judging yourself, and this relieves me of that much of the burden. Ah, mon cher, we are odd, wretched creatures, and if we merely look back over our lives, there are no lack of occasions to amaze and horrify ourselves.


After listening to this prolonged, honest, and heartfelt confession, each of us needs to decide how prolonged and honest our own confessions will be.

5 responses to this post.

  1. Oh great post Tony. Makes me want to reread all my Camus books. I read pretty well all of his books in second year university. I did a course on French civilisation and ideas and chose Camus for my major assignment. (Whenever I could choose my own assignment for a course I’d choose one that involved reading literature – ha!). I love books/characters/people even who are able to be SO honest about the uncomfortable things in live and wonder, as you say, how honest I am or would or could be!


  2. Hi Whisperinggums,
    Albert Camus was one of those writers who somehow I had mostly missed up until now. I recall reading one of his novels before, but it didn’t leave much of an impression at the time. But reading “The Fall” now, I was hanging on every word. Next Camus for me will be The Plague.


  3. Ah, The plague is one of my all-time favourite books. So much so that I suggested my daughter do it for a school project when she was casting around for an idea. She did, and she loved it too. It’s probably the most novel-like of his books in that the plot is stronger, while still having some philosophical and symbolic underpinnings.


  4. I have only read two of Camus’ novels to date, but I was struck by the difference in the writing style each time, and the quotes you give here are different again. That last quote is superb.

    Great review, Tony. I will have to read this. (But have just bought an Amelie Nothumb today, and have a copy of Firmin in the post… When my TBR falls and crushes me I shall blame you!)


    • Hi Sarah,
      Which Camus novels have you read? I’m considering reading The Plague soon. All of us bloggers take great care selecting the next books we are going to read, so it is going to be somewhat rare that we will pick a bad book. It wouldn’t make much sense for blogger Tony in 2010 to say that ”War and Peace’ by Leo Tolstoy isn’t all that good. For some of these great novels I will write appreciations rather than reviews. But if there is something I don’t like about a book, even if it is by Leo Tolstoy, I will point it out.


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