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Gide, André (1869-1951)  
 
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At the age of twenty-four, however, Gide embarked for North Africa with his painter friend Paul A. Laurens. This trip was a rebirth for Gide, for in North Africa, he discovered sexual feelings and desires that were formerly repressed. He participated in his first homosexual encounter with Ali, an Arab youth, as related in the pages of his autobiography Si le grain ne meurt.

Three important events took place in Gide's life in 1895. He returned to North Africa where he met up with Oscar Wilde and Alfred Douglas, and had further adventures with young Arab boys. Then his mother died in May, an event that marked Gide's further liberation from his inhibitions and constraints.

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Finally, in anticipation of his impending marriage to his cousin Madeleine Rondeaux in October, he consulted a doctor, for despite his newly found sexual freedom, he feared that his promiscuity in Algeria and Tunisia had not properly prepared him for marriage. The doctor, however, declared that Gide would forget his immoral penchants once wed.

Having found while a youth his cousin and future wife Madeleine Rondeaux in tears at the discovery of her mother's adultery, Gide developed an almost mystical dedication to the alleviation of her anguish. Madeleine occupies an important position in many of his writings. She is Emmanuèle in Les Cahiers d'André Walter and in his Journal, Alissa in La Porte étroite (Strait is the Gate, 1909) and Marceline in L'Immoraliste (The Immoralist, 1902).

Gide saw in her both the hurt child of his own youth and a substitute for his own departed maternal figure, for Madeleine was two years older and more mature than he. He never consummated the marriage; his love for her was pure, and he felt that physical intimacy would have tarnished this ideal.

The two developed, however, a deep moral and spiritual dependence on each other. By maintaining this pure idyllic relationship, Gide was able to cleanse his own sins. His La Porte étroite is a largely autobiographical account of their relationship.

In it, Gide describes with precision the feelings of the Protestant milieu in which he was raised. Jérôme and Alissa are cousins. As austerely religious Protestants, they fervently follow the teachings of pastor Vautier, who preaches from Luke 13:24: "Strive to enter by the narrow door." Alissa, however, who has an intense need to do penance for her mother's adulterous actions, refuses Jérôme's proposal of marriage. Her saintlike conduct leads her to loneliness and eventual death.

L'Immoraliste

Gide's L'Immoraliste is a psychological novel and thus the perfect format to give voice to his inner conflicts and torments. The novel touches on two major questions of the twentieth century: Is liberation from former traditions possible, and if so, what should be done with the freedoms newly gained?

The homosexual orientation of Michel, the novel's protagonist, is thus an emblem of rebellion and freedom of choice. Michel rejects both traditional values (he squanders his inheritance, possessions, and land) and the ideal heterosexual relationship (he marries Marceline without love and disguises his indifference as an illness on their honeymoon).

Moreover, he begins to partake in the discovery of homosexual desires, being attracted by the nakedness of Arab boys and the strength and beauty of male workers on his Norman property. Michel's observations serve, according to Emily Apter, as a means of tearing away at the acceptable Protestant ethic.

He continues to ignore and abandon his fragile wife, who later dies on a trip to North Africa. Her passing, like that of Gide's mother Juliette, represents the ultimate moment of liberation from a morally repressive society.

Michel's actions serve to attack the dominant social ideology, especially the Protestant ethic of duty and bourgeois morality. But whereas the excess in La Porte étroite lies in self-sacrifice and purity, Michel's excess is one of glorification of a self released from all moral constraint.

Troubled by marital difficulties and horrified by the events of World War I, Gide concentrated his efforts after 1914 on a critique of bourgeois society. In 1916, he began a friendship with the young Marc Allégret and the two spent time together in Switzerland. Their short relationship, according to Wallace Fowlie, was the only union that for Gide successfully combined a sexual love and a loving companionship.

On his return to France, Gide received a blow; he learned that his wife, in reaction to his infidelities, had burned all of his letters to her. This event shattered the illusion of his idyllic love and devotion to her, for he considered these letters his best work.

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