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  • André Gide et l’aphorisme: du style des idées par Stéphanie Bertrand
  • Patrick Pollard
André Gide et l’aphorisme: du style des idées. Par Stéphanie Bertrand. (Investigations stylistiques, 7.) Paris: Classiques Garnier, 2018. 588 pp.

Stéphanie Bertrand convincingly shows that aphorisms are at the heart of Gide’s thought and literary style. She provides a sensitive analysis of the presence of axioms, proverbs, maxims, and aphorisms in his fiction, plays, critical articles, and personal writings, but the [End Page 476] case, she argues, is not simple. There is, as his use of the trope exemplifies, an unresolved ambivalence. Bertrand questions whether a characteristic formulation of an aphorism existed for him, and demonstrates how his model varied, being often in the French classical tradition of La Rochefoucauld, occasionally biblical in inspiration, and sometimes modelled on Wilde’s unsettling use of paradox. It was later that he discovered Blake and admired ‘The Voice of the Devil’ and ‘Proverbs of Hell’ in The Marriage of Heaven and Hell. Was he therefore always a ‘moraliste’ in his use of aphorisms? This figure of speech allows the development of a ‘typologie morale’, Bertrand argues, and it is often orchestrated by Gide in a parodic or ironic mode (p. 203). But then his aim was to ‘faire réfléchir’ rather than to preach or instruct (pp. 29–32). Whereas aphorisms are commonly held to express a general truth, Bertrand demonstrates how Gide used them to construct character in his fiction and to reveal personal views in his Journal. In the latter, aphorisms also reflect, she argues, discontinuity of thought and style (p. 308), perhaps to mirror the impromptu nature of the exercise, but whether the method is self-conscious or not is left open to question. The presence of aphorisms in Si le grain ne meurt is, she observes, didactic in tone (p. 312). Gide is seen to reject the ‘écriture artiste’ of the Goncourts (p. 44), but to be precious in his early, symbolist texts. Brevity, to which the aphorism contributes, is one of his virtues. His style is thereby made firm and vigorous; clarity of expression is paramount (pp. 57–58). And all this is achieved despite the frequent use of binary narrative constructions in his works (one thinks particularly of L’Immoraliste). In Part Two of her study, Bertrand analyses a variety of forms of writing: Les Cahiers d’André Walter and Les Nourritures terrestres are considered as sententious authorial fiction; Les Faux-Monnayeurs, being a novel and therefore, according to Gide’s definition, complex, uses aphorisms to provide multiple contending points of view (p. 207); Les Caves du Vatican is similarly polyphonic and contradictory, the aphorisms creating Gide’s refusal to conclude (p. 237). So, Bertrand asks, could Gide be called a ‘penseur’ or ‘philosophe’ (p. 444)? She argues that he certainly wished to construct a writerly persona by adding aphoristic epilogues to Le Prométhée mal enchaîné and Les Nourritures terrestres, or by presenting Édouard as an author with particular opinions in Les Faux-Monnayeurs. But on the whole, she concludes, no finality is offered and no overarching magisterial voice is to be heard. This detailed study of a central feature of Gide’s style is very much to be commended for its grasp of detail and clarity of presentation.

Patrick Pollard
Birkbeck, University of London


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pp. 476-477
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