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on 7 October 2000
The Immoralist is straightforward in language and easy to read, but more complicated, more complex are its themes: Man's sense of morality towards society, family, himself. What happens when man's values conflict with those of society's? Whose interests should be served? Gide explores these themes through one man's odyssey of self-discovery. The protagonist is the learned and conflicted Michel who yearns for something more than the stable, predictable, familiar life he has always known, but no longer finds tolerable. It is after a life-threatening bout of tuberculosis that these feelings rise to the surface, intensify, and are more keenly felt.
This hunger, still unidentified, takes him on a journey, both literal and figurative, where his search for self-awareness, or self-truth, carries him to distant and exotic locales. New experiences and mysterious encounters give way to a new aestheticism in which weakness, constraint, and life's banalities play no role. Heightened senses, unsuppressed impulses erode age-old human values that were once accepted blindly.
A life less checked, though, can have consequences, as is the case for Michel, and for so many others like him. As Michel becomes stronger, his wife becomes weaker. Indeed, society becomes weaker. How can the newly strong fail to quash the weak in their path? The question one must ask, then, and Gide does, is whether a life without restraint has value. Is there something admirable in the old adage, "To thine own self be true"?
One of the novel's most inspired moments is found in its ending. Without giving anything away, it is the last passage, after the reader has come full-circle, where Michel's journey seemingly ends. Will Michel embrace his new truth? The reader is left to wonder. The Immoralist is told in narrative, in Michel's own voice. It is self-confessional literature at its highest, and should be read by anyone who reads to think and be moved.
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on 13 March 2006
This short novel is narrated by Michel, a young landowner, recently married. So far in his short life, Michel has dedicated himself to study and research, sequestering himself in libraries, living for his books, and only married to satisfy his dying father. On his honeymoon, Michel falls desperately ill, coming close to death, but, when he recovers, he discovers something he had never noticed before: life. Suddenly, Michel finds himself entranced by everything around him: nature, wildlife, and people. Specifically, Michel has been awakened to the beauty of the young native boys around him, entranced by their vitality and naturalness, unsullied by quotidian working life. Michel embraces his newfound freedom with the entirety of his being, discovering aspects of himself he never suspected could exist.
Gide raises interesting questions in this novel about duty and morals. To what extent are our morals derived from the world around us, and to what extent are they a genuine response to our personality interacting with the world. Gide is never heavy-handed or prone to preach in his raising of these important questions, and he guides his readers into thinking through the implications for themselves.
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on 27 August 2010
Michel invites his three best friends to join him at his Algerian retreat so that he can tell them about his experiences since he last saw them, three years previously. The story begins with his honeymoon in Tunisia, with a wife he doesn't love, and where Michel falls seriously ill. He almost dies, but gradually recovers and 'starts to live his life'. While still in Tunisia he mostly ignores Marceline, his new wife, and finds himself attracted to various young Arab boys, befriending them, though not engaging them sexually. On their return journey through Italy however, Michel gives Marceline more attention and comes to appreciate her beauty, finally falling in love with her.
Back in France he visits the Normandy estate that he inherited from his mother, and where he befriends the estate-manager's son. Marceline becomes pregnant and they set up home in Paris, but after a few months she becomes very ill herself and loses the baby.
Michel feels trapped in a false life and finds himself questioning the moral values of so-called civilized society. Returning to the country he spends his time with the uneducated peasants that work on his estate, drawn to their more primitive lifestyles 'like a fly to rotting meat'. He befriends brutish young men, though there is still no mention of homosexual acts.
When his wife's illness worsens they set off on another journey south, eventually returning to Tunisia and on to Algeria. Whilst his wife lies ill in a hotel bed Michel goes off in search of young Arab boys. His wife dies, and this is when he asks his friends to visit him. 'Take me away from here and give me a reason to live' he tells them. 'I no longer have one.'
At first I found the writing dry and even a little tedious, but further into the story it really improves, with some interesting ideas. Gide was strongly influenced by Nietzsche and wrote this story as a sort of existential inquiry into the human condition. He attempts to follow through on Nietzsche's idea that creativity is the ultimate achievement for a man, but that to be creative one must throw off the shackles of Christian morality. Thus he pursues those boys that show the most depravity. In the end though he finds his 'empty liberty painful to bear'.
His conclusion is therefore ambivalent: he would like to live without morals, but he knows it is impossible. For anyone interested in this sort of thing the book is well worth reading, even if it seems a little dull at first.
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on 22 November 2012
'The Immoralist' is a short novel (120pp), set around the place and time of its publication (France, 1902). Michel, a young but bookish puritan with a sizeable family estate, falls ill on honeymoon and begins to behave erratically. After the still-birth of his son and the death of his wife he at last sends a letter from North Africa to his friends, appealing for help. The book is ostensibly (but improbably) transposed from the story that Michel relates to his friends on the evening of their arrival.

This is supposedly Gide's novelistic exploration of Nietzsche's theory that an 'over-man' is needed who will rise above the common herd of humanity and create 'new values'. Michel's illness awakens in his breast a desire for life that draws him away from bourgeois sentiments in search of 'the authentic human'. He rejects the conventions that he formerly endorsed ("Culture, which is born of life, ends up killing it") and even remarks at one point: "One should only sympathise with the strong".

Personally I suspect that Gide's intentions were more subtly parodic.

After all, what does Michel's 'strength' achieve? He loses his job, make a hash of governing his private estate, and saps his inheritance by being profligate. It's hardly a Schwarzeneggerian achievement.

And what is the measure of Michel's 'animalistic hedonism'? He allows a boy to steal some scissors without reprimanding him, he beats up a drunken coach driver, he poaches animals on his own private estate and he - very occasionally - lapses into sexual misdemeanours. The homosexuality that is touted on the blurb is discretely cloaked in a genteel Italian exchange ("Anche tu sei bello,ragazzo") and hinted at in the end line.

Of course, time might well have withered the book's ability to shock (which, historically, it did do) but the Nietzschean logic simply doesn't hold up. The more that Michel feels unfettered by his 'over-man' philosophy, the more he feels morally bound to observe (indeed, to over-emphasise) his commitment to his wife. A true 'over-man' would casually dump his 'weak' spouse, or at the very least accord her a generous annuity before leaving her for amoral climes. Ironically it is precisely this sense of duty that leads Michel to accelerate Marceline's death as he drags her rachitic body across Europe and Africa in search of rough trade (..."I found the lowest types the most delectable company").

Gide himself led a constrained early life and sought the indulgences of adolescence only as a grown man. It's probably the source of his emotionally analytical prose style. But the similarities between himself and Michel in this novel seem to have knocked Gide's calibration out of kilter. There's a rash of rhetorical questions and histrionic exclamations. The nature-writing which is used to symbolise Michel's 'awakening' glows suspiciously purple while Gide's dependably direct vocabulary here falters into cliché: "the ground gave way beneath my feet, a yawning hole opened in front of me and I staggered headlong into it".

Even 'Menalque', a character who appeared in an earlier novel ('The Fruits of the Earfh') and who is often identified with Gide's friend Oscar Wilde, is made to splutter: "Happiness doesn't come off the peg, it has to be made-to-measure". A sententious line that would make an Eastender's scriptwriter blush.

I ended up tutting superciliously over petty translation errors ("... the white burnous glide by"?! Surely the plural of burnous is burnouses? A 'burnou' is a child's cap, sir!). Which is pathetic. But sadder still is that normally I admire Gide. 'The Immoralist' felt like a weak forshadowing of Paul Bowles' 'The Sheltering Sky'.
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VINE VOICEon 3 May 2003
This is a book on many levels. On the one hand, important questions are raised, such as, do we have a debt to society? or are morals dependent on society? On the other hand, it is a beauifully written book, depicting either tenderness between lovers or idyllic landscapes, with poetic ease.
I would advise, if you intend to read this novel, or have already done so, that you read another of Andre Gide's books with it, called Straight is The Gate. Its themes are quite different, for instance, fidelity and religion, yet when read together with The Immoralist, the two books contrast each other in a very pleasing way. They balance each other, if you like.
Though, whatever the case, if you like Andre Gide, or are interested in French literature, you will definitely like this book.
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on 12 June 2009
Gide attempts to shows the two sides of Nietzsche's morality of the strong; the positive, liberating self-fulfilment and the self-centred egoism. "The Immoralist" shows the devastating outcomes to which Nietzsche's morality may lead us to. In the end, Michel, the main character of the novel, kills his wife through neglect as his commitment to authenticity has made him incapable of considering others around him. However there are also positive sides to his new authentic self that is discovered after suffering illness and a brief flirtation with death. He finds new meaning and purpose in his life and appreciates his existence far more than he did previously.

Gide's novel illuminates the inner workings of Michel's mind with superb execution. In this novel the reader finds that a certain truth of the nature of mankind may be uncovered under the stifling layers of conventionality and tradition. "The Immoralist" considers the possibilities that "untapped treasures" may exist that humans, up until this point in time, may not have managed to expose.
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on 16 March 1999
This book examines what happens to a man when he recovers from a life threatening illness. His brush with death awakens new passions and causes him to reexamine his morality and his place in society.
'To know how to free oneself is nothing; the arduous thing is to know what to do with one's freedom' - Andre Gide.
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on 20 October 2014
The story takes us through the hero's experience of coping with life changes. Michels recovery from a critical life threatening illness gives us an insight into its life changing effects. His studious stoicism transforms into aesthetic sensitivity and tactitility. This leaves him in a vacuum of amorality ..order has been delineated. It leaves us to question our journey from what we what we have become
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on 5 May 2016
This is not a review as such but a plea.Considering the purchase of this book, I began reading the reviews. Several of them tell in great detail the actual story. Please, when reviewing a book, don't spoil it for future readers by revealing plots.
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on 16 May 2003
The theme in the novel is one of ‘the self’, ‘self discovery’, ‘existentialism’ and meaning of life. Man has always searched for answers to questions like, “Why am I here?“, and “What is my purpose in life?“ The Immoralist is deeply moving and makes you question yourself. Sad and distressing at times - the end is not predictable - well worth reading.
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