Today in Literary History – January 4, 1960 – Albert Camus, existentialist author, dies

The essayist, novelist and existentialist philosopher Albert Camus was killed in a car accident on January 4, 1960. Camus had been spending the holidays in the south of France at his country house (which he had bought with his Nobel Prize money three years earlier) with his wife and their twin children and his publisher and close friend Michel Gallimard and his family.


Camus had intended to take the train back home to Paris with his family but at the last minute Gallimard convinced him to drive back with him in his expensive new car. In the early afternoon Gallimard lost control of the car and hit a tree. Gallimard’s wife and daughter in the back seat survived. Gallimard died a few days later from his injuries. Camus was killed instantly. The unused train ticket was found in his pocket.


This was ironic since Camus hated riding in cars and in Paris (famous for its manic drivers) Camus was often teased for being a cautious driver who once remarked that “I know nothing more stupid than to die in an automobile accident.”

Camus agreed with his fellow existentialists that life is absurd and meaningless, but he believed that people should embrace the absurdity and create their own meaning in life.


His philosophical book The Myth of Sisyphus shows that Sisyphus has to accept the frustration and fore-ordained failure of his fate – ceaselessly rolling a rock up a hill only to have it roll back before getting to the top — and create a sense of creativity and joy from it. “The struggle itself towards the heights is enough to fill a man’s heart. One must imagine Sisyphus happy,” he wrote.


At the time of his death Camus was ill with tuberculosis (as he had been for much of his life) and suffering from writers block. He was also enjoying life — literary acclaim, freedom from financial worries and a loving family life. I’m sure that Camus would have seen his death as absurd, but I don’t think he would have seen his life as meaningless. After all, we must imagine Camus happy.

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