Journal of Romance Studies

Writing the city: London as urban palimpsest in Louis Ferdinand Céline’s Guignol’s Band I & II

Journal of Romance Studies (2014), 14, (3), 23–36.

Abstract

Written between 1940 and 1945, Céline’s third novel, Guignol’s Band I and II, evokes early World War One London where Céline spent twelve carefree months in 1915 and 1916. The diachronic relation between narration and narrative is often referred to throughout the novel, emphasizing its temporal layering, the merging of fiction and reality, and the role played by memory. Close to the London-based French underworld, Céline’s semi auto-fictional protagonist Ferdinand roams the streets of the city, where he encounters numerous burlesque characters and tries to escape both from the police and members of the ‘milieu’ (mafia). This article argues that writing London and following his character wandering around its streets enables Céline to disclose the fundamental modernist wandering and palimpsestic qualities of words, language, narrative and literature themselves. To do so, it analyses the London represented in Céline’s novel and shows that it is constructed as urban, cultural and narrative palimpsests. It also highlights the modernist interplay between literature and the city, and discusses Ferdinand’s relation to the flâneur.

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Lozier, Claire