Jeanine Parisier Plottel
André Paul-Guillaume Gide was born in Paris, the only child of Paul Gide and Juliette Rondeaux. Paul stemmed from a long lineage of prominent Huguenot magistrates; Juliette's family was originally Catholic and had converted to Protestantism. By the time of André's birth some of its members had reverted to Catholicism, but Juliette herself remained a strict Protestant all her life. André's father, who held the prestigious chair of Roman law at the University of Paris, died just before his son's eleventh birthday. While his widow tried hard to improve herself and her child, her rigid standards and her desire for total control led to constant conflicts between them. André came to hate his lonely and constrained childhood spent indoors, often sick in bed. Except for some cousins, he had few friends, and most of his schooling took place at home.
His first work, Les Cahiers d'André Walter, was published anonymously and at his own expense in 1891. His friend Paul Valéry summarized the melancholic tones of this book as follows: “Art, love, faith, the poor self flounders among these huge specters that cause reality to grow pale. From your book soars the following: one must create, one must love, one must believe” (Gide and Valéry, Correspondance, 68, my translation). During this what may be called symbolist period of Gide's life, he published artificial and stilted works, Le Traité du Narcisse (1891), and Le Voyage d'Urien and La Tentative amoureuse (both 1893).
His many trips to Africa, beginning in 1893, were to play a capital role in his life. He visited North Africa also on his honeymoon in 1896, having married his first cousin Madeleine Rondeaux after his mother's death in 1895. By 1931-32 he was writing favorably about Communism and the Soviet Union. Together with other French writers he participated in the struggle against Nazism, and in 1933 he presided at a public meeting of the Association des écrivains et artistes