André Gide: A Life in the Present
Hardback 1998, paperback 2000
Harvard University Press, Fitzroy House, Chenies Street , London WC1
A stylish, scholarly account of the life and work of André Gide (1869-1951).
By the end of his life Gide would have been on most lists of the ten most important novelists of the twentieth century. His Paludes (1895) was one of the beginnings of the modern novel; his masterpiece, Les Faux-Monnayeurs (1925), is one of its most ambitious achievements. But his name was also familiar the world over to millions who had never read his books: he had long since become a controversial figure, his views on political and sexual matters being better known than his literary work.
Brought up a strict Protestant, Gide spent his life trying to reconcile self-fulfilment and an inherited moral seriousness. In 1895 he went to North Africa, where Oscar Wilde and Alfred Douglas initiated him into the low life of Algiers . The awakening that North Africa brought him found expression in Les Nourritures terrestres (1897), which became a bible for later generations of young rebels. Nevertheless he married his childhood sweetheart, his first cousin. The marriage was unconsummated, yet at fifty-two he fathered a daughter by a woman friend who wanted a child without benefit of husband or lover. He had innumerable encounters with adolescent boys and young men, but there was one great love, Marc Allégret, the future film director. In 1924 he finally published Corydon, the long-gestated dialogue on homosexuality.
In the 1930s he became a Communist ‘fellow-traveller', but a visit to the Soviet Union in 1936 confirmed him as a critic of Party and regime. He was already an enemy of the Right; he was now vilified by the Left. Consecration came in 1947 with the Nobel Prize for Literature.
GILBERT ADAIR / EVENING STANDARD: ‘What Gide needs is a passionate, enlightened champion, which is just what he has found in Alan Sheridan. His 600‑odd pages of erudition and brilliantly marshalled information left me simply awestruck... Sheridan 's biography is definitely definitive.'
EDMUND WHITE / LONDON REVIEW OF BOOKS: ‘The splendidly detailed picture of Parisian gay life before the First World War that emerges from Sheridan's pages never obscures the account of Gide's growing mastery as an artist.'
IAN THOMPSON / SUNDAY TIMES: ‘First‑class scholarship... The author's knowledge of French literary history is staggeringly detailed... this life of Gide is unlikely to be superseded.'
PAUL BINDING / INDEPENDENT ON SUNDAY: ‘Neither in English nor in French has there been a biography relating, in appropriate detail and depth, Gide's life and writings... Happily this lack is now a thing of the past. Alan Sheridan has given us a biography as scrupulous and critically alert as it is lively and sympathetic... He brings [Gide's relationships] to life with a multiplicity of detail and an empathy not only with Gide himself but with the others concerned… Gide's desires led him to regular homosexual encounters so vigorous and numerous it makes one breathless to read about them... A biography as scrupulous and critically alert as it is lively and sympathetic... an exemplary portrait of Gide's love and friendships.'
ALLAN MASSIE / DAILY TELEGRAPH: ‘Alan Sheridan's admirable biography... ought to encourage readers to seek out Gide's writings.'
PETER CONRAD / OBSERVER: ‘a witty, humane study'
RICHARD HOWARD / LOS ANGELES TIMES. ‘The best book on Gide yet written… Certainly Sheridan's is the first book anyone interested in this author should consult after reading Gide's own work.'
FREDERICK BROWN / NEW REPUBLIC: ‘… far surpasses earlier biographies...The time was ripe to demonstrate Gide's intellectual legacy: to show how, in a career that bridged two centuries, the ground was laid for the subversive strategies of the nouveau roman and for the all-out war waged by ideologues such as Sartre and Foucault against ‘patriarchal' institutions, above all the family... Alan Sheridan is an eloquent and perceptive writer... The book has many virtues, not least of them being Sheridan's ability to weave brief and penetrating essays on Gide's work into the chronicle of his restless days.'
ALLAN HEPBURN / BOSTON BOOK REVIEW: ‘In his biography of Gide, Alan Sheridan has accomplished a magnificent feat. Whereas other biographers have been brought up short by the daunting intricacies of Gide's life, Sheridan does not shrink from recounting the full range of his subject's sexual escapades, musical knowledge, friendships, vexed marriage, Protestantism, affluence, and literary merits. Without interpreting the raw materials of Gide's life in a tendentious way, Sheridan shapes facts into coherent patterns. This is a biography worthily in the manner of Plutarch; the density of incidence never overwhelms the clarity of presentation.'
RICHARD DYER / BOSTON GLOBE: ‘Paradoxically, it was left to an Englishman, Alan Sheridan, to write the first full-scale life of Gide. Sheridan has the credentials for the job - the mastery of two languages; the grasp of political and cultural as well as literary history; the patience; the sympathy; the sheer industry. He has assimilated all this material and handles it with easy familiarity, taste, and wit... He writes with insight about the life, the works, and their interconnections, and he can suddenly cut straight to the marrow... Sheridan has no ax to grind, no theory to impose; he allows us to share the pleasure he takes in Gide's company.'
DAVID GLENN / DISSENT: ‘One great virtue of Alan Sheridan's beautifully written new biography is that it does not try to claim Gide as a trophy for liberalism, modernism, or any other intellectual terrain... With great clarity and wit, and with a minimum of analytical fanfare, [ Sheridan ] brings us into the company of a particular life and a particular body of work. The miracle is that, in a volume of nearly three hundred thousand words, the narrative almost never becomes tedious'.
SELECTED AS BOOK OF THE YEAR BY:
BEVIS HILLIER / SPECTATOR: ‘A good biographer is one of whom you feel, so complete is his empathy with his subject, he has almost got the blood of the subject to flow in his own veins. Such a one is Alan Sheridan.'
CLEMENT CRISP / FINANCIAL TIMES: ‘A detailed and intriguing study of Gide's life.'
FRANCIS KING / GAY TIMES: ‘This is a massive book, the penetrating insight of which illuminates not merely a brilliant career but also a brilliant artistic epoch.'