The Wartime Trilogy

by Louis-Ferdinand Destouches

Start Free Trial

Critical Context

Download PDF PDF Page Citation Cite Share Link Share

The publication of the trilogy—which appeared in three separate volumes over a period of several years—was greeted with largely negative commentary by critics, though it did succeed, as earlier postwar publications had not, in reestablishing the presence of Céline on the French literary scene. Céline’s notoriety as a Nazi supporter and anti-Semite certainly played a part in the reception (and sales) of the trilogy. Some critics discerned a decline in the author’s creative powers, condemning the work as rambling; they decried its lack of sustained plot development and overall interpretive framework that would convey an analysis of the historical situation in which Ferdinand finds himself as he attempts to seize History by means of Story. The emergence of the New Novel in France during the 1950’s and 1960’s, with its linguistic experimentation and ostensible rejection of traditional novelistic structures, no doubt obscured the more innovative aspects of Céline’s writing, which, in some ways, were not so far removed from the conceptions of such New Novelists as Alain Robbe-Grillet, Nathalie Sarraute, and Claude Simon.

The passage of time has favored Céline, although he and, perforce, his writings remain subjects of controversy. As the events and the pervading attitudes of the World War II era have receded further into the past, there has been less concern with the author’s politics and, concomitantly, a more detached perspective on his later works, such as the trilogy. Such a view fails to take into account Céline’s attempt in the trilogy to exculpate himself by having Ferdinand proclaim his innocence and play the part of the scapegoat-victim. Can one read of and perhaps sympathize with Ferdinand’s plight without recalling the many millions who rode the trains to such destinations as Treblinka and Auschwitz?

The relative discontinuity of the trilogy represents a departure, though not a radical one, from Céline’s more traditionally structured earlier works, and can be interpreted as both a reflection of the chaotic period that is being described and an attendant calling into question of the nature of novelistic discourse. The trilogy’s interest and originality reside in the conjoining of several elements: a particular vision of the general human condition, placed in sharper relief by the war; a rewriting of history that attempts to justify an individual destiny—Céline-Ferdinand’s—by making it the paradigm of a collective tragedy; a deconstruction of the novel; and a language appropriate to these aforementioned concerns. As for that language, the three novels of the trilogy share those underground, subversive stylistic traits that characterize Céline’s writing: the rejection of traditional literary discourse in favor of a popular, spoken level of language and the use of ellipses that set into sharper relief the essential elements of the phrase while bombarding the reader with rhythmic pulsations of verbal energy. Although giving the appearance of a crude first draft, an unrefinement that would be consonant with the nature of the events described and the outlook of the author, Céline’s style is carefully concerted and his manuscripts are diligently edited so as to maintain a brilliantly orchestrated tension between the disorder of life and the order of art.

See eNotes Ad-Free

Start your 48-hour free trial to get access to more than 30,000 additional guides and more than 350,000 Homework Help questions answered by our experts.

Get 48 Hours Free Access