Authors: Louis-Ferdinand Céline

  • Last updated on December 10, 2021

French novelist

Author Works

Long Fiction:

Voyage au bout de la nuit, 1932 (Journey to the End of the Night, 1934)

Mort à crédit, 1936 (Death on the Installment Plan, 1938)

Guignol’s band I, 1944 (English translation, 1954)

Casse-pipe, 1949 (fragment)

Féerie pour une autre fois, I, 1952

Féerie pour une autre fois, II: Normance, 1954

Entretiens avec le professeur Y, 1955 (Conversations with Professor Y, 1986)

D’un château l’autre, 1957 (Castle to Castle, 1968)

Nord, 1960 (North, 1972)

Le Pont de Londres: Guignol’s band, II, 1964 (London Bridge: Guignol’s Band II, 1995)

Rigodon, 1969 (Rigadoon, 1974)

Drama:

L’Église, pb. 1933

Nonfiction:

La Vie et l’oeuvre de Philippe-Ignace Semmelweis, wr. 1924, and Mea culpa, suivi de La Vie et l’oeuvre de Semmelweis, pb. together 1936 (Mea Culpa, with The Life and Work of Semmelweis, 1937)

Bagatelles pour un massacre, 1937

L’École des cadavres, 1938

Les Beaux Draps, 1941

À l’agité du bocal, 1949

Lettres des années noires, 1994

Lettres à Marie Canavaggia, 1995 (3 volumes)

Lettres de prison à Lucette Destouches and à Maître Mikkelsen (1945-1947), 1998

Miscellaneous:

Ballets, sans musique, sans personne, sans rien, 1959 (Ballets Without Music, Without Dancers, Without Anything, 1999)

Biography

One of the most controversial figures of twentieth century literature, Louis-Ferdinand Céline (say-leen) was born Louis-Ferdinand Destouches. His father, Ferdinand-Auguste, worked for an insurance company; his mother, Marguerite-Louise-Céline, was a dealer in lace. Soon after his birth, the Destouches family moved to the Passage Choiseul in Paris, close to his mother’s small shop. Louis-Ferdinand attended public schools until 1904, when his parents sent him to Diepholz, Germany, in the hope that he would learn a second language and thereby improve his prospects for a business career; the following year, he attended an English boarding school.{$I[AN]9810001279}{$I[A]Céline, Louis-Ferdinand}{$S[A]Destouches, Louis-Ferdinand;Céline, Louis-Ferdinand}{$I[geo]FRANCE;Céline, Louis-Ferdinand}{$I[tim]1894;Céline, Louis-Ferdinand}

After returning to France, Céline prepared his baccalauréat, passing the first part of his examination in 1912. Later that year, one of many disputes with his parents led to his three-year enlistment in a cavalry unit. His right arm and shoulder were wounded in Ypres on October 25, 1914; he won commendations for his conduct under fire. The following year, he underwent a period of convalescence in London, where he amorously pursued dancers and actresses.

From 1916 to 1917, Céline worked as an agent for a French lumber company in the Cameroons, and he spent the following three years working for the Rockefeller Foundation in Brittany, delivering lectures on the prevention of tuberculosis and completing his second baccalauréat in 1919. Soon after, he married Edith Follet, and in 1920 their daughter Colette was born.

Two years after receiving his medical degree in 1923, Céline completed work on his doctoral thesis, La Vie et l’œuvre de Philippe-Ignace Semmelweiss, for which he was awarded a bronze medal from the University of Paris. This study of a doctor driven insane when the medical establishment refused to adopt his pioneering antiseptic procedures is an early example of Céline’s preoccupation with pettiness and persecution.

Although his future as a conventional medical practitioner looked extremely promising, Céline soon abandoned his family and practice at the Place de Lices and began work as a doctor for the League of Nations. From 1925 to 1927, he served in Switzerland, England, the Cameroons, and North America. Returning to Paris in 1928, he began working as a doctor by day and writing by night. Céline, who claimed that he began writing to raise money he could not earn as a doctor of the poor, began work in a public clinic in 1931.

The publication of Journey to the End of the Night in 1932, though published under his pseudonym Céline, brought immediate fame to the author. Following the exploits of the anarchist Ferdinand Bardamu, this first of Céline’s great autobiographical fantasies nearly won the coveted Goncourt Prize but instead received the less prestigious Renaudot Prize. In 1936, his second masterpiece, Death on the Installment Plan, recounted in flashback the misadventures of the incorrigible boy Ferdinand.

In the late 1930’s, Céline became a cultural pariah because of his authorship of a series of fascist and anti-Semitic pamphlets. It should, however, not be overlooked that the pseudonym “Céline” stood for a nihilistic, paranoid persona, and that throughout his literary life the fiercely misanthropic writer showered invective on every sort of human target, including supporters of the Nazi creed.

In 1939, Céline attempted to enlist in the French army but was rejected because of poor health. During most of World War II, he worked as a doctor in Paris; in 1942, he visited hospitals in Berlin. The following year, he married the ballet dancer Lucette Almanzor (fascinated by classical dance, Céline wrote ballets throughout his career). Céline and Lucette fled to Germany in 1944 and from there to Denmark in 1945. Accused by his home country of collaboration, he was imprisoned in Copenhagen from December, 1945, to February, 1947, during which time he was attacked in essays by such French writers as Jean-Paul Sartre. Although Céline was tried in absentia and found guilty by French courts in 1950, he received amnesty the following year. A minor resurgence of public interest preceded his death and secret burial in 1961.

Céline’s writings offer a sweeping, farcical, bracingly uncompromising vision of humanity at its most pathetic and unpromising. As exemplified in his two most admired works, Journey to the End of the Night and Death on the Installment Plan, Céline’s prose is notable for its unusual imagery and audacious language. His easily recognizable style, characterized by terse verbal ejaculations separated (or joined) by three dots, is widely credited with revolutionizing French literature with its wild, slang-filled vocabulary. His imagery is provocative, sometimes hallucinatory, and replete with exaggeration.

The bulk of Céline’s works has been neglected by scholars, partly because of the stigma associated with his activities during the Nazi period. His work has, however, received attention from such writers and critics as Henry Miller and Kurt Vonnegut, Jr., who have expressed their admiration for this troubling literary innovator.

BibliographyBouchard, Norma. Céline, Gadda, Beckett: Experimental Writings of the 1930’s. Gainesville: University Press of Florida, 2000. Bouchard maintains that works by Céline, Carlo Emilio Gadda, and Samuel Beckett have stylistic characteristics that would later be associated with postmodernism, such as a changed relationship to language, a burlesque worldview, and a decentered narrative.Hewitt, Nicholas. The Life of Céline: A Critical Biography. Malden, Mass.: Blackwell, 1999. Hewitt’s critical biography provides analysis of Céline’s life and work and places both within the context of French cultural, social, and political history. Includes bibliographical references and an index.Matthews, J. H. The Inner Dream: Céline as Novelist. Syracuse, N.Y.: Syracuse University Press, 1978. Matthews explores all of Céline’s major fiction. The introduction has an insightful discussion of how to treat the work of a writer whose politics and life have been so controversial.Noble, Ian. Language and Narration in Céline’s Writings. Atlantic Highlands, N.J.: Humanities Press International, 1987. The first chapter, which sets Céline in the context of literary history, is especially good. Noble deals with both the fiction and nonfiction. Includes detailed notes and a bibliography.O’Connell, David. Louis-Ferdinand Céline. Boston: Twayne, 1976. A valuable introductory study, opening with a chapter on Céline’s biography and followed by chapters on his beginnings as a writer, his mature style, his work as a pamphleteer, and his great trilogy. Provides a chronology, notes, and an annotated bibliography.Ostrovsky, Erika. Voyeur Voyant: A Portrait of Louis-Ferdinand Céline. New York: Random House, 1971. More speculative and quirky than McCarthy’s biography, this book tries to dramatize Céline’s life and work with mixed results. Ostrovsky quotes extensively from Céline and includes a very detailed chronology and bibliography.Scullion, Rosemarie, Philip H. Solomon, and Thomas C. Spear, eds. Céline and the Politics of Difference. Hanover, N.H.: University Press of New England, 1995. Essays examine various aspects of Céline’s work, including the novels Journey to the End of the Night, Death on the Installment Plan, and the German trilogy.Solomon, Philip H. Understanding Céline. Columbia: University of South Carolina Press, 1992. Solomon examines the central themes and structures of Céline’s novels, focusing on the self-reflective nature of his work. The first chapter is a general overview of his writings, with subsequent chapters focusing on the novels and a final chapter on his poetry, pamphlets, and plays. Includes a biography, chronology, and bibliography, and an index.Sturrock, John. Louis-Ferdinand Céline: “Journey to the End of the Night.” New York: Cambridge University Press, 1990. A closely argued study of Céline’s autobiographical novel. Sturrock examines the novel’s themes, style, and place in literary history. Provides a detailed chronology and a very useful annotated bibliography.Thiher, Allen. Céline: The Novel as Delirium. New Brunswick, N.J.: Rutgers University Press, 1972. Traces the seemingly mad circularity of Céline’s fiction and attempts to fathom the paradoxes of the individual and the writer. Includes notes and a bibliography. Quotes Céline in French with English translation.Thomas, Merlin. Louis-Ferdinand Céline. New York: New Directions, 1979. Specifically geared to the beginning student of Céline, Thomas has chapters on the major novels and an annotated bibliography.Vitoux, Frederic. Céline: A Biography. Translated by Jesse Browner. 2d ed. New York: Marlowe, 1995. A thorough, updated biography, featuring unpublished letters and documents and the first interviews to be conducted with Celine’s widow. Vitoux is unapologetic but fair in his account of Céline’s anti-Semitism and other problematic aspects of the author’s personality.
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