CÉLINE, Louis-Ferdinand (1894-1961)

Autograph postcard to his parents
[Flanders], 16 Oct[ober] [19]14 (postmark), 2 pages in-12°

« This cursed war »

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CÉLINE, Louis-Ferdinand (1894-1961)

Autograph postcard to his parents
[Flanders], 16 Oct[ober] [19]14 (postmark), 2 pages in-12°
Autograph address: « MR Destouches / 11 Rue Marsollier / Paris / France »

Moving and very first missive sent to his parents from the front in Flanders, less than ten days before his arm injury

« Chers Parents
Je vous écris d’un pays presque étranger où l’on ne parle que le flamand. Après plusieurs journées malheureusement orageuses, nous avons eu la victoire mais nous déplorons la perte de pas mal d’entre nous. L
[ieutenan]t Troucout, Jozan, Doucerin, Legrand, Brigadier Trelat et pas mal de nos pauvres camarades continuons quand même et vaincrons sûrement.
Nous sommes méconnaissables tellement nous sommes abîmés par les bivouacs. Enfin ce n’est rien si nous les sortons du pays.
Bien reçu les 6 colis merci beaucoup.
J’apprends les blessures de pas mal d’entre nous, j’ai appris aussi que ce pauvre Max Linder avait été tué à Esternay. C’est effrayant ce qu’il y en aura après cette guerre maudite. L’hiver surtout arrive et les nuits du nord sont mortelles au bivouac. Enfin soyons là et essayons d’être un peu là. »

Céline, who was still only Louis Destouches, was appointed, in May 1914, maréchal des logis after having joined the 12th Cuirassier Regiment in Rambouillet two years earlier, as an enlisted man. The young soldier was mobilized in the early hours of the war, on August 1. He left for Woëvre, where he campaigned until 1 October 1914, when he went to Flanders. As his map shows, Destouches evokes the scenes of chaos he witnessed first-hand. It is these visions of horror that are inscribed in the depths of his mind, like the shrapnel that will soon be inscribed in his flesh. This pivotal period of his life would form in him “a thousand pages of nightmares in reserve”, as he confided to Joseph Garcin at the time he began to write Voyage au bout de la nuit: “The one of war naturally holds the head. Weeks of 14 under viscous showers, in this atrocious mud and this blood and this and this of men, I will not recover” (Letters, Pléiade n°30-6).

When the name of Max Linder is mentioned here, the only occurrence of the famous French burlesque actor in his correspondence, one is tempted to think that Céline liked the character. The latter is also briefly quoted in Death on Credit, in a scene where Courtial des Pereires addresses Ferdinand: “Go ahead, Ferdinand! Go for a walk! he said to me then… Go to the Louvre! it will do you a lot of good! Go to the Boulevards! You like it, Max Linder! (Roman I, ed. H. Godard, Pléiade, p. 877).
Max Linder was brought back from the front dying. Discharged, he resumed his activity in 1916, considering himself recovered. He committed suicide on October 31, 1925 at the age of 41.

A highly rare document from this period.

Vente d’autographes, Drouot, 5 juin 1992, n°29
Collection Patrice Campesato

Lettres, éd. Henri Godard et Jean-Paul Louis, Pléiade, 2009, n°14-35 – Céline, éd. Henri Godard, 2011, p. 66-67