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Henri Charrière

Henri Charrière

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Henri Charrière was a convicted murderer chiefly known as the author of Papillon
Papillon (autobiography)
Papillon is a memoir by convicted felon and fugitive Henri Charrière, first published in France in 1969. It became an instant bestseller. It was translated into English from the original French by June P. Wilson and Walter B. Michaels for a 1970 edition, and by author Patrick O'Brian...

, a hugely successful memoir of his incarceration in and escape from a penal colony
Penal colony
A penal colony is a settlement used to exile prisoners and separate them from the general populace by placing them in a remote location, often an island or distant colonial territory...

 in French Guiana
French Guiana
French Guiana is an overseas region of France, consisting of a single overseas department located on the northern Atlantic coast of South America. It has borders with two nations, Brazil to the east and south, and Suriname to the west...

.

Early life


Charrière was a native of Ardèche
Ardèche
Ardèche is a department in south-central France named after the Ardèche River.- History :The area has been inhabited by humans at least since the Upper Paleolithic, as attested by the famous cave paintings at Chauvet Pont d'Arc. The plateau of the Ardeche River has extensive standing stones ,...

, France. He had two older sisters; his mother died when he was 10 years old. In 1923, at the age of 17, he enlisted in the French Navy
French Navy
The French Navy, officially the Marine nationale and often called La Royale is the maritime arm of the French military. It includes a full range of fighting vessels, from patrol boats to a nuclear powered aircraft carrier and 10 nuclear-powered submarines, four of which are capable of launching...

 and served for two years. After leaving the Navy, Charrière became a member of the Paris underworld, and later married and had a daughter.

Imprisonment



According to his novel, Papillon, on 26 October 1931, Charrière was convicted of the murder of a pimp
Pimp
A pimp is an agent for prostitutes who collects part of their earnings. The pimp may receive this money in return for advertising services, physical protection, or for providing a location where she may engage clients...

 named Roland Le Petit, a charge that he strenuously denied. He was sentenced to life in prison and ten years of hard labor
Hard Labor
Hard Labor is the eleventh album by American rock band Three Dog Night, released in 1974 .- Cover Artwork :The original album cover, depicting of the birth of a record album , was deemed too controversial and was soon reworked with a huge bandage covering the "birth". The cover also includes an...

. After a brief imprisonment at the transit prison of Beaulieu in Caen
Caen
Caen is a commune in northwestern France. It is the prefecture of the Calvados department and the capital of the Basse-Normandie region. It is located inland from the English Channel....

, France, he was transported to the prison of St-Laurent-du-Maroni
Prison of St-Laurent-du-Maroni
The prison of Saint-Laurent-du-Maroni was the main penal establishment of French Guiana for a century...

 on the Maroni River
Maroni River
The Maroni or Marowijne is a river in South America. It originates in the Tumuk Humak Mountains and forms the border between French Guiana and Suriname...

, in the penal settlement of mainland French Guiana
French Guiana
French Guiana is an overseas region of France, consisting of a single overseas department located on the northern Atlantic coast of South America. It has borders with two nations, Brazil to the east and south, and Suriname to the west...

.

Whilst in French Guiana he spent 11 years in prison, including two years in solitary confinement
Solitary confinement
Solitary confinement is a special form of imprisonment in which a prisoner is isolated from any human contact, though often with the exception of members of prison staff. It is sometimes employed as a form of punishment beyond incarceration for a prisoner, and has been cited as an additional...

, and confinement on Devil's Island
Devil's Island
Devil's Island is the smallest and northernmost island of the three Îles du Salut located about 6 nautical miles off the coast of French Guiana . It has an area of 14 ha . It was a small part of the notorious French penal colony in French Guiana until 1952...

 itself. He made nine escape attempts, one of which was successful; subsequently, he was adopted by an Indian tribe in Colombia
Colombia
Colombia, officially the Republic of Colombia , is a unitary constitutional republic comprising thirty-two departments. The country is located in northwestern South America, bordered to the east by Venezuela and Brazil; to the south by Ecuador and Peru; to the north by the Caribbean Sea; to the...

.

He made his final escape in 1941, sailing for miles on a bag of coconuts. He arrived in Venezuela
Venezuela
Venezuela , officially called the Bolivarian Republic of Venezuela , is a tropical country on the northern coast of South America. It borders Colombia to the west, Guyana to the east, and Brazil to the south...

, where he was imprisoned for one year.

However, this information is gleaned from Charrière's novel Papillon, published as an autobiography, but now widely discredited as a true account of his own life. [See below for more information.]
Despite his claims of innocence, Paris police records indicate Charrière's guilt, and while he did spend time in the penal colony in Guiana, he spent his imprisonment there quietly, as a model prisoner.
Modern researchers believe that most of the events in his autobiography in fact happened to others, the accounts being collected by Charrière for his book.

Later life


After Charriere's final release in 1945, he settled in Venezuela
Venezuela
Venezuela , officially called the Bolivarian Republic of Venezuela , is a tropical country on the northern coast of South America. It borders Colombia to the west, Guyana to the east, and Brazil to the south...

 where he married a Venezuelan woman identified only as Rita, with whom he had children. He opened restaurants in Caracas
Caracas
Caracas , officially Santiago de León de Caracas, is the capital and largest city of Venezuela; natives or residents are known as Caraquenians in English . It is located in the northern part of the country, following the contours of the narrow Caracas Valley on the Venezuelan coastal mountain range...

 and Maracaibo
Maracaibo
Maracaibo is a city and municipality located in northwestern Venezuela off the western coast of the Lake Maracaibo. It is the second-largest city in the country after the national capital Caracas and the capital of Zulia state...

. He was subsequently treated as a minor celebrity, even being invited frequently to appear on local television programs. He finally returned to France, visiting Paris in conjunction with the publication of his memoir Papillon (1969). The book sold over 1.5 million copies in France, prompting a French minister to attribute "the moral decline of France" to mini-skirts and Papillon.

Papillon was first published in the United Kingdom in 1970, in a translation by the novelist Patrick O'Brian
Patrick O'Brian
Patrick O'Brian, CBE , born Richard Patrick Russ, was an English novelist and translator, best known for his Aubrey–Maturin series of novels set in the Royal Navy during the Napoleonic Wars and centred on the friendship of English Naval Captain Jack Aubrey and the Irish–Catalan physician Stephen...

. Charrière played the part of a jewel thief in a 1970 film called The Butterfly Affair. He also wrote a sequel to Papillon entitled Banco, in which he describes his life subsequent to his release from prison.

In 1973, his book Papillon was made into a film
Papillon (film)
Papillon is a 1973 film based on the best-selling novel by the French convict Henri Charrière.This motion picture was directed by Franklin J. Schaffner, starring Steve McQueen as Henri Charrière , and Dustin Hoffman as Louis Dega...

 directed by Franklin Schaffner
Franklin Schaffner
Franklin James Schaffner was an American film director best known for such films as Planet of the Apes , Patton , Papillon , and The Boys from Brazil .-Early life:...

, in which the actor Steve McQueen
Steve McQueen
Terrence Steven "Steve" McQueen was an American movie actor. He was nicknamed "The King of Cool." His "anti-hero" persona, which he developed at the height of the Vietnam counterculture, made him one of the top box-office draws of the 1960s and 1970s. McQueen received an Academy Award nomination...

 takes the title role (Charrière). Dalton Trumbo
Dalton Trumbo
James Dalton Trumbo was an American screenwriter and novelist, and one of the Hollywood Ten, a group of film professionals who refused to testify before the House Un-American Activities Committee in 1947 during the committee's investigation of Communist influences in the motion picture industry...

 was the screenwriter, and Charrière himself acted as consultant on location. An interview with Henri Charrière is included in the documentary, Magnificent Rebel, which describes the making of the film.

There are scenes in the film that were not mentioned in the book, an example of which is when Papillon and friends were forced by the guards to catch a crocodile.

On 29 July 1973, Charrière died of throat cancer
Head and neck cancer
Head and neck cancer refers to a group of biologically similar cancers that start in the upper aerodigestive tract, including the lip, oral cavity , nasal cavity , paranasal sinuses, pharynx, and larynx. 90% of head and neck cancers are squamous cell carcinomas , originating from the mucosal lining...

 in Madrid, Spain.

Papillon


Charrière's 1970 best-selling book Papillon
Papillon (autobiography)
Papillon is a memoir by convicted felon and fugitive Henri Charrière, first published in France in 1969. It became an instant bestseller. It was translated into English from the original French by June P. Wilson and Walter B. Michaels for a 1970 edition, and by author Patrick O'Brian...

details his alleged numerous escapes, attempted escapes, adventures and recaptures, from his imprisonment in 1932 to his final escape to Venezuela. The book's title is Charrière's nickname, derived from a butterfly
Butterfly
A butterfly is a mainly day-flying insect of the order Lepidoptera, which includes the butterflies and moths. Like other holometabolous insects, the butterfly's life cycle consists of four parts: egg, larva, pupa and adult. Most species are diurnal. Butterflies have large, often brightly coloured...

 tattoo
Tattoo
A tattoo is made by inserting indelible ink into the dermis layer of the skin to change the pigment. Tattoos on humans are a type of body modification, and tattoos on other animals are most commonly used for identification purposes...

 on his chest (papillon being French for butterfly). The veracity of his account has been questioned, but he always maintained that, apart from minor lapses in memory, it was true.

Modern researchers, however, believe that Charrière got much of his story material from other inmates, and, thus, see the work as more fictional than autobiographical
Autobiography
An autobiography is a book about the life of a person, written by that person.-Origin of the term:...

. In 2005, a 104-year-old man in Paris, Charles Brunier
Charles Brunier
Charles Brunier was a convicted murderer and French veteran of both the First and Second World Wars who claimed, in 2005, to have been the inspiration for Papillon...

, claimed to be the real Papillon, although this claim is debatable.

Modern critics tend to agree that Charrière's depictions included events that happened to others and that Brunier was at the prison at the same time.

External links