(Literary Essentials: World Fiction)

Drawing its title from Luke 13:24 (“Strait is the gate and narrow is the way...”), André Gide’s second recit, or short novel, tells the tale of a totally earnest yet ultimately futile quest for sainthood, or at least for salvation.

Appalled in early adolescence by the discovery of her mother’s blatant infidelities, Alissa Bucolin seeks to elevate her awakening feelings for her slightly younger cousin Jerome Palissier to a truly spiritual love worthy of divine approval. Aware, as Jerome is not, of her younger sister Juliette’s unrequited feelings for him, Alissa at first seeks to divert Jerome’s attentions in Juliette’s direction; when that strategy fails, owing as much to her own feelings as to his, Alissa embarks deliberately on a search for a mystical, nonphysical love in which she and Jerome will be joined for all eternity. To that end, she dresses plainly and even neglects her physical appearance, rejecting Jerome’s clumsy advances as she retreats increasingly from “the world,” willfully denying her intelligence, education, and culture by forsaking literature in favor of religious tracts.

Jerome, limited by literal-mindedness and a rather plodding nature, believes his own love to be unrequited when Alissa dies, in seclusion, from"no known cause.” After Alissa’s death, however, her diary is discovered. Although a number of pages are missing, those which remain are a stunning revelation to Jerome. Alissa’s diary, excerpts of which are given in the novel, makes clear to Jerome what the reader has already guessed: that her love for him was strongly sensual. The diary also reveals to Jerome her scheme to match him with Juliette. Finally—the most ironic note in a darkly ironic conclusion—the diary suggests that, for all her single-minded pursuit of sainthood, Alissa died without the consolation of faith.