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Gide, André (1869-1951)  
 
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André Gide, one of the premier French writers of the twentieth century, reflected his homosexuality in many of his numerous works.

Gide was born in Paris on November 22, 1869, at what he later termed a "crossroads," the intersection of his father Paul's southern, Huguenot, and modest upbringing, and his mother Juliette Rondeaux's Norman, bourgeois, and wealthy background.

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After the death of his father--an eminent professor of law in Paris--on October 28, 1880, the young André was surrounded during his early years almost exclusively by women: his mother, his Rondeaux aunts, his mother's English domestic Anna Shakelton, and his Rouen cousins.

Because of several changes of domicile after his father's death, he received a rather fragmented education, attending the Ecole Alsacienne, the Ecole Henri IV, and the Lycée Montpellier. Yet despite these various uprootings, the females in his life instilled in him a sense of strict Protestant morality, modesty, obedience, social conformity, and sense of duty--values against which Gide struggled and revolted his entire life.

His early years were thus frustrating and unsettling. In his autobiography Si le grain ne meurt (If It Die, 1921), Gide describes a possible early revelation of a homosexual orientation. The young André, in tears in his mother's arms, declares that he is unlike the other school boys.

As a youth, Gide suffered from fits, headaches, insomnia, unexplainable fatigues, and feelings of insecurity, the physical and mental manifestations of an unsettling and confused childhood.

Writing offered Gide a means of stabilization and the opportunity to put his life's experiences in order. By meticulously recording and reordering his feelings, experiences, and desires, Gide was able, as he remarked in Si le Grain ne meurt, to "give form to a confused inner agitation."

His philosophy evolved slowly as his own life experiences broadened. The major sources of inspiration of his writing were his relationships, friendships, and travels. Gide wove these experiences into his texts, and yet they represent more than mere sources of subject matter. As recorded in print, they are essential fragments that together compose the vast Gidian intertextual mosaic, where each work helps illuminate, and at times complicate, the reading of another. Through writing, Gide attempted to repair his childhood and his guilt.

His diverse oeuvre, which numbers more than sixty titles and in which are represented nearly all literary genres, is remarkable not only on a personal level, but also on a cultural and historical one, for it gives the modern reader insights into the social and political issues of the time.

Gide's style is precise, sensitive, refined, and subtle. Two important themes recur in his texts: the conflict between individual and social desires and rights, and the rebellion against traditional values and morals.

Early Works

Attracted by the symbolist poet Mallarmé and his circle, Gide wrote early works such as Les Cahiers d'André Walter (The Notebooks of André Walter, published anonymously in 1891), Le Traité de Narcisse (The Treatise on Narcissus, 1891), and Le Voyage d'Urien (Urien's Voyage, 1893) that are somewhat more impersonal than his later ones.

His literary career began with Les Cahiers d'André Walter, which is the story of a young man's love for his orphaned cousin Emmanuèle--a relationship enriched through books and religion. Walter struggles against his own corporal desires (the beast within him) and aspires to achieve a pure and idyllic love, untainted by physical contact.

Then on her death bed, Walter's mother asks her son to end this relationship. André envisions a plan that will cause Emmanuèle to disapprove of him and thus in this way he will merit her even more for having sacrificed his love. As with many of his works, Les Cahiers is loosely autobiographical, and in fact Gide draws many passages directly from his personal journal.

Around 1892, inspired by his readings of Goethe and Nietzsche, and influenced in part by Oscar Wilde whom he had met in Paris in 1891, Gide left behind symbolist influences and began to realize that he could express without hesitancy his true thoughts and desires.

He adopted a more romantic style, one that more freely expressed his growing feeling of individualism, but that continued nonetheless to be restrained by an inescapable sense of obedience to conventional morality.

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