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In two YouTube videos about Albert Camus's novel L'étranger / The Stranger, I have found the following quote, which supposedly comes from an interview from 1955:

Meursault est le seul Christ que nous méritions.

Translation:

Meursault is the only Christ we would deserve.

(Note that "méritions" is in the subjunctive mood due to le seul que; the present tense in the indicative mood would be "méritons".)

I found this quote in the videos Albert Camus, L'Étranger - Résumé analyse de l'oeuvre complète and Raphaël Enthoven 4 - Meursault est le seul christ que nous méritions, but I have not been able to track down the interview from which the quote is claimed to be taken. Where was this interview published?

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I couldn't find if it really comes from a 1955 interview or not, but Camus wrote such a claim in his Preface to The Stranger (January 1955), available here in English translation (emphasis mine):

One would therefore not be much mistaken to read The Stranger as the story of a man who, without any heroics, agrees to die for the truth. I also happen to say, again paradoxically, that I had tried to draw in my character the only Christ we deserve. It will be understood, after my explanations, that I said this with no blasphemous intent, and only with the slightly ironic affection an artist has the right to feel for the characters he has created.

The same claim is repeated in his Théâtre Récits Nouvelles (1962), for which I found the original French version of the sentence:

Il m'est arrivé de dire aussi, et toujours paradoxalement, que j'avais essayé de figurer dans mon personnage le seul Christ que nous méritions.

Translated by me and Google Translate (I'm not sure if the tenses can be correct in the above translation of the 1955 version):

I also happened to say, and always paradoxically, that I had tried to represent in my character the only Christ that we deserved.

I couldn't find the exact quote "Meursault est le seul Christ que nous méritions" in any Camus writings, and very few results for this exact phrase even on the web. This suggests to me that it's a paraphrase of Camus's exact words, written with "Meursault est" so as to make the context clear, and then has been reproduced and quoted in this form.

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  • I don't have that preface in either of the two (almost identical) editions of L'étranger that I own, so I'll check the Pléiade edition when I get the opportunity. It's curious that that text has an exact date (8 January 1955) when one would not expect anything more precise than a month indication.
    – Tsundoku
    May 12 '20 at 10:20
  • @Tsundoku I also thought that was a little too precise, so didn't include it in my answer. I did find another source saying January 1955, so the month seems correct at least. Apparently it's the American University Edition of The Stranger.
    – Rand al'Thor
    May 12 '20 at 10:30
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As Rand al'Thor has pointed out, the source is a preface that Camus wrote in 1955. In all sources that I have read, this preface is presented as a preface to an "American edition". (For example in L'étranger d'Albert Camus by Bernard Pingaud; Gallimard, 1992; page 55.) The 1962 Pléiade edition of Camus's works, Théâtre Récits Nouvelles, edited by Roger Quilliot, reprints this "Préface à l'édition américaine" on pages 1928-1929 and adds a footnote saying,

Signée du 8 janvier 1955. Publiée par Methuen, Londres, 1958.

(I.e. "Signed/dated 8 January 1955. Published by Methuen, London, 1958.)

Worldcat does not list a school or university edition from 1958, unless the edition by Vintage in New York was such an edition.

Bernard Pingaud's book, which reprints the preface in French, does not mention in which the text was first printed.

Alice Kaplan writes that Camus wrote the preface for "a 1955 American school edition of The Stranger" (Looking for The Stranger; University of Chicago Press, 2018; page 195). WorldCat does indeed list two American editions from 1955: one printed by Prentice-Hall (French text; preface and introduction in English) (an educational publisher) and one by Appelton-Century-Crofts. However, both editions were edited by Germaine Bree and Carlos Lynes, so both editions may contain Camus's preface.

The English version was presumably translated by a native speaker of English, since Camus's English was not even good enough to read Stuart Gilbert's translation of the novel.

The preface has an interesting background. In 1950, Camus's publisher Gallimard had been thinking about publishing the novel in a cheap edition; until then, the novel had only been available in the more expensive cream-coloured edition ("Collection Blanche") with the NRF mark. In July 1950, Camus wrote to Michel Gallimard that he was reticent to see The Stranger leave the selective circle of readers of the Collection Blanche, adding that "Unlike The Plague, it is not a book for everyone" (Alice Kaplan's translation in Looking for The Stranger; University of Chicago Press, 2018; page 195).

One of the reasons for this was the so-called J3 trial that followed a murder by a seventeen-year old schoolboy. (See for example I. - Un fait divers hors série by Jean-Marc Théolleyre in Le Monde, 3 May 1951.) This schoolboy used Camus's novel The Stranger in his defence, and Camus could not claim with certainty that the novel had not inspired the murderer, since he found that "writers bore responsibility for their words" (Alice Kaplan: Looking for The Stranger; University of Chicago Press, 2018; page 194). This is why Camus may have found that he had to explain himself, or at least his novel, in a preface like the one he wrote in 1955.

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