Henri Charriere

Biografie şi Bibliografie

Henri Charrière (16 November 1906, Saint-Étienne-de-Lugdarès, Ardèche – 29 July 1973) was a convicted murderer chiefly known as the author of Papillon, a hugely successful memoir of his incarceration in and escape from a penal colony on French Guiana.

Early life

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


According to his novel, Papillon, on 26 October 1931, Charriere was convicted of the murder of a pimp named Roland Le Petit, a charge which he strenuously denied. He was sentenced to life in prison and ten years of hard labor. After a brief imprisonment at the transit prison of Beaulieu in Caen, France, he was transported to the prison of St-Laurent-du-Maroni on the Maroni River, in the penal settlement of mainland French Guiana.

Whilst in Guyana he spent 11 years in prison, including two years in solitary confinement, and confinement on Devil's Island itself. He made nine escape attempts, one of which was successful; subsequently, he was adopted by an Indian tribe in Colombia.

He would make his final escape in 1944, sailing for miles on a bag of coconuts. He arrived in Venezuela, 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 Guyana, 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 where he married a Venezuelan woman identified only as Rita, with whom he had children. He opened restaurants in Caracas and Maracaibo. 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,[4] 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. 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 directed by Franklin Schaffner, in which the actor Steve McQueen takes the title role (Charrière). Dalton Trumbo 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 in Madrid, Spain.


Charrière's 1970 best-selling book Papillon 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 tattoo 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. In 2005, a 104-year-old man in Paris, Charles Brunier, 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.

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