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Reading Camus’s The Plague after Covid


Associate Professor Hedley Twidle, Department of English Literary Studies, University of Cape Town

In 1947, aged thirty-three, French Algerian writer Albert Camus published the story of a town struck by bubonic plague. He judged La Peste a failure, but it is probably his most successful work: translated into many languages, read and taught all over the world. In the wake of the Covid-19 pandemic, The Plague has been widely reread and discussed; but the full challenge that the work presents to a contemporary reader is not always acknowledged. This course will track how the meanings of a literary classic change over time, exploring postcolonial critiques of The Plague, as well as Camus’ quarrel with Sartre and Fanon during the French Algerian War. Finally, via Susan Sontag and other writers in the medical humanities, it will consider literary and cultural representations of disease, and the question of illness as metaphor.



  1. Chronicle or allegory? Situating The Plague in time and space
  2. An ensemble cast: from solitude and solidarity
  3. ‘A historian, even if he is an amateur, always has his documents’: Authority, discourse and intertextuality
  4. Concerning violence: Camus, French imperialism and the Algerian Revolution
  5. Illness and its metaphors: epidemics, race and representation


*This course, consisting of pre-recorded presentations and an extensive reading list, may be completed at any time of day between 18–22 January. It will be offered on UCT’s Vula platform. Participants will be sent an invitation to join. Click here for important information about the invitation.


Recommended reading and viewing

Camus, A. 1991. (1947) The Plague. London: Vintage Books.

Steinberg, J. 2008. Three Letter Plague. Johannesburg: Jonathan Ball.

Pontecorvo, G. 1966. The Battle of Algiers. (Film)

Supplementary readings will be provided via PDF.

*Material can be accessed at a time of day convenient to the participant during the week indicated below.

Date: 1822 January*