His father died when he was eleven, so he grew up in a female household with
his very possessive mother. As a child he was often ill and his education at
the École Alsacienne, where he developed an interest in literature, was
interrupted by long stays in the South, where he was instructed by private tutors.
Gide had a strict Protestant upbringing. Throughout his adolescence he experienced
an intense religious fervour.
As his family was wealthy, he was able to devote himself to writing. His first
prose work was the symbolist influenced, anonymously authored Les Cahiers
d'André Walter (1891, The
Notebooks of Andre Walter). He had started it at 18. The book, published
anonymously, told the story of an unhappy young man and his pure love for his
cousin Emmanuèle. Next year appeared his first poems, Walter's
Poésies, but by 1900 he had practically abandoned poetry.
Gide fell in love with his cousin, the devoutly 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,
their marriage was unconsummated.
In 1893 and 1894 Gide traveled to North Africa, learning different moral and
sexual conventions which gave basis for his psychological novels The
Immoralist (1902) and Strait is the Gate
(1909). In Algeria he met Oscar Wilde and Lord Alfred
Douglas, who shocked him with their boldness and precipitated his revolt against
his puritanical background. It was here that he realised that he was homosexual.
Henceforth his work lived on the never resolved tensions between a strict artistic
discipline, a puritanical moralism, and the desire for unlimited sensual indulgence
and abandonment to life. Les Nourritures terrestres (1897, Fruits
of the Earth), a book of prose poems, became in the 1920s his most popular
work, influencing a generation of young writers, including the existentialists
Albert Camus and Jean-Paul Sartre.
At this time he became interested in Nietzsche and Dostoevsky,
who with Montaigne and Goethe, greatly influenced his
In 1908, Gide founded, with other writers, La Nouvelle Revue Francaise. It
was he who persuaded them to reject the first volume of Marcel
Proust's novel A la Recherche du Temps Perdu on the grounds that a little
socialite like Proust could have nothing of interest
to say. He was later to apologise.
Gide felt that his most important work was Corydon
(1924), which was highly controversial in content (sexual matters) and in treatment
of its subject. It is generally agreed however, that his outstandng work are
his Journals (1889-1913,
which provide a fascinating and valuable insight into a great literary mind.
Gide divided his narrative works into soties such as Les Caves du Vatican
The Vatican Cellars / Lafcadio's Adventures) and classically restrained
récits, for example, La Porte étroite (1909, Strait is the Gate)
Pastorale (1919). The only work which he considered a novel was the
structurally complex and experimental Les Faux Monnayeurs (1926, The
Until the twenties Gide was known chiefly in avant-garde and esoteric literary
circles, but in his later years he became a highly influential, although always
controversial figure. 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 even more widely discussed, influencing the aesthetic
and moral values of the inter-war generation. Throughout his career Gide used
his writings to examine moral questions. He is as well known for his influence
as a moralist and as a thinker as for his contributions to literature.
He became increasingly introspective and questioned his religious faith, pronouncing
himself an agnostic, as he struggled to come to terms with his homosexuality.
Gide taught that people must be true to their own nature, but by following this,
he was false and cruel to his wife. After her death he was to reproach himself.
Pastorale (1919), written in the form of the diary, Gide explored the
hypocrisy which masquerades as Christian pity and duty. In the story a Swiss
Protestant pastor adopts and educates the blind orphan Gertrude. The pastor
is afraid that Gertrude loves him less than his son Jacques, and seduces the
girl on the eve of an operation, which may restore her sight. After the successful
operation Gertrude understands the truth about the people around her and she
commits suicide. The pastor doesn't realize his own blindness before he starts
to re-examine the bases of his thinking and behavior.
He travelled widely. His trip to the Congo in 1926 led to a scathing report
on economic abuses by French firms and resulted in reforms. In the same year
he published his self-revealing autobiography Si le Grain ne Mert (If
It Die: An Autobiography).
In the 1930s he announced his conversion to Communism, which shocked his readers,
but he also was rejected by his new admirers after his disillusioning trip to
the Soviet Union. His disillusioned report of his journey to Russia, Return
from the U.S.S.R (1936), scandalized another. Gide's interests went
far beyond the confines of French literature. He translated Shakespeare,
Whitman, Conrad, and Rilke.
He was an influential literary critic (Prétextes, 1903; Nouveaux
Prétextes, 1911) and was especially attracted to problematic writers
like Dostoevsky, about whom he wrote a book titled
Among Gide's last work was Thésée (1946, Two
Legends: Oedipus and Theseus), the reworking of an old myth in which
contributed to the renewed use of Greek myth in the 20th century literature,
like the earlier Oedipe (1931). Gide's collected works have been published
in fifteen volumes (1933-39).
In 1947, he won the Nobel
He died in 1951. The following year the Vatican placed all his works on the
Index of Forbidden Books.