The Immoralist  

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Train wreck at Montparnasse (October 22, 1895) by Studio Lévy and Sons.
Train wreck at Montparnasse (October 22, 1895) by Studio Lévy and Sons.

The Immoralist is a novel by André Gide, published in France in 1902 as L'immoraliste.



In 1902, when André Gide's The Immoralist was first published, it was considered shocking. What some see as a story of dereliction, others see as a tale of introspection and self-discovery. While traveling to Tunis on honeymoon with his new bride, the Parisian scholar Michel is overcome by tuberculosis. As he slowly convalesces, he re-discovers the physical pleasures of living and resolves to forgo his studies of the past in order to experience the present--to let "the layers of acquired knowledge peel away from the mind like a cosmetic and reveal, in patches, the naked flesh beneath, the authentic being hidden there." But this is not the Michel his colleagues knew, not a Michel that will be readily accepted by traditional society, and he must hide his new values under the patina of what he now reviles. Bored by Parisian society, he moves to a family farm in Normandy. He is happy there, especially in the company of young Charles, but he must soon return to the city and academe. Michel remains restless until he gives his first lecture and runs into Ménalque, who has long outraged society, and recognizes in him a reflection of his torment. Finally, Michel returns south, deeper into the desert, until, as he confides to his friends, he is lost in the sea of sand.

Gide's story is filled by his descriptive prose, which evokes the exotic nature of Michel's inner and outer journey: "I did not understand the forbearance of this African earth, submerged for days at a time and now awakening from winter, drunk with water, bursting with new juices; it laughed in this springtime frenzy whose echo, whose image I perceived within myself."



The Immoralist is narrated by Michel, and he is the central protagonist. The story follows Michel through his near death experience with tuberculosis and into his 'rebirth'. When he recovers from the tuberculosis Michel turns from his previously academic life into a more physical and sensual existence. He feels as if his true self has been revealed, and he turns to his senses, describing how things look or smell. He also becomes much more aware of the young boys around him, savouring their youth, health and perfection. Michel is torn between society and its conventions, and his repressed homosexuality and this brings him into crisis.


Marceline is the wife of Michel. She and Michel do not know each other very well when they get married. She is religious, and this contrasts with Michel's lack of religious faith. When Michel is ill, and after this, Marceline is very attentive and caring towards him. She cares for him and nurses him back to health. Marceline follows Michel on his travels, even when she becomes ill as well. She hardly complains about anything that she is put through.


Ménalque is an acquaintance of Michel's. He has a reputation for being disaffected with society, and this draws Michel, who is in a similar position. Ménalque lives for the present and does not require possessions. He is tired of society and the people who follow it, and he talks to Michel about his views.

Michel's three friends

The story is told through Michel recounting it to his three closest friends. Michel is seeking help from these close friends to help him through his crisis.

Unless indicated otherwise, the text in this article is either based on Wikipedia article "The Immoralist" or another language Wikipedia page thereof used under the terms of the GNU Free Documentation License; or on original research by Jahsonic and friends. See Art and Popular Culture's copyright notice.

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