Gide's - Way
Andre Gide and the Crisis of Modern Thought. By Klaus Mann. (Dennis Dobson. 15s.)
THOSE who have looked forward with eager anticipation to this second volume of Mr. O'Brien's admirable translation of M. Gide's journals will not be disappointed. The journals become even better as M. Gide grows older, if M. Gide can in any sense be called old at all. His passion tOr youth is so sincere and wholehearted that in some ways it has kept him eternally young himself. This volume of his journals carries him from the age of forty-five to fifty-eight, and towards its close he begins to complain of advancing age and its attendant evils of lassitude, ill-health, boredom. Yet what the reader feels most is that this is only a temporary interlude and that -before M. Gide there still lie more of those sudden flowerings which have marked the whole of his astonishing development. And here, perhaps, in this endless capacity for further growth, for new experi- ence and new creation, lies the secret by which M. Gide preserves his youth. In the end the lover becomes like the loved one ; and thus it is that M. Gide, for all his intellectual earnestness, his cease- less effort at self-improvement, the deep, abiding marks of his Puritan upbringing, has made his own something of the wayward and irresponsible charm of those young criminals and juvenile delin- quents who have always had such a fatal fascination for him.
This volume begins with the years of the war and the publication of Les Caves du Vatican and ends with his Voyage an Congo and Le Retour du Chad. In the interval M. Gide had published Les Faux-Monnayeurs,. Corydon,. Si le Grain ne Meurt. It would be impossible, in a limited space, to give any adequate conception of the themes touched on in the journals during this period. I have simply noted some of those that occur most frequently • his home at Cuverville, travel, piano-playing, Racine, Dostoevsky, homo- sexuality, his wife, the Gospels, the devil, Browning, insomnia, temptation, the problem of style, animals, Pascal, Chopin, health, Conrad, the Catholic Church, children, Bossuet. Also, of course, M. Gide. Even so summary a list gives some indication of his main pre-occupations. And perhaps also it indicates the peculiar rhythm of M. Gide's existence, in perpetual oscillation between dis- cipline and anarchy, between classicism and revolt, between austerity and sensuality. What is significant in M. Gide, and what makes his originality as a writer, is that he wishes to suppress none of these extremes, nor to decide between the alternatives offered him by his nature. Rather, he indulges all his inclinations. He is equally attracted by heaven and by hell, and is inclined to believe that the Kingdom of God partakes of both, particularly because, as the Gospel text teaches which he quotes so often, the Kingdom of God is within you.
Surely, one is inclined th think, with these journals and all his other writings before one, no man has ever exposed himself so nakedly. And yet one's final impression is one rather of reserve.
Even in these daily jottings one senses the existence of an inner and secret drama that has not been revealed • one is left almost more aware of what has not been told than of what has been. And this effect of reticence amid self-revelation has varying depths and levels • it is itself a work of art. Partly it is a trick of manner and style, the gracious trick of a master who creates the necessary illusion that there is more in his picture than meets the eye, that if one could only pierce these, into the shadows, into its dimmest distance, new and undiscovered delights would meet one. Partly it is due to M. Gide's calculated intention of telling his readers (no-man was more aware of his audience) only so much of the truth as is bad for them or him. But most of all it is due to the fact that M. Gide, as he himself says, never is but is always becoming. In such a case, reticence and reserve are as much a result of uncertainty, and some- times almost of apprehension, of what is to come and what it is to come from, as of a deliberate withholding of a revelation. " Never
say I," said Wilde to M. Gide. M. Gide never ceases to say but _ it is never quite certain who says it. " Do not understand me so easily," he cries to his critics. It is the genuine cry of one who, for all his efforts, remains difficult to himself.
We should be grateful for both the effort and the difficulty. The effort has permitted us to share intimately in M. Gide's fascinating development, and, if we wish, to make it in part our own. The difficulty is an assurance that M. Gide in the process of becoming will never be able to strip, the last veils from his secrets and that whether in youth or age they will preserve the freshness, the- c harm and the strength of what is being, perpetually reborn. The golden tree always springs green in M. Gide, ever ready to push forth new buds and shoots. Of that, this journal itself is the most astonishing proof.
One would have liked to add that Mr. Mann's biography gave us some of the information and understanding which M. Gide chooses to withhold from us. Alas, one cannot. Mr. Mann tells us all and rather more than he knows, but we understand the less, especially because the figure of his subject is perpetually obscured by Mr. Mann's own crude and somewhat banal views on " the crisis of modern thought." Where M. Gide is ambiguous or elusive, Mr. Mann is stridently self-assertive, like a public relations officer to a butterfly. Moreover, one does not know whether to judge Mr. Mann as a German, an American or an English writer. His book is written in a kind of demotic English which makes it one of the most curious tributes to a writer who has so intense a respect for his own language as well as ours. The most one can say is that Mr. Mann is filled with a sincere affection and admiration for his subject ; all the same, his praise is of the kind which most writers