Camus children torn over possible transfer of author to Pantheon in Paris

By Jamey Keaten, AP
Monday, November 23, 2009

Camus’ children torn over Pantheon transfer bid

PARIS — Albert Camus’ children are torn about whether to allow the Nobel Prize-winning author’s remains to be moved from southern France to Paris’ Pantheon, the final resting place of other French greats like Voltaire and Victor Hugo.

French President Nicolas Sarkozy has said he wants to honor the author of “The Stranger” by moving his remains to the Pantheon for the 50th anniversary of his death in January, but that he needs the family’s approval.

Camus’ daughter Catherine, who controls her father’s estate and has the final say, expressed doubts this weekend. Her brother Jean is said to oppose any transfer out of concern that his father was reluctant to accept honors, and that Sarkozy may just want to reap a political benefit.

As with many things Camus, the issue defies easy categorization. His daughter said he didn’t like honors, but that entry into the Pantheon would be a “nice symbol” because he “tried to speak for those who have no voice.”

“The question isn’t so simple,” Catherine Camus said Saturday on France-Inter radio. “I admire those who have such a set-in-stone idea. I have only doubts … it’s really beyond me.”

Le Monde daily newspaper reported over the weekend that her brother Jean believed any such move would clash with their father’s values — and that the ceremony would be “taken over” by Sarkozy.

The newspaper, citing an unidentified person in Jean Camus’ entourage, said a Sarkozy adviser had spoken with him about a possible transfer and that the president’s office was surprised about his reluctance. Jean Camus has not spoken publicly about the matter.

Camus, a philosopher, author and journalist, has been associated with absurdist and existentialist thought, though he disliked labels. His best-known works include “The Plague,” ”The Rebel,” and “The Stranger” — his novel about moral bankruptcy and alienation set in Algeria.

Camus was born and raised in the slums of Algiers, Algeria — then a French colony — by a stern grandmother, and a loving, attentive mother who was partially deaf and completely illiterate.

He won the 1957 Nobel Prize for literature. On Jan. 4, 1960, he was killed instantly when a sports car carrying him skidded out of control into a row of trees. He was 46. Camus is buried in a cemetery in the picturesque Provence village of Lourmarin.

The Pantheon was built as a Christian basilica in the 18th century under King Louis XV, but was nationalized during the French Revolution. After a few returns to its religious roots, it was officially dedicated as a “civic temple” when writer Victor Hugo was buried there in 1885.

For many French, it’s the most revered burial place in the country — home for eternity of such great minds as Nobel prize winning scientists Marie and Pierre Curie, author Emile Zola and philosopher Jean-Jacques Rousseau.

French presidents can decree the transfer of luminaries to the crypt. In the last such ceremony in 2002, President Jacques Chirac had the remains of “The Three Musketeers” author Alexandre Dumas interred there.

Dumas’ hometown, Villers-Cotterets, initially opposed the transfer, saying he made clear in his memoirs that he wanted to be buried in the village — but it eventually bowed to the government’s decision.

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