The Just

(Les Justes)

written by Albert Camus
translated from the French by Suzanne M. Saunders

I first read this play in my junior year of high school, in a third-year International Baccalaureate French class. My teacher admitted to us that it was chosen for us to read because it was the shortest thing on the list of works in French approved by the IB for their French-as-a-second-language classes. Also, being a play, it does not make much use of the complicated French literary verb tenses.

Despite this evidence that it could have been much more difficult, my classmates were never much for this play. That's really the standard American reaction to having to read something in another language, and also possibly to the content; you can see why a play about the ethics and emotions of a group of socialist terrorists would not gain much popularity in the United States. Even though Camus was once characterized by my friend Rob as "the Friendly Existentialist" (certainly so, compared to reading Sartre) and The Stranger is standard fare in literature classes.

Nonetheless, the play moved me to tears when I first read it; the only other literary work to accomplish that was Romeo and Juliet (from which the beginning epigraph of The Just comes, oddly enough). It's so beautiful in French, but I never could find an English translation that did it justice. For example, the one in the University of South Florida library, translated by Stuart Gilbert, renders the play's title as The Just Assassins, despite the main character's cry in Act 4, "Je vous interdis d'employer ce mot" (I forbid you to use that word) when what he has done is referred to as "l'assassinat" (the assassination).

So I translated it myself. The first version was done during the summers of 1991 and 1992, not long after the two years of going over it in French class. But I did some editing before putting it up to smooth out my old tendency to translate literally at the expense of smooth flow in English.

I hope someone likes it, and that this sadly overlooked play becomes more well-known. I think understanding what drives people to extremes for the sake of a cause is even more vital now than it was when the play was written in 1949.

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