"The Fall" by Albert Camus (1956)
“The silence that followed, as the night suddenly stood still, seemed interminable. I wanted to run and yet didn't move an inch. I was trembling, I believe from cold and shock. I told myself that I had to be quick and felt an irresistible weakness steal over me. I have forgotten what I thought then. "Too late, too far..." or something of the sort. I was still listening as I stood motionless. Then, slowly, in the rain, I went away. I told no one”
“Doing good” and “being good”, and the disparity between the two, that is the central theme and eventual undoing of “Cleamance”, the absurd hero of yet another literary jewel by Camus. First off, a bit about the writing. As always, completely superb, but also hugely inventive. Told entirely through feverish monologue by an articulate aristocrat, you cannot help to be sucked in by the protagonist pit of revelation that eventually uncover his own hypocrisy.
Cleamance is an honorable man who spares no opportunity to act virtuous. He is “Der Wanderer über dem Nebelmeer” a charitable soul both beautiful and good. Or so it seems – beneath his benevolence he discovers selfishness. He helps a blind man across the street and then doff his hat to him. Since the blind man obviously cannot see the acknowledgement, Cleamance starts to ponder to whom his greeting is addressed. Is he simply bowing to end his performance as a bonus pater, rather than being one? He starts to notice the cracks in his own perfection, and doubts the motives of his own virtuous nature. One godless night, doubt becomes circumstance when Clamance crosses a bridge and hear the distinct sound of a body hitting the water. He fails to act, and realizes his virtue only existed at a surface level.
In true absurdist tradition, our hero seeks integrity over morality and therefore sets out to destroy his hypocrisy by ruining his flattering reputation. And so, he falls in a metaphorical sense, as the young woman who he failed to saved fell in a literal one.