Le Sang noir

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Bitter Victory
Author Louis Guilloux
Original title Le Sang noir
Translator Samuel Putnam (1936)
Country France
Language French
Publisher Robert M. McBride & Co
Publication date
Published in English

Le Sang noir (literally "Black Blood"; published in English under the title Bitter Victory) is a 1935 novel by Louis Guilloux that has been described as a "prefiguration of Sartre's La Nausée",[1] because of its concentration on the psychological alienation of an individual.


George Palante, inspiration for Cripure

Le Sang Noir was based in Guilloux's memories of his philosophy tutor, Georges Palante, an anarchist thinker who eventually killed himself in 1925. It is notable for its departure from the author's earlier, more straightforwardly socialist literature, since it contains elements of what was later associated with an existentialist or absurdist vision.


One day in 1917 an aging philosophy tutor, nicknamed Cripure,[2] feels unable to give advice to a student who is departing for the front in World War I. Amidst the horror of the war, he feels increasing disgust at life. He remembers how, years ago, he lost his wife. He is now living alone, supported only by Maia, his lazy housekeeper. His youthful promise as a writer and thinker has long since evaporated, and his body is becoming disturbingly abnormal as his feet become excessively large due to an illness. He hates himself, his colleagues and his students. He takes a class at which the students play up. In the afternoon he consoles himself with drink.

As the evening wears on he learns about disasters and local tragedies, deaths, robberies and betrayals which convince him of the irredeemable corruption of humanity. French soldiers are becoming mutinous as the war continues without hope of an end. Cripure becomes involved in an altercation at the railway station as disaffected soldiers riot. He hits a jingoistic "patriot" and is challenged to a duel, which he accepts. Convinced that he will be killed, he writes a will. To his surprise local people rally round to support him, including his housekeeper and old friends. Cripure's challenger is discovered to be a hypocrite and is forced to back off.

Saved from death, Cripure is more disturbed by the new evidence of human solidarity than he was by the consolation of despair. Unable to imagine a new life, he shoots himself.


The novel was highly praised, and was quickly translated. The English-language version, published under the title Bitter Victory, was described by Time magazine as "one of the strongest French novels since Celine's Journey to the End of the Night... it has much in common with Celine's masterpiece in its mood of intense disgust, its savage satirical portraits, its hatred of hypocrisy and its wild, grotesque humor."[3]

The contrast between the self-disgust of Cripure and the nominal hero, Lucien, who aspires to work for a better future has caused much comment, since the self-excoriating visions of Cripure are repeatedly portrayed as more powerful and compelling than Lucien's idealism.[4]


Le Sang noir was made into a TV film in 2006, directed by Peter Kassovitz and produced by BFC productions (Françoise Castro) and France 3. Cripure was played by Rufus. The adaptation was written by Michel Martens. It was broadcast on France 3 on 14 April 2007. The drama won awards for best screenplay and best actor (Rufus) at the Festival du film de télévision de Luchon.

On 29 Nov 2014, an opera based on the novel, titled Das Schwarze Blut (Le Sang Noir), by French composer François Fayt was premiered, in German, at the Erfurt Theater. Marc Adam was the stage director, and Jean-Paul Penin, Conducted.[5]


  1. ^ Greene, Francis J. - Louis Guilloux's Le Sang noir : A Prefiguration of Sartre's La Nausée , French Review : Journal of the American Association of Teachers of French (Chapel Hill, USA ; ISSN 0016-111X), 1969, 43, p. 205.
  2. ^ a contraction of Critique de la Raison Pure (Critique of Pure Reason)
  3. ^ Time, Nov, 1936
  4. ^ JH King, "Louis Guilloux's Ambiguous Epic Le Sang Noir", Forum for Modern Language Studies, Jan 1972, vol vii, no.1.
  5. ^ Das Schwartze Blut