Short summary - Journey to the End of the Night - Louis-Ferdinand Céline

French literature summaries - 2021

Short summary - Journey to the End of the Night
Louis-Ferdinand Céline

A young French medical student Ferdinand Bardamu, under the influence of propaganda, volunteers for the army. For him, a life begins, full of hardships, horror and exhausting transitions across Flanders, on the territory of which French troops take part in the First World War. One day Bardamu is sent to reconnaissance. By this time, he had already managed to reach such a degree of nervous and physical exhaustion that he dreamed of only one thing: to surrender. During his sortie, he meets another French soldier, Léon Robinson, whose desires coincide with those of Bardamu. However, they fail to surrender, and they each disperse in their own direction.

Soon Bardamu is injured, and he is sent to Paris for treatment. There he meets the American Lola, dressed in uniform and who has come to Paris to “save France” to the best of her strength. Her responsibilities include regularly sampling apple pancakes for Parisian hospitals. Lola plagues Bardam all day with talk of soul and patriotism. When he confesses to her that he is afraid to go to fight and he has a nervous breakdown, she leaves him, and Bardamu ends up in a hospital for crazy soldiers. A little later, he begins to meet with Musin, a violinist, a special not too strict morality, which awakens strong feelings in him, but more than once cheats on him with wealthier clients, in particular with rich foreigners. Soon Musine prefers that their paths with Bardamu and completely diverged.

Bardamu has no cash, and he goes to a jeweler for whom he worked in the back room before the war, to ask for money. He does this together with his former friend Voirez, who also once worked for this jeweler. From him, young people receive pennies, which they would not have been enough for one day. Then, at the suggestion of Voirez, both go to the mother of the deceased brother-soldier Voirez, who is a wealthy woman and from time to time lends money to Voirez. In the courtyard of her house, young people meet the same Leon Robinson. Robinson informs them that the woman they came to committed suicide in the morning. This fact upsets him no less than Bardamu, since he is her godson and also wanted to ask for a certain amount.

A few months later, Bardamu, who received an exemption from military service, sits on a steamer and sails to the coast of Africa, where he hopes to get back on his feet in one of the French colonies. This crossing almost costs him his life. Passengers, for some unknown reason, turn Bardamu into an outcast on the ship and three days before the end of the voyage they intend to throw the young man overboard. Only the miracle and eloquence of Bardamu help him stay alive.

During a stop at the colony of Bambola-Bragamance at night, Ferdinan Bardamu, taking advantage of the need for a break from his pursuers, disappears from the ship. He gets a job at the Sranodan of the Little Congo. His duties include living in the woods, ten days' journey from For-Gono, the town where the company is located, and exchanging the rubber mined by the negroes for the rags and trinkets that the company supplied his predecessor and which savages are so greedy for. Having reached his destination, Bardamu meets his predecessor, who again turns out to be Leon Robinson. Robinson takes with him all the most valuable, most of the money and leaves in an unknown direction, not intending to return to for-Gono and give a report to his superiors in his economic activities. Bardamu, left at the broken trough, driven almost to madness by greedy insects and loud nocturnal howls of the beast living in the forest around his hut, decides to follow Robinson and move in the same direction in which his acquaintance disappeared. Bardamu is crushed by malaria, and the negro guides are forced to deliver him to the nearest settlement, which turns out to be the capital of the Spanish colony, on a stretcher. There he ends up with a priest who sells Bardam to the captain of the Infanta Sosalia galley as a rower. The ship is sailing to America. In the United States, Bardamu escapes from the galley and tries to find his place in this country. First, he works as a flea count in a quarantine hospital, then goes without work and penniless, then he turns to his former mistress, Lola, for help. She gives him a hundred dollars and ushers him out the door. Bardamu gets a job at a factory for Ford, but soon gives up this occupation, having met in a brothel with Molly, an affectionate and devoted girl who helps him financially and wants to marry him someday. God works in mysterious ways; it is not surprising that in America, Ferdinan accidentally meets Leon Robinson, who sailed into the country in the same way as Bardamu, but slightly ahead of the latter. Robinson works as a janitor.

After staying in America for about two years, Bardamu leaves back to France and resumes his studies in medicine, passes exams, while continuing to earn money at the same time. After five to six years of academic suffering, Ferdinan still receives a diploma and the right to practice medicine. He opens his doctor's office on the outskirts of Paris, in Garenne-Dragne. He has no pretensions or ambitions, but only the desire to breathe a little more freely. The public in Garenne-Dragne (the name of the area speaks for itself) belongs to the lower strata of society, declassed elements. Here people never live in prosperity and do not try to hide the rudeness and licentiousness of their morals. Bardamu, as the most unassuming and conscientious doctor in the quarter, often does not receive a single sous for his services and gives advice for free, not wanting to rob the poor. There are, however, among them, and openly criminal personalities, such as, for example, the husband and wife of Prokiss, who first want to put the elderly mother of Prokiss in a hospital for the mentally ill, and when she decisively rebuffs their plans, they plot to kill her. This function, which no longer surprises the readers, is entrusted by the Prokiss couple to Robinson who came from nowhere for a fee of ten thousand francs.

An attempt to send the old woman to the other world ends dramatically for Robinson himself: a shot from a gun while setting a trap for mother Prokiss falls into the eyes of Robinson himself, which makes him go blind for several months. The old woman and Robinson, the Prokisses, out of harm's way, so that the neighbors would not find out about anything, are sent to Toulouse, where the old woman opens her own business: she shows tourists a church crypt with half-rotted mummies displayed in it and has a good income from this. Robinson also leads an acquaintance with Madlon, a twenty-year-old black-eyed girl who, despite his blindness, plans to become his wife soon. She reads his newspapers, walks with him, feeds him and takes care of him.

Bardamu comes to Toulouse to visit his friend. Things are going great for him, he feels better already, his eyesight is gradually beginning to return to him, he receives several percent of the profits from the crypt. On the day of Bardamu's departure to Paris, a misfortune happens to the old woman Prokiss: having stumbled on the stairs leading to the crypt, she falls down and dies from a bruise. Ferdinand suspects that Robinson's participation was involved, and, not wanting to get involved in this business, he hurries to return to Paris. In Paris, Bardamu, under the patronage of one of his colleagues, Sukhodrokov, gets a job as an assistant to the chief physician in a psychiatric hospital. The head physician named Bariton has a little daughter with a certain strangeness of character. The father wants her to start learning English, and asks Bardamya to teach her. The girl does not get along with English, but her father, who is present at all the lessons, is imbued with a passionate love for the language, literature and history of England, which radically changes his view of the world and his life aspirations. He sends his daughter to some distant relative, and he himself leaves for England for an indefinite time, then to the Scandinavian countries, leaving Bardamu as his deputy. Soon, Robinson appears at the gates of the hospital, who this time ran away from his bride and her mother. Madlon was strenuously dragging Robinson down the aisle, threatening, if he did not marry her, to inform the police that the death of the old woman Prokiss did not come without Robinson's participation. When he came to Bardam, he begs his friend to take him in his hospital as a madman. Madlon immediately follows the groom to Paris, gets a job and spends all his free time at the gates of the hospital park, hoping to see Leon. Bardamu, wanting to protect Robinson from meeting Madlon, speaks rudely to her and even slaps her. Regretting his intemperance, he invites Robinson with Madlon, as well as the masseuse Sophia, his close friend, for a walk for reconciliation. Reconciliation, however, does not work, and on the way back on the way to the hospital in a taxi Madlon, who cannot get Robinson to agree to return to Toulouse and marry her, shoots him point-blank with a pistol, and then, opening the taxi door, gets out from it and, rolling down a steep slope right through the mud, disappears into the darkness of the field. Robinson dies from his stomach wounds.