SIX. Coming Home: The Purge and the Aftermath
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FOR A BRIEF TIME in 1944, André Gide’s return to the intellectual power circles of metropolitan France looked to be both imminent and triumphant. Plans were under way to fill the Académie Française—whose rather undistinguished wartime membership included many active or passive supporters of Vichy and Germany (Novick 129)—with first-rate writers not associated with collaboration, and rumors in post-Liberation Paris held that Gide would be a willing candidate. Apprised of his friend’s potential candidacy in October 1944, Jean Schlumberger wrote to Gide in Algiers, encouraging him to return to Paris for a few weeks in order to renew his contacts and assess the political climate before taking any official steps. Gide, however, immediately denied any desire to join the “venerable institution”: “As for the Académie Française . . . quae te dementia cepit? [‘What madness has seized you?’],” he asked, quoting Virgil’s Eclogues; “They could shove the chair under my backside and I’d still refuse to sit on it.”1 Gide himself had learned of his supposed candidacy from an article in a Parisian newspaper, and hoped his friends would soon dispel the rumor that he intended to return to Paris as an Immortel (G/Sch 956, 958–59). Within weeks, however, he faced an abrupt reversal of fortune: following Louis Aragon’s November 1944 allegation that he had abetted France’s enemies, Gide had to defend himself not against unwanted nominations to the nation’s most illustrious intellectual body but against a full-fledged trial in the press. For months to come, personal attacks and the vindictive climate of the postwar purge would make Gide’s return to metropolitan France out of the question. This chapter examines attacks on Gide during the postwar purge, showing how old animosities about his rejection of communism resurface after 127 SIX Coming Home The Purge and the Aftermath the Liberation, and how the épuration informs Gide’s writings for the remaining years of his life. Opening with the communist-inspired salvos in the post-Liberation press, the chapter examines Gide’s evolving response to the purge and to his friends and associates—a representative spectrum ranging from collaborators facing postwar justice to resistance members returning from Nazi concentration camps. Of particular interest are the aging writer’s thoughts on the changing intellectual and aesthetic landscape and his reaction—by turns hopeful and elegiac—to the rise of the younger generations . The chapter concludes by reading Gide’s final work, Ainsi soit-il, as a reassessment of the author’s wartime experiences and an ultimate assertion of resistance sympathies. HISTORY REPEATS: A SECOND TRIAL IN THE PRESS The chief body effecting the purge of intellectuals and journalists in postwar France was the Comité National des Écrivains (C.N.E.), a formerly clandestine group whose members included the nation’s most influential writers.2 Like the Occupation, the purge began with a blacklist (Assouline, L’Épuration 106): the C.N.E. met in September 1944 to draw up an initial list of twelve “undesirable writers” whose works must no longer be published. The following month, the committee announced a definitive list of 165 writers “whose attitude or writings during the Occupation morally or materially abetted the oppressor”3 and with whom C.N.E. members refused to have any professional contact (Aron 240). Gide’s name was not among the 165. On the contrary, Gide joined the C.N.E. on learning that his friends François Mauriac , Jean Schlumberger, and—he was falsely led to believe—Roger Martin du Gard were among the committee’s leadership (G/MG 290). He signed on in the fall of 1944, assuming that the C.N.E.’s newspaper Les Lettres Françaises, would simply announce his membership with a brief note (CAG 11: 602). Instead, the news that Gide had joined the Comité was splashed across the front page of Les Lettres Françaises, accompanied by an unauthorized reprint of “La Délivrance de Tunis.” The following week, the front page of Les Lettres Françaises featured a virulent attack on Gide by C.N.E. Secretary General Louis Aragon, whose role as the “official poet of the resistance” granted him unsurpassed influence during the purge (Assouline, L’Épuration 114). “Le Retour d’André Gide,” an open letter to the paper’s editor Claude Morgan, expresses Aragon’s outrage at seeing Gide’s article and portrait on the front page of Les Lettres in the honored place usually...