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.