In Camus's essay The Sea Close By there's a sentence:

This life rebellious to forgetfulness, rebellious to memory, of which Stevenson speaks.
(page 5 of Penguin Classics 2013).

Can anyone tell me to which work & author he's alluding please?

  • 3
    Presumably Robert Louis Stevenson, author of Weir of Hermiston etc. But the quoted passage is almost certainly Camus's paraphrase & distillation of something in RLS, not a direct quote. I would look in Stevenson's poetic or more contemplative works: it's probably not in Black Arrow. May 10, 2018 at 12:18

1 Answer 1


This is conjectural, but just before the passage in question, Camus writes something like

We sail across spaces so vast they seem unending. Sun and moon rise and fall in turn, on the same thread of light and night. Days at sea, as similar each to the other as happiness . . .

which to me echos some (but not all) of this passage in R. L. Stevenson's In the South Seas

For a few days we sailed with a steady trade, and a steady westerly current setting us to leeward; and toward sundown of the seventh it was supposed we should have sighted Takaroa, one of Cook’s so-called King George Islands. The sun set; yet a while longer the old moon—semi-brilliant herself, and with a silver belly, which was her successor—sailed among gathering clouds; she, too, deserted us; stars of every degree of sheen, and clouds of every variety of form disputed the sub-lustrous night; and still we gazed in vain for Takaroa. The mate stood on the bowsprit, his tall grey figure slashing up and down against the stars, and still

'nihil astra praeter
Vidit et undas.

The rest of us were grouped at the port anchor davit, staring with no less assiduity, but with far less hope on the obscure horizon. Islands we beheld in plenty, but they were of ‘such stuff as dreams are made on,’ and vanished at a wink, only to appear in other places; and by and by not only islands, but refulgent and revolving lights began to stud the darkness; lighthouses of the mind or of the wearied optic nerve, solemnly shining and winking as we passed.

In common: the dream-like passage of time at sea, the sun and moon doing their thing. Not in common: the anxiety about getting to Takaroa, the rebellion of the soul against memory and oblivion.

As I mentioned in a comment, Camus is possibly reflecting, and changing, whatever he read in Stevenson, making it richer and rarer, and thereby less Googleable.

  • I asked the Camus Society via Twitter and they also suggest 'In the South Seas' and refer to a passage 'The first experience can never be repeated. The first love, the first sunrise, the first South Sea island, are memories apart and touched by a virginity of sense.'
    – Simon K
    May 15, 2018 at 10:03
  • Thanks! I agree: that passage, too, seems to fit. Camus is probably not alluding to any particular locus in RLS, so much as summarizing his synthesized take-away from the whole book. May 15, 2018 at 12:01

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