Reading classic novels are very different from reading contemporary novels. There are already been many readers and many interpretations of these classics. There are various in-depth study on each of them. Having read the Andre Gide's "The immoralist" , I was going through some of the critics and analytical pieces. To some this is a novel of self-destruction, to some it is about self realisation, to others is about inner and outer journey. It is in effect all of these and more.
Michel send a letter to three of his close friends ( they are friends from their school days) requesting a meeting urgently, to seek help. Three friends reach to help their troubled friend, not knowing what is in store. Michel, thus starts to tell his story over one night. The novel is this story as told by Michel.
Michel, Parisian aristocrat and an scholar, is suddenly orphaned at the death of his father. Forced to marry Marceline, another orphan with no parents or relative, to fulfill the wishes of his father, he found himself with a new wife, whom he does not even know properly, let alone be in love. As is the case with most of them, Michel and his new wife starts their honeymoon journey from Paris, through Marseilles, take a ship through the Mediterranean islands to the Northern Africa. The disaster stuck as Michel is diagnosed with tuberculosis leaving his newly wed wife to tender him. Two individuals forced to marry in a hurry now seek and try to accommodate each other; love is still at bay. She take sympathy of the downtrodden , poverty stricken arab kids , nursing them and offering them food and support, bringing them to the place of their residence. Michel, fall fancy to the good looking young boys and prefer to spend time in their company. He also, manages to go for his walks in order to meet them and bring them to play with. As his health improved, and bored with their nomadic life, they decided to return. One incident involving a drunken carriage driver, where Michel had to intervene and rescue his wife in a personal and public show of his recovery, the realisation of love for his wife comes to him. That day they sleep together, first time after wedding. After returning through Italy and the couple decide to settle in one of their old estate in the country side, far away from the crowd at Paris. Michel take a love towards the agriculture and the estates, getting into the daily routine of the workers and their family. Again he shows his fascination towards the handsome young boys, making every effort to be with them. Marcelene is now carrying and the fatherly responsibilities, make Michel to spend more time with her.
His academic responsibilities , make the couple to move back to Paris. soon, bored with the usual set of visitors, and by his nomadic nature, the couple return back to their country estate. This time, Michel spend more time with the low-lives partaking in their ways of living, sometimes against his own interest. Another disaster stuck as Marcelene had a miscarriage with almost devastated her. It was also revealed that she is in the spell of tuberculosis, caught tending to Michel when he was ill. Now the turn changes, and in order to improve her health, they decides to take the journey back to the tropics. In a reversal of events, they traces back the route, this time Michel taking care of his wife. however, she succumbs to the decease during the journey in Tunisia, leaving Michel with the questions he seek help to get answered.
This book has a lot of similarities to the real life of Andre Gide. The decease, the sale of the estate, the incident with the drunker carriage driver, the journey through northern Africa and the Italian and Swiss towns are all part of his own life. Michel , in this case is a character with questionable qualities. His suppressed homosexuality, his uncomfortable with the people of his own nobility. The ability to relate to people of the lower rung of the society all making him question his own life. He is also a man of contradiction. He wanted to safety and power of the nobility, but also the excitement of living the life of others. His own suspected sexuality, while his obligations as a husband with his wife. His need to excel in the academia with his research papers, but unable to remain there continuing his work and presentations. Micheal is trying to identify his real self, he has a reputation as a scholar and has certain social standing. He has the obligation to behave to those norms, which he he try to unshackle. In the process he looses his wife, his job, his wealth.
Andre Gide, writes a book with multiple possibilities and interpretation. It question the basic belief on morality, sensuality and the way of life. The writing is very descriptive and deliberate. A simple straight forward narrative and a brilliant short novel.
Andre Gide ( translated from French by Stanley Appelbaum )
Further Read : Andre Gide.org , web.center.edu