Louis-Ferdinand Céline and the Death of Bessy

Céline, Bessy and Bébert, Körsor, Denmark, c. 1948

The head is like a factory that doesn’t run exactly the way you’d like…imagine…two thousand billion neurons…all a complete mystery…where does that get you?…neurons left to their own resources! the slightest attack, your head goes haywire, you can’t pin down a single idea…you’re ashamed of yourself…Here on my ass like this, I’d like to tell you some more…about pictures, coats-of-arms, secret passageways, draperies…but I’m lost…I can’t find anything…my head’s turning…yes, but wait…I’ll get back to you…and my Castle…and my head!…later…later…I remember a word!…animal instinct, I said…Bébert…I’ve got the thread back…[our cat] Bébert was at home in that Castle from the top of the turrets to the cellars…he and Lili would meet in one corridor or another…they didn’t talk to each other…they behaved as if they’d never seen each other before…each for himself…the animal waves are like that, a quarter of a millimeter off and you’re not yourself…you don’t exist…a different world!…same mystery with Bessy, my dog, later in the woods in Denmark…she’d run away…I’d call her…blue in the face…she didn’t hear me…off on a binge…she’d pass, she’d brush against us…ten times!…twenty times!…like an arrow!…and away she’d go  around the trees so fast you couldn’t see her legs! bat out of hell!…I loved that dog…and I think she loved me too…but her animal life came first…for two, three hours…I didn’t count…this was one of her escapades…wild in the animal world…woods, meadows, rabbits, deer, ducks…she came back with bleeding paws, affectionate…she died here in Meudon, she’s buried over there, right next to the house, in the garden, I can see the mound…a painful death…cancer, I think…she wanted to die there outside…I held her head…I held her in my arms up to the end…really a splendid animal…a joy to look at her…a vibrant joy…she was so beautiful!…not a flaw…coat, build, stance…nothing like it in the dog shows!

It’s a fact, I still think of her, even now in this fever…in the first place, I can’t tear myself away from anything, a memory, a person, so how would I tear myself away from a dog?…I’m a virtuoso of fidelity…fidelity and responsibility…responsible for everything…a disease…anti-ungrateful…the world is good to you!…animals are innocent, even when they run wild like Bessy…in a pack they shoot them…

I really loved her with her crazy escapades, I wouldn’t have parted with her for all the gold in the world…any more than with Bébert, though he was the meanest ripper of them all…a tiger!…but very affectionate at times…and terribly attached! from end to end in Germany…animal fidelity…

In Meudon, I could see, Bessy missed Denmark…nothing to hunt in Meudon…no deer…maybe a rabbit?…maybe…I took her to the Bois de Saint-Cloud…for a bit of a run…she sniffed…zigzagged…and came back in no time…two minutes…nothing to track in the Bois de Saint-Cloud…she walked along with us…but she was sad…she was a robust animal…she’d had a bad time of it up there…the cold…ten below…and no kennel…and not just for days!…for months…years…the Baltic frozen over…

All of a sudden up there with us…never mind, we forgave her everything…she’d take a powder…she’d come back…never a word of reproach…she ate out of our plates, so to speak…the worse the world treated us, the more we spoiled her…she’s dead…but she had a bad time dying…I didn’t want to give her an injection…not even a little morphine…the syringe would have frightened her…I’d never frightened her…she was very low for a good two weeks…oh, she didn’t complain, but I could tell…strength all gone…she slept beside my bed…one morning she wanted to go out…I wanted to lay her down in the straw…right after daybreak…she didn’t like the place I put her…she wanted a different place…on the cold side of the house, on the pebbles…she lay down very prettily…she began to rattle…that was the end…they’d told me, I didn’t believe it…but it was true…she was pointed in the direction of her memory…the place she had come from, the North, Denmark, her muzzle turned toward the north…a faithful dog in a way, faithful to the woods of her escapades, Korsör up there…faithful too to the awful life…she didn’t care for the woods of Meudon…she died with two, three little rattles…oh, very discreet…practically no complaining…and in a beautiful position, as though in mid-leap…but on her side, felled, finished…her nose toward the forests of the chase, up there where she came from, where she’d suffered…God knows!…

Oh, I’ve seen plenty of death agonies…here…there…everywhere…but none by far so beautiful, so discreet…so faithful…the trouble with men’s death agonies is the song and dance…a man is always on the stage…even the simplest of them…

Louis-Ferdinand Céline
Castle to Castle (1957)

Photo: Céline, Bessy, and Bébert the cat, Körsor, Denmark, c. 1948

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One thought on “Louis-Ferdinand Céline and the Death of Bessy

  1. Probably my favourite passage of his. It really stands out in the novel too, it feels completely separate from the rest of the book. I think it stands as it’s own piece and could easily be published as a poem or short story.

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