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Louis-Ferdinand Céline

Louis-Ferdinand Céline (May 27, 1894 - July 1, 1961) was a French writer, physician and nihilist.


Born Louis-Ferdinand Destouches at Courbevoie in the Seine département (now Hauts-de-Seine) on May 27, 1894 into a poor family, Céline received only a basic education before he joined the French cavalry. He fought in World War I and was decorated for his actions in a battle where he was gravely wounded in the head. The subsequent physical and mental suffering had lifelong effects on him.

Discharged from the Army, after the war he studied to obtain a medical degree. He worked in France as a doctor, then travelled to the United States where he became the staff surgeon at the Ford Motor Company plant in Detroit, Michigan. Next he worked in Africa and for the new League of Nations before taking up a permanent position as a doctor to the poor in Paris. He then started to write in his spare time.

His best-known work is also his first: Voyage au bout de la nuit (1932 - translated most recently and successfully by Ralph Manheim). It broke many literary conventions of the time, using the rhythms and, to a certain extent, the vocabulary of slang and vulgar speech. The book became a public success, but Céline was not awarded the Prix Goncourt, although the voting was controversial enough to become the subject of a book (Goncourt 32 by Eugène Saccomano, 1999).

In 1936 he wrote Mort à credit, giving innovative, chaotic, and antiheroic visions of human suffering.

Openly anti-semitic and a nazi proponent during World War II, he escaped judgment by fleeing to Germany (Sigmaringen, 1944) along with the Vichy government and latter to Denmark (1945). He was condemned by default (1950) in France to one year of imprisonment and declared a national disgrace. Amnestied, he returned to France in 1951, earning his living as an old and almost forgotten doctor.

Fame came back to him in later life with a trilogy telling of his exile: D'un château l'autre, Nord and Rigodon. Céline died on July 1, 1961 of a ruptured aneurysm and was interred in a small cemetery at Bas Meudon (part of Meudon in the Hauts-de-Seine département).

Work Analysis


Céline's reputation as a writer has been overshadowed by his anti-Semitism and reactionary anti-Communism, although his importance as an innovative author has been recognized.

Pessimism pervades Céline's fiction as his characters sense failure, anxiety, nihilism, and inertia. Céline was unable to communicate with others, and during his life sank more deeply into a hate-filled world of madness and rage.

A progressive disintegration of personality appears in the stylistic incoherence of his books based on his life during the war: Guignol's Band, D'un château l'autre and Nord.

His novels are verbal frescoes peopled with horrendous giants, paraplegics, and gnomes, and are filled with scenes of dismemberment and murder. Some readers also find them very funny, which infuriated Céline.