return to immoralist index

    Albert J. Guerard
    André Gide, pp. 99-118
    Harvard University Press, Cambridge, Massachusetts, 1951.

    L'Immoraliste, finished in 1901, is the first, the most auto biographical, and the best of Gide's "récits." Certainly it is the most frequently misunderstood of his novels, partly be cause its deceptive simplicity of surface invites casual and very literal reading. Like the unread Voyage d'Urien, the misread Immoraliste demands a fuller analysis than books as well or better known. Historically, it is an important moment in the development of the French psychological novel -which threatened to become, in the hands of Bourget, a lucid pondering of abstract problems and a vehicle for transparent instruction. L'Immoralistebrought to the French novel all the seriousness and much of the complexity of Dostoevsky's short novels-and did so first of all through its successful use of the "imperceptive" or self-deluded narrator as subject of the story he tells. L'Immoraliste is not, to be sure, The Possessed, or even Crime and Punishment. But it exists as a touchstone for shorter and less ambitious fiction. It helps us to define a level of achievement which autobiographical and subjective fiction can rarely hope to surpass: fiction which concentrates on one man's destiny (a shadow of the author's own) and which offers no comprehensive understanding of society. Michel's revolt reflects his age (the age of Nietzschean hopes and destructions) but reflects even more the timeless conflict of the unconscious life and the conscious. Already the psychological realism of L'Immoraliste seems more important than its critique of individualism; its anticipation of Freud more valid than its oblique reflection of Nietzsche. Its more personal triumph lies in the successful avoidance of lyricism, of confused or angry self-justification, of special pleading-of all the evasions, in fact, to which autobiographical fiction is tempted. The precarious balance of the author's sympathy and detachment remains to the end under minute control.

    Gide readily admitted the part which symbolic action played. He told Francis Jammes he had spent four years on the book, not writing but living it. He had struggled through the novel as through a disease, in order "to go beyond." (19.) In a letter to Scheffer he reduces such symbolic action to an aesthetic principle:

      That a germ of Michel exists in me goes without saying . . . How many germs we carry in us, which will burgeon only in our books! They are what the botanists call "sleeping eyes." But if, by an act of will, you suppress them, all but one-how it springs up at once and grows! How it seizes at once upon the sap! My recipe for creating a hero is simple enough. Take one of these germs; put it in the pot by itself-and you soon obtain an admirable individual. Advice: choose preferably (if it's true one can choose) the germ that most disturbs you. By doing so you rid yourself of it at once. Perhaps that is what Aristotle meant by the purgation of the passions. Purge ourselves, Scheffer, purge ourselves! There will always be passions enough. (20.)

    However, the process was not as simple as this letter implies. A fragment on Ménalque preceded Les Nourritures terrestres, and in the completed book only Ménalque has a personal history of any significance. Was Gide long deter mined to fix the lesson and personality of Oscar Wilde for posterity, or did he imagine once again a fictional blend of Wilde and himself? L'Immoraliste, in any event, appears to have been planned as a "life of Ménalque," to be told from the outside.2l But Gide could not, in 1897 or later, tell a detailed story of subjective torment except in the first person and from the inside. For this or for some other reason a separation occurred. The Ménalque of L'Immoraliste is no longer a blend of Wilde and Gide, but a walking manual of hedonism who recalls only too obviously the recorded personality and recorded epigrams of Wilde. He is as sprightly and as unreal as the Protos of Les Caves du Vatican, and is therefore out of place in a somber realistic novel. But Michel, transposed to a plane and life of tragic failure, is a potential or suppressed self, a refashioned image of the young André Gide.

    There are differences, such differences as made the writing of L'Immoraliste possible. The fictional Michel is a latent and frustrated homosexual even after his marriage with Marceline, and is paralyzed by the freedom he has won. The freedom is of course incomplete, since to the very end he does not satisfy his pederast inclinations. Otherwise, the resemblances between the hero and his creator are striking and too obvious to insist on: the double oppression of childhood Huguenot teachings and an isolated bookish adolescence; an ill-advised marriage and the first fascinated observation of the children in Biskra; tuberculosis, convalescence, and the fierce egoism which accompanies it. Later, the dual impulses to concentration and dissolution of the self; the sense of estrangement on returning to the artificial Paris salons; the crucial meeting with a notorious hedonist. And at last the reckless unrest of the journeys to Switzerland and Italy, in roundabout obedience to the ineluctable pull of North Africa, where the last discoveries must be made. Gide thus "used" extensively his first two trips to North Africa and their surrounding moral complication, though the poachers of the second part derive from much older memories. (22.)

    Not everything was so retrospective, however. Gide also used certain more recent events: memories of ice-skating in St. Moritz on his honeymoon, of his wife's illnesses in Switzerland and North Africa in 1897 and 1898, of her carriage accident in 1900. (23.) A brief 1897 letter to Jammes from Switzerland-mentioning both his wife's illness and Athman- reminds us of the very dilemma which Michel could not define. (24.) Weighed against such living forces and memories, the influence of Nietzsche on the novel scarcely seems worth mentioning. This other "source" was in any event negative. The translation of Nietzsche's books into French freed Gide from the obligation to theorize on individualism at length. (25.) We can only regret that he did not feel free to dispense with Ménalque as well. But this is perhaps the hardest thing for any novelist to do: to cut away all traces of what he had once (and wrongly) supposed to be his real subject.

    In personal terms, L'Immoralistewas a symbolic act of dissociation from Michel. Had Gide not discovered himself so fully, he too might have been driven to such a harsh and aimless individualism. This is the book's "personal" subject. L'Immoralisteis also, of course, a critique (not rejection) of Nietzschean individualism. But most of all it is a study of latent homosexuality, of repression and compensation, of the effect preconscious energies may have on a man's acts, feelings, and ideas. It is no wonder, since the book was all these things, that it was little read and little understood at first. A very few early readers-and readers as different as Madame Rachilde and Francis Jammes-saw that the conflict was a sexual one. Yet Lilian Neguloa's valuable census shows that a large majority of the book's critics (including some very recent ones) have considered L'Immoralisteto be a novel "about individualism" and have not seen Michel's homosexuality at all. (26.) Some, to be sure, may have simply refused to acknowledge what they saw. Thus Charles du Bos candidly admits that he could not take up "le problème Wilde" with the particular audience of his early lecture on the boclk. (27.) Unlike French biography, French criticism has long resisted the influence of psychology and has also remained curiously discreet.

    There is the further fact that Michel's revolt against repression and conformity may be transferred to any plane of experience, and so may invite the sympathy of a critic differently repressed. But the strongest obstacle to understanding has probably been the inveterate tendency of critics to take a narrative told in the first person at its face value and to confuse the narrator's consciousness with the author's. It is nevertheless hard to understand why so few critics (including those who return constantly to "intention") have referred to Gide's statement that Michel was an unconscious homosexual. (28.) Miss Neguloa's article reminds us that nearly all readers are casual readers, and that most criticism of fiction is inexpert to an unsuspected and scandalous degree. It also suggests that any new commentary on L'Immoraliste must, to counteract established misconception, provide an old-fashioned summary of plot.

    Michel, a precocious and withdrawn archaeologist of twenty-four, marries Marceline to please his dying father. At first he hardly realizes that she is a human being, with an inner life of her own. He feels at most tenderness and pity, and the honeymoon is loveless in every sense. Michel's long accumulated fatigue brings on tuberculosis. He begins to spit blood while crossing the desert and arrives at Biskra more dead than alive. His first surrender to sickness is followed by a violent craving to live. To consider as "right" only what contributes to health is the first phase of his "immoralism." And as health returns he begins to suspect that life has unexplored joys, that he carries within him a precious and unrealized self. He determines to discover this self by a ruthless elimination of everything factitious and acquired. (Note 1.) The self is a palimpsest. All the false superscriptions of education and moral training must be erased before he can discover the "occult text."

    Marceline unwittingly takes the first important step toward revelation. She brings Bachir, a handsome native child, to Michel's sickroom. Michel interprets his affection for the boy as a love of animal health. But when he is able to go outside and watch the children at play, he is irritated by his wife's presence. He is "frightened" by the weak, sickly, and well behaved boys she brings to their rooms but fascinated by the unruly Moktir. He says nothing when he sees Moktir steal a pair of scissors. And now he invents various pretexts for seeing the boys alone: Ashour, Lassif, and Lachmi with his "golden nudity." He wanders into one particular enchanted garden which will haunt his memory, and perhaps account for the attraction shaded places are to hold for him in Ravello and Normandy. But as the hot days approach they leave Biskra and the children behind. Michel feels that his love for Marceline is increasing, yet he takes pleasure in concealing from her his sense of a hidden, undefined self. In Italy, on the way back to France and a resumption of his studies, he has a fight with a drunken coachman. That night he possesses Marceline for the first time.

    Michel leads a curiously divided life during the months that follow. On the one hand he tries to impose order on La Morinière, his Norman estate. He guards against "vagabond inclination" by tying himself down to an expensive Paris apartment, and by accepting a lectureship at the College de France. But he is attracted in his studies only by barbarism and indiscipline; by such figures as the fifteen-year-old Athalaric, in revolt against his mother and his Latin education. His lectures become an "apology and eulogy of non culture." His friend Ménalque (who had visited Biskra after him and had heard of his liking for the native children) demands an explanation of these contradictions. Is Michel one of those who, out of a fear of isolation, refuse to be themselves? Before leaving on another of his fabulous journeys, Ménalque preaches the joys of dangerous living; that is, of the acceptance of life as it comes.

    The balance between anarchy and discipline wavers during the months which separate the two visits to La Morinière. Something, seemingly Ménalque's lessons, tips it sharply to ward anarchy. On the first visit Michel had spent his days supervising his estate with the prudent and orderly Charles, the caretaker's seventeen-year-old son. But now he is fascinated by the most primitive and irresponsible of the farm hands; feels an "evil curiosity" concerning them. He takes up with Bute, a demoralized army veteran, and listens avidly to his stories of the incestuous Heurtevents. He catches the boy Alcide poaching, and joins him in poaching on his own estate. He now feels a strange urge to destroy the harmony and order he had helped establish. He tries in vain to spend more time with his wife, who had lost a child, and who has begun to show tubercular symptoms. His pity struggles against a deepening sense that she is tainted by this illness. Her weakness seems contemptible.

    Michel sells La Morinière and takes Marceline to St. Moritz. But he is intolerably bored by the honest mediocrity of the Swiss. His "reverence" for his wife increases simultaneously with a now demonic urge to spend all his money; to move always farther to the south; to seek out and observe, in each Italian city, the "lowest dregs of humanity." In Taormina he feels an irresistible attraction for a coachman-a Sicilian boy "as beautiful as a line of Theocritus"-and kisses him. A few days later they leave for Syracuse, and here too Michel neglects his dying wife to seek out the sailors and vagabonds in the port cafés. But Syracuse is only a last and futile detour. Their destination is Biskra. This time when they arrive it is Marceline who is more dead than alive.

    In the two years, the native children have changed horribly. Only Moktir, just out of prison, remains "superb." In his vague restlessness Michel drags his wife on to Touggourt, taking Moktir with them. On the first night there he sleeps with Moktir's mistress in the boy's presence, seeking peace in highly cerebral perversion. He returns to the hotel in time to see Marceline die. Only then, freed from conscious restraint yet still restless, he sends for the three friends to whom he tells his story. Can they advise him? Tell him what to do with his objectless freedom? Even Michel is aware that this freedom is not truly complete. "Sometimes I am afraid that what I have suppressed will avenge itself." In the months since Marceline's death he has spent an occasional night with an Ouled Nal prostitute. But the girl suspects it is really her little brother Ali he desires. "Perhaps she is not altogether wrong. . ."

    L'Immoraliste is one of the first modern novels to deal at all seriously with homosexuality. But it is most important to keep in mind that Michel never participates in a homosexual act. The reader who assumes that such acts occur but are not mentioned, for reasons of discretion, is likely to misinterpret everything else. One can imagine Gide's exasperation when Paul Bourget asked him, as late as 1915, (and as soon as Edith Wharton had left the room) whether Michel was a "practicing pederast." (29.) Through many pages of a first reading we have every right to share Michel's bewilderment. We explore him with the same curiosity that he explores himself. And how much would be lost if the last revealing lines of the novel were its first ones! But on second and sub sequent readings the ambiguities should dissolve. Not till then, perhaps, does the reader notice that Michel possesses Marceline only after fighting with the drunken coachman; that he felt "obliged" (in an hour of frustration) to caress a strangely textured shrub; that his period of tranquillity at La Morinière ends abruptly with the coming of the boy Charles; that he longs to sleep in the barn because the boy Alcide sleeps there; that, in fact, he never proceeds beyond the stage of longing for these boys. The important fact about Michel is not that he is a homosexual, but that he is a latent homosexual, a homosexual without knowing it.

    Thus L'Immoraliste is not a case study of a particular and manifest neurosis, but a story of unconscious repression. In the light of this, but only in this light, various unexplained ritual acts take on meaning: the shaving of the beard, or the ceremonial undressing, sun-bathing, and immersion in the pool near Ravello. The vengeance of what has been suppressed touches every fiber of Michel's intellectual and moral life; determines his self-destructiveness and his anti-intellectualism alike. Restrained from sexual satisfaction and even from self-discovery by an unconscious force, Michel rebels in other ways. The outburst may be sudden and specific, as when he leaps into the draining lake and takes a savage excitement in catching eels with Charles. More generally, Michel rebels against his early intellectual training in his philosophical defense of barbarism; against his inherited Norman prudence in trying to destroy the harmony and order of his farm. L'Immoraliste dramatizes as clearly as Dostoevsky's Gambler the compulsion to risk-and lose. Payment must eventually be made to the internalized parental authority. But the first impulse is to destroy not appease this superego. The harshness of Michel's individualism-and this, in general terms, is no less than the "subject" of the novel-is determined by the harshness of the repression.

    The hidden victim of this hidden restraint reveals itself in a curious hostility toward the convention-bound and in an abnormal sympathy for the free. Michel's acts seemed to many early readers (and even at times to himself) unmotivated and "Satanic." Like The Secret Sharer, Heart of Darkness, and parts of Lord Jim, L'Immoraliste dramatizes unconscious or half-conscious identification. (30.) The lawless buried self is attracted to all whom the superego and the waking conscience deem guilty, and repelled by all the well-behaved. Even when he is most determined to lead a regulated life, Michel's affections go out to the unmoral, the corrupt, the unrestrained. He has a "horror of honest folk," but is paralyzed by "joy" when he sees Moktir steal the scissors, when he learns that Alcide is a poacher-or when he uncovers, in the lifeless pages of his research, the youthful savagery of Athalaric. He envies Pierre's drunken brutality as he envies Ménalque's refined selfishness. The movement toward discovery is not, to be sure, uninterrupted. The alternating and sometimes simultaneous impulses to concentrate and to destroy the ego -to use Baudelaire's terminology rather than Freud's-in crease or weaken according to the self at the moment dominant and the self at the moment suppressed. The frustrated Huguenot as well as the frustrated homosexual may demand satisfaction. In the final chapters, however, the inward aggressions become frenzied as the "authentic self" nears the surface.

    Not all of Michel's feelings may be so simply explained. Does he resent the dying Marceline because he fears a return of his own tuberculosis, or because he has equated weakness and virtue, or simply because he longs to be rid of her? One strength of L'Immoraliste lies in its awareness of the close interdependence of Michel's health, his degree of sexual adjustment, his moral heritage, and his intellectual interests. The novel's over-all "meaning" is reducible to the barest Freudian terms, but Michel as a character is not. His intelligence and will, however weak, do play some part. His tenderness toward Marceline develops into love at the same time as his cruelty toward her-and at the same time as his homosexual impulses. And if his ideas are determined by unconscious needs, his arguments still demand attention. The problem of individualism, though provoked in this instance by a specific sexual situation, nevertheless transcends neurosis.

    For Gide knew that the problem of the emancipated individualist goes on, even after sexual adjustments have been made. Must one choose between a refusal to live and an individualism which makes others suffer? Marceline justly observes that Michel's doctrine may be a "fine one," but that it threatens to suppress the weak. And can the individualist cut himself off to be free, yet live in that rarefied air? "To know how to free oneself is nothing; the arduous thing is to know what to do with one's freedom." It is here, in its critique of Nietzschean individualism, that L'Immoraliste is necessarily imperfect-and first of all because Michel is an imperfect Nietzschean. Gide agreed with Michel and Nietzsche that the world is divided into the strong and the weak, and many of Michel's arguments are transcribed from Les Nourritures terrestres. But Michel was incapable of the solution Gide elsewhere proposed: to become fully conscious of the inner dialogue between order and anarchy, and to suppress by an act of will whichever voice threatens to become too strong. The very fact that makes Michel so interesting dramatically and psychologically-his imperfect understanding of himself-makes him a poor vehicle for Gidean and Nietzschean ideas. His story could not answer the question raised in the Prologue: how is society to use the energies of the free man? "I fear the failures of individualism," Gide wrote in 1898. (Note 2.) Michel is such a failure; he is not a free man.

    Thus the aspect of L'Immoraliste most emphasized by critics is in fact unsatisfactory. The novel's strength lies rather in its art and psychological understanding, and in its controlled transposition of personal experience. For it is a "fruit filled with bitter ashes," (31.) a novel written severely from memory, but also out of mind and nerve. The triumph of intelligence reveals itself in the close pressure of form. Not a single irrelevant memory has survived this pressure, other than the memory of Wilde's epigrams. This required a conscious separation of the author's consciousness from Michel's, and a careful use of the "imperceptive" narrator as a technical device. We shall see in Rivière's Aimée and Chardonne's Eva (two books possibly derived from L'Immoraliste) to what diffuseness and incoherence this device may lead (see Chapter 5). Yet it remains one of the few ways of saving psycho logical fiction from pedagogical abstractness, and perhaps the best way to convey (rather than "explain") a conflict between conscious and unconscious energies. The problem for the novelist is to keep his narrator (or Jamesian "fool" and observer) self-deluded, imperceptive, blind; incapable of ac curate self-analysis-yet have that narrator supply all the evidence necessary to the reader's understanding. He must say enough to convey his daily suffering and betray his true difficulties, but not say too much more.

    Critics have more and more come to realize that a novelist's "technique" has some intimate relationship with his under standing of his characters, as well as a more obvious bearing on the mobility, energy, and persuasiveness of his books. But it is nearly impossible to demonstrate these relationships specifically, and even discussions of "point of view" are often disappointingly vague. The device of the obtuse narrator or observer is, however, a particular and definable one, and Gide's major success in using it deserves close analysis. L'Immoraliste also demands extensive comparison with other novels, short novels especially. Great Expectations prolongs a central imperceptiveness over many hundreds of pages, but does so primarily for dramatic suspense. The technique (which demands unusual and continued alertness on the reader's part) seems particularly suited to the short novel. To measure Gide's success in exploiting this "point of view" we should look to certain familiar short novels of Melville and of Joseph Conrad and Thomas Mann. How did they, faced by such a problem as Gide's, exploit the resources of this technique? The comparisons may seem digressive, but only such comparisons can establish L'Immoraliste in its proper place as one of the formal triumphs of the modern novel.

    Melville's Benito Cereno is certainly one of the more conspicuous successes. Captain Delano is literally a "fool," wholly incapable of interpreting experience or of seeing evil, because of his benign temperament and Emersonian optimism. But for various reasons his story had to be more diffuse than Michel's. Melville wanted to involve the reader in Delano's error, and not merely for the sake of suspense or melodramatic surprise. "You too, optimistic and complacent reader," he might have said; "this is the way you too would have calumniated innocence and rationalized evil!" Following such an intention, and conceiving such a drama of appearance and reality, Melville had to provide much misleading or irrelevant appearance. His grave prose rhythms and mortuary similes promise tragedy, but the reader has little opportunity to detect what this tragedy will be. Only the long legal de position fully corrects Delano's distortions and reconstructs the events in detail. It provides a retrospective irony and horror, and ultimately proves that even the truth cannot shatter Delano's optimism. The deposition is very effective in its cold phraseology and abstract summation of death; only the lazy reader would want to see it go. But it suggests one of the ways in which the technique of the obtuse narrator or observer may thwart economy.

    Dostoevsky, of course, provides several close analogues. The Gambler is as autobiographical as L'Immoraliste, but offers a much slighter separation of the character's consciousness from that of the author-who, incidentally, returned to his compulsive gambling immediately after finishing his book. The Double, however, dramatizes an unconscious conflict with great care, and anticipates the Freudian categories astoundingly: Golyadkin, Sr., as the menaced ego, while Golyadkin, Jr., acts out in turn the obscene id, the successful ego-ideal and the accusing superego. The Double is nevertheless the story of a neurotic descending into psychosis, as the early visit to the doctor warns us. Thus an alert reader separates himself from the character almost at once and accepts no evidence at face value. But in Notes from Under ground Dostoevsky undertook a formal task very similar to Gide's. Like Gide, he understood that his narrator was neurotic, yet he shared some of his feelings and attitudes: his .hatred of deterministic psychology and his longing to act gratuitously, his disgust with positivist ethics. The problem a was to write a psychological novel which would yet raise certain ideas provocatively. But Dostoevsky's blending of the two interests was less satisfactory than Gide's. The isolated and self-destructive "underground mouse," compelled to reenact a few experiences of childhood and adolescent rejection, does not understand why he acts as he does. He long bemuses us with his circular diatribe against determinism, but this essay is really irrelevant.

    Five pages-and five pages more clearly dissociating author and subject-would have sufficed. For it is the body of the novel that proves man can act against his own interests, and does so not freely but compulsively. In this second part too, the formal difference from L'Immoraliste is enormous. Dostoevsky offers us not only obtuseness but the "original," .chaotic, diffuse experience of the neurotic. He gives the full ',stenographic report of a patient's confession-from which 'we may, if we are sufficiently alert, deduce our clear conclusions. And there is much evidence that Dostoevsky knew he `,was doing just this. The narrator is diffuse only when what he says is irrelevant. He reveals the important facts of his story (his schoolboy experiences, for instance, or his onanism) in begrudging, bitter and very brief asides. Thus Notes from Underground is in one sense a more authentic "report" than L'Immoraliste, and certainly takes us closer to the lived experience of neurotic suffering, the actual impression of hourly damnation. But for these very reasons it may offer less psychological understanding and achieve a rarer impression of tragedy. Tragedy is not mere suffering, but suffering delimited and ordered, understood with finality.

    Conrad's Heart of Darkness has much of Benito Cereno's density of atmosphere and calculated ambiguity of appearance, and at times it may recall the evasiveness of Notes from Underground. The author's purpose here as in his longer novels was to involve the reader minutely, and at whatever tiring of his patience. But other short novels by Conrad, told in the first person or seen by an obtuse observer, show an economy as impressive as Gide's. Conrad's general impulse was the same: to dramatize compulsive inward journeys, the very processes of self-exploration and self-discovery. And he too dramatizes unconscious identification-Marlow allying himself with the atavistic Kurtz, or the young captain of The Secret Sharer with the fugitive from the "Sephora," or the crew of the "Narcissus" with the malingering James Wait. But only The Smile of Fortune presents the kind of sexual self-delusion which would have interested Gide, and did in terest him in Isabelle. Conrad's usual practice was to universalize such particulars and to see the conflict with the unconscious or preconscious in large symbolic terms. A few very slight changes could give The Secret Sharer a localized and even homosexual meaning. But the story as it stands has no such primary meaning. The captain's double is instead the whole of the unconscious, to be explored and recognized- including that area of the unconscious which may provoke unreflective action and unpremeditated crime. Technically, The Secret Sharer shows the same formal control as L'Immoraliste. The narrator describes an experience of extreme incoherence, and even manages to convey a state of mind bordering on madness. Yet his cool report, like Michel's, contains very little that is irrelevant. It seems to move with the casualness and waste of unselective realism, but nearly every word counts. Much of Conrad's success here, and in the still more generalized Shadow-Line, lies in his full evocation of a plausible speaking voice. This is also one of the reasons for Gide's success with Michel. Extreme economy of narrative is masked by these calm and casual tones.

    The closest approach to Gide's novel, in subject and technique, is Thomas Mann's Death in Venice, which was written a few years later. It is essentially the same story of latent and unrecognized homosexuality leading to self-destruction- though the reader who finds only theorizing on individualism in Gide may find only theorizing on the artist in Mann. Like Michel, Gustav von Aschenbach goes on a journey, not realizing that it is a journey within nor understanding the reasons for his restlessness. He too pays severely for his years of discipline and excessive restraint. The same alternating impulses to concentrate and to dissolve the self control these two destinies, and both men-frightened by their new anarchy-make one last strong effort to recover self-control. Both rationalize their aggressive inward drives in philosophical terms. But their real objective is the restraining superego, which must be destroyed before Tadzio and Ali can be enjoyed. Gustav von Aschenbach's homosexual reactions are fewer than Michel's, though Mann had read Freud and Gide had not. Mann's hero is repelled by the old and painted homosexual on the boat from Pola to Venice, that exact image of his future self, as Michel is repelled for a time by Ménalque. But his most characteristic pederast reaction-a de lighted recognition that Tadzio will die young and therefore never be a mature man-comes later in the story than Michel's resentment of Charles's growing-up. The two men are most strikingly alike in the way they externalize their inward conflicts. Michel's frenzied effort to probe and uncover the secrets of the Heurtevents is a symbolic attempt to uncover his own secret. In precisely the same way Gustav von Aschenbach, only dimly aware of his inner plague, combats the efforts of the Venetian authorities to conceal the cholera epidemic (after a brief period of pleased complicity). These things, all things, must be brought to the surface.

    We have thus the same minute drama of self-delusion and self-discovery, and roughly the same separation between the author's consciousness and his character's. The great initial difference is that Michel is an obtuse narrator and Gustav von Aschenbach an obtuse observer, whose observations are rephrased by the author's ironic detachment. But the separation is at first unclear. How much of this sophisticated weary irony (and how many of these reflections on the "artist") are shared by Mann and Gustav von Aschenbach? Mann's technique most closely resembles Gide's after Tadzio has entered the story. At this point we are offered ample evidence of the latent homosexuality. But Mann does not "explain" why Gustav von Aschenbach acts as he does until the victim can explain it himself. Both stories, incidentally, show the same technical flaw. These wholly inward stories need no outside pressures to achieve their tragic ends. Yet Mann brings in an outside force-the misdirection of the baggage-to "tip the scales toward anarchy," as Gide brings in Ménalque. Of the two, Gide's mistake is the more serious one. For it suggests that Michel's inward debate needed pedagogical support from without.

    These are some of the resemblances. But there are differences in conception, which are reflected closely in structure and technique. L'Immoraliste is the purer Freudian drama of the two, since both the homosexual urge and the tyrannical repressive force long remain unconscious. But in Death in Venice the restraining force is often conscious-a conscious longing for dignity and order-and the hero is not merely an intellectual but himself a psychological novelist. No doubt he too could interpret his love of the ocean as a yearning "for the unorganized, the immeasurable, the eternal-in short, for nothingness." His more conscious struggle there fore demands more explicit analysis than Michel's-even though much of that analysis may be deliberately misleading.

    Beyond this, Mann offers a grand over-all "explanation" which Gustav von Aschenbach could not have made. This is the four-part equation of homosexuality, plague, unconsciousness, and death; the hero approaching one is approaching them all. Thus the daydream in Munich anticipates that atavistic dream in Venice which "left the whole cultural structure of a lifetime trampled on, ravaged, and destroyed." And the tiger in the bamboo thicket of the daydream is a real tiger in the "primeval island-jungle" of the Ganges Delta where the cholera epidemic began. Here already the author has "added something" to nature, for the sake of explanation and for dramatic effect. But how much more he adds in the occult appearance of the three strangers: the man standing near the funeral hall in Munich; the lawless gondolier with his gondola black as a coffin; the entertainer with his homosexual gestures, his unprovoked hysteria, and his heavy carbolic smell. (32.) For Gustav von Aschenbach does not see what author and reader see-that they are the same man, with the same facial characteristics, alike beckoning the hero to self-discovery, unconsciousness, and death. They are, simply, his destiny.

    The texture of Death in Venice is realistic-and Mann, like Melville and Dostoevsky, offers a great deal of irrelevant detail (the description of Tadzio's sisters, for instance) to make his story more plausible. But the over-all structure is symbolist in a manner as traditional as Chaucer's in The Pardoner's Tale. L'Immoraliste confines itself, instead, to our only too natural world. Against the ingenious symbolist connections of Death in Venice it offers the structural firm ness and inward connections of a fully dramatized psychic situation. Most obvious are the falling then rising line of Michel's health, as Marceline's line rises and declines; the balance of the two visits to La Morinière as Michel pre serves then destroys his estate, and the vast circular movement from Biskra back to Biskra. Even these unities (if we accept the common view that tuberculosis is often a neurotic illness) seem psychologically necessary. More specifically, each step in Michel's journey looks forward to some future step: the fight with the drunken coachman near Positano to the kissing of the coachman in Taormina; the gardens of Biskra to the gardens of Ravello; the daylight rides with Charles to the nighttime poaching with Alcide. Yet these anticipations are never fortuitous, as the gondolier's anticipation of the entertainer is fortuitous. The changed Michel is compelled to return to the same places and experiences, if only to discover how he has changed.

    Still more challenging, to the student of realism, is the fact that nearly everything Michel says and nearly everything he sees has a direct bearing on his sexual problem. He keeps Moktir's theft secret not merely because he sees in it an acting-out of his own longing to rebel against accepted decencies, but because he here enters into a first clandestine relationship with a child. A large psychological situation is thus perfectly dramatized in the action or inaction of a moment; the "gratuitous act" of sympathetic identification is in no sense gratuitous. Yet Michel's prolonged compulsive need to spend all his money is, to the reader of Menninger and Freud, fully as convincing. The novel offers very little "neutral" or innocent imagery. Lassif's canals and Lachmi's gourd for collecting the sap from palm trees are images as primary, for this latent homosexual, as the eels he caught with Charles; clay and shrub alike have a fleshy texture. How could Gide, using so much significant imagery, yet contrive to give an impression of real life, of unselected experience? The question poses itself when we recall the amount of "wasted" imagery in Mann and Dostoevsky, wasted for the sake of realism. One answer is that Gide's significant images also serve as casual images-and so serve because never explained. No single image or experience, but the cumulative effect of them all, drives us very slowly to an awareness of Michel's trouble. Everything in Michel's story leads to his revelation in the last line, yet no particular page seems to lead there in an obvious way. The minutiae of style and technique thus disguise an economy as extreme as any in modern fiction. Could Gide achieve a latent homosexual's vision of experience so exactly and so economically only because he had been, himself, a latent homosexual? To ask this is to take a very nave view of the art of fiction-and to forget the imperfections of certain earlier books. In L'Immoralistehe reduced a most confused personal experience to an order which even the best-adjusted writers rarely achieve.

    It is hardly the intention of this book to defend realism as such, and the anti-realism of Les Faux-Monnayeurs may have done more for the modern novel. But L'Immoralisteis a great realistic novel, and perhaps the best novel Gide would write. It demanded a fairly extended analysis because it shows us, at the outset, the characteristic tactics and strategy of Gide's other "récits." Beyond this it proves that even the realistic and subjective psychological novel may be economical. The neurotic experience of a Michel can be more than neurotic experience; it can reflect a universal conflict. And it requires, to be told, neither the diffuseness of Notes from Underground, nor the confusion of The Double, nor the superimposed intellectualism of Death in Venice. These are great works, and perhaps more astonishing at a first reading than L'Immoraliste. But Gide's novel belongs with them. And, like a great poem, it deserves and can survive repeated readings. (Note 3.)


    (Note 1.) Michel's sickness and convalescence recalls Nietzsche's as well as Gide's, as this striking parallel shows: "After that touch from the wing of Death, what seemed important is so no longer; other things become so which had at first seemed unimportant, or which one did not even know existed. The miscellaneous mass of acquired knowledge of every kind that has overlain the mind gets pulled off in places like a mask of paint, exposing the bare skin-the very flesh of the authentic creature that had lain beneath it" (The Immoralist [New York, 1930], p. 64). "Illness likewise gave me the right to a complete reversal of my mode of life; it not only allowed, it actually ordered me to forget: it enforced the necessity of repose, of idleness, of waiting, of patience . . . And all that meant thinking! . . . The state of my eyes was enough to stop all book-wormishness, or, in plain English, philology: I was delivered from books; for years I read nothing-the greatest boon I have ever conferred upon myself! That essential self, which had been buried, as it were, which had lost its voice under the pressure of being forced to listen to other selves continually (which is what reading means!), awakened slowly, timidly, doubtfully-but at last it spoke again" ("Ecce Homo," translated by Clifton Fadiman, The Philosophy of Nietzsche [Modern Library edition], pp. 84-85).

    (Note 2.) For Gide's intellectual conclusions at this time, we must look to the "Lettres à Angèle" (OC, III, 222-241). In 1898 Gide failed to distinguish clearly between the final affirmation of Nietzsche and the final renunciation of Dostoevsky, and brought them too close together by verbal legerdemain. If the individualist's energies are stifled, they may break out in some violent antisocial way. A universally accepted individualism, on the other hand, would ruin both the strong and the weak. The true "exceptional" man would be lost in the crowd of "meaningless eccentrics." There is no rule of thumb, Gide observes, by which we may distinguish the successes from the failures, the Nietzsches from the Stirners. We should therefore repudiate "individual ism," out of respect for the individualist. Gide argued in much the same terms during his communist period.

    (Note 3.) After reading an earlier but roughly similar study of L'Immoraliste, Gide commended my analysis of its "freudisme latent et précurseur," but felt I exaggerated its value as compared with that of his other short novels. "Quant à moi-meme, je ne parviens à considérer mon Immoraliste comme supérieur aux autres sous aucun rapport, litteraire, moral, psychologique . . ." (See Gide's letter, at end of this book). Authors are, to be sure, imperfect judges of their own books, and L'Immoraliste has been a great favorite among my Harvard students, even among those who had read no criticism and heard no lectures on the novel. On the other hand, no published criticism has valued the book as highly as mine.


    (19.) "Feuillets," following Numquid et tu . . . ? and Journal for 1916.
    (20.) Journal, May 1906 (tr. AJG).
    (21.) "Les Cahiers d'Andre Walter," OC, I, 151.
    (22.) "Mopsus," OC, III, 7 (tr. AJG); The Immoralist, translated by Dorothy Bussy (New York, 1930), pp. 69_70; Si le grain ne meurt, p. 321 (tr. AJG).
    (23.) Les Nouvelles Nourritures, p. 33; Fruits of the Earth, p. 203.
    (24.) "Le Renoncement au voyage," OC, IV, 339 (tr. AJG).
    (25.) Fruits of the Earth, p. 165.
    (26.) Journal, November 30, 1917 (tr. AJG).
    (27.) In Les Nouvelles Nourritures (p. 98), contradicting his other general statements, Gide gives still a third answer: "Il n'y eut là déliberation ni méthode . . . Ie desir travaillait sourdement vers une confusion char mante, et me précipitait hors de moi."
    (28.) Fruits of the Earth, p. 171.
    (29.) "Les Cahiers d'André Walter," OC, I, 66-67 (tr, AJG).
    (30.) Fruits of the Earth, p. 59.
    (31.) See Paul Iseler, Les Débuts d'Andre Gide vus par Pierre Louys (Paris, 1937). Louys encouraged Gide in his formlessness (pp. 88-89). See also Si le grain ne meurt, pp. 216-224, 248.
    (32.) Louys seemed unduly concerned with supposed resemblances with Huysmans' A Rebours. See Iseler, p. 89.