Journey to the End of the Night

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Journey to the End of the Night
Journey to the End of the Night cover.jpg
1960 English edition cover
AuthorLouis-Ferdinand Céline
Original titleVoyage au bout de la nuit
TranslatorJohn H. P. Marks (1934), Ralph Manheim (1988)
Publication date

Journey to the End of the Night (Voyage au bout de la nuit, 1932) is the first novel by Louis-Ferdinand Céline. This semi-autobiographical work describes antihero Ferdinand Bardamu.

Bardamu is involved with World War I, colonial Africa, and post–World War I United States (where he works for the Ford Motor Company), returning in the second half of the novel to France, where he becomes a medical doctor and establishes a practice in a poor Paris suburb, the fictional La Garenne-Rancy. The novel also satirizes the medical profession and the vocation of scientific research. The disparate elements of the work are linked together by recurrent encounters with Léon Robinson, a hapless character whose experiences parallel, to some extent, Bardamu's experiences.

Voyage au bout de la nuit is a nihilistic novel of savage, exultant misanthropy, combined, however, with cynical humour. Céline expresses an almost unrivaled pessimism with regard to human nature, human institutions, society, and life in general. Towards the end of the book, the narrator Bardamu, who is working at an insane asylum, remarks:

…I cannot refrain from doubting that there exist any genuine realizations of our deepest character except war and illness, those two infinities of nightmare,
(…je ne peux m'empêcher de mettre en doute qu'il existe d'autres véritables réalisations de nos profonds tempéraments que la guerre et la maladie, ces deux infinis du cauchemar,)

— Voyage au bout de la nuit [Paris: Folio plus classiques, 2006], p. 442)

A clue to understanding Céline's Voyage lies in the trauma he suffered during his experience in World War I. This is revealed in a study of biographical and literary research on Céline, histories of the war, diaries of his cavalry regiment, and literature on the trauma of war.[1] Céline's experience of the war leads to "…the obsession, the recurrent anguish, the refusal, the delirium, the violence, the pacifism, the anti-Semitic aberration of the 30s, [and] his philosophy of life …."[2]

Literary style[edit]

Céline's first novel is remarkable for its style, making extensive use of ellipsis and hyperbole. His writing has the flow of natural speech patterns and uses the vernacular, while also employing more erudite elements. This has influenced French literature considerably. The novel enjoyed popular success and a fair amount of critical acclaim when it was published in October 1932. Albert Thibaudet, perhaps the greatest of the entre deux guerres critics, said that in January 1933 it was still a common topic of conversation at dinner parties in Paris.[3]

Influence and legacy[edit]

Paolo Sorrentino's 2013 film The Great Beauty (La grande bellezza) opens with a quote from Journey to the End of the Night. The film concludes with a visual of the last paragraph of the book, passing under bridges, arches, and locks along the city's river.[4]

Will Self has written that Journey to the End of the Night "is the novel, perhaps more than any other, that inspired me to write fiction".[5]

The song "End of the Night" by The Doors references this book, as it had a great influence on the work of Jim Morrison.[citation needed]

In Jean-Luc Godard's 1965 dystopian science fiction film Alphaville, protagonist Lemmy Caution dismisses a taxi driver's offer of route options to his destination by stating that he is on "a journey to the end of the night". The film depicts the use of poetry as a weapon against a sentient computer system.[6]

Charles Bukowski makes reference to Journey in a number of his novels and short stories, and employs prose techniques borrowed from Céline. Bukowski wrote in Notes of a Dirty Old Man that "Céline was the greatest writer of 2000 years".[7]

Céline's literary style greatly influenced Joseph Heller's Catch-22.[8]

Jacques Tardi illustrated the 1988 edition with 130 drawings.[9]

Publication history[edit]

  • Céline, Louis-Ferdinand (1983). Journey to the End of the Night. Manheim, Ralph (trans.). New York: New Directions. ISBN 978-0-8112-0847-5.
  • Céline, Louis-Ferdinand (1988). Journey to the End of the Night. Manheim, Ralph (trans.). London: Calder. ISBN 978-0-7145-4139-6.
  • Sturrock, John (1990). Louis-Ferdinand Céline, Journey to the End of the Night. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press. ISBN 0-521-37854-0.
  • Céline, Louis-Ferdinand (2006). Vollman, William T. (afterward), ed. Journey to the End of the Night. Translated by Ralph Manheim. New York: New Directions. ISBN 978-0-8112-1654-8.

See also[edit]


  1. ^ Tom Quinn, The Traumatic Memory of the Great War 1914–1918 in Louis-Ferdinand Céline's "Voyage Au Bout De La Nuit" (Lewistown, NY: Edwin Mellen Press, 2005).
  2. ^ From "Foreword" by Frédéric Vitoux of Académie Française in Quinn's The Traumatic Memory.
  3. ^ Henri Godard, "Notice", in Céline, Romans, vol. 1 [Paris: Bibliothèque de la Pléiade, 1981], p. 1262.
  4. ^ De Marco, Camillo (21 May 2013). "The Great Beauty: a journey to the end of the night". Cineuropa. Retrieved 6 August 2018.
  5. ^ Will Self (10 September 2006). "Céline's Dark Journey". The New York Times. Retrieved 17 July 2010.
  6. ^ Alan Woolfolk, "Disenchantment and Rebellion in Alphaville", in The Philosophy of Science Fiction Film, University Press of Kentucky, 2007. ISBN 0-813-12472-7, p.200
  7. ^ Notes of a Dirty Old Man, p. 86.
  8. ^ Gussow, Mel (29 April 1998). "Critic's Notebook; Questioning the Provenance of the Iconic 'Catch-22'". The New York Times. Retrieved 6 August 2018.
  9. ^ Mintzer, Jordan. "'April and the Extraordinary World' ('Avril et le monde truque'): Film Review". The Hollywood Reporter. Retrieved 13 July 2018.