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Read a detailed description of The Immoralist and the boys who appear in the novel.
Read a detailed analysis of The Immoralist with descriptions of its erotic symbolism, the role boys play, and a comparison of the novel with Gide's actual life.

ANDRE GIDE (1869-1951)
Nobel Prize-winning Author
According to biographer Ernie McLeod, André Gide
was a man of seemingly irreconcilable contradictions. He was a leading intellectual figure of the twentieth century who unashamedly relished more earthy pleasures, particularly ones involving teen-aged boys...Far from denying the contradictory elements within himself, André Gide wrestled with and embraced them. He spent his writing life examining the nature of a true self and the meaning of sincerity.
Gide's best known work is his autobiographical novel The Immoralist, which examined moral issues surrounding a man's sexual attraction to boys. In the novel, the main character discovers and supresses his attraction to young Arab boys. While he spends a great deal of time with these boys, he limits his physical contact to touching and kissing. Descriptions of the boys' beauty pervade the novel, and according to biographer Rictor Norton, erotic symbolism appears throughout.

Gide himself had relationships with boys in Africa and France. After discovering his attraction to boys, he married his cousin, hoping that marriage would cure him of his pederastry. He was unsuccessful, and biographers believe his marriage was never consummated. In 1916, when he was in his late-40s, Gide began an affair with a teenager named Marc Allegret. Allegret, considered Gide’s "spiritual son," went on to become a well-known film director.

Gide contributed a chapter to Parker Rossman's 1976 book on modern pederasty. In it, he wrote that as a young adult he had made the "emotional decision" that he "was truly a man who loves boys--a pederast":

I love boys with a sensual curiosity, a voluptuousness, a foolishness, which has often led me to run after them as if I were their age, staying out too long in the rain to help find a ball...I remember tarrying with B. in a haystack, my clothes full of bits of straw because I could not resist his pure blue eyes...To destroy the pederasty [within you] is to destroy you as well, your whole nature and personality...I think pederastry is a good thing, that such affection can spring up between man and boy to stir affectionate friendship where in each can find exaltation, protection, and challenge.
Gide also wrote that the conflict between his pederasty and his desire to be faithful to his wife fueled his creative imagination. Four years before his death in 1951, Gide received the Nobel Prize for Literature.

Sources:

  • Synopsis of The Immoralist at the Britannica Guide to the Nobel Prizes.
  • Albert J. Guerard, André Gide, Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press, 1951. Excerpt at andregide.org.
  • Ernie McLeod, Queer Classics: André Gide's "The Immortalist" at the "Out in the Mountains" website.
  • Rictor Norton, "André Gide's Recovery of the Old Adam", The Queer Canon, updated 9 Jan 2000.
  • Paul Robinson, Gay Lives: Homosexual Autobiography from John Addington Symonds to Paul Monette, Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1999. Reviewed by the University of Southern California International Gay and Lesbian Review.
  • Parker Rossman, Sexual Experience Between Men and Boys, New York: Association Press, 1976, Chapter 10: "Experience in Another Culture: A Nobel Prize-Winner's Story," pp. 130-139.
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