|French literary history|
André Paul Guillaume Gide (November 22, 1869 – February 19, 1951) was a French author and winner of the Nobel Prize in literature in 1947. Gide's career spanned from the symbolist movement to the advent of anticolonialism in-between the two World Wars.
Gide's work can be seen as an investigation of freedom and empowerment in the face of moralistic and puritan constraints, and gravitates around his continuous effort to achieve intellectual honesty. His self-exploratory texts reflect his search of how to be fully oneself, even to the point of owning one's sexual nature, without at the same time betraying one's values. His political activity is informed by the same ethos, as suggested by his repudiation of communism after his 1936 voyage to the USSR.
Known for his fiction as well as his autobiographical works, Gide exposes to public view the conflict and eventual reconciliation between the two sides of his personality, split apart by a straightlaced education and a narrow social moralism - as he perceives himself: the austere and refined Protestant, and the divinely inspired - and no longer blushing - pederast.
Gide was born in Paris, France on November 22, 1869. His father was a Paris University professor of law and died in 1880. His uncle was the political economist Charles Gide.
Gide was brought up in isolated conditions in Normandy and became a prolific writer at an early age, publishing in 1891 his first novel, The Notebooks of Andre Walter (French: Les Cahiers d'André Walter).
In 1893 and 1894 Gide traveled in northern Africa. He befriended Oscar Wilde in Algiers and there clearly recognized his own homosexual and pederastic orientations:
In 1895, after his mother's death, he married his cousin Madeleine Rondeaux but the marriage remained unconsummated. In 1896 he was mayor of La Roque-Baignard, a commune in Normandy.
In 1908 Gide helped found the literary magazine Nouvelle Revue française (The New French Review). In 1916 Marc Allégret, 16, became his lover. He was the son of Elie Allegret, best man at Gide's wedding. Of Allegret's five children, Andre Gide adopted Marc. The two eloped to London, in retribution for which his wife burned all his correspondence, "the best part of myself," as he was later to comment. In 1918 he met Dorothy Bussy, who was his friend for over thirty years and who would translate all his works into English.
In the 1920s Gide became an inspiration for writers like Albert Camus and Jean-Paul Sartre. In 1923 he published a book on Fyodor Dostoyevsky; however, when he defended homosexuality in the public edition of Corydon (1924) he received widespread condemnation. He later considered this his most important work.
In 1923 he conceived a daughter named Catherine with another woman, Elisabeth van Rysselberghe, daughter of his friend, the Belgian neo-impressionist painter Théo van Rysselberghe. His wife Madeleine died in 1938. Later he used the background of his unconsummated marriage in his novel Et Nunc Manet in Te. These works were unconventional at the time, and became instant classics (1951).
After 1925 he began to demand more humane conditions for criminals. In 1926 he published an autobiography, If it die (French: Si le grain ne meurt).
From July 1926 to May 1927, he travelled through the French Equatorial Africa colony with his lover Marc Allégret. He went successively in Middle Congo (now the Republic of the Congo), in Oubangui-Chari (now the Central African Republic), briefly in Chad and then in Cameroun before returning to France. He related his peregrinations in a journal called Travels in the Congo (French: Voyage au Congo) and Return from Chad (French: Retour du Tchad). In this published journal, he criticized the behavior of French business interests in the Congo and inspired reform. In particular, he strongly criticized the Large Concessions regime (French: régime des Grandes Concessions), i.e. a regime according to which part of the colony was conceded to French companies and where these companies could exploit all of the area's natural resources, in particular rubber. He related for instance how natives were forced to leave their village during several weeks to collect rubber in the forest, and went as far as comparing their exploitation to slavery.
During the 1930s he briefly became a communist, but became disillusioned after his visit to Soviet Union. His criticism of communism caused him to lose many of his socialist friends, especially when he made a clean break with it in Retour de L'U.R.S.S. in 1936. He was also a contributor to The God That Failed.
Gide left France for Africa in 1942 and lived in Tunis until the end of World War II. In 1947, he received the Nobel Prize in Literature.
Gide died on February 19, 1951.
The Catholic Church placed his works on the Index of Forbidden Books in 1952.