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.