December 7, 1932, outside Goncourt

December 7, 1932, outside Goncourt
December 7, 1932, outside Goncourt

FIGARO SPECIAL EDITION (6/12) – Before the edition of journey to the Edge of the Nightthe writer declares: “It is the 1932 Goncourt Prize in an armchair for the lucky publisher who will be able to retain this unparalleled work”.

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.

When Robert Denoël received the manuscript of journey to the Edge of the Night, he doesn’t hesitate for a second. The author, Louis Destouches, signs Louis-Ferdinand Céline (his grandmother’s first name). The publisher’s literary sense did not deceive him; it is a masterpiece which has all the qualities required to win the Goncourt. The will of Edmond de Goncourt is precise: “My supreme wish, a wish that I ask future young academicians to keep in mind, is that this prize be given to youth, to originality of talent, to new and bold attempts at thought and the form. » This prize is therefore neither for the Countess of Ségur nor for Guy Mazeline, but for Louis-Ferdinand Céline, valiantly supported in addition by Lucien Descaves, the very fiery Léon Daudet and Jean Ajalbert.
On November 30, 1932, a week before the prize was awarded, the academy met at Drouant and decided to award the prize to Dr. Destouches. But the following Wednesday, December 7, the tide turned: the opposition plotted a lot, Rosny elder, president of the academy, whose voice is preponderant, and his brother Rosny younger were “returned” and vote for Les Loups, by Guy Mazeline. Louis only received three votes from his supporters, but he won the Renaudot prize which, like today, is awarded on the same day. Furious at the snub he has just suffered, Lucien Descaves leaves the Goncourt jury to have lunch with the Renaudot jury. To Maurice-Yvan Sicard, he declared: “I will never again set foot in this academy which is a market, a fair, and where, with a few exceptions, everything is for sale. »

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

“The affair, this year again, was led by Dorgelès and by the two Rosnys, one of whom is deaf and the other certainly an idiot,” Sicard recounted in issue 1 of the magazine Le Huron. Each year, the vote of the president of the Goncourt academy is bought from the highest bidder. »
All this obviously ended with a criminal trial against Sicard and Galtier-Boissière, who had made frankly defamatory remarks in Le Crapouillot. After Rosny elder’s withdrawal, the court did not pronounce any conviction, except against Voyage au bout de la nuit which contained, it considered, “outrageously trivial, crude and intolerable expressions, likely to revolt uninformed readers, than a literary reward [devait] protect against such unpleasant surprises ».
The scandal is enormous and launches Céline’s book much better than if he had obtained the Goncourt. Céline enters literature as a maverick, as a solo rider. Balzac and Zola were not members of the French Academy: the Goncourt Academy acted as if it had to prove to its neighbor on the Quai Conti that it too knew how to be wrong. The following year, in 1933, to make up for her misconduct, she crowned Malraux for The Human Condition.
Time, since then, has done its work: we no longer read either Rosny the elder or Rosny the young, we do not read The Wolves either, but we talk about it as we talk about miscarriages of justice. Journey into the End of Night has come into its own. The novel, dedicated to Elizabeth Craig, this American dancer who shared Céline’s life at the time the book was written, shattered all preconceived ideas with its innovative style, but also with its revolutionary ideas. It had the effect of a bomb in the literary world and it left its mark on most writers, many of whom considered that it was no longer possible to write after Journey to the End of the Night in the way that people wrote before.
This novel, which is also a pamphlet, has not aged a bit. Men are still at war, Africa is a continent on the verge of sinking, the strong are strong and the rich are rich, man everywhere is exploited by man and the golden calf is still standing. The only difference is that we have less and less desire to laugh about it, which Céline knew how to do wonderfully, and more and more reasons to cry about it.

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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