Louis-Ferdinand Destouches Biography


(Great Authors of World Literature, Critical Edition)

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.{$S[A]Destouches, Louis-Ferdinand;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’uvre 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...

(The entire section is 809 words.)


(Survey of Novels and Novellas)

Louis-Ferdinand Céline was born Louis-Ferdinand Destouches in the Parisian suburb of Courbevoie on May 27, 1894, and was reared and educated in Paris. His father worked for an insurance company; Céline’s mother owned a shop in an arcade, where she sold old lace and antiques. As a soldier during World War I, Céline was injured in the head and ear and was shot in the arm. The head and ear wounds were to leave him with a lifelong buzzing in his head and frequent bouts of insomnia; the arm wound earned for him a medal and a picture on the cover of a national magazine.

After his demobilization, Céline worked for a trading company in the Cameroons. It was during his stay in Africa that he began to write. His interest in medicine led to a job with the Rockefeller Foundation. He received his medical degree in 1918 and briefly practiced in the city of Rennes. He soon wearied of his middle-class existence, however, and, after divorcing his first wife, Edith Follet, he took a medical position with the League of Nations. He lost that post when he showed his superior, who was Jewish, a copy of his play The Church, in which there is crude satire of Jewish officials at the League of Nations. Céline wrote Journey to the End of the Night while working at a clinic, having taken as his nom de plume the surname of his maternal grandmother. The novel was greeted with enormous critical acclaim, and Céline’s literary career was launched, though he would continue to...

(The entire section is 608 words.)