restricted access ONE. From Munich to Montoire: National Crisis and the Man of Letters
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A SENSE OF FINALITY pervaded André Gide’s personal and professional life on the eve of the Second World War. The writer was nearing age seventy. His major literary works (with the exception of Thésée) were behind him, and he had sworn off political involvement following the publication of his 1936 Retour de l’U.R.S.S. and 1937 Retouches à mon retour de l’U.R.S.S. His wife Madeleine—partially estranged, but still a major interlocutor in Gide’s emotional and intellectual life—died in April 1938.1 The following year saw the publication of Gide’s Journal, 1889–1939 and of the fifteenth and final volume of his Œuvres complètes. Yet the book was not closed, for the approaching war forced Gide to take political positions even as it plunged him into the greatest political confusion he had ever known. On 30 September 1938, the leaders of France, Britain, Italy, and Germany signed the Munich Agreement, thus condoning Germany’s annexation of the Sudetenland. To many Europeans, the pact meant to secure “peace in our time”2 came as a welcome relief. Roger Martin du Gard subscribed to this view, and Gide initially shared his friend’s opinion, believing that reason—if not justice and right—had prevailed (G/MG 152; J II: 625). Gide soon revised his assessment, however, on receiving a letter from Jef Last, the young Dutch communist with whom he had traveled to the Soviet Union two years before. Last saw the Munich Agreement not as a victory but as the triumph of violence, injustice, and cowardice—as democracy’s “suicide” (G/Las 59–60).3 War had been averted for the moment, Last wrote on 1 October 1938, but by yielding to a dictator the signatory nations had taken a giant step toward the massive conflict that “Hitler predicted and wished for in his book Mein Kampf: Germany’s holy war to annihilate France.”4 Gide swiftly 21 ONE From Munich to Montoire National Crisis and the Man of Letters came around to Last’s position (albeit with some of his usual wavering and hesitation); Martin du Gard changed his views only after Hitler annexed the remainder of Czechoslovakia six months later (Martin, “Ce fou” 119). Though his correspondence reveals Gide’s acute attention to the Munich crisis , the Journal is silent on this topic. Utterly preoccupied with the events of October 1938, Gide abandoned his diary for two full weeks. When he resumed writing, it was to note that his silence did not indicate lack of interest in “public affairs”;5 rather, his thoughts on political events seemed out of place in the diary. Moreover, his silence revealed the depth of his shock and bereavement (J 3: 404). This reaction set the tone for the Journal in the coming years. Throughout the phony war and early Occupation, Gide’s literary production consisted almost entirely of this war-inflected diary with its alternating silences and outpourings, its attempts to ignore then to understand. This chapter examines Gide’s political and intellectual trajectory from Munich to Montoire—from the 1938 pact that paved the way for Hitler’s expansionism to the 1940 encounter that set France on a course of collaboration with Germany. After discussing Gide’s decisions about how best to give of himself as the war approached, I trace his reactions to the war, examining the bewildering shifts in his political opinions and the stylistic evidence of his internal struggle to understand and judge what was happening around him. Next, I turn to several attempts to press Gide into political service—both to support and contest the aims of Germany and Vichy. The chapter concludes with a discussion of the many vicious attacks on the author during the “querelle des mauvais maîtres” that followed the Armistice as well as Gide’s robust refutation of the argument that literature had weakened the nation. THE PHONY WAR: ENGAGEMENT BEHIND THE SCENES Immediately after the declaration of war, newspapers and the airwaves were filled with patriotic exhortations by some of France’s most prominent intellectuals . Gide’s friends Jean Schlumberger and Georges Duhamel put considerable effort into patriotic writings during this period,6 and Duhamel, André Maurois, and Paul Valéry7 addressed the nation over the airwaves (CAG 6: 151). Like many other readers, Gide found these patriotic essays rather ineffectual (G/MG 192, 202–04); he reacted even less favorably to the self-congratulatory tone of many radio...