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A Philosophical Romp
on 14 March 2006
This charming novel is more of a romp than some of Gide’s other work. A group of scammers known as the Millipede dupe some wealthy people into believing that the real Pope has been kidnapped and replaced with a tame substitute, and that a large amount of money is needed to buy his freedom. One man takes this too much to heart, however, and goes in person to try to find out more information. Coincidentally, however, he is pushed out of a train to his death, thus leading the other dupes into believing even more strongly in the conspiracy.
The motive for the murder is the novel’s true philosophical core: Lafadio Wluiki (pronounced Looki) is an indolent, rather philosophical young man, who takes it into his mind to commit the perfect motiveless murder. The repercussions of this, and his feelings about what he has done, allow Gide to address important philosophical questions about morality and social responsibility.
This shouldn’t make it sound as though the book is dry and wordy. Far from it: Gide takes us on a romp around France and Italy, presenting a diverse and rich variety of characters with subtle shadings of character. Rather than just good or bad, black or white, his characters are richly drawn and act from a variety of complex motives.