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Henri Charrière

Henri Charrière (French pronunciation: [ɑ̃ ʁi ʃaʁjɛʁ]; 16
November 1906 – 29 July 1973) was a French criminal and writer. Convicted as a murderer by the French
courts, he is known as the author of Papillon, a memoir
of his incarceration in and escape from a penal colony in
French Guiana. While Charrière claimed that Papillon
was largely true, modern researchers believe that much
of the book’s material came from other inmates, rather
than Charrière himself. To his final days Charrière strenuously denied his murder conviction, although he freely
admitted to having committed various other petty crimes
prior to his incarceration.


ing to civilization, he was quickly recaptured and sent
back to French Guiana to be put into solitary confinement
for the next two years.
While in French Guiana he spent 11 years in prison, during this period he attempted to escape several more times
resulting in increasingly brutal responses from his captors. He stated that he was then confined to Devil’s Island, a labour camp that, at the time, was notorious for
being inescapable. (French authorities later released penal colony records that contradicted this; amongst other
details, Charrière had never been imprisoned on Devil’s
Island.) However, he finally achieved his permanent liberation in 1941, by using a bag of coconuts as a makeshift
raft and riding the tide out from the island. He sailed for
miles and eventually arrived in Venezuela, where he was
imprisoned for one year then released as a Venezuelan

Early life

Charrière was born at Saint-Étienne-de-Lugdarès,
Ardèche, France. He had two older sisters. His mother
died when he was 10. At 17 in 1923, he enlisted in the
French Navy and served for two years. After that, he
became a member of the Paris underworld. He later
married and had a daughter.

1.3 Later life

night and fled to the La Guajira Peninsula, where he was
adopted by an Indian tribe. He spent several months living with the natives, but felt that he had to move on, which
was a decision he would ultimately regret. Upon return-

There are scenes in the film that were not mentioned in the
book, an example of which is when Papillon and his friend
Louis Dega (played by Dustin Hoffman) were forced by
the guards to catch a crocodile.

After Charrière’s final release in 1945, he settled in
Venezuela where he married a Venezuelan woman identified only as Rita. 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,
1.2 Imprisonment
visiting Paris in conjunction with the publication of his
memoir Papillon (1969). The book sold over 1.5 million
Main article: Papillon (book)
copies in France,[3] prompting a French minister to attribute “the moral decline of France” to miniskirts and
According to his book, Papillon, Charrière was convicted Papillon.[4]
on 26 October 1931 of the murder of a pimp named
Papillon was first published in the United Kingdom in
Roland Le Petit, a charge that he strenuously denied.
He was sentenced to life in prison and ten years of hard 1970, in a translation by the novelist Patrick O'Brian.
Charrière played the part of a jewel thief in a 1970 film
labour. After a brief imprisonment at the transit prison of
Beaulieu in Caen, France, he was transported in 1933 to called The Butterfly Affair. He also wrote a sequel to Pathe prison of St-Laurent-du-Maroni on the Maroni River, pillon entitled Banco, in which he describes his life subsequent to his release from prison.
in the penal settlement of mainland French Guiana.
According to the book, he made his first escape on 28 In 1973, his book Papillon was made into a film directed
November 1933,[1] 37 days later, joined by fellow pris- by Franklin Schaffner, in which the actor Steve McQueen
oners André Maturette and Joanes Clousiot, who would takes the title role (Charrière). Dalton Trumbo was the
accompany him throughout much of his time on the run. screenwriter, and Charrière himself acted as consultant
The trio were shipwrecked near the village of Riohacha, on location. An interview with Henri Charrière is innorthern Caribbean Region of Colombia, and were im- cluded in the documentary, Magnificent Rebel, which deprisoned. Charrière subsequently escaped during a rainy scribes the making of the film.


a former Paris-Match reporter claims that CharGuard. “Papillon alive and well in a Paris retirement home” “Mail & Guardian Online”. claimed to be the real Papillon. a 104-year-old man in Paris. believe that Charrière got much of his story material from other inmates. 13 November 1970 In his book “Les quatre vérités de Papillon”. Charrière died of throat cancer in Madrid. Critics claim that the heroic rescue of a guard’s young daughter from sharks. author of “Papillon Épinglé" (Butterfly Pinned) maintains that “Only about 10 percent of Charrière’s book represents the truth.2 4 EXTERNAL LINKS On 29 July 1973. The Times (London). which he said was “75 percent true. but according to French officials. Retrieved 2011-0313.”[11] 3 References [1] Henri Charrière. Timothy (1979-09-14). though the entire island is rocky. Papillon (Hart-Davis MacGibbon. and. Charrière claims to have been incarcerated in Saint Laurent and may have escaped from there. • Charrière. P. Boca Raton News.(subscription required) Papillon Charrière’s 1970 best-selling book Papillon. 14 Hoyle. Patrick (2005). [6] Henri Charriere. & O'Brian. Accessed 10 October 2007. 28 July 1973 [7] Ex-convict aged 104 claims to be Papillon. Spain. “Obituary”. The Lewiston Daily Sun. thus. 1970) [2] Henri Charriere at everything2. attempted escapes. from his imprisonment in 1932 to his final escape to Venezuela. 5 November 1970 prostitution and that he later tried to blame her for the murder of Roland Legrande. London: Harper Perennial. it gently slopes into the surrounding sea. H. “Travels with Papi”. TIME. 26 June 2005 [9] The Fabulous Escapes of Papillon: An ex-con from Devil’s Island strikes it rich with a great yarn -but how true is it? By Marie-Claude Wreen. see the work as more fictional than autobiographical. Georges Mé[10] Devil’s Isle author dies after surgery.”[10] French journalist Gerard de Villiers. Eugene Registernager. Charles Brunier. • (Portuguese) Platão Arantes: A Grande Farsa Article discussing the veracity of Henri Charrière’s autobiography . H. 2 [5] Obituary. Modern researchers. “Introduction” to Papillon. ISBN 0-00-717996-0. 1973.[9] When some critics questioned the veracity of his story and said he erred on some of the dates. 14 September 1979.”[6] details his alleged numerous escapes. Hugh Schofield. (trans. A French justice ministry report said Charrière’s book included episodes that were imagined or involved others and “should be divided by at least 10 to get near the truth”. Mail & Guardian. p. ISBN 0-00-717996-0 • Schofield. however. which Charrière describes graphically in his book. By Colin Randall. The Times July 31.[7] In 2005. adventures and recaptures. LIFE Magazine. Author of “Papillon” Dies at 66. The Telegraph. Charrière replied: “I didn't have a typewriter with me.) (2005) Papillon London: Harper Perennial.[5] [4] O' [3] Foote. 52. derived from a butterfly tattoo on his chest (papillon being French for butterfly). The book’s title is Charrière’s nickname. The book and movie both present Devil’s Island as having rocky cliffs. when in fact. and lived off the proceeds of his girlfriend’s [11] Small-time Paris thief writes a bestseller.[8] 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. he never 4 External links served any time on Devil’s Island. p. 30 July 1973 rière was in fact a police informer and a pimp before his incarceration. was in fact carried out by another convict named Alfred Steffen who lost both legs and subsequently died. 26 June 2005. Ben. 27 June 2005 [8] Papillon alive and well in a Paris retirement home.

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