The Journals of André Gide Essay - Critical Essays

Andre Gide

Critical Evaluation

André Gide’s Journals, which he kept over a period of sixty years from 1889 to 1949, are the personal expression of a writer whose intention was to reveal himself explicitly in his works. In the informal Journal the reader may apprehend in its complexity Gide’s protean personality, which he controlled and utilized in his novels, plays, and essays in accordance with his rigorous ideals of the formal, factitious nature of art. Gide said, however, that he was afraid that his journals would give a false impression of him since he kept them most faithfully during periods of depression when he used them as a sort of discipline, and not during periods of health and happiness when he was absorbed in his work. Be that as it may, the Journals touch on numerous aspects of Gide’s work, personality and thought; there are explications and elaborations of the great Gidian ideas and themes; records of Gide’s reading and sometimes comments upon the authors he read in which one may see something of Gide’s relationship to other thinkers; anecdotes about the artistic people of the time who were his friends, and often opinions about their work; observations on his travels, his gardening, his piano practice, his daily life, often written with the humor and perspicacity which Gide employed so fruitfully in his other works. As Jean-Paul Sartre said of Gide’s work in general, the Journals give the reader a sense of the authentic experience of a man in their original multiplicity, the many directions of a mind which both expressed and represented the temper of their time.

Gide’s expression of his ideas in the Journals reveals how a sensitive mind responded to the ideas that were current during his time and how the artist effected a synthesis of them through his personality. Gide’s life—his background, his culture, his actions, his dilemmas—were in many ways so representative of his society that he has become, as Albert Guerard has observed, a symbolic figure of the modern crisis of individualism.

The Journals are a priceless document for the study of the development and expression of Gide’s individualism. Gide said that his life was dominated by the ideal of being, according to the Gospels, a man “in whom is no guile,” to express himself sincerely in his actions, and to reveal himself with the greatest limpidity in his writings. The famous Gidian sincerity ultimately produced the infamous Gidian “immoralism.” The account records the progress toward immoralism of an ascetic young Huguenot brought up in the strictest Protestant tradition, a development revealed in his trips to North Africa, a country which came to represent for Gide, in contrast to the austerity of France, a sort of province of la volupte, and in his friendship with Oscar Wilde. The Journals also reveal the ways in which Gide’s native Protestant bourgeois ethic continued to influence his life and thought. To express the most radical inclinations of his self, Gide often chose the language of religion. In the Journal of 1893, he prays to the Lord to give him the strength to break the confining ethic in which he lived, and he says that he had to impel himself toward pleasure. Gide’s individualism and immoralism required not only the open acknowledgment of his pederasty, but the cultivation of the sensual faculties in an effort to induce a state of “receptivity” or “availability” to experience. He made an effort, Gide says in the Journal of 1923, to discover beneath the factitious self formed by society an unspoiled, more “natural” self. But in the same passage he adds that such an effort to achieve the greatest personal sincerity required all the power of his will, and he concludes that he was never more moral than when he had decided to be immoral. As Ramon Fernandez said of Gide’s “receptivity,” will and reflection themselves make possible, in a cultivated person, an un-willed and un-reflective existence. What in many thinkers would be paradoxbecomes in Gide, because of the autonomy he attributed to personality, resolution.

The Journals, in statement and in style, often reveal Gide’s capacity for entertaining seemingly contradictory forces. Just at the time of his marriage to his cousin, Gide wrote in all sincerity a eulogy of what he called “nomadism,” a theory close to the existentialist concept of freedom. Despite his expressed belief that a man should disassociate himself from family, country and personal possessions, Gide said that many of his books were written under the pious influence of his wife. He says also in the Journal of 1923 that he never left Cuverville, his estate in Normandy, without a feeling of heartbreak.

In like manner, Gide never completely repudiated the religion of his childhood, but reinterpreted the Gospels according to his own personal lights. In his...

(The entire section is 1972 words.)