The Immoralist

Novel by André Gide

The Immoralist (French: L'Immoraliste) is a novel by André Gide, published in France in 1902.

The great artists are the ones who dare to entitle to beauty things so natural that when they’re seen afterward, people say: Why did I never realize before that this too was beautiful?



as translated by R. Howard

  • The capacity to get free is nothing; the capacity to be free, that is the task.
    • Michael, p. 7

  • To the man whom death’s wing has touched, what once seemed important is so no longer; and other things become so which once did not seem important or which he did not even know existed. 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.

    Henceforth this was what I sought to discover: the authentic being, “the old Adam” whom the Gospels no longer accepted; the man whom everything around me—books, teachers, family and I myself—had tried from the first to suppress. And I had already glimpsed him, faint, obscured by their encrustations, but all the more valuable, all the more urgent. I scorned henceforth that secondary, learned being whom education had pasted over him.

    And I would compare myself to a palimpsest; I shared the thrill of the scholar who beneath more recent script discovers, on the same paper, an infinitely more precious ancient text.

  • Michael, p. 51

  • My sole effort … was therefore systematically to revile or suppress whatever I believed due merely to past education and to my early moral indoctrination. In deliberate scorn of my own erudition, in disdain for my scholarly pastimes.
  • Michael, p. 51

  • What interest could I take in myself, except as a perfectible being? This unknown perfection, vaguely as I imagined it, exalted my will as never before in my longing to achieve it; I dedicated this will utterly to fortifying my body.
    • Michael, p. 51

  • I soon realized that what are supposedly the worst things (lying, to mention only one) are hard to do only when you have never done them; but that each of them becomes, and so quickly! easy, pleasant, sweet in repetition, and soon a second nature.
    • Michael, p. 60

  • Everything filled me with the joy of being alive until my whole being seemed no more than a hovering rapture: memories or regrets, hope or desire, future and past fell silent; I knew nothing of life but what the moment brought to it, took from it.
    • Michael, p. 61

  • There comes a point in love, a unique moment which later on the soul seeks in vain to surpass
    • Michael, p. 63

  • Nothing thwarts happiness so much as the memory of happiness.
    • Michael, p. 63

  • The apple trees planted in rows on the favorable hillsides heralded a splendid crop that summer; I dreamed of the rich burden of fruit beneath which their branches would soon be bending. From this orderly abundance, from this happy subservience, from this smiling cultivation, a harmony was being wrought, no longer fortuitous but imposed, a rhythm, a beauty at once human and natural, in which one could no longer tell what was most admirable, so intimately united into a perfect understanding were the fecund exposition of free nature and man’s skillful effort to order it. What would that effort be, I thought, without the powerful savagery it masters? What would be the savage energy of the overflowing sap without the intelligent effort which channels and discharges it into profusion?—And I let myself dream of such lands where every force was so well controlled, every expenditure so compensated, every exchange so strict, that the slightest waste became evident; then, applying my dream to life, I sketched an ethic which would become a science of self-exploitation perfected by a disciplined intelligence.
    • Michael, p. 71-72

  • You cannot be sincere and at the same time seem so.
    • Michael, p. 90

  • As for the philosophers, whose role might have been to instruct me, I had long known what to expect of them; mathematicians or neo-Kantians, they kept as far as possible from troublesome reality, and were no more concerned with life than the algebrist with the existence of the quantities he is measuring.
    • Michael, p. 90

  • I made no attempt to conceal the tedium of these encounters. “They’re all alike,” I told her, “and each repeats the next. Whenever I talk to one, it seems to me I’m talking to several.”
“But my dear,” Marceline answered, “you can’t ask each one to be different from all the rest.”
“The more they’re like each other, the less they’re like me.” And I continued more wearily: … “They seem to be alive and not to know it.”
  • Michael, p. 91

  • What distinguished me from the rest was what mattered; what no one but I … could say—that was what I had to say.
    • Michael, p. 92

  • You have to let other people be right. It consoles them for not being anything else.
    • Ménalque, p. 94

  • I cannot apply to myself the distinctions and the reservations they insist on making—I exist only as a whole man. I lay claim to nothing but my own nature, and the pleasure I take in an action is my clue to its propriety
    • Ménalque, p. 104

  • If only the people around us could be convinced. But most of them believe they get nothing good out of themselves except by constraint; they’re only pleased with themselves when they’re under duress. If there’s one thing each of them claims not to resemble it’s … himself. Instead he sets up a model, then imitates it; he doesn’t even choose the model—he accepts it ready-made.
    • Ménalque, p. 104, ellipsis in original

  • People are afraid to find themselves alone, and don’t find themselves at all.
    • Ménalque, p. 104

  • What seems different in yourself: that’s the one rare thing you possess, the one thing which gives each of us his worth; and that’s just what we try to suppress.
    • Ménalque, p. 104

  • If there’s one thing I detest it’s a man of principles. … You can’t expect any kind of sincerity from him, for he only does what his principles have ordered him to do, or else he considers what he does a transgression.
    • Michael and Ménalque, p. 105

  • Today beauty no longer acts, and action no longer bothers about being beautiful.
    • Ménalque, p. 111

  • I create each hour’s newness by forgetting yesterday completely. Having been happy is never enough for me. I don’t believe in dead things. What’s the difference between no longer being and never having been?
    • Ménalque, p. 111

  • Each joy is like manna in the desert, which spoils from one day to the next.
    • Ménalque, p. 112

  • Their clumsy thoughts were of no interest to me.
    • Michael, p. 119

  • … actions whose motives he cannot understand—that is, actions not prompted by the hope of profit.
    • Michael, p. 122

  • What more can man do, what else can man be? That was what I had to know. Was what man had said up till then all he could say? Wasn’t there something he didn’t know about himself? Could he merely repeat himself? … And day by day there grew within me the confused sense of untapped wealth lying hidden, smothered by culture, propriety, rules.
    • Michael, p. 146 (ellipsis in original)

  • The great artists are the ones who dare to entitle to beauty things so natural that when they’re seen afterward, people say: Why did I never realize before that this too was beautiful?
    • Michael, p. 159
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