return to vatican index

Germaine Bree
Gide, pp. 176-193
Rutgers University Press, New Brunswick, New Jersey, 1963.

When Lafcadio's Adventures (note 1) - entitled in French The Vatican Cellars - appeared in the summer of 1914, the sotie came as a surprise to most of Gide's friends. The reviews were almost unanimously and huffishly censorious and the book inspired the first really fierce attacks on Gide from the literary clique on the Catholic right. Of all Gide's works, however, this was to be the one that for a short time endeared him to the iconoclastic Dadaists at the opposite pole of the literary spectrum. Jacques Vache, who was so deeply to impress young Andre Breton, carried Lafcadio's Adventures with him to the trenches during World War I, starting Lafcadio on a career Gide had certainly not foreseen, as precursor to the surrealists.

The book was first published in a pseudo-anonymous fashion with the subtitle "sotie (note 2) by the author of Marshlands." Since very few people remembered the brilliant little satire Gide had published some twenty years before, a portrait of Gide dissipated any chance of an error in attribution.

Gide went to some pains to situate Lafcadio's Adventures in the development of his work. Far more than Isabelle, which he had written without much trouble as a diversion, it reflects a new mood and new preoccupations incorporated into a daring new narrative structural pattern. By adopting the designation "sotie" for all three works, Gide retrospectively referred the work back to his amusing but puzzling Marshlands and Prometheus.

The fantastic and provocative imbroglio, in which Lafcadio is only one among many other equally improbable participants, began to take shape in Gide's mind around 1893, when he first spoke of it, in Biskra, to his companion, Paul Laurens. From then on Gide occasionally referred to it in his Journal. He had apparently been greatly amused by the imaginative audacity of a gang of swindlers, who had achieved a brief notoriety in 1892. Exploiting the political situation of the 1890'S and the position taken by Pope Leo XIII in favor of the French Republic, they had launched the rumor that the Pope had been imprisoned in the Vatican cellars by the Freemasons, with the help of a group of cardinals, and that a false pope now occupied the Holy See. On this pretext they collected funds from the gullible among the faithful to whom, in great secrecy, they disclosed this horrible situation and their own counterplot to free the captive. Gide apparently read of this colossal confidence racket and was immediately struck by its piquancy. He dated his own story as of 1896 and borrowed the outline of his plot from newspaper accounts, enlarging upon only those implications of the swindle which particularly diverted him. (note 3)

Gide insisted several times that Lafcadio's Adventures, The Immoralist, and Strait Is the Gate should be viewed as companion pieces, each qualifying the other, and that they by no means reflect an evolution in his philosophical position. He emphasized that all three books were conceived as a whole and published successively only because of the necessary lag between the conception of a work of art and its execution. This is probably quite true in so far as his ethical point of view is concerned. All the familiar Gidian themes appear in this sotie, including the theme of homosexuality which so deeply shocked Claudel. But between 1901, when Gide wrote The Immoralist, and 1912-1913, when he really started work on Lafcadio's Adventures, Gide's ideas concerning the novel had changed. Themes and characters were now to be subordinated to an over-all structure which had very little in common with Gide's earlier work. In spite of occasional discouraging moments of boredom or even "horror," particularly in 1912, on the whole Gide seems to have derived a great deal of amusement from the writing of this story. He worked hard, stubbornly stripping down his text so as to give the narrative a quasi-Voltairian tempo and incisiveness. The spontaneity and directness he sought and brilliantly achieved was designed to keep in check the interplay of nonsense, fantasy and satire in which he indulged with bland and consummate skill. That is perhaps why Lafcadio's Adventures gave rise to the strangest misunderstandings, not the least of which was the surprising assumption that Gide approved such improbable acts as Lafcadio's tossing a fellow traveler out of a train window to his death. The "absurd," another facet of the pathetic fallacy in the Gidian world, is everywhere implicit, though not explicit. It cannot be separated from the characters, their adventures and discussions. When Claudel called the book "sinister," it can only be that, unable to detect the humor at work beneath the surface, he mistook the mask for the face.

It was hardly surprising that Gide's contemporaries were baffled. As he had already done in Prometheus, Gide had deliberately discarded the conventional processes of narration. Lafcadio's Adventures is very carefully organized, and the structure of the story a function of the idea from which it sprang. In cubist fashion, Gide borrows certain heterogeneous elements from reality and reorganizes them according to an abstract design, creating the "new relationships" from which each apparently unconnected part derives its significance. The real originality of his sotie lies in the over-all organization which, if overlooked, can leave the reader with only vague impressions. The book may seem simply to yield a few amusing dialogues; a rather outdated satire on typical nineteenth-century attitudes toward science and religion, a mild take-off on literary academicism, and a new version of the picaresque hero, Lafcadio. The latter was so dear to Gide's heart that in 1924 he extracted from the novel the set of episodes which concern this young man for separate publication. But Lafcadio's Adventures is worth closer attention, even if the going seems overcomplicated at times.

As with Prometheus, the work is divided into several "books" of parallel but apparently unconnected stories, so that superficially the whole appears rather desultory. The first three books are subtitled for important characters each of whom is setting out on a separate adventure. In the fourth book, "The Centipede," the separate lines of action appear accidentally to converge. The tempo accelerates, until finally in the fifth a cascade of unlikely circumstances brings every one to Rome to appear at the funeral of one of the main characters. The plot never develops in a logical way. It moves erratically, bouncing unexpectedly from one chance encounter to another, apparently leading nowhere.

Yet "all paths lead to Rome," and from rebound to re bound it is in Rome that Gide's set of masques all come together, though some of them never come face to face. They form two groups: the swindlers, or "Centipedes," and the righteous, who though they don't always realize it, belong to the same family and become enmeshed in the machinations of Protos, the leader of the Centipede. Little by little Gide establishes a network of connections between his characters, connections the reader can grasp but not the characters, who remain unaware of the repercussions their smallest gesture is likely to have.

At first it might seem that Gide set out to write the mock heroic tale of a fight between the "good" characters and the evil Centipede. But one soon perceives the many invisible threads connecting one camp with the other. It is through direct action rather than by description that Gide sets up that unique milieu, or circumstance, where each character is a "crossroads." Each is situated in relation to all the others, although each thinks of himself as an independent unit, the center of his own closed universe.

In the first three books of the sotie Gide sets his characters in motion, winding them up, as it were, one after the other, like mechanical toys. Each one starts out on an adventure, and certainly this is a "novel of adventure," adventures avoided or carried through, adventures physical and intellectual, including a very romanesque love affair. Though each character is totally absorbed in his own affairs and unaware of his relation to the others, all partake unwittingly in a vaster collective adventure to which their individual ad ventures are related, and around which they all revolve. This raises the problem of the nature of the characters and the significance of their chance meetings, curious conversations and activities.

The characters in Lafcadio's Adventures are schematic, distinguished by a few comical, easily recognizable physical traits. Gide gives their background with bland gravity, meticulously exaggerating and magnifying certain outstanding characteristics. While he was working on this book he complained that his characters tended to escape from the absurd, caricature-like pattern in which he wanted to enclose them. Nonetheless, they remain consistently true to type from start to finish. Only one of them tends to become a little more complex toward the end. To give his absurd heroes full scope, Gide relied mainly on dialogue, using a semidramatic form (note 4) which allowed him to reduce the narrative to a strict minimum. "I must draw the nude under the clothing as did David," (note 5) he noted.

The first character to appear is Anthime Armand-Dubois, complete with a wen and sciatica, a freethinker, Freemason and scientist, whose thinking follows the simplest logical patterns. He lives in Rome, where he carries out experiments on the conditioned reflexes of rats. From these experiments he deduces laws governing the behavior of living organisms, which he reduces to various forms of "tropism," (note 6) the response to external stimuli. He is famous and crippled. His wife, Veronica, as well as his in-laws, the Baragliouls, are Catholics, complacent and self-righteously orthodox in all their opinions. Anthime's views shock them and theirs irritate him. During one of their stormy visits, however, the na•ve piety of Anthime's small niece moves the scientist more than he likes to admit. Annoyed with himself, in a moment of sacrilegious fury, Anthime hurls his crutch at the statue of the Virgin at whose feet, most aggravating of all, candles are burning expressly for him. He succeeds only in breaking the Virgin's arm. That same night the maimed Virgin appears before him and cures him of his crippling sciatica. Converted, Anthime abandons science, fame and Freemasonry, plunging into a devout and ecstatic saintliness, which con tributes to his rapid impoverishment, the promises of the Church notwithstanding.

Julius de Baraglioul, author of mediocre, conventional novels and a candidate for the French Academy, has just published an edifying biography of his father entitled On the Heights. His book has been greeted unenthusiastically by the critics and mercilessly jeered at by the old Count himself, who informs his son and biographer that, inconsistent though it be with his son's impression, he has produced an illegitimate son, Lafcadio Wluiki. Julius seeks out Lafcadio, finds him, and as a result conceives a new type of novel based on a different conception of character. He dreams of discarding the novel of psychological analysis in favor of the description of nonlogical patterns of behavior manifested in gratuitous acts which escape analysis.

Lafcadio is a young man of some sixteen years, an adolescent, who lives freely outside society with his mistress, Carola, a prostitute for whom he has no particular affection. Only as a result of Julius's visits does he discover he is the illegitimate son of Count de Baraglioul. Having been brought up in great luxury thanks to a series of "uncles"-his mother's rich lovers-he has an aristocratic contempt for all social conventions. Proud and handsome, possessed of a fine athletic body and an independent mind fashioned by the unorthodox education prescribed in turn by each of his uncles, he is a young barbarian who recognizes only one imperative: to re main intact, inaccessible to others. To punish himself when ever he feels he has yielded on this essential point, he jabs a penknife into his thigh. Apart from this self-discipline, Lafcadio follows only the rules of his own fantasy and purely disinterested fondness for sport. He admits to no duties or attachments or needs beyond the most basic. He goes to see his father, inherits a comfortable income, and starts off in search of adventure. In an Italian train he finds himself sit ting opposite a repulsive elderly man. An impulse comes over him to throw the man out. And this he does as the train is crossing a bridge.

Protos, the leader of the Centipede, appears in Pau disguised as a priest. In a highly dramatic interview with Julius's sister, the Countess de Saint-Prix, under the seal of secrecy he discloses the Pope's imprisonment and extorts from the terrified Countess a very large sum of money to aid in a crusade to deliver the Pope. Inspired by his sister-in-law the Countess, Julius's chaste provincial brother-in- law, Fleurissoire, makes a heroic departure for Rome, his first venture outside the precincts of his native Pau. The poor fellow be comes the bewildered victim of Protos's mystifications, until he finds himself riding opposite a delightful young man in a train. Lafcadio's act precipitates his death and finally the denouement, since by an unexpected ricochet it eventually rids the world of Protos, creator of the False Pope. Although many critics have assumed that Lafcadio is the hero of Gide's story, Fleurissoire is an equally good guide if we want to follow the astonishing ins and outs of the imbroglio.

Fleurissoire leaves for Rome filled with consternation and in a spirit of total sacrifice. He is a dedicated man with a lofty objective: to put an end to the martyrdom of the True Pope and to the reign of the False Pope. After three sleep less nights, each with its own ordeal of fleas, bedbugs, and mosquitoes, the demoralized man is an easy prey for Protos, who lures him into a dreary brothel where he loses his virginity in the arms of Carola, now allied with Protos. For the first time he is overcome with doubts as to his own worthiness. To doubt is to come under Protos's sway. Suddenly much that he had accepted as true and right seems strangely ambiguous, if not false. Things he had disapproved of no longer seem reprehensible. He begins to wonder whether Julius, whom he meets, is the real Julius and whether, in deed, he himself is the real Fleurissoire. Step by bewildered step, he who had set out so wholeheartedly to re-establish the True Pope and unmask the False, is fast becoming Protos's unwilling agent. And by the time Lafcadio runs across him on the train, he is about to compromise his and Julius's respectability in order to carry through one of Protos's more shady financial deals. The Pope's champion ends as one of the Centipedes.

Lafcadio, until the episode in the train, instinctively acts generously: a model hero and at first a kind of Theseus, he saves the lives of two children caught in a fire; he carries the bundles of old women; he is happy when he finds his unknown father; he is attracted by the gentle charm of his cousin Genevieve and likes his stepbrother-all this spontaneously and with no ulterior motives. From this instinctive sense of the freedom and essential gratuity of existence, he derives a notion which he promptly applies: there is in life no moral sanction, no good and evil; he saved lives, why not take a life? Opposite him in the train he sees a grotesque little old man. Why not throw him out? Let chance decide. If Lafcadio can count twelve before a light shows outside, Fleurissoire will be saved. At ten, he sees a light.... He throws a hideous old man out the window. But the consequences of his act soon become disturbing, until at last, in a scene of metamorphosis worthy of the surrealists, Protos appears and claims him as one of his own. Protos proposes, as a follow-up to this first act, others basely and contemptibly criminal. Lafcadio has found his master. The pattern underlying the story now begins to appear. Gide is concerned with the quite subtle problems of subversion.

Lafcadio's Adventures does not attack the Catholic Church as such; the story of the False Pope is merely part of a vast hoax perpetrated on the naive by Protos and his gang. There are, in fact, no Vatican cellars. Gide's title emphasizes the devastating irony of his tale. But Gide certainly anticipated without displeasure the scandalized protestations his casual use of sacred symbols-the Pope, Rome, the Vatican-would occasion. That is precisely why he chose them, with an amusement all the greater since he was thoroughly bored with the righteous and solemn adjurations of his would-be converters, Claudel and Jammes. What Gide was really out to satirize, however, was no one institution as such but rather a certain self-righteous complacency, a form of tranquil stupidity. Claudel himself had furnished Gide with an excellent comment on the True Pope-False Pope dichotomy in a sentence from his play The Tidings Brought to Mary: "But of which King are you speaking and of which Pope?" (note 7)

Since the Pope is God's Vicar on earth, the very notion that two men claim the title is obviously wildly destructive. The notion that a False Pope is seated, undetected, on the Vatican throne while the True Pope is held prisoner some where is even more wildly confusing. When Fleurissoire, whose faith was unquestioning, unquestioningly accepts this idea, he accepts, without at first realizing it, its logical con sequence: the existence of a plot, diabolical, successful, involving the highest church and state authorities. Satan rears his head victoriously as the idea of the "Vatican cellars" grows on Fleurissoire, a belief in the total subversion of all that used to be, in his eyes, the sign of God's presence on earth. Protos now becomes the infallible source of truth in whom the innocent Fleurissoire puts his trust. Like many an earnest crusader against subversion, baffled but undaunted, he is the unwelcome ally of Protos's gang and their stooge. When Lafcadio throws him out of the train, it is only just in time. As for the other adventurers, Fleurissoire's burlesque demise affects them each in turn, altering their newly adopted course.

By means of this ambiguous True Pope-False Pope proposition, Gide traced with a good deal of wicked humor the curious fluctuations of simple notions of "true" and "false" in relation to the mobile and complex stuff of reality. For most of the characters there is a pope, the absolute, incontrovertible, imperative voice of truth; for Protos and his gang, faith in a pope, of whatever kind, is a wonderful terrain for exploitation. Fleurissoire truly believes in the Pope; Lafcadio has never heard of him. All the other characters come some where between the two.

With impeccable skill, in every situation that turns up, Gide introduces through his characters so fine a mixture of true-and-false that reasoning, decisions, motivations and words are all suffused with the same ambiguity. The readiness with which each character plunges into actions motivated by beautiful reasons and relative ignorance gives the whole story its fundamental and restful absurdity as, from semierror to semitruth, they keep the plot rolling.

From Fleurissoire's death Julius immediately infers that his brother-in-law is a victim of the Vatican swindlers. This is true to a certain extent, since had there been no swindle Fleurissoire would never have ventured out of Pau. But Julius's inference is false, first with regard to the real circumstances of Fleurissoire's death and, second, in regard to the personal line of conduct Julius now adopts, actually motivated by his own intellectual timorousness although he at tributes it to the noble convictions reactivated in him by Fleurissoire's "martyrdom." Julius, a man who makes use of everything, is deeply impressed by the notion that "poor Fleurissoire perished because he penetrated behind the scenes." Julius now knows "where to draw the line," and draws it. Based on false assumptions, his whole line of reasoning is worthless; but from Fleurissoire's death he has drawn the in fallible justification for his own prudent return to orthodoxy, to the novel of psychological analysis and to a future seat in the French Academy. The reader knows that Fleurissoire died as the result of a far more illogical and complex set of circumstances than Julius could ever imagine, and that his death proves nothing whatever about the Pope.

Anthime Armand-Dubois, on the other hand, believed not in God but in the natural laws of the universe. This was his own pope, but one which did not explain his cure. The fact that his cure was inexplicable in his terms is true. But this does not necessarily prove, as Anthime thinks, that he has been singled out for divine intervention. Had he observed his rats with a little more imagination, they might have enlightened him.

For Anthime's rats come to him through a set of chance happenings over which they have no control but which fatally affect them. They are hunted out, brought to Anthime's laboratory, put into cages, systematically mutilated, starved, blinded, weighed, and otherwise employed in the interests of his scientific research. One day goodhearted Mme. Armand-Dubois happens to cross the room. Moved by their plight, she feeds the rats. A miracle, certainly, for the rats. Then Anthime is converted, after his miraculous cure, and gives up his experiments. Now fat and well-fed, the rats lead a very pleasant life until the day Armand reverts to his old ways. If the rats could reason within the limits of their own universe like Gidian characters in a recit, and if they were to attempt logically to explain their fate, what might they not infer? From a succession of accurate facts, they would no doubt deduce a metaphysics tailored to their own small universe just as Anthime does with regard to his. The analogy between the miraculously healed Anthime and the miraculously rescued rats is hardly accidental.

Protos, as soon as he appears, disturbs the fine serenity of the characters, in belief or disbelief, with regard to the Pope. It is he who fabricates the story of the False Pope. Amoral, omnipresent and ruthless, he has the gift of ubiquity. He can assume any human form and dress real bishops as false bishops, libertines as martyrs. He seems to incarnate the multiplicity and ambiguities of life itself, challenging as he does ideas, interdictions and beliefs, injecting doubt and question wherever he passes. But he shows his real visage only to the two characters who genuinely commit themselves to actions inspired by their beliefs, Lafcadio and Fleurissoire. The others are unconscious victims.

Anthime never suspects Protos's existence. Of all the characters he is closest to the doctrinaire orthodoxy symbolized by Rome. He goes from Pope to Pope and back again in a simple pattern of reaction analogous to the tropisms he discerned in his rats. His rationalism screens him from ever glimpsing the clandestine Protean disorder behind the neat schematization he sets up. Julius, in his novels, caters to the comfortable beliefs of the society to which he belongs. He has his literary pope-psychological analysis with ethical over tones-and his moral tropism, opportunism. Lafcadio gives him a new idea about human conduct, the existence of gratuitous, disinterested, apparently unmotivated acts, a fine literary idea. But, confronted by just such an act, the one involving Lafcadio and Fleurissoire, Julius hurriedly discards a hypothesis dangerous for his own tranquillity. He comes close to the Centipede only for an instant, attracted by the buxom Carola but, terrified by the very suggestion of an unorthodox connection, hastily withdraws. Julius merely plays with ideas. If life disappoints him, he concludes that the Pope has changed, not he; and with great and righteous relief he comes back, like the prodigal son, to the House, in this case, the French Academy. He will never explore the Vatican cellars.

Protos counts two victims, Fleurissoire and Lafcadio, who join the ranks of Gide's two recognizable families of heroes; the idealists: Fleurissoire, Alissa, Andre Walter; the sensualists: Lafcadio, Michel, Menalcas. Fleurissoire, the man with a faith and a cause, is ready to sacrifice his life without question, unacquainted as he is with the wiles of Protos. His inner commitment to a cause he conceives as worthy never weakens. But the minute he launches into action right and wrong become hopelessly confused, and from farce to burlesque he easily becomes the baffled stooge and devoted tool of his dangerous adversary. Ironically, his concern for truth becomes an obsession with error that leads him to surrender himself into the hands of the fraudulent and unscrupulous Protos.

As for Lafcadio, he has no concern whatsoever for popes, true or false. He acts in reference only to himself. The con sequences of his unmotivated murder at first seem negligible: a scratch on his handsome face and the loss of his elegant felt hat. Until suddenly, in one of the most original and enigmatic scenes in the novel, he catches glimpses of perplexing ambiguities in the most apparently innocuous people, and finally discovers that he has played into the hands of his erstwhile friend Protos. Protos, disguised as a near sighted professor called Defoulquebise, is about to blackmail him into collaborating with his criminal gang. At this point, as in a game of billiards, Gide sends his balls rolling in every direction and Lafcadio is saved. Only by a set of quid pro quos is Protos arrested, leaving Lafcadio free to spend the night with Julius's beautiful daughter, Genevieve. "Here begins a new book," says Gide, here as in many others of his tales. But Fleurissoire and Lafcadio have played their parts to the very end, showing how dangerous it is to become en tangled with Protos. Fleurissoire, who thinks that there is one Pope, one ethical principle governing the natural and the moral universe, and Lafcadio, who thinks that man is a free agent in a nonmoral universe, are the two characters who fare badly at the hands of Protos. At worst, both might have lost their lives, as indeed Fleurissoire does; at best, both might emerge slightly disfigured, as does young Lafcadio.

With Lafcadio's Adventures Gide was seeking a narrative form through which to express a conception of life that later was to become fairly widespread with the vogue of existentialism. In Prometheus Gide had played upon the idea of the incongruity of the human being who partakes of the gratuitous nature of a purposeless universe and yet is motivated by moral and rational exigencies. But where Sartre sees a conflict between a "sticky" existence and a "freely committed" life, Gide accepted the incongruous coexistence of both modes of life in every individual, discovering an inexhaustible source of laughter in their very incompatibility. If both popes exist, what can be done? Do away with all the Vaticans, those illusions of the absolute, answers an amused Gide.

In this sotie Gide also enjoyed manipulating complex series of consequences, inconsequences, motivations, chance events, and errors that any individual, in his relativity, precipitates with every one of his acts. Relativity in position and in vision, hence in reasoning, multiplies the hazards already abundantly prepared at every step by life itself.

Gide spoke of this sotie as a fable, a tale with its own morality, the morality that Lafcadio learns at his own expense, plus another, more comprehensive ethic that Gide was to develop further in The Counterfeiters. The ethic proposed is one of limited commitment. Badly shaken up after his experience, Lafcadio modifies his point of view and conduct, but emphasizes his freedom with regard to his past. He commits a crime, he looks Protos straight in the face and admits his responsibility; but he refuses to be drawn for the rest of his life into further illegal acts. He refuses to be committed by his past. The fact that Lafcadio escapes punishment is irrelevant to the problem Gide raises. For Lafcadio punishment could never be, as for Dostoevsky's Raskolnikov, an expiation. His act cannot be effaced whether its social consequences are eluded or not. It has left a mark on his face and given Protos a weapon that Lafcadio might have found hard to take back.

The idea of the free, or gratuitous, act, an idea Gide had been toying with since Marshlands, is developed more fully and more subtly than before. Lafcadio's act has no rational motivation, but it can be explained. The young man had failed to distinguish between two orders of value, the human and the cosmic, Prometheus and Zeus. On the other hand, his act is certainly gratuitous in its effects on Fleurissoire, just as Anthime's acts would also so appear to the rats. Gide considers gratuitous acts, then, as those which strike people by chance, from the outside through a set of circumstances that completely escape their control: Anthime's cure; Fleurissoire's death. Here Gide's irony enters into play, for such events are the only ones whose inexplicability his characters never accept, the only ones they always try to explain and justify. On the other hand, on a human level, there can be no gratuity in human intentions. There are good and bad intentions which involve the character's integrity and for which he is responsible. In life one cannot decide with impunity to throw the Fleurissoires out of train windows.

Gide was neither boasting nor yielding to a form of self doubt when he wrote: "'Soties' or 'recits,' up to now I have written nothing but ironic-or, if you prefer, critical-books of which this is doubtless the last." The main Gidian characters had all been something like players in a game of basketball, which they play with absorption according to all the rules. But, actually, the game turns out to be football. Gide's recits are accounts of the game as seen by one of the baffled players, while the soties describe the game as seen from the outside. In both cases the whole thing is absurd: explicitly pathetic and implicitly ridiculous in the recit; explicitly ridiculous and implicitly pathetic in the sotie. Thus Fleurissoire is a second Alissa seen from the outside.

Gide had now come to conceive another kind of novel, a summa containing a totality of experience as Andre Walter was to have been. Just as Gide had conceived his ethics as the art of making one's way through the hazards of life with out losing either one's grasp on life or one's humanity, so he now thought of the novel as a transposition of the dynamics of living rather than, as heretofore, a subtle reorganization of the substance of experience. It was perhaps his rereadings of Dostoevsky's novels that directed his ambition to come to grips with a more complex form of narrative. Yet what Gide had to say about Dostoevsky in his lectures offers little that was not already present in Gide's mind. Gide's new aesthetic ideas, precipitated perhaps by the loud clamor around him for the renovation of the novel seem to follow naturally from the progress of his own thought in every other realm. Neither Lafcadio's Adventures nor the future Counterfeiters is really Dostoevskian in mood or technique. When Gide constantly reiterated his belief that the choice of subject matters little in art and that the work of art has no purpose beyond itself, he was sincere. None of his works were consciously inspired by an intent to moralize. But Gide could only work with subjects that were rooted in his emotional life, itself deeply affected by questions of ethics.

Gide's thought insistently probes a few great questions raised by his own experience which always baffled him and which, through the medium of fiction also challenge the reader's understanding. Each work at its origin is related to all the others. But from Andre Walter to Lafcadio's Adventures Gide became progressively more detached from his subject matter. In his last sotie he could look down upon his creatures from above, working out the mechanics of his plot with an Olympian serenity. He seemed to conceive of this satire as the first outline of a universe in which he would be involved only as an artist, and thus he could affirm in all sincerity that the "real show" was now going to begin.

The sincerity to which Gide so often alluded and which he wanted to achieve should not be confused with mere candor or the attempt to live according to certain ethical principles. All Gide's work asserts that life and rigid ethical systems are incompatible and explores the devious forms of self deception that lurk beneath the mask of candor. His form of sincerity arises from the requirements of his art which, in directly, did impose a rigorous moral discipline upon him. Sincerity, as Gide understood it, consisted first in never al lowing himself to evade facts, and more particularly those facts which elude reason, in never refusing to go behind the scenes. It required also that he as a writer, without deliberately misleading himself or others, honestly work within the limitations of his own relative point of view, clearly de fined through the structural patterns of his work. This sense of relativity led Gide to stress what he called the "devil's share" in life, all that in any existence eludes understanding. Whereas art thrives on its sometimes unconscious connections with the devil's share in existence, those human beings who ignore it in life court disaster. And so the work of art has meaning beyond itself and exercises a salutary influence. Gide's former search for an art "that would liberate the unknown within us" had by now become a search for an art "to liberate us from the unknown."

Gide, who had started out with the mental picture of the Christian universe, had now come to see that the only reality he could honestly deal with was the relative, fallacious and mobile order man creates for himself. He seems to have envisioned life somewhat as it is pictured in the most amiable of the Greek myths. On our generally pleasant and sunny earth it is the task of men to live humanly, eliminating monsters, remaining sharply distinct from the gods, achieving as best they can an ideal human form. Lafcadio, starting out on his adventures, anticipates Gide's favorite hero, Theseus. Lafcadio's Adventures is a crucial book disclosing as it does both the evolution of Gide's thought and the reasons that led him to experiment so drastically with the accepted forms of the novel.


1. Written principally between May, 1912, and June, 1913, Gide's Les Caves du Vatican has been variously translated into English as The Vatican Swindle, The Vatican Cellars and Lafcadio's Adventures. The last title has been the most popular and the most usually adopted.

2. A sotie is a medieval farce in which the players freely mocked the powers that be, more often than not the Church.

3. In 1895 a scholar named Jean de Pauly published the facts of the real story in a book called The False Pope, which Gide never read. See Yvonne Davet's notes in Andre Gide, Romans, recits et soties, Oeuvres Iyriques (Bibliotheque de la Pleiade, pp. 1567-1568).

4. Lafcadio's Adventures was adapted for the stage in 1933 in two versions. The second and better adaptation, Gide's own, is still presented from time to time by avant-garde groups, although a production at the Comedie- Francaise in 1950 did not meet with much success.

5. Allusion to Jacques-Louis David (1748-1825), leading exponent of the classical reaction in European painting, a portrait painter who also painted historical scenes. David always drew his figures first in the nude, and only afterward clothed them.

6. "Tropism" is a biological term referring to the involuntary response of organisms to external stimuli.

7. Claudel, very much upset by the parts of Lafcadio's Adventures he had read, asked Gide to omit this quotation, which Gide did.