André Gide Biography

Biography (History of the World: The 20th Century)

0111200574-Gide_A.jpgAndré Gide (©The Nobel Foundation) Published by Salem Press, Inc.

Article abstract: Through his works, especially his fiction, Gide not only presented the problems and conditions of modern man but also renovated narrative genres and ways of seeing and feeling the world.

Early Life

André Gide was born in Paris, France, on November 22, 1869. His father, a Huguenot of great integrity and piety from southwestern France, was a brilliant jurist and professor at the Paris Law School. Despite a certain aloofness, it was he who read secular books aloud to André. André’s mother, on the other hand, was more interested in his religious education and read selections from the Bible to him. Of noble character and puritanical Calvinism and born into a traditional family of rich bourgeois businessmen and industrialists, she was an austere woman, who ran household and life in too strict a fashion. Thus, after his father died in 1880, when André was almost eleven, he increasingly rebelled against her domineering authority.

At age eight, André attended the École Alsacienne, one of the best Protestant private schools in Paris, where, not because he was lazy or stupid but because he was erratic and shy in public, he quickly and steadily accumulated zeros. Unfortunately, on being caught masturbating in class, he was suspended and then threatened with castration by his parents’ doctor. His guilt over his sinful “vice” caused him considerable pain and suffused many of his writings and much of his personal life. He did return to the École Alsacienne, however, until anxiety attacks forced him to leave Paris, during which time he was privately tutored. He finally reenrolled in the École Alsacienne in the 1887 fall term and passed his baccalauréat examinations two years later. At school, he loved the Greek and Roman poets, principally Vergil, the French classics, Victor Hugo, Gustave Flaubert, and the recently published Fragments d’un journal intime (1883-1884; Amiel’s Journal, 1885) by the introverted Henri-Frédéric Amiel. (Gide too would soon start keeping a lifelong journal.) Besides being an avid reader, he was an excellent student of languages and read German and English fluently, discovering Johann Wolfgang von Goethe’s pantheistic message and, in translation, Arthur Schopenhauer’s anguish and ecstasy in 1888.

At the same time Gide fell chastely in love with his elder cousin. Madeleine Rondeaux was a gentle, melancholy, and frail girl whom Gide saw as the embodiment of moral perfection and whose approval and esteem he desperately sought. Together they read the Bible and the Gospels as brother and sister, and thus she reinforced his concepts of good and evil, salvation and damnation. Twice, however, she refused to marry him. To prove to her the depth of his adoration, and to be a published author by age twenty-one, he set out to write a work which was to become Les Cahiers d’André Walter (1891; The Notebooks of André Walter, 1968). This quasi-autobiographical novel shows the new mal du siècle’s Manichaean struggle between the soul and the flesh and the soul’s final victory. Gide had found his vocation, his themes, and his style.

Life’s Work

The book received several flattering reviews and above all gave Gide an introduction to one of the greatest poets of the time: Stéphane Mallarmé. Indeed, Mallarmé and his Symbolist circle were to play an important role in the young man’s thought and worldview, from the minor but charming Le Traité du Narcisse (1891; “Narcissus,” in The Return of the Prodigal Son, 1953) to the sensual and erotic, even decadent, Le Voyage d’Urien (1893; Urien’s Voyage, 1964). Gide satirized that stifling and artificial literary salon atmosphere, however, in Paludes (1895; Marshlands, 1953), the first of what Gide called sotie, a kind of preposterous and comical narrative.

Unfit for military service because of tuberculosis, he left for North Africa with the young painter Paul-Albert Laurens in October, 1893. This convalescence trip, full of exotic splendor and unknown thirsts, followed by another in early 1895 during which he met Oscar Wilde and Lord Alfred Douglas, would have considerable impact on his entire life: A first pederastic experience in Tunisia and his conversations with Wilde both forced him to question the principles...

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André Gide Biography (Critical Guide to Censorship and Literature)

The work of André Gide was censored at various times during his lengthy career, especially after 1920, when he began to reach a large readership. After his earliest works had received little critical notice, he printed limited editions of his later work, and he sent out few review copies. These strategies may explain why such an important work such as The Immoralist (1902) received little critical notice. A novella with autobiographical overtones, The Immoralist details the North African honeymoon of a man who discovers that he prefers sex with boys. The book drew attention less for its subject matter than for the spare exactitude of Gide’s prose. Gide’s preface closes: “Finally, I have tried to prove nothing, but to paint my picture well and light it properly.”

Critical notice of Gide’s work increased with publication in 1926 of his masterpiece, The Counterfeiters, a narrative tour de force that recounts the lives, lies, and romantic dalliances of French schoolboys. In contrast to Marcel Proust’s Remembrance of Things Past (1913-1927), which disguises the author’s homosexuality, Gide’s novel proclaims it openly. That same year a charge of obscenity was brought against another Gide novel, If It Die, in New York, which had law prohibiting “any obscene, lewd, lascivious, filthy, indecent or disgusting book.” However, a New York court cited a precedent in St. Hubert Guild v. Quinn (1909) to rule that it was not the court’s duty to censor literary production, because works of art and literature require “latitude.”

Gide prided himself on being the literary champion of social outcasts, including criminals, the underprivileged, and indigenous peoples in French colonies. He also considered himself a communist through the middle years of his life; however, a visit to the Soviet Union in 1936 disillusioned him. After he wrote several books criticizing the Soviet Union, the Soviet government banned all his works.

Gide’s reputation peaked in 1947 when he received the Nobel Prize in Literature. In 1952, a year after he died, the Roman Catholic church placed his complete works on its Index Librorum Prohibitorum. The church’s accompanying decree characterized Gide as a “committed anti-Christian” whose work exhibited a “customary obscenity” and “imprudence.” (The church formally abolished the Index in 1966.) In the years since Gide’s death, his reputation as a major figure in twentieth century French literature has become secured.

André Gide Biography (Survey of Novels and Novellas)

André-Paul-Guillaume Gide was born in Paris on November 22, 1869, the only child of Paul Gide (a law professor) and the former Juliette Rondeaux. A shy, introspective boy, inevitably influenced by his parents’ severe Protestantism, Gide soon perceived in himself an avid sexuality that would tend toward inversion; as early as the age of seven, he was expelled from school for masturbation and would remain haunted for life by a nagging guilt that he kept trying to neutralize through his various writings. The death of his father in 1880, at the age of forty-seven, added further complication to an already troubled childhood, and Gide would soon undergo treatment for a variety of nervous disorders. Around the age of thirteen, Gide developed a strong, lifelong attachment to his first cousin Madeleine Rondeaux, two years his senior, who became his wife soon after the death of his mother in 1895. Their marriage, although never consummated, was the dominant emotional relationship of Gide’s life and ended only with Madeleine’s death in 1938 at the age of seventy-one.

Even before his marriage, Gide had begun to emerge as a potential literary figure, thanks in part to a curious work that was written initially with Madeleine in mind. The Notebooks of André Walter, privately published in 1891 at the young author’s expense, purports to be the diary of a young man, by then deceased, describing his love for one Emmanuèle, under which name Madeleine Rondeaux appears in thin disguise. Although the book failed to sell, it was disseminated within Parisian artistic circles, and Gide continued writing, producing such documents as the Symbolist parable Le Traité du Narcisse (1891; “Narcissus,” in The Return of the Prodigal Son, 1953), the protonovel Le Voyage d’Urien (1893; Urien’s Voyage, 1964), and the experimental Paludes, about a young man who is planning a novel to be called Paludes. In 1893, Gide at long last came to terms with his homosexuality during the course of a trip to North Africa, the details of which would receive chaste (but, for that time, explicit) fictional treatment in The Immoralist. Having for all practical purposes discontinued his formal education after belatedly passing the baccalauréat on his second attempt, in 1889, Gide nevertheless continued to develop as a self-taught intellectual, reading widely and participating fully in the vigorous cultural activity then centered in Paris. His first truly significant publication, Fruits of the Earth, begun as early as the trip to North Africa, was finished shortly after his marriage to Madeleine but was not published until 1897.

Gide’s marriage, discussed at considerable length by numerous commentators as well as by Gide himself, remained a dominant feature of both his life and his work. There is little doubt that his love for Madeleine was as deep and intense as it was otherworldly, firmly rooted in the oddly protective emotion that had overwhelmed him when Madeleine was fifteen and he was two years younger. Like her fictional counterpart, Alissa, in Strait Is the Gate, Madeleine had recently discovered her own mother’s marital infidelity and was quite undone by what she had learned; André, although little more than a child (and a disturbed child at that), instinctively sought to comfort his cousin. There was thus at the base of their affective relationship a denial of the physical that would never really change. Commentator Thomas...

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André Gide Biography (Masterpieces of World Literature, Critical Edition)

André Paul Guillaume Gide (zheed) was born on November 22, 1869, in Paris, France, the only child of Juliette Rondeaux and Paul Gide. Both parents were Huguenots in Roman Catholic France and believed in a strict Protestant upbringing for their son. Gide’s father died when André was only eleven years old. This loss, combined with a somewhat nervous temperament, turned Gide into a difficult and unhappy young man plagued by psychosomatic illness. At an early age he developed an almost obsessive infatuation for his cousin, Madeleine Rondeaux, whom he worshiped as an idealized epitome of pious and pure young womanhood. They saw each other at family gatherings and corresponded regularly for several years; both families, however,...

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André Gide Biography (Masterpieces of World Literature, Critical Edition)

André Gide’s ultimate literary achievement is that of a moralist in the great French tradition. Though he proved an innovator in his experimental works, The Counterfeiters and The Vatican Swindle, he was most influential as a proponent of individualism and what he called, “sincerity.” Gide’s moral philosophy was a product of both his times and his own personal experience. Gide managed to reconcile the post-World War I yearning for excitement and adventure with his own profound belief in moral goodness. The distance between Michel’s obsessive pursuit of his own sensual pleasures in the name of freedom and Bernard’s return home in acknowledgment of his responsibility to others marks the distance between...

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André Gide Biography (Great Authors of World Literature, Critical Edition)

André Gide (zheed) was a distinguished French writer, the significance of whose work was finally recognized by the award of the Nobel Prize in Literature in 1947. This award was the termination of a debate that had for many decades been carried on in France regarding whether Gide, a writer of great talent and diversity, should be given official sanction and recognition such as membership in the French Academy indicates.

During much of his career Gide was suspect because of his revelation in Corydon, which is essentially a defense of homosexuality, of his own sexual preference. Also, from 1936 on, his Return from the U.S.S.R. stood—in the minds of left-wing critics—as the record of Gide’s...

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André Gide Biography (Novels for Students)

André Gide was one of the most important French writers of the twentieth century. He was born André Paul Guillaume Gide, 22 November 1869,...

(The entire section is 490 words.)