The Life and Work of Semmelweiss: A Fictional Biography

Front Cover
Louis-Ferdinand Celine (1894-1961) is best known for his early novels "Journey to the End of the Night" (1932)--which Charles Bukowski described as the greatest novel of the past 2,000 years--and "Death on the Installment Plan" (1936), but this delirious, fanatical "biography" predates them both. The astounding yet true story of the life of Ignacz Semmelweis provided Celine with a narrative whose appalling events and bizarre twists would have lain beyond credibility in a work of pure fiction. Semmelweis, now regarded as the father of antisepsis, was the first to diagnose correctly the cause of the staggering mortality rates in the lying-in hospital at Vienna. However, his colleagues rejected both his reasoning and his methods, thereby causing thousands of unnecessary deaths in maternity wards across Europe. This episode, one of the most infamous in the history of medicine, and its disastrous effects on Semmelweis himself, are the subject of Celine's semi-fictional evocation, one in which his violent descriptive genius is already apparent. The overriding theme of his later writing--a caustic despair verging on disgust for humanity--finds its first expression here, and yet he also reveals a more compassionate aspect to his character. "Semmelweis" was not published until 1936, after the novels that made Celine famous. "It is not every day we get a thesis such as Celine wrote on Semmelweis!" wrote Henry Miller of this volume.

From inside the book

What people are saying - Write a review

We haven't found any reviews in the usual places.

Common terms and phrases

About the author (2008)

Louis-Ferdinand Celine was born Louis-Ferdinand Destouches in Courbevoie, France on May 27, 1894. He received his medical degree in 1924 and traveled extensively on medical missions for the League of Nations. In 1928, he opened a practice in a suburb of Paris and wrote in his spare time. His first novel, Journey to the End of Night, was published in 1932. His other works include Death on the Installment Plan, Castle to Castle, North, and Rigadoon. A violent anti-Semite, he wrote three pamphlets on the subject: Trifles for a Massacre, School for Corpses, and The Fine Mess. During World War II, he was considered a collaborationist during the German occupation of France. Fearing that he would be charged with the crime, he fled during the Allied liberation of France to Denmark via Germany. In Denmark he was imprisoned for more than a year after French officials charged him with collaboration and demanded his extradition. He returned to France in 1951 after he was granted amnesty by a military tribunal in Paris. He resumed the practice of medicine and continued to write. He died on July 1, 1961.

Bibliographic information