Louis-Ferdinand Destouches, the man whom the literary world would come to know by
pseudonym, Louis-Ferdinand Céline, was born May 27, 1894, in Courbevoie, France.
only child, Céline was raised by his mother, Marguerite-Louise-Céline Guilloux,
his father, Ferdinand-Auguste Destouches. He attended local schools in the Paris
suburb of Passage Choiseul, before being sent to study in England and Germany.
1912, Céline joined the French cavalry, serving as a sergeant until he was wounded
in World War I. After his injury, Céline received a medal of honor and was sent
London to work in the passport office of the French Consulate. It was in London
Céline married his first of three wives, Suzanne Nebout. The marriage lasted roughly
one year, ending in 1916 when Céline was discharged from the military and left
London to work for a trading company in West Africa.
Returning to France in 1917, Céline began his medical studies at the University of
Rennes in 1919; in the same year, he married his second wife, Edith Follet. The
marriage ended in 1925 when Céline abandoned his wife and their daughter, Collette.
For the next three years, Céline traveled across the globe as a doctor for the
League of Nations. In 1928, he returned to France and set up a private practice
doctor for the poor in Clichy. It was at this time that he began writing, hoping
augment the meager income of his medical work.
His first novel, Voyage au bout de la nuit (Journey to the End of the Night), published in 1932, was
a popular and critical success and received the Theophraste Renaudot Prize in
Other successful novels include Mort à credit (1936;
Death on the Installment Plan), D’un chateau à l’autre (1957; Castle to Castle), Nord (1960; North), and Rigodon
(1969; Rigadoon). The works are marked by an abrasive
honesty, rage, and brutal humor, reflecting the horrors Céline faced throughout
life, from fighting on the German front during World War I, to treating the sick
poor in the suburbs of Paris.
In addition to his highly autobiographical novels, Céline wrote several anti-Semitic
political pieces, including Bagatelles pour un
massacre (1937; Trifles for a Massacre),
L’école des cadavres (1938; School for Corpses), and Les
beaux draps (1941; A Nice Mess). As World
War II drew to a close, the French government denounced Céline as a traitor because
of his political pieces. Fearing for his life, Céline fled France in 1944 with
third wife, Lucette. He was arrested in Denmark by orders of the French government
and imprisoned there for over a year. Convicted of treason in 1951, the couple
remained in Denmark until a military tribunal granted Céline amnesty. Céline
returned to France and settled again in a suburb of Paris, where he continued
writing and working as a doctor for the underprivileged until his death in 1961.