Skip to main content Skip to Search Box
Summary Article: Céline, Louis Ferdinand
from The Columbia Encyclopedia

(lwē fĕrdēnN' sālēn'), 1894–1961, French author, whose real name was Louis Ferdinand Destouches. Céline wrote grim, scatological, and blackly funny novels. His first and best-known work, Journey to the End of Night (1932, tr. 1934) is based on his service at the front in World War I, his travels through Africa, and his service as a League of Nations doctor. Looking back on his Paris childhood, Death on the Installment Plan (1936, tr. 1938) introduced Céline's stylistic innovation—the regular use of ellipses and apostrophes to capture the rhythm of everyday speech. Expressing a misanthropic loathing for all classes of humanity, Céline was an especially virulent anti-Semite, publishing the first of several antisemitic pamphlets (Bagatelles for a Massacre) in 1937.

Although he actually detested all ideologies, Céline was accused of collaboration with the Nazis during World War II, and after the Allied invasion of France, he fled first to Germany (1944) and then to Denmark (1945), where he was imprisoned for more than a year. In 1950 a French court convicted him of collaboration in absentia, named him a national disgrace, and sentenced him to a year in prison. The following year, however, he received judicial amnesty and returned to France. His later works include the autobiographical novels Fable for Another Time (1952, tr. 2003), the first of a two-part narrative that moves back and forth between the last days of the German occupation of France and Céline's postwar imprisonment in Denmark, and Castle to Castle (1957, tr. 1968), North (1960, tr. 1972), and Rigadoon (1961, tr. 1974), a trilogy recounting his nightmarish journey through Germany to Denmark while fleeing Allied armies during the last days of the Third Reich. Céline is now generally regarded as one of the most important and influential—as well as controversial—20th-century French novelists.

  • See biography by P. McCarthy (1976);.
  • studies by J. H. Matthews (1978), J. Carson (1987), N. Hewitt (1987), W. K. Buckley, ed. (1989), C. Krance (1992), and P. H. Solomon (1992).
The Columbia Encyclopedia, © Columbia University Press 2017

Related Articles


Full text Article Céline, Louis-Ferdinand (1894-1961)
Antisemitism: A Historical Encyclopedia of Prejudice and Persecution

One of the twentieth century’s most influential novelists, this “crippled giant” (to borrow Milton Hindus’s phrase) compromised his renown with...

Full text Article CÉLINE, LOUIS-FERDINAND (1894-1961)
France and the Americas: Culture, Politics, and History

Pseudonym of Louis-Ferdinand Destouches, a physician and writer whose novels combined searingly iconoclastic and dismal views of humanity with...

Full text Article CELINE, LOUIS FERDINAND (1894-1961)
World Fascism: A Historical Encyclopedia

Pseudonym of French doctor and right-wing interwar novelist Louis-Ferdinand Destouches. Céline was a prominent anti-Semite and supporter of...

See more from Credo