restricted access EPILOGUE: What Happened to Andr
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“WHATEVER HAPPENED to André Gide?” The provocative query is Paul de Man’s, the title of a 1965 essay on the waning of Gide’s intellectual influence. Insofar as that essay affirms Gide’s fading rather than explaining it, I would argue that de Man has merely posed a rhetorical question of the type he so brilliantly dissected in “Semiology and Rhetoric.”1 My aim here is to examine what did happen to André Gide, both during the war and in the postwar years, through comparisons with other prominent intellectuals of the period. Working from the hypothesis that Gide’s slide into relative oblivion was in part an aftereffect of the war, I examine how his fall from prominence was hastened by the figureheads of two successive intellectual generations—the existentialists, as represented by Jean-Paul Sartre and Simone de Beauvoir, and the deconstructionists in the person of Paul de Man. After examining these thinkers’ intentional or inadvertent efforts to eclipse André Gide, I explore the ironic and often uncanny similarities between their wartime experiences and those of Gide himself, arguing that these writers’ assessments of Gide—in works that both analyzed and affected Gide’s influence—are symptomatic of their authors’ relationships to the war. In conclusion, I challenge the validity of the past half-century’s marginalization of Gide and call for a reshaping of the way we read his oeuvre today. BURYING GIDE The postwar purge hastened the marginalization of many writers through official or unofficial blacklisting and through a shift in literary values. Of the writers not associated with collaboration, those who died during or shortly after the war were, of course, the most irrevocably relegated to “minor” or “outdated” status. Gide, who was seventy-five when the war ended, and who had less than six years left to live, joined the likes of Mauriac, Giraudoux, 149 EPILOGUE What Happened to André Gide Rolland, and Martin du Gard—writers deemed important but obsolete—in the minds of the postwar generation. Some younger writers who did not survive the war were eclipsed without even token acknowledgment of their intellectual contributions. Gide’s friend Antoine de Saint-Exupéry, who opposed the Occupation and Vichy but openly criticized Charles de Gaulle, was cheated of recognition for works like Pilote de guerre, an autobiographical account of a dangerous aerial reconnaissance mission during the 1940 invasion , for purely political reasons. In October 1943, on the occasion of the sixtieth anniversary of the Alliance Française, General de Gaulle delivered a speech in Algiers praising the “leading French writers who had helped save the spirit of France by preferring exile to the ignominy of Vichy.” As drafted by one of de Gaulle’s aides, the address included the names of André Maurois , Saint-John Perse, and Antoine de Saint-Exupéry. As delivered by the general, however, the speech omitted any reference to these three openly anti-Gaullist writers, though it did name André Gide, who had recently declared his allegiance to de Gaulle, as well as a number of rather minor writers who happened to support the general (Cate 507; de Gaulle 333). Whereas Maurois and Saint-John Perse lived to be recognized as major writers, SaintExup éry disappeared during a reconnaissance flight over the Mediterranean in July 1944. The combination of a premature death and a very public snubbing contributed to his subsequent reputation as a somewhat minor novelist, one who would be “ostracized” by France’s secondary and postsecondary teaching establishments. Another motive for Saint-Exupéry’s demotion lies in the guilty consciences of less actively committed intellectuals, argues François Gerber: embarrassed by the aviator-novelist’s record of matching his actions to his philosophy, the Gaullist and communist intelligentsia of the postwar era essentially erased Saint-Exupéry from the official history of the war (Gerber 273, 12). Gide’s fate was gentler than Saint-Exupéry’s. Though he was castigated at the war’s end by communist intellectuals like Louis Aragon, he benefited from Charles de Gaulle’s stamp of approval. After the initial postwar quarrels died down, Gide was still recognized as a major French thinker. Unfortunately , he was labeled irrelevant and out of date by the chief postwar opinion -maker, Jean-Paul Sartre. In “New Writing in France,” an essay recapitulating one of the themes of his 1945 U.S. lecture tour, Sartre declared that Gide had lost all influence on French youth. Gide’s philosophy, better suited to an earlier...


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