Critical Context

(Literary Essentials: World Fiction)

Winner of the Nobel Prize in 1947, three years and several months before his death at age eighty-one, André Gide lived his last years as a celebrity, often photographed and quoted, generally considered among the major writers and prose stylists of his time. In the decades after his death, however, Gide’s reputation diminished considerably; his work is no longer considered nearly equal in stature to that of Marcel Proust, a close contemporary whom he outlived by nearly thirty years. Nevertheless, Gide remains a significant figure in Western literary history, a major practitioner (along with Hermann Hesse) of what Ralph Freedman has termed the “lyrical novel.”

Strait Is the Gate was the first of Gide’s works to attract both popular and critical notice, calling attention also to his earlier, Symbolist-influenced prose works and to The Immoralist, published seven years previously, to a minimum of comment. Gide, responding to the reception of his second recit, claimed that he would never have written The Immoralist had he not also planned to write Strait Is the Gate. Taken together, the two works in fact constitute a coherent, thought-provoking fictional treatise on the nature and limits of human freedom, illustrated by truly credible and memorable characters. Only once more, with the somewhat shorter The Pastoral Symphony, would Gide return to the recit (tale), as opposed to the longer, more fully developed roman (novel). Only once, in fact, would Gide apply the designation “novel” to a work of long fiction, in the case of Les Faux-monnayeurs (1925; The Counterfeiters, 1927), a massive, thickly populated volume that deals in depth with a number of the same issues already raised in his shorter fictional pieces. Thanks in part to the credible if disheartening portrayal of Alissa, and in part also to the social background evoked, Strait Is the Gate remains among Gide’s more memorable and frequently reprinted efforts, together with The Immoralist.