L’Immoraliste by André Gide (1902)
Pre-Reading Research: Biographical Info, Plot Summary, and Links for Further Reading: L’Immoraliste by André Gide (1902): An hour or two of poking around on the internet yielded some useful and interesting information. I usually start on Wikipedia so I know what keywords to be searching for and they’re pretty good about things like birth/death dates, the names of movements, and other basic info. But it’s Wikipedia, which is user-edited, so take it with a grain of salt, as my mother would say..
Biographical Info: L’Immoraliste by André Gide (1902)
I used Spreeder to jet through the source articles listed in the last paragraphs, then went back and reread the parts I found confusing or interesting. I use Spreeder a lot when I’m not concerned about total absorption of what I’m reading. It’s great to get a rough idea of an article, but be wary of making assumptions from it because it’s easy to misinterpret while speed reading. (For instance, I reread the parts about his dislike of school, which seemed unlikely, and also about his pursuit of young boys in Africa, because that’s the sort of thing that can make you look not only foolish but degenerate.) So bear that in mind if you try the Spreeder approach.
André Paul Guillaume Gide (1869-1951) was raised Protestant and his father, a law professor, died in 1880, when André was about ten years old. Because of this, Gide was raised mostly by women. He loved being outdoors and traveling with his family. At school, he was picked on by his peers and young André exaggerated (or feigned?) illness to avoid being around his fellow students. (Presumably he was also doted upon by the Victorian-era women who raised him.)
Later in life, he continued to travel, eventually going to North Africa with a friend to enjoy the company of North African boys. From this point onward, it seems to get rather difficult to separate his life from his books. However, I get the feeling that writing the books may have been his way of expressing the extremes of “immorality” rather than actually acting them out. But that’s purely supposition on my part. Andregide.org’s biography has much more information than I do. Also, you can check out the Wikipedia article for André Gide.
Oh, and I almost forgot – L’Immoraliste was published by André Gide in 1902, when he was about 32 or 33 years old. Although he’s said to have enjoyed writing from a young age, 1902 seems to be fairly early on in his career as a writer. The photograph below would have been taken eighteen years after L’Immoraliste was published.
Plot Summary: L’Immoraliste by André Gide (1902)
Before I started reading, I wanted to look at a summary. Normally, I wouldn’t do this if I were reading a book. However, I’m a bit concerned because I haven’t taken a class in French in over seven years. So I wanted to head into the first book of the semester knowing what I was looking for. Now that I’ve tried it, I might do this for other books in my French course because now I feel well-prepared, so I’m more comfortable and relaxed about reading.
It’s the story of an “immoral man” (a direct translation of the title) who is consistently drawn to the seedy underbelly of life, “ma fortune tenebreuse.” This apparently included running around with Young Arab boys. His lovely and devoted wife tends to him while he’s ill, and he recovers, either in the beginning of the book or some point previously. Then they travel to North Africa, where he pursues his taste for young boys.
Since I think he had tuberculosis or something, maybe the doctors told him to seek out dry desert air to help with respiratory problems, but that’s just supposition.
Then the wife gets sick and winds up dying from the disease she caught from her husband while caring for him. This is supposed to be the end result of some kind of “experiment” with a philosophy derived from Manechaeism. While the protagonist tries to become ultimately free by cutting his bonds to the material world, he ultimately destroys another person. This occurs when he turns away from possessions (his inheritance) and devotion (the loyalty of his wife).
Through the wife’s suffering, Gide shows that man is not alone in the world. The complete freedom of the individual inevitably brings about the suffering of those who care about you. Or the enlightenment of the individual comes at the price of the destruction of the one who loves you.
The summary reminds me of a Victorian-era version of Milan Kundera’s An Unbearable Lightness of Being, which was set at the end of the 1960’s. (By Victorian-era, I mean “less sexy,” “more tragic,” and “involving TB in some way.”)
Related Posts for Pre-Reading of L’Immoraliste by André Gide:
Manechaeism: The religion that serves as a basis for the protagonist’s philosophy
Edward Said: Gives L’Immoraliste as an example of imperialism’s effects on the colonizer