Last Updated on May 6, 2015, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 723
*Paris. Capital of France that provides the background for the first and third parts of the novel, which unfold in summer and fall, respectively. André Gide concentrates the ills of contemporary France into its capital, transposing other cities’ real scandals—including schoolboy suicides in Clermont-Ferrand and counterfeiting activities in Rouen—to his fictionalized Paris. Concerned more with his characters’ moral environment than their physical environment, Gide sketches in the cityscape not with descriptive details but with place names and specific itineraries. At the heart of his map is the Left Bank of the Seine; however, Bernard Profitendieu wanders the entire city in search of freedom and adventure, while the novelist-protagonist, Édouard, traces old contacts both there and across town.
*Rambouillet (rah[n]-bew-YAY). French town about twenty-eight miles southwest of Paris. Gide’s modernist minimizing of realistic description is at its most extreme in chapter 17’s vague evocation of Rambouillet, a town with a fourteenth century château, a large park and a forest. When Vincent Molinier joins two aristocratic friends for dinner, they simply “sat down to table on the terrace of a hotel overlooking a garden where the shades of night were gathering.” Only the chapter title, “The Evening at Rambouillet,” pins down the locale and suggests upper-class indulgence.
*Luxembourg Gardens. Spacious gardens attached to Paris’s Luxembourg Palace, built on the Left Bank by King Louis XIII’s mother in the seventeenth century. This site is at the center of the urban landscape, with the first chapter taking Bernard from his parents’ home near the gardens to a path overlooking the Medici fountains, where his schoolmates congregate for intellectual discussions. In his working notes for this novel, Gide planned a “‘poetic’ description of the Luxembourg—which must be as mythical a place as the Forest of Arden is in the fantasies of Shakespeare.” The gardens assume their most “poetic” aspect as the setting for Bernard’s meeting with an angel, which concludes the travels and encounters that mature Bernard from a reckless runaway into a prodigal son happy to return home.
Vedel-Azaïs School (ved-el-a-ZA-ee). School and boardinghouse close to the Luxembourg Gardens run by the Protestant Monsieur Azaïs. Between the criminal influence of an adult boarder and the “poisonous air that reigns in it, under the stifling cover of morality and religion,” the school initiates its youth into lies, theft, counterfeiting, sadism, blackmail, and homicide. This environment’s festering evils push Boris, an alienated little boy born out of wedlock in Poland, to a public suicide.
*Sorbonne. Heart of the University of Paris, located on the Left Bank near the Luxembourg Gardens. It is at this prestigious center for learning, founded in 1257 as a theological college for the poor, that Gide has artistic, intellectual Olivier Molinier and Bernard pass their matriculation exams.
*Saas-Fée (sas-FAY). Swiss resort at the foot of the Dom, Switzerland’s highest mountain, in Zermatt, in the southern canton of Valais. In the second, shortest part of the novel, Édouard, Laura Douviers, and Bernard visit the Swiss village, escaping the oppressive summer heat of Paris and gaining perspective on the complications of their lives in France. After climbing the Hallalin mountain, Bernard describes Saas-Fée as a purifying retreat “out of sight of all culture . . . of everything that reminds one of the avarice and stupidity of men.” By escorting Boris from Saas-Fée to Paris, and specifically to the Vedel-Azaïs school, Édouard exposes the vulnerable boy to such social corruption.
(The entire section contains 956 words.)
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