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Andre Gide--The Immoralist (1902)

Andre Gide's L'Immoraliste (1902)

Commentary by Anais Aigner (1998)



In May of 1952 Pope Pius XII issued a decree banning the entire works of Andre Gide. "He made of his sin a coefficient (and not the least) part of his fame," read the document, "Generations of young people have submitted to his impure seduction . . .Gide . . .dared to reduce to a state of open question the one thing we have that is most certain, most secure . . . to doom himself shamelessly in so doing: worse, to make of this act his fame, his profit, and his reward."

What blasphemy could have provoked such outcry? Gide's writings, influenced heavily by his stern upbringing in the Protestant church, show the departure of a man from the stronghold of religion and his voyage into honesty with self and before God. It is for this that he is condemned--his brutal honesty.

L'Immoraliste is the story of a young man leaving home, marrying, and traveling to Africa with his new wife, where he discovers his homosexuality. It presents an excellent look at the inner conflicts between which the hero Michel must negotiate--his love for his wife, his feeling of guilt and duty, and his increasing desire to go his own way. The beauty of Gide's tale is that Michel does not try to rationalize or justify his choice as noble; he does not reject his wife and his guilt as having no hold on him, but he respects and wrestles with them, and makes his choice anyway . It is this course of action which is most Gidian--a man honest enough with himself about his own desires to choose something against all admonition, fully aware of the consequences he will endure. In this way L'Immoraliste, like most of his other books, betrays Gide's own desperate bravado, for which he was condemned by the Church.

"He it was whom I thenceforth set out to discover," declares Michel in L'Immoraliste, "That authentic creature, the 'old Adam', whom the Gospel had repudiated, whom everything about me--books, masters, parents, and I had begun by attempting to suppress." While the rest of Christian France is seeking to cast off the 'old Adam', Gide was trying him on for size! Such was the beauty of the man. . .

L'Immoraliste, and for that matter, the entire body of Gide's work, is something every sound mind should engage. It will challenge the reader intellectually and spiritually, and is delightful reading. The character of Menalque (Menalcas) is perhaps the most striking character, providing some comic relief, but also serving in some respects as a symbol of intellectual adventure. The modern reader will recognize much of himself in L'Immoraliste's characters, I suspect, because the book is modern in so many ways. Written in the 1890's, it has much the the spirit of the 1990's.


Eager to read this book? The Immoralist is available in Dover Thrift Edition for $1.50 in most bookstores. You can order directly from Dover by sending $5.50 (cost + $4 postage) to: Dover Publications, Inc., 31 E. 2nd Street, Mineola, NY 11501. You can also order the book from Amazon (amazon@aol.com) but you will pay about $12.

More about Andre Gide (1869-1951)
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