Genre: Classics, Translated Literature, Philosophical
Synopsis: Gide presents us with the confession of Michel, a man who seeks to live by his own desires. Having married to please his aged father, Michel soon discovers beauty in the shape of an Arab boy and is changed irrevocably. He starts to live by his own desires. He becomes restless and despite his wives ill health, travels constantly until at the end he arrives back at the place where he first discovered beauty.
Reading Challenges: Full House Reading Challenge: European author.
This is not an easy read. Not because Michel abandons his wife and social convention to follow his own desires. In fact, it is still possible to like Michel even though he behaves badly towards Marceline. His questioning of moral constraints and his longing for a freedom that is meaningful mean that the reader is able to understand his behaviour.
The unease comes from Michel’s fascination with the male children that he meets. He sees the beauty in them and begins to spend all of his waking hours with them, leaving his wife to her own devices to be with them. The oldest of these children is 15. It is important to note that everything is innocent but still it makes for uncomfortable reading. Michel is fascinted by them and longs to follow his desires. So begins his journey towards becoming an immoralist.
Michel’s striving for freedom makes him restless and he cannot settle to anything, He becomes fascinated by the farm workers on his estate, with criminal lowlife and allows himself to become involved with poaching his own estate. Towards the end, he needs to keep moving, despite the fact that his wife is dying. This restlessness relates to his homosexuality which, in the end, he acknowledges with the last line of the novel when he says that he prefers the brother of the girl who has been looking after him. Earlier, he has the opportunity to take his freedom, through his friendship with Menalque but instead stays with his wife, who is representative of all that society expects from Michel.
Whilst feeling uncomfortable with the object of Michel’s desire, it is still possible to empathise with his struggle. In fact, it is this aspect that is so difficult. Michel is not evil. He is conflicted and selfish and longs to be free of society’s constraints but in the end, he is recognisably human.