May 1, 1924, Doctor Louis Destouches

May 1, 1924, Doctor Louis Destouches
May 1, 1924, Doctor Louis Destouches

FIGARO SPECIAL EDITION (4/12) – About his profession he wrote: “My vocation is medicine!… but I was not very successful… and medicine without clients! The novel came…”

This article is taken from Figaro Special Edition Céline, a season in hell, a special issue published for the 130th anniversary of the birth of the writer of Voyage au bout de la nuit, May 27, 1894. In order to be kept up to date with historical and cultural news, subscribe for free to the Newsletter Figaro History.

Louis Destouches, who studied medicine in Rennes, defended his thesis in Paris on May 1, 1924, before a jury chaired by Professor Brindeau, an eminent specialist in obstetrics, and obtained a very good distinction. The young man, remarried for five years to Edith Follet, daughter of a medical school professor, is the father of a four-year-old girl. His thesis is not scientific but literary, it is a biography of a famous Hungarian doctor, Ignace Philippe Semmelweis. The travel writer is already making inroads in this academic work.

Semmelweis (1818-1865) was the laughing stock of the most eminent doctors and professors of his time by fighting by simple means against puerperal fever which then killed a good third of women in childbirth. He had noticed that the midwives went from one parturient to another without even washing their hands, a precaution all the more necessary since they had also been able to care for the sick, take care of a corpse, participate in a autopsy. By not washing their hands between two patients, they carried bacteria from one and infected others.
In the thesis of the student Destouches, Semmelweis ended up committing suicide by inoculating himself with a scalpel with puerperal fever, when in reality he had accidentally caused a tiny wound while caring for a woman giving birth. , from which he died, the victim of a fever that he had fought all his life. This sad, perfectly Célinian story was deliberately darkened by Louis Destouches, exactly as he would later do in his novels. This thesis, published in 1936 by Robert Denoël, then taken up by Gallimard, is a wonderful book, imbued with very deep humanity.

Read also“Louis-Ferdinand Céline, this frightening genius”, the editorial by Michel De Jaeghere

Céline always said that his vocation was less literary than medical and, in fact, all his life he had a sort of attraction to the rejects of society, to whom he dedicated Féerie for another time: “To animals, to the sick, to prisoners”. In all his works, doctors or comments on medicine appear. Thus in The Church: “I prefer relationships with those who are sick. Those who are healthy are so wicked, so stupid; they want to appear so clever, as soon as they stand upright, that any relationship with them is almost immediately unhappy. » In Death on Credit, noting his helplessness in the face of certain distresses and incurable illnesses, he expresses his despair: “I’m really fed up with the grocerers… Here are thirty annoying ones that I’ve been patching up since recently… I can’t take it anymore… Let them cough! Let them spit! Let them bone themselves! Let them rush! Let them fly away with thirty thousand gas in their rumps!… I’ll eat it!…”
Louis can’t stand the idea of ​​charging a patient, thinking that when he receives money from a rich person, the doctor behaves like a lackey, and when he receives money from a rich man, like a bastard. He wrote on this subject in D’un château l’autre: “I have done myself more harm by ever taking a round from the sick than by Petiot by cooking them in the oven!…” He was also most often a salaried doctor, in the health service of the League of Nations in Geneva from June 1924 to December 1927, at the municipal dispensary on rue Fanny in Clichy from January 1929 to December 1937, at the Sartrouville dispensary in from March 1940 then at that of Bezons until his flight to Germany on June 17, 1944. He then only practiced medicine sporadically, in Sigmaringen from the end of October 1944 to March 22, 1945, to treat the colony French woman whose health condition was deplorable, then to Meudon, during the last ten years of her life to provide her care to the few unfortunate people who knocked on her door or who telephoned her at night to call for help. It didn’t go much further, and for good reason: “I have time to meditate… rethink the pros, cons… to think about what is hurting me the most?… my suit perhaps? my groles?… still in slippers?… my hair? I think, especially not having a servant… ah, and also the worst of the worst: “he writes books”… they don’t read them, but they know…”

Céline, a season in hell, Le Figaro Special Edition. €14.90, on newsstands or on Figaro Store

Cover of Figaro Special Edition Céline, a season in hell


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