The Life and Works of Andre Gide
by Marc Beigbeder
from pp 105-114 of the book: Nobel Prize Library: Gide, Gjellerup, Heyse. Helvetica Press 1971
Marc Beigbeder is a professor of philosophy and literature at the Lycee de Carthage.
Translated by Helga Harrison.
THE WORKS OF Andre Gide, more than most literary productions, are inseparable from the
man's life. Gide understood this and talked a great deal about himself to others, right up until
his death. Stories about him abound often contradictory in what they seem to reveal of the
man. But Gide's life, like his works, embraced ambiguities. The question is, what final image
of the man emerges from it all?
In a life at once open and discreet, Gide was motivated by nothing so much as his own literary
genius. Andre Gide decided in childhood to become a writer, and he unerringly pursued his
In the modern world, the vocation of the writer often has a threefold aim: first, to escape from
a set of circumstances; second to do so in an indirect, sublimated way; and, finally, to reach
out from one's particular situation to embrace the universal. Gide's particular set of
circumstances was shaped almost entirely by family background and his Protestant
upbringing. The Protestantism of the late nineteenth century instilled a personal dedication, a
need for commitment, and a constant scrutiny of oneself and ones feelings. In Gide, this
influence led to those examinations of conscience in which he indulged to the end of his
Gide's father died when the boy was quite young, and his life at home was largely influenced
by the women of the family. They allowed him great freedom and he did practically anything
he wanted. His sense of individuality, indeed of fantasy, was encouraged by such
circumstances. So was his passion for nature and his sense of pleasure, of innocent
enchantment, almost of intoxication in discovering the beauties of the countryside. "I was
passionately fond of the country around Uzes, of the valley of the Fontaine d'Ure and above
all of the garrigue," he recalled. At first, Marie, the family's maid went with him on
long walks. Like every true Swiss woman, she loved flowers and they carried them home by
the armful. The aridity and bareness of the garrigue made the flower gathering more difficult,
but added to Gide's delight in it.
As the family traveled, young Gide explored nature in new settings, still sharing his discoveries
with approving women. In Si le Grain ne Meurt (If It Die . . . 1924) we have
Gide's impressions of seeing eucalyptus trees in flower during a visit to the Cote d'Azur with
his mother and Anna Shackleton, a friend of the family: "The first one I saw sent me into
transports; I was alone, but I ran off at once to announce the event to my mother and Anna
and I did not rest satisfied till I had dragged Anna to the spot where the tree of wonders
grew." He also went to the islands of Lerins, where he discovered the submarine flora and
fauna in the crannies of the rocks displaying "their splendor with oriental
These impressions were shaped by the mature writer, but with age he neither in vented nor
distorted the boy's sensations. His reaction to natural beauty was never passive; it involved all
of his sensibility and intelligence.
Gide craved novelty, change, and surprise for the pleasure they gave, but he did not let his
experience overwhelm him. He took them apart, mastered them, and played with them-like
the kaleidoscope he once took to pieces, to make it yield its secret. His passion for analysis,
his need to know more, his unaggressive tenacity - traits derived directly from his
Protestantism - were freely cultivated at home, in the company of women. Yet at the Ecole
Alsatienne, he gave the impression of being stupid and uncouth. Asked by his teacher to
repeat the observation that the words coudrier and noisetier designated the
same tree, he would not - indeed, could not - answer. Sent out to the playground, then told to
come back and repeat the few words required, he was just as tongue-tied as before, to the
great delight of the whole class.
Was he clowning or simply being obstinate? Neither. School was all rules, conventions, and
habit; organized, monotonous, impersonal, bearing no relation to the natural life. It was not
that Gide was lazy. What he needed, would always need, was to be swept up in enthusiasm.
Gide wrote in If It Die: "I experienced an unspeakable distaste for everything we did
in class, for the class itself, for the whole system of lectures and examinations, even for the
play hours: nor could I endure the sitting still, the lack of interest, the stagnation. One would
like to believe that in the age of innocence the soul is all sweetness, light, and purity, but can
remember nothing in mine that is not all ugly, dark, and deceitful . . . A photograph of myself,
taken at that time . . . represents me half-hidden in my mother's skirts, frightfully dressed in a
ridiculous check frock, with a sickly ill tempered face and a crooked look in my
At the Ecole Alsatienne he did master the art of recitation but his manner of reciting and his
teacher's compliments only earned him the jealousy and derision of his schoolmates, who
used to set upon him after school. Fortunately, he was a good runner and often managed to
elude them. Not always, however - he was bullied and beaten and finally had a dead cat
rubbed against his face. At last he found a way out: illness. While convalesced from smallpox,
he had dizzy spells which he deliberately tried to exacerbate: "Ha! I said to myself, suppose I
were to imitate what I imagine!" And he would let himself collapse, after making sure that was
in a place where the fall would not hurt too much. Was he sly? There are all sorts of slyness
and his was of a childish, even open kind, without malice or falsehood, a means of defense
rather than attack. A weakling's way out? Rather that of a child terrified of being sent back to
the slaughter. He liked doing it, too, not only because it was a source of relief, but because he
was taking an unknown path making new feelings conceivable by miming them. These traits
would recur Gide's later life.
At school, he had been unfairly excluded from the company of others and had felt their
hatred. As an only child, he adored having friends, for he was of a eminently sociable, friendly
disposition. He wanted to be liked, but was rejected. It was the fault of the others, but, instead
of hating them for it, he tried to win them over. With his neurotic make-believe he did not
mean to shut himself off, to become aloof and embittered; dislodged from one branch, he
simply perched himself on another, to see and be seen, to charm others and himself. For his
make believe was as much social as it was neurotic. He threw himself into a role full of
refinements, surprises, and subtle effects - a double role, a creation.
Thus we find him on the threshold of his career: an aesthete and an individualist. He wanted
not only to live apart from the crowd, to be true to himself - but also to be liked. He sought to
be sincere, but at the same time sought to please by his sincerity, which inevitably became
suspect. It was this conflict, this peculiar set of circumstances from which Gide sought to
escape by becoming a writer.
When he returned home from school, the question of his future arose. Gide loved nature, and
his mother suggested he make a career in forestry or something similar. But he did not want a
profession, since his real interests lay elsewhere-exactly where, it would have been difficult to
say. He only knew that he did not, and would never, want an official function. How, at the age
of fifteen, could he admit to this evasion? Inflating his aesthetic leanings and his feeling of
being "different" into a sense of moral purpose, he thought up, innocently enough, an other
role - one with mystical tenets. He became a religious enthusiast.
At the same time, he was also awakening to the mysteries of sex. As he had been taught, or
at least allowed, to let things take their course, he offered no resistance to his desires and
cravings. He was fully prepared to give in to them, provided they made no real demands on
him and were intense and exciting - like a game. There were two possibilities: either the game
could be a solitary one - he took to masturbation with alacrity - or it could be played with
partners, inevitably children In If It Die . . . Gide describes an episode of this kind
with the concierge's son, both of them hidden under the family table. Not just any children
would do; only those who were most instinctive and natural. And even with them, things
should not get too serious. The game also needed a proper setting - preferably the open air
with the complicity of nature. In playing the game, Gide could embrace and escape several
experiences at the same time.
His religious "awakening" was also, in its way, a game. He plunged into mysticism with the
same enthusiasm, dash, goodwill, and tenacity that he put into everything. He carried a New
Testament, which he pulled from his pocket on any pretext. He mortified his flesh by sleeping
on a board and getting up to pray in the middle of the night and then plunging into icy water.
Was he really a believer or was he just putting on an act? The second supposition, even in his
own eyes, was probably the correct one. Imagination, a craving for the unreal or for art,
played an important part in his fervor, as it would later in his love life.
But Gide was unable - and never would be able - to find the flesh displeasing. So, in his
twentieth year, his religious fervor failed, or rather came to a halt. Enthusiasm is an unreliable
motive force, and when, as in Gide's case, it is not the object of the enthusiasm that counts
but the enthusiasm itself, it soon finds a new outlet. This is particularly so when the
enthusiasm is accompanied by a critical eye that, while delighting in the game one is playing,
also sees through it.
On coming of age, Gide acquired a certain amount of money. He never became attached to
money for its own sake, but it always ensured his independence. With his school days at an
end, he came under the influence of Pierre Louys (a Protestant only in name), who introduced
Gide to the Parisian literary avant-garde. Among the writers he met was Mallarme, and the
effects of this encounter were far reaching for Gide. Gide felt reassured and justified when he
found that Mallarme shared his own estheticism and concern for verbal music. Gide's
problems of soul and style were resolved - provisionally at least - by Mallarme and his mystic
devotion to the word. There remained, however, more burning problems touching on Gide's
life, personal and beyond the understanding of his contemporaries.
Where would he find a circle in which he would be at home? He had, in fact, to form and
foster it himself. Eventually, in 1909, he brought together a series of patiently acquired
friendships that had been cultivated separately and were based as much on the bestowal and
acceptance of differences as on a common fastidiousness - a circle, but one of individuals. The
Nouvelle Revue Francaise was established and in its circle Gide was, at last, at
By now, the demands of the flesh could no longer be ignored. To give them their due, Gide
left for North Africa with the similarly minded Paul Laurens. Health was the object of the trip,
but how was it to be found? "Our predominant feeling," he wrote in his Journal, "was
one of horror for anything peculiar, odd, morbid, and abnormal." He did not even set out as a
"heretic," sexually speaking; his Protestant conscience made him sleep dutifully with various
women during his stay. But in vain: the only one who found favor in his eyes was "Miriem," to
whom Pierre Louys would later be attracted as a result of Gide's enthusiastic descriptions. But
what he really liked in her was her urchinlike quality and her resemblance to her
In lf It Die . . . he relates the famous episode with Ali in the sandhills and the rapture
it brought him. Once released, this rapture burst forth in laughter and high spirits, as might
have been expected. But, from his silence on his return, it was clear that he had not finished
with it: later he would have to tell and justify everything. This became one of the aims of an
increasingly large part of his work, work that from now on would be indistinguishable from his
life. The need for self-justification became all the more acute and embarrassing (not to say
enriching) when, with the rashness of youth, he complicated his problem by marrying his
pure-minded cousin Madeleine, known as "Em." Almost all his work, as he said himself, was to
be a long attempt to come to terms with an essential contradiction, a tenacious and
unremitting dialogue between the levity that, was part of his nature and the serious
mindedness - also part of it - that was entirely characteristic of Em.
Everything in Gide is ego-oriented. A large part of his work is in the form of confidences that,
like most confidences, were intended for the ears of those closest to his own life. The fact that
Gide was his own subject matter did not preclude objectivity - far from it. Indeed, for quite a
time he was as preoccupied with language as with himself. It did not take him long to realize
that he would never be a poet (It is to Gide's credit that, relying solely on his own taste, he
discovered this very early in his career.) Nevertheless, he was influenced by the Symbolists -
especially Mallarme - for some time. While confining himself to prose, he wanted it to derive
life and substance from its form alone. He would have scorned to put a "story" into it. His first
works were prose poems, whose underlying thought is expressed only indirectly with artistic
reticence. Nothing could be more modern, more contemporary. Perhaps it is because of this
that Gide is still in favor with today's avant-garde, just as he was -t hough for other qualities
as well - briefly in favor with the Surrealists.
Gide's first book Les Cahiers d'Andre Walter (The Notebooks of Andre
Walter) appeared anonymously in 1891, and it reveals a Gide still unconsciously fettered
by the rigors of Puritanism. The journal of a poet and moral philosopher, it prefigures later
works such as La Porte Etroite (Strait is the
Gate) and If It Die. . . The same year Gide also published a Traite du
Narcisse (The Treatise of the Narcissus) - which has the subtitle 'Theory of the
Symbol" and is dedicated to Paul Valery. These works, and his next book, La Tentative
Amoureuse (The Attempt at Love, 1893), were as the author knew, slight,
ephemeral efforts. "Our books," he wrote in his preface to the latter, "are never very veracious
accounts of ourselves - but rather our wistful desires, our craving for other lives eternally
denied us, for every impossible gesture. Here I have written down a dream that was troubling
my thoughts too much and demanded an existence. And every book is only a different
Somewhat less evanescent, a little more substantial and virile, are Le Voyage d'Urien
(Travels of Urien, 1893) and Paludes (Marshlands, 1895), which
may be linked with Saul, written in 1896. but not published until 1903. In these two
works, purity, austerity, and abstraction rise to a peak, but they are protected and hedged
round by irony. Le Voyage d'Urien (which could justly have been titled Voyage de
Rien or Journey of Nothing') and Marshlands may, on the whole, be
considered satirical works in ,which routine, depersonalization, apathy, repose, resignation -
as represented by a colorless group of men and women of letters - are taken to task.
Marshlands is the story of a bachelor in a tower surrounded by marshes, a man who
is content with his restricted little world and makes no attempt to escape from it, and is
thereby doomed to inertia.
Les Nourritures terrestres (Fruits of the Earth, 1897), like the preceding
works, was published at the author's own expense. It is the most extreme and meticulous
example of Gide's early predilection for poetic prose. But it was also a breakthrough for Gide.
Here he gave up irony and indirection for a positive celebration of the senses, of self-
indulgence in beauty. He stopped putting off temptation, or being ashamed of it, and
celebrated its savor, its liberating qualities, no longer in a tone of lamentation but with a
It is easy to see how such exaltation disconcerted the public and the critics, who - for the
moment at least, a moment that was to extend beyond World War I - remained unimpressed.
Gide's expressions did not fit into any of the accepted conventions, yet did not lash out against
them. Apart from Nietzsche, who certainly had some influence on Gide, there were few
precedents for a didactic work of so personal and lyrical a nature.
The apparent detachment of Promethee mal enchaine (Prometheus
Unchained, 1899) might tempt one to link it with the works preceding Fruits of the
Earth if it were not even more deft and lighthearted. more perfect in its virtuosity, and if it
did not mark a further advance in Gide's thought. Here, for the first time, Gide equates
freedom with the gratuitous, with chance. By acting gratuitously, he asserts, the individual is
liberated from himself, leaving self-interest, the routine, and the commonplace
While Fruits of the Earth represented a vital breakthrough, it was with L'lmmoraliste (The Immoralist, 1902) that
the real change in Gide seems to have occurred. To write a novel was a betrayal, a
capitulation to middlebrow standards. But the need for escape, for self examination combined
with concealment (confession without giving too much away), gave Gide the needed courage.
The Immoralist is, in fact, barely more than a laborious travesty of the authors own
history. What is important, however, is that Gide employed the narrative form in this book in
defiance of his own circle. He can only be admired for doing so, despite the outcry from the
purists and the book's failure with the public, while continuing to produce and publish the
critical writings expected of him. Gide sees his characters as embodiments of certain
problems, but it is the problems themselves that most interest him.
Through Alissa, whose devotion to duty is like that of a Sister of Charity to the lepers, and her
antagonist Jerome - smitten, vacillating, frustrated, shattered - the idea of moral obligation is
attacked from the inside in Strait is the Gate. Not only incompatible with happiness, it excludes
sincerity, or at least genuine feeling. Needless to say, although Andre, Em. and their
childhood background are drawn upon, the book belongs to the realm of fiction in that
everything is heightened, transformed, and embroidered.
In The Immoralist, Gide's sexual problem
is only secondary. It was not until Strait is the Gate that Gide started dealing with sex more or less directly instead of obliquely. One of his aims in writing Strait is the Gate was to convince Em, his wife, of his error; to establish
by a sort of reductio ad absurdum the inimical truth before which he was still
hesitating and which - hence his use of the novel form - he was reluctant to state
Isabelle (1911) is a rather cold and austere tale seemingly concerned with abortive
revolt, but in Les Caves du Vatican
(Lafcadio's Adventures, 1914), Gide really casts off his shackles and breathes
the intoxicating air of freedom. It is perhaps his most free - and - easy work and certainly his
most picaresque, with an air of fantasy that led him to call it a sotie, or satirical
farce, rather than a novel. There is an amusing anticlerical element, a marked irreverence
toward religion and moralistic cant, and the hero Lafcadio is a young man endowed with
every charm. Motiveless action, which Gide had treated with a certain ambiguity in
Prometheus Unchained, he now openly acclaimed. This book briefly linked Gide with
the Surrealist movement, which was then in its infancy.
Gide's most authentic and penetrating work excepting his Journals. which did not
begin publication until 1931-is Le Symphonie pastorale (Pastoral Symphony 1919),
which appeared after an apparent hiatus in his work between 1914 and 1918. Of all his
books, this is the least self-conscious. It brings all his experience of faith into play, to heap
humiliation, touched with a certain sublimity, on a naive and unfortunate Swiss pastor who is
subjected to the temptations of a neophyte. We can see how much of himself Gide put into it -
unstintingly for once. We can also see that the book is more than a stinging satire, for it
arbitrates the conflict between nature and moral obligation.
It is obvious that Gide's inspiration is bound up with Christianity (or what is called Christianity).
This element is, however, almost completely missing from the background of Les Faux Monnayeurs (The Counterfeiters, 1926). It may well be this lack that prevents the book, while Gide
took pains to term a "novel," from being more than an attractive fresco. On The Counterfeiters Gide attached
the highest importance to the opinions of others and I should not be surprised if he divided his
critics, friends, and enemies into two categories - those who thought it a masterpiece and
those who did not. For once, he had set out to produce something like a professional piece of
work. He wanted to be accepted as a novelist, to prove himself, and in a sense succeeded.
Though written in the spirit of a wager, the book is by no means contrived. It gives the
impression, however of an assemblage of exact, vivid, sometimes penetrating observations,
brought together with a purpose that is less than profound and that only rarely captures the
What had deprived Gide of substance, or rather of roots, though at the same time brought
him balance, was the termination of the conflict between his private experiences and their
literary expression. The open publication of his most candid, personal works, Corydon (1923)
and If It Die . . . , occurred after both books had first been privately circulated. There
is something touching about this deferred public confession. While the reticences,
qualifications, and evasions that hedge it round may be irritating, it is largely this hesitant,
embarrassed, constrained approach that - as Sartre has justly observed - gives it its special
If It Die . . . provided lucid, disarmingly discursive memoirs, in contrast to
Corydon, which is a bland, rather superficial and arbitrary exercise. But with their
appearance, Gide closed that long period of his identity-seeking and self torment, of which
Dostoevsky (1923) had marked yet another stage, and in which most of his writings
had been motivated by irresolution. Since he no longer had much to question in himself, it
was natural that he should turn to social problems.
Now the time had come to exteriorize the values he had gradually assimilated. After The Counterfeiters, he turned to social
criticism in a series of works - Le Voyage au Congo (Travels in the Congo,
1927), Le Retour du Tchad (Back from Chad, 1928), and L'Ecole des
femmes (Girl's School, 1929). The most militant of Gide's crusading works -
apart from certain scattered notes (Feuillets) - began to appear with
Oedipe (1931), in which rejection of a divinity and faith in man are presented with
great assurance and delightful humor. Gide's crusade gained momentum almost immediately
afterward, when he started his flirtation with Communism.
Believing, not altogether wrongly, that his own personal values (sexual freedom, social
equality, atheism) were, or would become, social values, Gide made his offering - indeed,
practically gave himself as an offering - to the Communist creed. There were many reasons
for this move. He was motivated, in part, by a sense of guilt (this time, over being rich) with
which he had always lived. In Communism too, he could see the opportunity of renewing
contact (against established Christianity) with the evangelical spirit that was still very close to
his heart, thus demonstrating that there was some continuity in his life. Finally, and perhaps
primarily, he was inspired by a need for personal renewal, for rejuvenation. But like his earlier
enthusiasms, this one did not survive his own critical view.
In his cooling-off, seen in Retour de l'U.R.S.S. (Back from Russia, 1936),
Gide demonstrated a great deal more acuteness and prudence than he had in the first flush of
enthusiasm. He withdrew, in sorrow and confusion at first, into the shell from which,
undoubtedly, he should never have emerged. Through the hostilities of World War Il and the
French Liberation that was, for Gide, also a personal one, he kept himself in form, as was his
habit, by critical reflections and adaptations such as Interviews imaginaires
(Imaginary Interviews, 1942), Le Proc¸s (The Process, 1947), and
Anthologie de la poesie francaise (Anthology of French Poetry, 1949 . He
was aware, though he had succeeded in staying off the wrinkles, that the end was near, and
he had only one concern: to finish his life well.
First of all came the modestly triumphant smile of Thesee (Theseus, 1946).
Then he exercised that gift for self examination, which he had continued to cultivate in the
Journals and Feuillets and which was now more concerned with God than
with the sinner, in Et nunc manet in te (Madeleine) and the posthumous
Ainsi soit-il or Les Jeux sont faits (So Be It), which complete and
elaborate, with their fitful grace, the interrupted confessions of If It Die....
From a man who followed such a tortuous path through life, it would be foolish to expect any
one metaphysical or moral thesis. However, Gide persistently made a fundamental distinction
between the Gospels proper - to which he subscribed, insofar as it can be summed up in
terms of joy and love - and the additions of St. Paul and the Church, which he rejected. "The
Gospel as it stands is enough for me," he wrote in Un Esprit non prevenu. "As soon
as I come face to face with it again, everything becomes glowingly clear to me. Human
explanations obscure it; when I look for Christ, I find the priest instead and, behind the priest,
The following lines from the Feuillets are also worth quoting in this regard: "How
extraordinary that they should reproach me for interpreting the words of the Gospel to suit my
own ends. On the contrary, it is they who interpret and explain. I take those words as they are
given to me in that little book which confounds the wisdom of men."
This opposition to authority is freely expressed in the anticlerical passages of such books as
Isabelle, and Oedipe. Theologically, the great interpolation of St. Paul (and
of the Church) is, in Gide's opinion, the Cross. Since the Crucifixion was a complete failure in
the eyes of the world, an attempt had to be made to salvage everything possible from the
wreckage. Gide noted in his Journals: "It was essential to show that the end had
been foreseen, to show that it was necessary to the accomplishment of the Scriptures and
likewise to the salvation of humanity. Once that doctrine had mastered minds and hearts it
was too late: it was Christ crucified that people continued to see and to teach." He abided by
this strict evangelism even when he was tempted by Catholicism, and it served him as an
For a long time, Gide associated this "primitive Christianity," which he then considered the
only true kind, with the identification of God with nature and love, but he seems to have gone
back this opinion: "I recognize that I have long used the word 'God' as a sort dumping-ground
for the most woolly concepts. This has ended up in something quite different from Francis
Jammes' benevolent white-bearded God, but scarcely more real. For some time yet, this divine
residue, shedding personal attributes, tried to take refuge in the esthetic, the harmony of
numbers, the conatus viven of nature. At present I don't even see the point of talking
about it any more."
The question is more squarely tackled in Gide's 1949 Journal: "I believe that there
are not two separate worlds, the spiritual and the material, and that it is useless to set them
apart. They are two aspects of one and the same universe; as it is useless to oppose the soul
and the body. It is in their identification that I have found calm."
Gide is aware not only of the taboos Christianity places on the senses but even more, of how
much it can detract from the human personality and its natural, genuine development. In
Gide's opinion, religious faith may spring solely from within, which obviously deprives it of the
authority it claims, indeed of an authority at all. "There is not one of these conversions in
which I do not find some inadmissible secret motivation: fatigue, fear, disappointment, sexual
or emotion impotence."
As for the idea of an afterlife, he see in the end to have rejected it completely. "That the life of
the soul should continue beyond the dissolution of the flesh, I find inadmissible,
unthinkable, and against all reason. I do not believe in the soul separated from the body. I
believe that body and soul are one and the same thing and that, when life has withdrawn
from the body, it is all over with both of them at once." Thus, even from his evangelism, he
retained only the moral teaching.
It is obvious that Gide's work is already of historic interest. There are two main reasons for
this: the place that Gide held in the awareness of the public, that is, his identification with a
certain attitude to life, and the place he held in art itself. But it remains to be seen whether
Andre Gide is simply a respectable library author or if he still has something to say to the
world of today.
The survival of, say, Corneille or Racine, is not merely academic. We do not read or go to see
their plays just to learn about the past; we are stirred by them. A even more striking example
is the Beaumarchais of The Marriage of Figaro. It is the same with Balzac: his portrait
of society is fantastically exact but, though it contains much to interest us, this is not or at least
not primarily - what keeps Eugenie Grandet or Father Goriot alive. It is the
power and the art of the portrayal. Thus, to a large extent, it is the art they continue to radiate
that gives life to the works of dead authors and it would be quite wrong to attribute their
survival simply to interest in the period.
With Andre Gide, this fact is attested not only by the frequent new editions of his books, but
also by the manner in which he is read. There can be little doubt that he holds his readers
primarily by his way of expressing himself, by his style rather than his imagination. He attracts
us not as a lyrical, creative writer but as an ironist, a critic, a stylist. This is why his seemingly
most casual works have the greatest survival value, why Gide the writer is identified with a
Journal, and, even more, with a kind of taste - perhaps with taste itself.
But it is also worth considering why his literary definitions and his "human values" are likely to
survive. For the most part, his definitions of art are so shrewd that they could never become
mere museum pieces; they are still relevant and shall continue to be so. No doubt they
contain some excesses, half-truths, presumptions, and even errors. But the essential remains
intact, lively, and permanent. Once the prejudices have been trimmed away, there remains
the sound sentiment that art is a personal, difficult domain for the use of what is best in man
and for his pleasure. In the future Gide's "human values" will probably cease to be associated
with his own personality so much. The hundred-and-one twists and turns of his spiritual and
moral itinerary, as well as his confessions and his parade of his day-to-day existence, have
already lost their attraction. This is not to say that his image will be entirely obliterated, but it
will become more like a face behind a curtain, a rustle, a breath - in short, it too will
eventually become stylized.
It was not against the man himself - kindly and worthy of respect - but against his personal
values that his opponents had a grudge. After his death they continued to tilt at them, thus
showing, even at his graveside, that Gide's ideas were still very much alive and that he had
kept faith with himself right to the end. "Andre Gide's death was well received" - Jean Paulhan's witticism is quite true. Gide survives because he continues to make the same friends and the same enemies: Those who - without necessarily having discovered them through Gide himself - share his values and those who reject them, who are scandalized by or indifferent to them.
What has been called his humanism was not, and could not be, a doctrine: a doctrine is too
rigid. He was a humanist only in wishing that nothing should be alien to him. This is what
justified his shrewd and disconcerting "crises," his sexual conflicts, his fugitive yet sincere
conversions: it is also what makes us concerned about them.
He would have belonged to the Academie Francaise if this would not have prevented him
from being something other than an Academician. For fear of having strings attached, of
being classified, he accepted only one prize, the one that classifies without classifying: the
Nobel Prize for Literature.
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