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Q: Louis-Ferdinand Céline (French novelist): What Lawsuits (1939)? ( Answered 5 out of 5 stars,   2 Comments )
Subject: Louis-Ferdinand Céline (French novelist): What Lawsuits (1939)?
Category: Arts and Entertainment > Books and Literature
Asked by: probonopublico-ga
List Price: $20.00
Posted: 11 Sep 2004 22:24 PDT
Expires: 11 Oct 2004 22:24 PDT
Question ID: 400021
I have obtained copies of previously unpublished letters by Céline.

In one, undated but evidently written in 1939, he wrote that he had
been overwhelmed by lawsuits as a consequence of his last book L?Ecole
des Cadavers (1938).

Can anyone find out any details about the lawsuits?

(I don't want a synopsis of the book!)
Subject: Re: Louis-Ferdinand Céline (French novelist): What Lawsuits (1939)?
Answered By: leli-ga on 12 Sep 2004 07:44 PDT
Rated:5 out of 5 stars
Hi Bryan

Céline seems to have had a tendency to dramatise things, so I think
his "overwhelmed by lawsuits" doesn't mean that there were dozens of
separate legal proceedings. However, he might well have felt
"overwhelmed" in the first half of 1939. Not only was there widespread
passionate criticism of him and his work, especially 'Bagatelle pour
les Massacres' and 'l'École des Cadavres', but there was indeed legal
action in and out of the courts.

Early January 1939
Léon Treich, the writer, starts legal proceedings against Céline for
saying incorrectly in l'École des Cadavres that he (Treich) is Jewish.
Céline has to write a retraction to prevent things going to court.

March 8
A trial begins to hear a complaint from Dr Pierre Rouquès, who has
been called a Jew in the same context as Treich.  Rouquès, a surgeon
who was once a medical officer in the International Brigade, is suing
both Céline and his publisher, Robert Denoël, for 50,000 francs. His
lawyer says that calling him a Jew is defamation "on the grounds that,
in the context of the violence of Céline's polemic, this constituted
libel" [1]

April 21
The government brings in new legislation, banning racial hatred in the
press. This is known as the Marchandeau decree.

May 10
Responding to Marchandeau, Denoël and Céline remove Bagatelles pour un
Massacre and l'École des Cadavres from sale, even though the decree
only applies to newspapers and magazines. This is "widely interpreted
as a way of saving face and gaining some publicity". [1]

June 21
Denoël and Céline are convicted of "defamation, public injury and complicity" [2] 
Dr Rouquès is awarded 2000 francs in damages, with each defendant
fined an additional 200 francs. Denoël must also pay 200 francs per
day for any delay in correcting the defamation.

Although my research led, eventually, to finding some reasonably
substantial sources, I got there in a slightly roundabout way. This
has the advantage that I have searched in various different places,
and am fairly sure there's nothing more to be found about legal
proceedings until after the war.

It also showed me that Céline's publisher, Robert Denoël, was very
much involved in the story, and that Céline had a history of
exaggeration and feeling persecuted. He and Denoël had a difficult
relationship at times. Céline accused him of not paying him all he was
due and disguising the true sales figures of his books.

These are the three main sources I used:

[1] The Life of Celine: A Critical Biography 
by Nicholas Hewitt 
Blackwell (1999)

[2] With the Stroke of a Pen: A Story of Ambition, Greed, Infidelity,
and the Murder of French Publisher Robert Denoel
by A. Louise Staman 
Thomas Dunne (2002)

(Both available through

Céline: A Biography, by Frédéric Vitoux. 
Marlowe & Company, New York (1994) 
An extract is online at:


Other things which might interest you:

Denoël himself said (approximately), 'A trial, a ban on the book, a
guilty verdict, and l'École des Cadavres disappeared from circulation.
And the publisher was urged pressingly to withdraw Bagatelles from

"Un procès, l'interdiction du livre, une condamnation en
correctionnelle, et l'École des Cadavres disparut de la circulation.
Et l'éditeur fut incité de façon pressante à retirer de la vente
Bagatelles pour un massacre."

- - -

Evidence given at Céline's post-war trial said Denoël lost so much
money through legal difficulties that republishing l'École des
Cadavres during the occupation was Céline's attempt to compensate him.

- - -

Interview with author of "With the Stroke of a Pen", but some details
may be incorrect.

Le destin tragique de Robert Denoël
Entretien avec A. Louise Staman

- - -

Biography of Louis-Ferdinand Céline, originally called Louis-Ferdinand Destouches

- - -

In July 1939, Céline writes that, "My books have been taken out of
circulation . . . . Me too."

"En mai 1939, le décret Marchandeau oblige Denoël à retirer de la
vente ces deux pamphlets. Céline est exclu de la vie littéraire. En
proie à de violentes polémiques, une lettre adressée à Je suis partout
le 21 juillet dénote de son état d'esprit : "Mes livres sont retirés
de la circulation... Moi aussi."

- - -

Quote from the Marchandeau decree, outlawing slander directed at "a
group of people who belong, by their origin, to a particular race or
religion, with the aim of stirring up hatred between citizens."

Thanks for a fascinating piece of research! Lucky old you, getting
your hands on some unpublished letters by an interesting and
controversial character.
Just ask if you want anything clarified - you know I'd do my best to help.

Best Wishes - Leli

Search terms included:

probonopublico-ga rated this answer:5 out of 5 stars and gave an additional tip of: $20.00
Wow, Leli, You always manage to amaze!

Very many thanks!

I haven't seen you around for a long time. Have you been away ...

Or just waiting for me to test you with a tricky question?

I intend to acknowledge your contributions in my upcoming book ...

And I will.

All the Very Best


Subject: Re: Louis-Ferdinand Céline (French novelist): What Lawsuits (1939)?
From: leli-ga on 12 Sep 2004 14:22 PDT
Thank you!! You deserve at least five hundred and five stars for being
such an appreciative and friendly regular.

Yes, I was away for a while, in beautiful but chilly Orkney.

I check in on GA most days, but other things are keeping me busy, so
haven't caught many questions recently. But you know I can't resist
yours . . . .

Publication date for 'State Secrets' must be almost upon us - very exciting.

Warmest wishes - Leli
Subject: Re: Louis-Ferdinand Céline (French novelist): What Lawsuits (1939)?
From: probonopublico-ga on 12 Sep 2004 21:02 PDT
Hi, Leli

Yes, the book is almost ready but there's always a bit more that I can
introduce, like the Letters I referred to.

Céline had admirers in Britain, would you believe? One who had
discovered that the Pope was a Jew.

I understand that Céline believed that Hitler was a Jew at one stage.

All the Best!


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