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Andre Gide childhood and adolescent life

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Andre Gide childhood and adolescent life


Andre Paul Guillaume Gide was born in Paris in 1869, the son of a university professor and a Norman heiress. Much of his childhood and later life was spent in his mother's native Normandy. He died in 1951.

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His father died when he was eleven, and thus his life at home was much influenced by the women of the family with his very possessive mother. Moreover, Gide had a strict Protestant upbringing and throughout his adolescence he experienced an intense religious fervor.

However, great freedom was also allowed to him & he did practically anything he wanted. His sense of individuality was encouraged and so was his passion for nature and his sense of pleasure, innocent enchantment, and his great love in discovering the beauties of the countryside. But his reaction to natural beauty was never passive. 

He had little regular schooling as he was delicate and suffered frequent bouts of ill health. He was educated at the Protestant École Alsacienne in Paris. His passion for analysis, curiosity to know more and strong determination derived directly from his freely cultivated home, in the company of women. Yet at the Ecole Alsatienne, he gave the impression of being stupid and unmannerly.

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At the Ecole Alsatienne he did master in the art of recitation but his manner of reciting and his teacher's compliments only earned him the jealousy and mockery of his schoolmates, who used to set upon him after school. At last he found a way out, illness. He had a childish slyness, without malice, it was a mean of defense rather than attack. He liked doing it, too, not only because it was a source of relief, but also because he was taking an unknown path making new feelings conceivable by acting them. However, these traits reoccurred in his later life.

Furthermore, at school, he had been unfairly excluded from the company of others and had felt their hatred. As an only child, he adored having friends. He wanted to be liked, but was rejected. It was the fault of the others, but, instead of hating them for it, he tried to win them over.

At the age of fifteen, inflating his aesthetic leanings and his feeling of being "different" into a sense of moral purpose. He became a religious enthusiast. At the same time, he was also awakening to the mysteries of sex.

As the family traveled, young Gide explored nature in new settings. In the 1890s, Gide made several visits to North Africa where he realized that he was homosexual. However, he fell in love with his cousin, Protestant Madeleine Rondeaux, but the family separated them. In 1895, following his mother's death, Gide married Madeleine, who inspired a number of his works. Although they loved each other but their marriage was a failure.

Gide childhood influence on his career

On the threshold of his career, he was an aesthete and an individualist. He wanted not only to live apart from the crowd, to be true to him but also to be liked. He sought to be sincere, but at the same time sought to please by his sincerity. It was this conflict, those peculiar set of circumstances from which Gide sought to escape by becoming a writer.

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As he grew, his mother advised that he make a career in forestry or something similar. But he did not want a profession. He loved nature and therefore, he wrote a blend of prose and verse Paludes (1896) and Les Nourritures Terrestres (1897), which went relatively, unnoticed until after the First World War. But, after then, Gide was only known to a small circle. However, his first commercial success was with La Porte Etoite (1909). From then on his reputation grew. However, in 1917, he emerged as a prophet of French youth and his unorthodox views caused many debates.

After the war, he was seen as one of the foremost representatives of the modern literature of introspection, with sexual abnormality as its theme. He became widely read and discussed, influencing the aesthetic and moral values of the inter-war generation.
By becoming increasingly introspective, he questioned his religious faith, pronouncing himself an agnostic, as he struggled to come to terms with his homosexuality.

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In 1926, a visit to Africa turned him against colonialism. In the same year he published his self-revealing autobiography Si le Grain ne Mert. In addition, Gide had a brief flirtation with Communism, which ended in disillusionment after visiting the Soviet Union in 1936.
He felt that his most important work was Corydon (1924), which was highly controversial in content and in treatment of its subject. However, his outstanding work was his Journal 1939-50, which provided a fascinating and valuable insight into a great literary mind and so in 1947, he won the Nobel Prize.

In  “lf It Die” . . . he relates the famous episode with Ali in the sand hills and the rapture it brought him. This rapture was acclaimed and in high spirits. But, from his silence on his return, it was clear that he had not finished with it: later he would have to tell and justify everything. This became one of the aims of an increasingly large part of his work; work that from now on would be indistinguishable from his life. The need for self-justification became all the more acute and embarrassing when, with the rashness of youth, he complicated his problem by marrying his pure-minded cousin Madeleine, known as "Em." Almost all his work, as he said himself, was to be a long attempt to come to terms with an essential contradiction, a tenacious and unremitting dialogue between the levity that was part of his nature and the serious mindedness that was entirely characteristic of Em.

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Everything in Gide is ego-oriented. A large part of his work is in the form of confidences that were intended for the ears of those closest to his own life. The fact that Gide was his own subject matter did not preclude objectivity. It did not take him long to realize that he would never be a poet.

Gide’s work

Gide's first book Les Cahiers d'Andre Walter (The Notebooks of Andre Walter) appeared anonymously in 1891, and revealed Gide still unconsciously fettered by the rigors of Puritanism. The journal of a poet and moral philosopher, it prefigures later works such as La Porte Etroite (Strait is the Gate) and If It Die.

The same year Gide also published a Traite du Narcisse (The Treatise of the Narcissus) - with subtitle 'Theory of the Symbol". These works, and his next book, La Tentative Amoureuse (The Attempt at Love, 1893), were ephemeral efforts. However, "Our books," he wrote about wistful desires, craving for other lives eternally was acclaimed. Fruits of the Earth was a vital breakthrough for Gide, but it was with L'lmmoraliste (The Immoralist, 1902) that bought the real change in him.

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Gide’s personal values (sexual freedom, social equality, and atheism) became social values for which he practically gave himself as an offering to the Communist creed. There were many reasons for this move. He was motivated, in part, by a sense of guilt (over being rich) with which he had always lived. In Communism too, he saw the opportunity of renewing contact (against established Christianity) with the crusading spirit that was still very close to his heart, thus demonstrating that there was some continuity in his life. Finally, and perhaps primarily, he was inspired by a need for personal renewal, for rejuvenation. But like his earlier enthusiasms, this one did not survive his own critical view.

Gide's work is of historic interest for mainly two reasons. Firstly, the place that Gide held in the awareness of the public, that is, his identification with a certain attitude to life. Secondly, the place he held in art itself. But it remains to be seen whether Andre Gide is simply a respectable library author or if he still has something to say to the world of today.

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The Life and Works of Andre Gide by Marc Beig beder from pp 105-114 of the book:

Nobel Prize Library: Gide, Gjellerup, Heyse. Helvetica Press 1971

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