21 Jul



  • Author:  André Gide (1869 – 1951)
  • Genre: Novella   
  • Title:  L’ immoraliste
  • Published:  1902
  • Table of Contents:  part 1 (rebirth) — part 2 ( intellectual) —  part 3 (physical)
  • Published by:   Folio
  • Dedication: to Henri Ghéon was one of Gide’s closest friends (see photo)
  • Quotation: Psalm 139:14  “I will praise thee; for I am fearfully and wonderfully made”
  • Setting: Normandy;  Biskra, Algeria; Paris
  • Timeline: 1800’s
  • Language: French
  • Themes: self-awareness;  live for today without the burden of possessions or memories;  rebirth
  • Trivia: This book is autobiographical.  Gide went to North Africa, where he met with the well-known homosexual Irish writer Oscar Wilde. Gide’s trips to North Africa became the basis of The Immoralist
  • Trivia: In 1947 he was awarded the Nobel Prize for Literature.
  • Trivia (personal): What a feeling, reading L’immoraliste in  French  is easier than reading The Roberts Court in English


  1. Michel is the narrator and central character in the book.
  2. Marceline is Michel’s wife. They hardly know each other but marry to please Michel’s dying father. During the honeymoon in North Africa, Michel becomes gravely ill with tuberculosis but regains his health.
  3. Marceline  also becomes ill with tuberculosis. The couple travels and ends up in  Biskra for the second time, Marceline dies.
  4. As Michel’s health improves, he experiences this profound change in himself as a sort of rebirth. Gide wrote in part 1, chapter 7 of Michel’s change in physical appearance, exercise, sunbathing, shaving off his beard. All symbols of Gide’s  attempt to be a new person.
  5. At the same time, Michel finds himself attracted to healthy young men and boys in North Africa as well as at home in France.
  6. Torn between his natural homosexual inclinations and the traditional  values with which he was raised, Michel finds himself in a state of personal crisis.


  • Marceline:  She is 20 years old when she marries Michel who is 25. Gide reveals a tender love between husband and wife.
  • Michel:  is the narrator and central  character.
  • Menalque;  is friend  based on Oscar Wilde who he met in Biskra.

Best chapter:  Part 2, chapter 2:

  • Here we read Gide’s descriptions of and meetings with Menalque who is based on Oscar Wilde.
  • L’immoraliste was published after Wilde’s death so that Gide felt free to describe Wilde with intense accuracy.
  • Gide gives Oscar Wilde a voice…( it sometimes quite philosophical)….live for today without the burden of possessions or memories (pg 126)
  • “…that one feels himself different is precisely what gives one value; and that is what one is trying to supress…” (pg 119)

Worst chapter: Part 2, chapter 3:

  • Strange segment in the story where Gide wants to express Michel’s determination to leave the past and concentrate on his future ‘free’ life.
  • Gide uses the the estate in Normandy to indicate Michel’s displeasure for his old responsibilites.
  • It was hard to digest, farfetched and the weakest part of the book.

Setting:   Why did Gide choose Biskra Algeria for the setting of the book?   Why not stay in Paris and enjoy life there?

  • Gide was a faithful visitor to  the literary salons but found them stifling.
  • Intellectually he was satisfied but there was the physical, sensuous  side of life that he felt he was missing.
  • Many writers felt free  in French North Africa and were  able to experiment with the primitive side of life Guy de  Maupassant, Oscar Wilde and Gustave Flaubert.

Title:    What does the title mean?

  • Encouraged by Menalque Michel defies all traditions, moral codes, scorns the weak, praises the strong and becomes an immoralist!
  • He himself is the only thing that is important. (pg 62)

Structure:  André Gide used the  the form of a letter as the framework for the central story.

  • Who is the letter  written to? The letter was written by one of Michel’s friends (Ghéon)  to his own brother identified as Monsieur D. R. Michel, asks three of his friends to come to his retreat at Sidi b. M. to tell them his story and ask for their help.
  • Henri Ghéon was one of Gide’s closest friends and companion on innumerable homosexual exploits. Ghéon and  Gide’s together with other literary friends founded the scholarly journal  La Nouvelle Revue Fransçaise.

Henri Ghéon and André Gide:



  1. The homosexual events in  L’ immoraliste made it a racy novella for its era. By today’s standards, the book is not so controversial.
  2. Still I found this book very moving for a different  reason. In order to understand the book I had to learn more about the author.
  3. Gide was a complex individual struggling to free himself from his Calvinist upbringing and live a life of his own choosing. His mother ( Juliette Rondeaux) was the  perfect example of puritan severity. Every aspect of her son’s life, from the clothes he wore to the books he read, was regulated by his mother, who continued to give him advice until her death in 1895, when her son was twenty-five.
  4. I think that after burying  his mother André Gide felt he was ready to write his most revealing books  beginning with  the  L’ immoraliste. It draws on details related explicitly about his own life.
  5. There is very little dialogue in the book. Marceline hardly speaks. It is a first-person narrative expressing Michel’s opinions, thoughts, and feelings. The French was easy so read. Gide uses the subjunctive in his writing more than Némirovsky. I had to ‘brush up’ on that verb tense!
  6. I started out  to discover a new  book….yet I discovered much more:  André Gide.
  7. Rarely do you see his books  on classic reading lists.
  8. Gide’s autobiography   Si le grain ne mert (1926, If It Die . . .), is considered one of the great works of confessional literature. I wonder if one can compare it to  the Confession’s of St. Augustine?   ( review by Cleo)  Both authors face their shortcomings an a deep desire to change themselves.

Score: 3









Posted by on July 21, 2014 in Uncategorized


2 responses to “L’immoraliste

  1. Col

    July 21, 2014 at 15:05

    I read this book many years ago as a younger man!!!! At the time I enjoyed it but always felt I’d not got as much as I might from the book because I was young and immature. Your review is an education in itself! Now I think I didn’t get as much out of it because I didn’t know enough about Gide and his life before and at the time he wrote. This was a fascinating and very enlightening post!!!!!!!

    • N@ncy

      July 21, 2014 at 16:15

      The book made more of an impact on me than I expected. It wasn’t easy to be an intellectual gay man in Gide’s era. There was a quote I liked when Ménalque: (Oscar Wilde) speaks to Michel and explains that he does not drink: (the so called ‘Gidian principle’)
      “Je tiens la sobriété pour une plus puissante ivresse.”
      I believe that sobriety is an even more powerful drunkenness.


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