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The Immoralist Paperback – International Edition, February 13, 1996

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Editorial Reviews Review

With today's headlines and talk shows, it takes a lot to shock a reader--certainly more than was required in 1902, when André Gide's The Immoralist was first published. What was seen then as a story of dereliction translates today into a tale of introspection and fierce self-discovery. While traveling to Tunis with his new bride, the Parisian scholar Michel is overcome by tuberculosis. As he slowly convalesces, he revels in the physical pleasures of living and resolves to forgo his studies of the past in order to experience the present--to let "the layers of acquired knowledge peel away from the mind like a cosmetic and reveal, in patches, the naked flesh beneath, the authentic being hidden there."

But this is not the Michel his colleagues knew, nor the man Marceline married, and he must hide his new values under the patina of what he now reviles. Bored by Parisian society, he moves to a family farm in Normandy. He is happy there, especially in the company of young Charles, but he must soon return to the city and academe. Michel remains restless until he gives his first lecture and runs into Ménalque, who has long outraged society, and recognizes in him a reflection of his torment. Finally, Michel heads south, deeper into the desert, until, as he confides to his friends, he is lost in the sea of sand, under a clear, directionless sky.

What Gide's story lacks in sensationalism is fulfilled by his descriptive prose, which evokes the exotic nature of Michel's inner and outer journey: "I did not understand the forbearance of this African earth, submerged for days at a time and now awakening from winter, drunk with water, bursting with new juices; it laughed in this springtime frenzy whose echo, whose image I perceived within myself." --Joannie Kervran Stangeland

Language Notes

Text: English (translation)
Original Language: French

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Product Details

  • Paperback: 192 pages
  • Publisher: Vintage; Reissue edition (February 13, 1996)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0679741917
  • ISBN-13: 978-0679741916
  • Product Dimensions: 5.1 x 0.5 x 8 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 4.8 ounces (View shipping rates and policies)
  • Average Customer Review: 4.0 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (54 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #136,882 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

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Customer Reviews

It is a book about freedom, courage, cruelty and loneliness.
Emre Domanic
This is a very well written novel and should be read slowly (the temptation being to breeze through it).
Yan Timanovsky
This is an original and well-written work, breathtaking in its use of language.
Eric Bryant

Most Helpful Customer Reviews

24 of 25 people found the following review helpful By Grace on September 23, 2000
Format: Paperback
The Immoralist is straightforward in language and easy to read, but more complicated, more complex are its themes: Man's sense of morality towards society, family, himself. What happens when man's values conflict with those of society's? Whose interests should be served? Gide explores these themes through one man's odyssey of self-discovery. The protagonist is the learned and conflicted Michel who yearns for something more than the stable, predictable, familiar life he has always known, but no longer finds tolerable. It is after a life-threatening bout of tuberculosis that these feelings rise to the surface, intensify, and are more keenly felt.
This hunger, still unidentified, takes him on a journey, both literal and figurative, where his search for self-awareness, or self-truth, carries him to distant and exotic locales. New experiences and mysterious encounters give way to a new aestheticism in which weakness, constraint, and life's banalities play no role. Heightened senses, unsuppressed impulses erode age-old human values that were once accepted blindly.
A life less checked, though, can have consequences, as is the case for Michel, and for so many others like him. As Michel becomes stronger, his wife becomes weaker. Indeed, society becomes weaker. How can the newly strong fail to quash the weak in their path? The question one must ask, then, and Gide does, is whether a life without restraint has value. Is there something admirable in the old adage, "To thine own self be true"?
One of the novel's most inspired moments is found in its ending. Without giving anything away, it is the last passage, after the reader has come full-circle, where Michel's journey seemingly ends. Will Michel embrace his new truth? The reader is left to wonder. The Immoralist is told in narrative, in Michel's own voice. It is self-confessional literature at its highest, and should be read by anyone who reads to think and be moved.
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16 of 20 people found the following review helpful By Eric Bryant on February 19, 2006
Format: Paperback
I saw there was a Dover thrift edition for 2 dollars. Hard to argue with the price, but this translation is erudite and has a force of language that seems to me like it must mirror Gide's own impressionist force, despite my personal weakness with the French language. Gide was famous for his ability to invoke a single moment, a single image or feeling that puts the reader inside the existence of a character, even if only for a short time. This ability is translated quite well into this edition, and I must conclude (based on a fairly small sample of reading from both) that it is a superior translation.

Who could fail to find some reflection of themself in the deathbed confessions of the protagonist Michel? The premise is that he is speaking in the first person to his good friends, and as the reader it feels like you have known this character for quite some time. His voice is unspecifically familiar, as if you might suspect one of your real-life friends to one day give you a similar account. You feel you have known this man for a long time, and you can't help but be fascinated by both the content of his story and in the loving, precise, and ecstatic way that he tells it.

Up against this tone is a story that ends in depravity and woe, without any redemption for the character. To me, this is understandable and realistic. Life is not always an endless succession of learning experiences. At times it is the realization that some compromises cannot be avoided, and that true catharsis of ethics, morality, or emotion is only possible within very short time frames. Why not explore the life of a character who does not learn from his actions, or even repent of them at the end?
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21 of 27 people found the following review helpful By la on February 17, 2000
Format: Paperback
Many readers of this book are inclined to compare it with the works of Camus. I grant that The Immoralist does suggest existential questions but, unlike Camus' La Chute (for instance), it simply presents the life and actions of the anti-hero without his actual and deliberate existential questioning. This is the subtle richness of Gide's writing. The Immoralist presents a unique disparity in the lavishness in description of setting, and the relatively spare characterizations. Gide does not glorify, chastise nor condemn his Michel. Michel is simply what he is, what he has become. This novel is filled with brilliant writing, lines of which one can't help but memorize. For instance, "The capacity to get free is nothing; the capacity to be free, that is the task." and also, "You cannot be sincere and at the same time seem so." Having read both Bussy's pioneer translation and Howard's later one, I much prefer the latter. It's a far more exact translation.
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17 of 22 people found the following review helpful By B. Morse on February 3, 2003
Format: Paperback
I acquired Andre Gide's The Immoralist from a pile of free books set outside a used book store that was closing for good. I brought it home and set it aside for about a month before reading it.
The 170-odd pages were very easy to digest, in terms of time and complexity. But the ideas filling them were intriguing, at least at first. A man marries, develops tuberculosis, convalesces, and decides to live life more deliberately, more fundamentally, and expose himself, his emotions, his experiences, down to their very foundation. He embraces the pain of sunburn for it's capacity to make a person feel, for the sensation it produces. He strips away all layers of clothing in the outdoors to plunge into an icy pool of water, to expose himself completely to the elements and the world around him. He gives up his scholarly pursuits to run a family farm, and experience a completely different type of life and industry.
But here the intrigue of the premise becomes mired in an obviously closeted gay man (not uncommon for the turn of the 20th century) torn between duty to wife and honesty of desire. The second half of this brief novel is merely an endless parade of boys and men that draw Michel's attention and ardor. The desire to experience all in its most basic, honest form is lost in the lie that Michel obviously lives in suppressing his hidden desires and perpetuating his sham marriage.
While Gide's concept was initally enough to draw me in and press me to read on, the latter half of the book left me apathetic to my inceptive appreciation of a very promising idea. I found the character of Michel to be hypocritical at best, and failed to feel any sympathy for his longing after the neverending parade of males that slip through his fingers, and his fickle interest in them.
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