Voyage au bout de la nuit

  • Ian Noble


Those who acclaimed Céline’s first novel shortly after it was first published in October 1932 were largely moved to do so by the feeling that its power and importance lay in the force with which it assaulted and demolished numerous self-glorifying myths constructed by man in order to conceal his basic vileness. The exact terms in which favourable critics praised the novel may have varied according to their political, philosophical or religious positions, but most would have endorsed Paul Nizan’s assessment as expressed in his review published in L’Humanité: ‘Céline is not one of us…. But we recognise his sinister picture of the world: he tears off all the masks and all the camouflage, he demolishes the façades of illusions and increases awareness of the degeneracy of mankind today.’1 If the Left tended to see it as an exposure of the evils of capitalism, other critics saw the novel as the portrayal of a modern malaise — ‘his book is the novel of man sick with civilisation’, as one critic put it2 — or as that of the eternal, dark side of humankind.


Opening Sentence Concentric Movement Human Misery Patriotic Discourse English Lesson 


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  1. 1.
    Paul Nizan, ‘Voyage au bout de la nuit’, L’Humanité, 9 Dec 1932, p. 4.Google Scholar
  2. 2.
    René Trintzius, ‘L.-F. Céline — Voyage au bout de la nuit’, Europe, 30 (15 Dec 1932) pp. 615–16 (quotation from p. 615).Google Scholar
  3. 3.
    Léon Daudet, ‘L.-F. Céline: Voyage au bout de la nuit’, Candide, 22 Dec 1932, p. 6.Google Scholar
  4. 4.
    René Schwob, ‘Lettre ouverte à L.-F. Céline’, Esprit, no. 6 (Mar 1933) pp. 1038–41.Google Scholar
  5. 5.
    Erika Ostrovsky, Céline and his Vision (London and New York, 1967) pp. 41–2. Another critic who has used Céline as a springboard for overwritten evocations of eternal Evil is Bettina L. Knapp, in her book Céline: Man of Hate (Alabama, 1974).Google Scholar
  6. 6.
    P. S. Day, Le Miroir allégorique de L.-F. Céline (Paris, 1974) pp. 10–11.Google Scholar
  7. 7.
    François Gibault, Céline, i: Le Temps des espérances (1894–1932) (Paris, 1977); andGoogle Scholar
  8. iii: Cavalier de l’Apocalypse (1944–1961) (Paris, 1981).Google Scholar
  9. 8.
    See, for example, Erika Ostrovsky, Voyeur Voyant: A Portrait of L.-F. Céline, (New York, 1971);Google Scholar
  10. and Dominique de Roux, La Mort de L.-F. Céline (Paris, 1966).Google Scholar
  11. 9.
    Patrick McCarthy, Céline (London, 1975) p. 81.Google Scholar
  12. 10.
    See Albert Chesnau, Essai de psychocritique de L.-F. Céline, Archives de lettres modernes no. 129 (Paris, 1971).Google Scholar
  13. 11.
    See Willy Szafran, Louis-Ferdinand Céline: essai psychoanalytique (Brussels, 1976).Google Scholar
  14. 13.
    Frédéric Vitoux, Louis-Ferdinand Céline: misère et parole (Paris, 1973).Google Scholar
  15. See also Yves Lavoinne, Voyage au bout de le nuit de Céline (Paris, 1974).Google Scholar
  16. 17.
    Another recent study which refers to the role of language in this novel is similarly concerned with attitudes to language as revealed in the psychology of characters or in some abstract ‘Célinian Man’. See André Smith, La Nuit de Louis-Ferdinand Céline (Paris, 1973). Smith writes, in a section entitled ‘The Characters’, ‘I shall endeavour... to disentangle the conduct of Célinian Man’ (p. 92).Google Scholar
  17. 19.
    Gérard Genette, Figures, III (Paris, 1972) p. 72.Google Scholar
  18. 20.
    Raymond Federman, ‘Imagination as Plagiarism’, New Literary History, 7 (Spring 1976) pp. 563–78 (quotation from p. 563).Google Scholar
  19. 21.
    Jean-Pierre Richard, Nausée de Céline (Montpellier, 1973). Richard sums up this central experience of nausea in the phrase ‘This flabbiness reveals to me… the contingency of my being’ (p. 97).Google Scholar
  20. 22.
    For an analysis of the repeated pattern of delirium experienced by Bardamu, see Gilbert Schilling, ‘Mécanisme et fonction du délire de la violence dans le Voyage au bout de la nuit de L.-F. Céline’, Bulletin de la Faculté des Lettres de Mulhouse, fascicule 5 (1973) pp. 43–51.Google Scholar
  21. See also Allen Thiher, Céline: the Novel as Delirium (New Brunswick, NJ, 1972).Google Scholar
  22. 23.
    Sigmund Freud, ‘Psycho-analytic notes on an autobiographical account of a case of paranoia (Dementia Paranoides)’, in The Standard Edition of the Complete Psychological Works of Sigmund Freud, XII (London, 1958) pp. 9–82.Google Scholar
  23. 24.
    Samuel Beckett, Molloy, tr. Samuel Beckett and Patrick Bowles (London, 1966).Google Scholar
  24. 25.
    Raymond Jean, ‘Commencements romanesques’, in Positions et oppositions sur le roman contemporain (Paris, 1971) pp. 129–36 (quotation from p. 129). Jean illustrates this with a reference to the opening of Voyage, but links the ‘ça’ of the first sentence with the ‘ça’ (the ‘id’) of psychoanalysts and of Groddeck; for him, this ‘ça’ is an indication that we are dealing with something ‘unnamable’, that in the following pages ‘what we have is not a novel but something else’ (p. 132).Google Scholar
  25. 27.
    Samuel Beckett, ‘Proust’ and ‘Three Dialogues with Georges Duthuit’ (London, 1970) p. 12.Google Scholar
  26. 28.
    André Gide, Les Faux-Monnayeurs (Paris, 1925) p. 239.Google Scholar
  27. 29.
    Besides the satirical echo of putain (whore) in the name of Puta, it should be noted that Voireuse is the thinly disguised feminine form of the slang foireux (someone suffering from diarrhoea, hence a coward). The novel is rich in comic names which suggest the reality behind the false rhetoric: compare the Branledore previously mentioned, whose name evokes the principal attitude of this branleur (wanker, waster) behind the heroic masquerade: (il se) branle / (il s’en) branle — (il) dort (he wanks/he doesn’t give a shit — he sleeps). For a general account of some of the mechanisms at work in Céline’s use of proper names, see Philippe Alméras, ‘L’Onomastique caricaturale de Louis-Ferdinand Céline’, Revue internationale d’onomastique, 23 (July 1971) pp. 161–79.Google Scholar
  28. 31.
    Benjamin Constant, Œuvres, Pléiade edn (Paris, 1957) p. 81.Google Scholar
  29. 32.
    It is true that Bardamu has had a foretaste of the practices of the ‘compagnie Pordurière’ at a later point in the commercial chain, where the natives ‘exchange’ their products in the capital of the colony, Fort-Gono (pp. 136–8). See the analysis of this passage by Henri Mitterand, ‘Le Discours colonial dans le Voyage au bout de la nuit’, La Pensée, no. 184 (Dec 1975) pp. 80–8.Google Scholar
  30. 36.
    Ibid., p. 449. See also Catherine Vigneau, ‘Remarques sur la reprise et l’anticipation dans Voyage au bout de la nuit et Mort à crédit’, Grammatica, 4(1975) pp. 3–34. Vigneau subdivides the construction into two types — reprise (repeat) and anticipation — each of which expresses a different psychological value.Google Scholar
  31. 37.
    Brian T. Fitch, ‘Aspects de la structure de la phrase chez Bernanos et Céline’, in Confrontations, Etudes Bernanosiennes 6, La Revue des lettres modernes, nos 127–9 (1965) pp. 87–100 (quotation from p. 92).Google Scholar
  32. 39.
    In addition to many of the critics already mentioned, see Carys T. Owen, ‘Networks of Symbol in Voyage au bout de la nuit’, Forum for Modern Languages Studies, 11 (Jan 1975) pp. 46–58.CrossRefGoogle Scholar

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© Ian Noble 1987

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  • Ian Noble

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