What’s the best translation of The Plague by Camus?

“I want to read the best English translation of The Plague!”

So you’re trying to make sense of the global pandemic and you want to read a book about another type of plague.

You’re not alone.

The COVID-19 coronavirus epidemic has boosted this classic back to the top of the bestseller lists.

The Plague: Translation History

There are two, soon to be three, English translations of The Plague by Albert Camus, the philosophical modern French classic that tells the story of a fictional deadly epidemic in the Algerian city of Oran. It was originally published in French in 1947 with the title La Peste.

  1. 1948 – Stuart Gilbert
  2. 2001 – Robin Buss
  3. 2021 – Laura Marris

See below for excerpts and links that will help you do a comparison of translations of The Plague.

Do you want a particular format?

Which translation is “best” for you might depend on the formats in which it is available.

If you want an ebook, there are ebooks available from Gilbert, Buss, and Marris. So convenient!

If you want an audiobook, the only choice seems to be Gilbert.

If you want a paperback, you can choose between Gilbert and Buss. (In 2022 or 2023 maybe there will be a paperback of the Marris translation.)

If you want a hardcover, you can choose between Gilbert and Marris.

Can I get a FREE ebook of The Plague?

No. There are no legitimate, good-quality ebooks of The Plague available for free.

The Plague and other works by Camus are still under copyright in some places but not others, so the book sharks are posting cheap, lousy ebooks on Amazon.

Speaking of which… what is it with people putting an alligator on the cover? I’ve seen no less than three different versions with alligators! Or crocodiles, I can’t really tell. Neither creature lives where the story is set. Also stay away from that monstrosity featuring a guy with a bandaged head. It’s a rough transcription of the Gilbert translation.

1948 · Stuart Gilbert · The Plague

Who Was Stuart Gilbert?

He was an English literary scholar, a fan and friend of James Joyce, and a translator into English of some well-known French authors.

It seems twenty-first century readers find fault with his translations for being insufficiently modern and too loose. That we’re fussier about accuracy than we used to be and we don’t talk like we did decades ago is hardly Gilbert’s fault, but it may mean we read his work less, now that we have alternatives.

About the Gilbert translation of The Plague

Extract from the Gilbert translation of The Plague:

Get the Vintage Gilbert translation of The Plague

It contains the translated text in five parts. Nothing else is included, except a list of books by Camus and a brief bio. The stark black-and-white cover design by Helen Yentus is pretty cool. It’s one of a matching set of nine Camus book covers.

Available as a paperback (ISBN 9780679720218, 320 pages).

Buy from Amazon

Buy from Book Depository

Buy from Abebooks

Get the Vintage Gilbert translation of The Plague

It contains the translated text in five parts. Nothing else is included, except a list of books by Camus and a brief bio. The stark black-and-white cover design by Helen Yentus is pretty cool. It’s one of a matching set of nine Camus book covers.

Available as an ebook (ISBN 9780307827807).

Buy from Amazon

Get the Recorded Books Gilbert translation of The Plague

Read by James Jenner.

Available as an audiobook.

Buy from Amazon

2001 · Robin Buss · The Plague

Who was Robin Buss?

He was a British writer, film critic, polyglot, and translator with a PhD in French Literature. His translations from French include:

  • The Count of Monte Cristo by Alexandre Dumas
  • Under Fire by Henri Barbusse
  • The Fall by Albert Camus
  • Therese Raquin by Emile Zola
  • The Princesse de Cleves by Madame de La Fayette
  • On Suicide by Emile Durkheim
  • Cesar Birotteau by Honore de Balzac

You might want to read his 2006 obituary in The Independent.

 

About the Buss translation of The Plague

Extract from the Buss translation of The Plague:

Get the Penguin Modern Classics Buss translation of The Plague

It contains the text of the Buss translation in five parts and an afterword by Tony Judt. There are several other works by Camus available with this type of cover design.

Available as a paperback (ISBN 9780141185132, 256 pages).

Buy from Amazon

Buy from Book Depository

Buy from Abebooks

Get the Penguin Modern Classics Buss translation of The Plague

It contains the text of the Buss translation in five parts. I’m not sure whether this one has the Tony Judt afterword. There are a few works by Camus available with this type of cover design.

Available as a paperback (ISBN 9780241458877, 368 pages).

Buy from Amazon

Buy from Book Depository

Buy from Abebooks

Get the Penguin Modern Classics Buss translation of The Plague

It contains the text of the Buss translation in five parts. I’m not sure whether this one has the Tony Judt afterword. There are a few works by Camus available with this type of cover design.

Available as an ebook.

Buy ebook from Kobo

Get the Penguin Essentials Buss translation of The Plague

Personally I can’t stand this “Penguin Essentials #102” cover… I’m not sure whether it has the Tony Judt afterword.

Available as a paperback (ISBN 9780141049236, 304 pages).

Buy from Amazon

Buy from Book Depository

Buy from Abebooks

Get the Popular Penguins Buss translation of The Plague

Available as a paperback (ISBN 9780141045511, 264 pages).

Buy from Book Depository

Buy from Abebooks

Buy from Penguin Australia

2021 · Laura Marris · The Plague

“Who is Laura Marris?”

She is an American writer, poet, and translator. She teaches creative writing at the University of Buffalo. She has a website where you can learn more about her work.

She was already working on her translation of The Plague when the pandemic hit. Now she is working on a book of essays titled States of Plague: Reading Albert Camus in a Pandemic.

Extract from the Marris translation of The Plague

Get the Knopf Marris translation of The Plague

Available as a hardcover (ISBN 9780593318669, 352 pages).

Buy from Amazon

Buy from Book Depository

Buy from Abebooks

Get the Knopf Marris translation of The Plague

Available as an ebook (ISBN 9780593318676).

Buy from Amazon

The Best Translation of The Plague by Camus

The Best Translation of The Plague by Camus

I know some French—but not, like, a lot—and I haven’t read both the existing English translations. Still, you asked, so here’s my answer.

I recommend the Buss / Penguin translation of The Plague.

  • It’s the one I read. I also read the Robin Buss translation of The Count of Monte Cristo. No complaints.
  • The Buss / Penguin edition of The Plague has a nice afterword by Tony Judt; as far as I know, the Gilbert / Vintage edition doesn’t have any special frontmatter or backmatter.
  • Various sources indicate that the Gilbert translation, being older, paraphrases more than the Buss translation.

Will the Marris translation supersede the previous translations?

  • No translation is perfect; presumably the Marris translation will be said to have made corrections and improvements. Otherwise why would there be a new translation?
  • Some people cling to whichever translation they read first because that translator’s voice sounds like the author’s voice to them, even though it’s not; some find that a more recent translation makes the text much more readable and enjoyable than it had been previously.

Psst! It’s not just a book about an epidemic…

The book can be read on the surface level as the story about a town in lockdown, but while the depiction is convincing, I’m pretty sure the author meant his readers to look deeper. The afterword by Tony Judt in my copy of The Plague says the book is a subtle but unmistakable allegory of wartime German occupation of France.

However, the specific danger that the characters face and the historical context in which the book’s audience originally read it don’t matter so much. What matters is the quiet, inner struggle of souls grappling with the eternal Problem of Evil. Why do bad things happen to good people, and how should we react?

A book review from 1948 says “The argument extends beyond the physical impact of the plague into metaphysical terrain” and calls the novel “a work of considerable significance and stature.”

In other words, like any good novel, The Plague has something to say to all people in all times and places.