André Gide

André Gide (1869–1951) was born in Paris to a wealthy Protestant family with Huguenot roots. His father, a prominent law professor, died when Gide was still a child, and until well into his teens the anxious and sickly boy was tutored at home under the vigilant eye of his formidably pious mother. Gide attended the salon of the symbolist poet Stéphane Mallarmé, struck up a friendship with Oscar Wilde, and, at the age of twenty-one, self-published his first book, The Notebooks of André Walter. Visits to North Africa awakened the young man to his homosexuality; summoned back from one of these trips in 1895 by his mother’s death, he immediately married his deeply religious cousin Madeleine Rondeaux, the beginning of an intense, tortured, and sexually unconsummated relationship that was central to Gide’s life and work. A series of short fictions exploring the relationship between faith and desire, The Fruits of the Earth, The Immoralist, and Strait Is the Gate—none of them enjoying popular success on publication—made Gide’s name as a writer, and as a founder of the journal La Nouvelle Revue Française and a member of the editorial board of the new publishing house Gallimard he became a central figure not only in the French literary world but in the development and promulgation of literary modernism around the world. The Vatican Cellars, a picaresque tale in which the antihero commits murder as a purely “gratuitous act,” exercised a seminal influence on surrealism and existentialism. If It Die . . . , Gide’s account of his childhood and coming-of-age and one of the first memoirs to divulge the homosexuality of the author, was published at considerable legal risk in 1926. In the 1920s and ’30s, Gide’s reports on his visits to the Congo and the USSR served as controversial and effective exposés of the abuses of both French colonialism and Soviet Communism. In 1947, he received the Nobel Prize in Literature. Among the other notable works of this tirelessly industrious and enormously wide-ranging writer (he was also a gifted pianist, and regularly had a piano shipped to him on his travels) are The Counterfeiters, a novel, and the extraordinary Journal that he worked on from his teenage years until the end of his life.