The prestigious publishing house Gallimard publishes this Thursday, May 5, 2022 in its classic White collection the novel “War” by Louis-Ferdinand Céline. A work lost then reappeared in an enigmatic way. The book of some 150 pages includes illustrations and appendices. The Gallimard gallery is also devoting an exhibition to these Manuscripts found with Alban Cerisier as curator. On view from May 6 to July 16, 2022.
This book, probably written in 1934, remained ten years in the archives of the novelist, in his apartment in the Montmartre district. In June 1944, feeling the tide turn, this collaborationist left Paris in a hurry. Direction Germany, where he does not have the opportunity to take his unpublished. Resistance fighters seized these 6,000 sheets. Their fate remains unknown for sixty years, until they are given to a former journalist, Jean-Pierre Thibaudat, who contacts the beneficiaries.
These, the lawyer François Gibault and another close to Celine’s wife, Véronique Robert-Chovin, did not want to work with him. And Jean-Pierre Thibaudat had no choice but to hand over the manuscripts to the police, as his lawyer, Emmanuel Pierrat, told Europe 1 on Tuesday. Gallimard is immediately determined to publish these unpublished works before all of Céline’s work falls into the public domain, in 2032. “The work must be carried out in a very scrupulous way”said the CEO of the publishing house, Antoine Gallimard.
The novel “was transcribed from a manuscript of first draft, the only one known. (…) The text presented here restores the last state of writing”written in a “editing note” the historian Pascal Fouché. “Céline writes a lot in abbreviated form. With practice, we manage to decipher, but he crosses out, rewrites between the lines, and it is often small additions that are very difficult or even impossible to read”, he told AFP. Certain words or passages are therefore in square brackets.
“It’s written very quickly, over the pen. He leaves blanks, there are repetitions, there are blunders that he would have necessarily corrected on proofreading. There is no punctuation or very little. There are no paragraphs”, he adds. Gallimard has added some, in accordance with the habits of the writer, rather than transcribing ad literam the continuous flow of the first jet. In content, the novelist held a very successful draft. Why did he never publish it himself? “We can only make assumptions”according to Pascal Fouché.
The press unanimously welcomes the event. “The end of a mystery, the discovery of a great text”according to The Point. “A brief, lively, tragic and lewd text, to be placed alongside the writer’s masterpieces” and “a miracle”according to Le Monde. “Breathtaking”, says Le Journal du dimanche. In the purest tradition of the Celinian novel, dark, nervous and raw, War opens with the awakening of 20-year-old Brigadier Ferdinand, miraculously alive on the battlefield in Poelkappelle (Belgium), one night in 1915.
The writer tells how an English soldier saves him, then his convalescence not far from the front at Peurdu-sur-la-Lys (in reality Hazebrouck, in France), and finally a hasty departure for England. The stay across the Channel will be the subject of another unpublished, longer, Londonto be published in the fall. War was probably written in 1934, shortly after the scandal of Céline’s first novel, journey to the Edge of the Night (1932).
The anti-Semitic turn, of which the writer will never repent, dates from 1937, with the publication of the pamphlet Trifles for a massacre. At the end of 2017, Gallimard announced the publication of this pamphlet and its like, with critical apparatus. The project fizzled out, due to a lack of “methodological and memory conditions (…) to consider it serenely”according to CEO Antoine Gallimard.
Now that this controversy has died down, the reappearance of War and London celebrates a major work of 20th century French literature. “These manuscripts arrive at the right time or by a divine surprise, as you wish, for Céline to become a writer again: the one who matters, from 1932-1936”believes Philippe Roussin, researcher specializing in Céline interviewed by AFP.
The pamphleteer is unanimous against him. But the novelist, whether we like his popular verve or not, occupies a place of choice in the history of the genre, for having shattered bourgeois literature, conventional narration and style, by translating the anguish of the ‘between two wars. Show his trauma “hairy”seriously injured, and his creative frenzy of the 1930s is the focus of the exhibition which opens Thursday at the Galerie Gallimard, Céline, the found manuscripts.
In the Gallimard gallery, sheets are framed, including the first of Warwhich ends with what should become a cult quote from Celine, emblematic of the obsessive pounding of the cannon in the narrative: “I caught the war in my head. It’s locked in my head.” “There are anthological scenes, and this constant presence of death, of the horror of the fighting that the war in Ukraine reminds us of today, but also of sex… For a first draft, the text is extremely strong”told AFP the historian Pascal Fouché, who established the edition.
Another quote, engraved on a wall: “They burned them, almost three manuscripts, the pest-purging vigilantes!” This one, of a Céline who was enraged at having lost the fruit of his work, distorts reality. The good state of conservation of the manuscripts in the following century proves it.