Is this the first French Noir Novel ?

In July 1935,  the Editions Ferenczi, then one for the foremost popular literature publishers in France, published an illustrated edition of Céline’s 1932 Journey to the End of the Night in their series  « Le Livre moderne illustré » (n° 226 and  226 bis).  The Illustrator was artist  and engraver Clément Serveau  (Paris, 29 June 1886 – Paris, 8 July 1972) . Selling at  a price of 3,50 Franc,  these books were significantly more expansive than the popular collections of Crime Fiction booklets  by Ferenczi.  Céline’s first novel, of course, a classic of world literature, is usually not seen as a Crime novel. This  Ferenczi edition, however, might retrospectively contribute to think about its  “noir” qualities.. The identity of the publisher, the aspect of the book, and significantly, the division of the 700 pages novel into two in-8 volumes  all encourage this.  Certainly, the scenes set in 1920’s America in the first volume  are contemporary of the development of hardboiled writing there and share many obvious traits in their mood, tone, style, language, themes, settings and characters.    This “noirish” darkness is highlighted, too, by the expressionist illustrations, Clément Serveau’s black woodcuts at the beginning of each chapter throughout the book. But more than all this, it is the second volume , set in the Paris suburbs,  especially if read as a stand alone book, which bears all the hallmarks of a forerunner of the noir novel in France. All the ingredients of the noir, as a violent novel commenting, in a realistic mode, on the ills of a society produced by capitalist exploitation are on  display in  Journey to the End of the Night.  And there is of course, a tragic and pessimistic view of society, a depiction of urban landscapes as places of alienation and violence, and latent political criticism.  But maybe of even greater influence for the generation of French authors  who popularised the noir novel in the 1940’s and 1950’s is the use of slang, and of the expressive  resources of argot . Even if Journey to the End of the Night was not seen as a roman noir,   it is conspicuous that  amongst those who shaped and popularised  the French roman noir  in the post-war, there were many  declared  epigones of Céline.

This edition of Journey to the End of the Night was very successful . The original print run was  44 000  copies.  There were  two more reprints in 1936 and 1939.


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