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
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 (firstname.lastname@example.org) but you will pay about $12.
More about Andre Gide (1869-1951)
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