Titles by the Author
The awarding of the Nobel Prize for Literature to André Gide in 1947 gave official recognition to a fact that a life of controversy had tended to obscure: that Gide was a major lieterary figure, and through his novels, plays, criticism, and journals he had exerted a powerful influence on twentieth centruy literature.
Gide was born in Paris to a wealthy family in 1869. Provided with a fine education and free from financial concerns, he developed an interest in literature while quite young. He experiemented with writing, and in his twenties was included among the young Symbolists who gathered around the poet Stéhane Mallarmé. But an inner battle preoccupied Gide, for despite his strict upbringing and lifelong devotion to the Bible, he was also consumed by a desire to escape the constraints of polite society. A trip to Africa in 1893, where he led a sensual life, and the death of his mother in 1895, which made him independently wealthy, prompted Gide to become more bold in his rejection of traditional morality.
He married his cousin in 1895 and was a devoted husband. However, when he acknowledged his homosexuality she left him, burning all his letters. His unfearing rejection of society's values was the basis for Fruits of the Earth (1897), in which he urged his young protagonist Nathaniel to reject the concept of sin and devote himself to a life of pleasure. Gide himself did just this, although he continued his literary pursuits as well.
In 1908 he was one of the founders of La Nouvelle Revue Française, one of the most influential French literary magazines. 1909 saw the publication of Strait is the Gate, his first successful novel. The Vatican Swindle (1914), later retitiled Lafcadio's Adventures, examined the concept of unmotivated crime and introduced Gide's concept of the "acte gratuit" - the apparently irrational act that is as liberating as it is inexplicable.
The apparent amorality of Lafcadio and the popularity of Gide's novels with the young intelligentsia led to critical attacks; Gide was assailed as a subtle corrupter of youth and a threat to moral society. His books were placed on the Vatican Index of Forbidden Literature. He responded to these attacks in 1924 with his own "acte gratuit," Corydon, in which he proudly and explicitly discussed his homosexuality. The furor that greeted Corydon was increased with the publication of his equally confessional autobiography, If It Die, in 1926. Many of his friends abandoned him in the face of the controversy, and Gide sold his estate and returned to Africa.
This African journey resulted in Travels in the Congo (1928), a scathing attack on the brutal French colonial policies, and again he was the center of a controversy.
Although he was attracted to Marxism, a trip to the Soviet Union in 1936 produced Return from the U.S.S.R., in which he mourned the state of Russian Marxism twenty years after the Revolution. Having already alienated the moralists and the colonialists, he had now offended the leftists, but he was unperturbed by the attacks of his latest critics.
The publication of his Journals in 1947 was a major literary event, and the Nobel Prize served to restore further his reputation. But it was Gide himself who had best summed up his life when, at eighty, he listed his chief pleeasures as "The Arabian Nights, the Bible, the pleasures of the flesh, and the Kingdom of God."