Authors: Blaise Cendrars

  • Last updated on December 10, 2021

Swiss-born French novelist and poet

Author Works

Long Fiction:

L’Or: La Merveilleuse Histoire du général Johann August Suter, 1925 (Sutter’s Gold, 1926)

Moravagine, 1926 (English translation, 1968)

La Plan de l’aiguille, 1927 (Antarctic Fugue, 1948)

Les Confessions de Dan Yack, 1928 (collective title for translation of this and the previous novel is Dan Yack, 1946)

Rhum: L’Aventure de Jean Galmot, 1930

Emmène-moi au bout du monde!, 1956 (To the End of the World, 1967)

Short Fiction:

Petits Contes nègres pour les enfants des blancs, 1928 (Little Black Stories for Little White Children, 1929)

Comments les blancs sont d’anciens noirs, 1930

Histoires vraies, 1937

La Vie dangereuse, 1938

D’Outremer à indigo, 1940

Noel aux quatre coins du monde, 1953 (Christmas at the Four Corners of the Earth, 1994)

Screenplay:

La Perle fievreuse, 1921

Radio Play:

Films san images, 1959

Poetry:

Les Pâques à New York, 1912 (Easter in New York, 1966)

La Prose du Transsibérien et de la petite Jehanne de France, 1913 (The Trans-Siberian Express, 1964)

Séquences, 1913

La Guerre au Luxembourg, 1916

Le Panama: Ou, Les Aventures de mes sept oncles, 1918 (Panama: Or, The Adventures of My Seven Uncles, 1931)

Dix-neuf Poèmes élastiques, 1919

Du monde entier, 1919

Du monde entier au coeur du monde, 1919, 1957 (partial translation in Complete Postcards from the Americas: Poems of Road and Sea, 1976)

Moganni Nameh, 1922

Feuilles de route, 1924, 1927

Le Formose, 1924

Kodak, 1924 (English translation, 1976)

Poésies complètes, 1944 (Complete Poems, 1992)

Nonfiction:

Profond aujourd’hui, 1917 (verse; Profound Today, 1922)

J’ai tué, 1918 (verse; I Have Killed, 1919)

Le Fin du monde filmée par l’ange Notre-Dame, 1919, 1949

L’Éloge de la vie dangereuse, 1926

L’Eubage, 1926

Une Nuit dans la fôret, 1929 (A Night in the Forest, 1985)

Vol à voiles, 1932

Panorama de la pègre, 1935

Hollywood: La mecque du cinéma, 1936 (Hollywood: Mecca of the Movies, 1995)

Chez l’armée l’anglaise, 1940

L’Homme foudroyé, 1945 (autobiography; The Astonished Man, 1970)

La Main coupée, 1946 (autobiography; Lice, 1973)

Bourlinguer, 1948 (autobiography; Planus, 1972)

Le Lotissement du ciel, 1949 (autobiography; Sky: Memoirs, 1992)

La Banlieue de Paris, 1949

Blaise Cendrars vous parle, 1952

Entretiens de Fernand Léger avec Blaise Cendrars et Louis Carré sur le paysage dans l’oeuvre de Léger, 1956

Trop c’est trop, 1957

Dites-nous Monsieur Blaise Cendrars, 1969

Inédits secrets, 1969

Edited Texts:

L’Anthologie nègre, 1921 (The African Saga, 1927)

Feu le lieutenant Bringolf, 1930 (I Have No Regrets: The Strange Life of a Diplomat-Vagrant, Being the Memoirs of Lieutenant Bringolf, 1931)

Miscellaneous:

Œuvres complètes, 1960-1965 (8 volumes)

Selected Writings of Blaise Cendrars, 1966

Œuvres complètes, 1968-1971 (15 volumes)

Modernities, and Other Writings, 1992

Biography

Although he later claimed that he was born in Paris, at the celebrated hotel on rue Saint-Jacques, Blaise Cendrars (sahn-drahr) was, in fact, born in La Chaux-de-Fonds, Switzerland, in 1887, the son of a restless, peripatetic Swiss clock merchant. Truth and fancy, fact and myth, are inextricably blended in the narratives of his life, as in his poetry and fiction. This worldwide adventurer, who was called “one of the greatest liars of all time,” a “Marco Polo of the twentieth century,” and the “Homer of the Transsiberian,” never lost sight of the fact that art is the lie that tells the truth.{$I[AN]9810001229}{$I[A]Cendrars, Blaise}{$S[A]Sauser, Frédéric Louis;Cendrars, Blaise}{$I[geo]FRANCE;Cendrars, Blaise}{$I[tim]1887;Cendrars, Blaise}

Before he was out of his teens, Frédéric Louis Sauser had spent several years in St. Petersburg, in the ferment of pre-revolutionary Russia. By 1911, he was in New York and had chosen the name Blaise Cendrars. His pseudonym suggests a major motif of his life and work: the combination of cendres (ashes), ars (art), and “Blaise” (which he identified as a transmutation of braise (embers) and which has a homophonic suggestion of “blaze”) encapsulates his lifelong insistence that “to write is to burn alive.” Before World War I, after the publication of Easter in New York, he was established as a central figure in the Paris avant-garde. The lyrical incantatory quality of his innovative poetry left its mark on such writers as Guillaume Apollinaire, as well as on the Dadaists, the Surrealists, and the cubists. The Trans-Siberian Express, for example, was printed in multicolored type on folded two-meter sheets with illustrations by Sonia Delaunay. With 150 copies printed, Cendrars announced, in a typical gesture, that his poem soared as high as the Eiffel Tower. Yet for all of his involvement with the various schools and “isms” of modernist art, Cendrars insisted that he stood apart from all movements.

True to his philosophy of immersion in experience and, as a foreigner, true to France, Cendrars enlisted in the Foreign Legion; in the fall of 1915 he was wounded by shell fire, and his right arm was amputated. Shattered by the war, physically and spiritually, Cendrars in his work increasingly recorded an apocalyptic sense of an age of disintegration. Such works as Moravagine address the chaos, the violence, the irrational, schizoid, and destructive forces at work in the modern world. After the war, Cendrars, still traveling, indulged his “world hunger” in such works as Panama, where he celebrated the European Express train as “the finest church in the world.” Indicative of the scope of Cendrars’s influence is the fact that Panama was translated and illustrated by John Dos Passos, who paid tribute in his foreword to the “creative tidal wave” of Cendrars’s poetry.

Four novels published in the 1920’s constitute his major achievement in fiction. Sutter’s Gold, in terse prose and straightforward narrative, tells the incredible but true story of John Augustus Sutter, the Swiss immigrant who lived the American Dream. One of the richest men in the world, he had already realized the agrarian-based dream of plenitude in the Garden of the New World when gold was discovered in his land, and he was utterly ruined by the mobs that devastated his California empire. This compelling, tragic parable is one of the masterpieces of the American experience. If Sutter is one of the powerful creators inhabiting Cendrars’s universe, the title character of his next novel, Moravagine (whose name means “death-to-the-vagina”), is one of the dark destroyers, a mad, sadistic, anarchic figure who quests nihilistic extinction throughout a chaotic world. Dan Yack, protagonist of the next two novels, alternates between a life of action and one of contemplative retreat, between pursuit of and flight from love. Although the Dan Yack story may have been intended as a resolution of the tensions implicit in the first two novels–the polarity of making and unmaking, doing and being undone–these novels are not as successful as the first two.

Throughout the 1920’s and 1930’s Cendrars continued his travels, turning increasingly to journalism, and during World War II he served as a war correspondent. His world was shattered by this war, in which he again suffered personal tragedy (the death of his younger son), and for a time Cendrars renounced literature and embraced silence. He lived quietly in Aix-en-Provence, studying the Bible, the saints, and the mystics until he again exploded onto the literary scene with what may be his most remarkable work of all: the autobiographical tetralogy which begins with The Astonished Man and concludes with the ecstatic levitations of Sky: Memoirs. These extraordinary works, at once autobiographical, mythical, and mystical, expand the possibilities of autobiographical narrative.

In the 1950’s Cendrars returned to live in Paris, where he became a public figure, making radio broadcasts and receiving literary and cultural awards. He continued to write, working on unfinished novels such as the great love story of Mary Magdalene and the novel To the End of the World, a slashing expose of decadence. His imagination fertile and his pen active to the end, Cendrars died in Paris in 1961, having realized, perhaps, all of his dreams except his long-declared intention to book passage on the first journey to the moon. His literary achievement was rich and diverse, his influence pervasive, and he left behind a major body of poetry, substantial work in fiction and other genres, and a compelling personal legend. Cendrars evokes the cosmopolitan spirit as richly as any other twentieth century writer.

BibliographyAlbert, Walter, ed. Selected Writings of Blaise Cendrars. 1966. Reprint. Westport, Conn.: Greenwood Press, 1978. In his critical introduction, editor Walter Albert suggests that Cendrars lacked discipline and form and that his work thus never achieved its rich potential. Includes a preface by Henry Miller.Bochner, Jay. “An American Writer Born in Paris: Blaise Cendrars Reads Henry Miller Reading Blaise Cendrars.” Twentieth Century Literature 49, no. 1 (2003): 103-122. Examines the relationship of Cendrars and Miller and contrasts their writings. Bochner finds fault with the authors’ writing styles, maintaining that Miller has trouble keeping “the flow” of his work “flowing,” while Cendrars’s problems are “believability and form.”Bochner, Jay. Blaise Cendrars: Discovery and Re-Creation. Buffalo, N.Y.: University of Toronto Press, 1978. Full-length study of Cendrars’s life and works, providing a thorough and balanced assessment of his complete oeuvre. Includes an index and a bibliography.Bursey, Jeff. “Blaise Cendrars.” Review of Contemporary Fiction 24, no. 1 (Spring, 2004): 58-93. An overview of some of the elements of Cendrars’s novels and memoirs, in which Bursey, in his own words, hopes to “initiate more interest in this neglected artist whose work spans genres, media, isms, wars, continents, and oceans.”Cendrars, Blaise. Complete Postcards from the Americas: Poems of Road and Sea. Translated by Monique Chefdor. Berkeley: University of California Press, 1976. Translator Chefdor’s introduction provides a useful and detailed overview of Cendrars’s life and work in this collection of Cendrars’s poetry.Chefdor, Monique. Blaise Cendrars. Boston: Twayne, 1980. A good introduction to Cendrars’s life and works. One of the volumes in the Twayne World Authors series.Chefdor, Monique. Introduction to Complete Postcards from the Americas, by Blaise Cendrars. Berkeley: University of California Press, 1976. Gives a useful and detailed overview of the life and work of Cendrars.Leamon, Amanda. Shades of Sexuality: Colors and Sexual Identity in the Novels of Blaise Cendrars. Atlanta: Rodopi, 1997. Leamon uses the color spectrum and elements of disguise to describe the structures and symbolism of Cendrars’s novels, focusing on his treatment of men in relation to women. A specialized, scholarly study that requires some knowledge of Cendrars’s work. Includes a bibliography and an index.Miller, Henry. The Books in My Life. 1952. Reprint. New York: New Directions, 1969. Miller devotes an entire chapter to Cendrars, one of his favorite authors and a highly influential contemporary.Miller, Henry. Preface to Selected Writings of Blaise Cendrars. Westport, Conn.: Greenwood Press, 1978. An insightful and valuable piece by the well-known novelist, who was strongly influenced by Cendrars.
Categories: Authors