Other literary forms

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André Gide (zheed) began his literary career with a number of prose works that defy conventional classification; among them are poetic works in prose, such as Les Cahiers d’André Walter (1891; The Notebooks of André Walter, 1968) and Les Nourritures terrestres (1897; Fruits of the Earth, 1949), and the stories Paludes (1895; Marshlands, 1953) and Le Prométhée mal enchaîné (1899; Prometheus Misbound, 1953). Although closely related to his development as a novelist, such works are perhaps best described as lyric essays discussing the nature and limits of human freedom. Gide is known also for his Journal (1939-1950, 1954; The Journals of André Gide, 1889-1949, 1947-1951); several autobiographical volumes, including Si le grain ne meurt (1926; If It Die . . . , 1935) and Et nunc manet in te (1947, 1951; Madeleine, 1952); and the travelogues Voyage au Congo (1927; Travels in the Congo, 1929) and Retour de l’U.R.S.S. (1936; Return from the U.S.S.R., 1937). As early as 1899, Gide also applied his talents to the writing of plays; the products of these efforts are rarely performed but were published in English in the collection My Theater (1952) one year after the author’s death at the age of eighty-one.

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Achievements

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Despite the relatively small portion of his output that can be classified legitimately as prose fiction, André Gide ranks among the most internationally influential French novelists of his time. With the notable exception of Marcel Proust, Gide was the preeminent French novelist of the period between 1900 and 1950, even though he refused to apply the term “novel” to all but one of his extended prose narratives. Although his reputation declined somewhat during the two decades immediately following his death, he would later be regarded among the major figures, both as theoretician and as practitioner, in the history of modern prose fiction.

Belonging, along with Proust and the somewhat younger François Mauriac, to the last generation of French writers whose private means released them from the need to earn a living, Gide wrote at first to discover and define himself, initially supplying the costs of publication out of his own pocket. Influenced at the beginning of his career by the Decadent and Symbolist movements, Gide’s work soon assumed a personal stamp and direction, acquiring universality even as the author sought primarily to find the best possible expression for his own particular concerns. Fruits of the Earth, a lyric meditation published in 1897, established Gide’s promise as an original writer and a rising literary figure, although it was not until some twenty years later, during and after World War I, that the book would render its author famous (or infamous) for his inspiration (or corruption) of an entire generation of European youth. By that time, Gide’s audacious speculations on the nature of freedom and identity had found expression also in the form of extendednarratives for which the author adamantly denied the appellation “novel,” preferring such recondite (and attention-getting) alternatives as récit (tale) or sotie, the latter a term for a satiric improvisation performed by French law students during the late Middle Ages.

Such early récits as The Immoralist and Strait Is the Gate established Gide as a master of psychological narrative; Lafcadio’s Adventures, published in 1914 as a sotie, demonstrated Gide’s mastery of social satire, with multiple narratives and viewpoints. In The Pastoral Symphony, published in 1919, perhaps the most widely read of Gide’s prose narratives, he skillfully combined the psychological and satiric strains. It was not, however, until 1925 that Gide saw fit, with The Counterfeiters, to publish a book plainly labeled as a “novel” (roman). The result was one of the most widely read and influential novels of the decade—indeed, of the entire period between the two world wars and afterward, in view of its considerable effect on such later developments as the New Novel of the 1950’s.

After The Counterfeiters, Gide wrote extensively in a variety of genres, although among his later major efforts only Theseus might reasonably be considered as extended fiction. Among the first (and oldest) of literary celebrities to be extensively photographed and interviewed, the otherwise reticent Gide spent his later years as an internationally famous literary figure. He received the Nobel Prize in Literature in 1947, not long after the publication of Theseus.

Perhaps correctly identified as a precursor of many significant developments in modern and postmodern fiction, Gide was among the first writers, along with Hermann Hesse, to explore the changing relationships between the individual and society, raising serious epistemological questions with regard to the nature of human identity. He is respected also as a master of prose style in his native language, having perfected a spare, neoclassical sentence that is almost instantly recognizable yet difficult to imitate.

Discussion Topics

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How does the structure of André Gide’s The Immoralist refute the charge that it justifies immorality in Michel?

To what extent was Gide’s age—he was almost fifty when World War I ended—a factor in his ability to see the postwar world more positively than many younger writers?

Consider Gide’s journal of The Counterfeiters as distinct from his other journals.

Are Bernard and Olivier themselves counterfeiters?

Gide has been considered a man who retained the faults of youthfulness. Does your reading of Gide confirm or deny this assertion?

How did Gide influence the existential movement?

Bibliography

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Bettinson, Christopher. Gide: A Study. London: Heinemann, 1977. The first chapter provides a succinct biography of Gide, and subsequent chapters concentrate on the major novels, with a final chapter on his social and political activities and writings. Includes a short bibliography. A good introductory study.

Brée, Germaine. Gide. New Brunswick, N.J.: Rutgers University Press, 1963. A study by one of the great scholars of modern French literature, with chapters on the Gide of fact and legend, the man of letters, and on his major novels. Includes detailed notes and bibliography.

Cordle, Thomas. André Gide. 1969. Rev. ed. New York: Twayne, 1992. An introductory study, with chapters on “The Gidean Personality,” “Decadence and Symbolism,” “Romantic Resurgence,” and “Social Realism.” Includes notes and bibliography.

Driskill, Richard T. Madonnas and Maidens: Sexual Confusion in Lawrence and Gide. New York: Peter Lang, 1999. Examines the issues of sexuality, Christianity, and psychology in Gide and D. H. Lawrence.

Fowlie, Wallace. André Gide: His Life and Art. New York: Macmillan, 1965. One of the enduring, standard works on Gide, with chapters on his childhood and adolescence, early career, major novels, journals and autobiography, relationship to Catholicism, and his vocation as a writer.

Littlejohn, David, ed. Gide: A Collection of Critical Essays. Englewood Cliffs, N.J.: Prentice-Hall, 1970. Essays by distinguished critics on Gide’s fiction, including Germaine Brée on The Counterfeiters and Jean-Paul Sartre on Gide’s career. The introduction, chronology, and bibliography provide a comprehensive overview of his life and career.

Lucey, Michael. Gide’s Bent: Sexuality, Politics, Writing. New York: Oxford University Press, 1995. A specialized study for advanced students of Gide. Lucey discusses both his fiction and nonfiction.

Walker, David H., ed. André Gide. New York: Longman, 1996. Criticism and interpretation of Gide’s oeuvre. Includes bibliographical references and an index.

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