Last week, I noted that The Immoralist “caused a scandal” on its first publication in Which is the kind of thing you do when you get most of. Rereading Gide’s The Immoralist () recently that is indeed how I experienced the text. It is disturbing, upsetting even, to read. Why? In Homos in , Leo. Book reviews that go beyond a simple review but are insights on thoughts, feelings and the magic of books. The Immoralist by Andre Gide.
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Last week, I noted that The Immoralist “caused a scandal” on its first publication in Which is the kind of thing you do when you get most of your knowledge about a book from Wikipedia and loose scraps of knowledge on the internet.
Reading group: A slap in the face from André Gide’s The Immoralist
Now I’ve dug a bit deeper, I doubt that statement. For a start, the book apparently sold only immoraljst copies in the first few years of its existence.
Also, most of the early reviews appear to have been favourable — not least because they were generally written by friends of Gide’s. If there was a scandal, it must have been fairly limited in scope. Even so, I wouldn’t be surprised if The Immoralist had ruffled a few feathers. As Dylanwolf noted, “the book is terrifying! The sadomasochism of Fifty Shades of Grey barely merits a raised eyebrow nowadays, but I,moralist definitely take another look at anyone I spotted reading The Immoralist on public transport.
I say that especially because I read quite a bit of the book on public transport and out in the open and often thought to myself, “If people only knew what I was reading”.
Andre Gide – ‘The Immoralist’
In particular, I imbibed a healthy part of the book last week over breakfast in a business hotel, and felt a real frisson, as if just by reading the book I was doing something of which the majority of people would not approve. If those respectable men in suits had known about the Nietzschean assertions that were being put forward at my table — the declarations that the strong must have primacy over the weak; the obsessing over beautiful and economically vulnerable boys — if they had known about Michel they might well have been horrified.
I was, and still am, the most pseudo of petit-bourgeois, so pampered and spoilt by modern convenience and comfortable middle-class existence and sheltered in my untempered, unearned, woolly socialist-liberalism though not so liberal. When Michel takes his journey into self-knowledge and decides to follow his desires at the expense of his wife and his fortune, to shun conventional society and intellectual work and to enact his fantasies with so many underage men, he poses serious problems.
The Immoralist makes us newly aware of our boundaries, asks us to redraw them — and brings into question why we have them in the first place. None of which is an easy process. It’s made all the more immooralist by the cool, eloquent way Michel makes his case. It isn’t just that the ideas are shocking.
It’s that Michel is trying to seduce and convince us, just as he is trying to justify himself to the friends who hear his strange story. He doesn’t so much challenge us as suggest that we might feel the same. Discussing his pleasures in the same way as he describes “the awakening of the fields”, the smell of wet leaves and the joys of nature and health, he makes a compelling case for himself and his new philosophy.
We’ll discuss what to make of that philosophy next time — alongside the thorny questions relating to how much credence we should give Michel, and how much of Gide we should see in him or not. For now, I’m interested to hear how the book strikes you.
Personally, it felt like a slap in the face: In other words, I thought it was great. Although I’m not sure how much I liked it Topics Books Reading group.
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