Dates to note in the Guardian Review literary calendar this month were:
1st Centenary of JM Keyne’s The Economic Consequences of the Peace.
22nd Bicentenary of the birth of George Eliot.
22nd 150 years since the birth of André Gide.
It would have been so easy for me to choose the bicentenary of the birth of George Eliot as my date of note for this month. Adam Bede and Silas Marner are two of my favourite books. Add in the opportunity for a feminist discussion of her writing under a male pen name and there is tasty material to cover. However, this blog has been a journey of learning and new material for me (I will write about my methodology and choice making in my December post) so I chose to explore someone I had never previously heard of.
Andre Gide (1869 – 1951), French essayist, humanist, playwright and novelist was a Nobel Prize winner and thought by many, as he was described in an obituary, as one of France’s greatest writers. Gide was also a self confessed pederast who celebrated his enjoyment of sex with young people.
Anyone who wants to know more about Gide – about his writing, his drive to explore identity and ideas about the nature of sexuality (his ‘investigation of freedom and empowerment in the face of moralist and puritanical constraints’) need only view the detailed, factual but somewhat neutrally toned Wikipedia page or alternatively the on-line version of the Encyclopaedia Britannica which refers to Gide as having ‘tolerant and enlightened views’.
Gide, suggests in his most (in)famous work Corydon that homosexuality is a more natural state of being whilst heterosexuality is merely a useful to society, social construct – though it is also important to note that his is a distinctly male gaze, with male sexuality as the exclusive default. Interestingly the Wiki has this listed as an LGBT topic and as a person who identifies as queer – and as a woman – here is where I struggle.
Many writers have written about the nature/nurture debate relating to human sexuality. I guess the writings – whether good, bad, controversial or provocative have helped to move discussion along and develop ideas about sexuality and sexual identity. I guess, knowing so little of Gide, his work on identity framed in the context of social moralism has been a contribution to that which may explain the admiration for his work. I too am a product of the society in which I have developed. Make of it what you will, but I cannot value, celebrate or ‘own’ any kind of allegiance, respect for or interest in the work of a man who wrote in such sickeningly glowing terms (see autobiography, 1935, p288) about what he refers to as ‘pederasty’ but is of course, the rape of children. Andé Gide raped children.
Much has been written about ‘the problem of history’ – see for example, the debate between Columbus Day/Indigenous People’s Day. The Guardian Review suggests that the birth of André Gide is a ‘date to note’ – ie to recognise or observe and I wonder what the thinking was behind the suggestion that it be ‘noted’. Is the suggestion neutrally made (like the tone of the Wiki page) or allusion to some kind of quality? I am mindful there is a power in honour naming. Whilst it may or may not be true that Gide made a significant contribution (one writer referred to him as ‘ahead of his time’), failure to contextualise this with recognition of his abuse of children makes it an odd and, I would argue, a careless inclusion.