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La porte étroite by André Gide

La porte étroite (original 1909; edition 1959)

by André Gide (Author), André Gide

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1,1131711,761 (3.67)46
A delicate boy growing up in Paris, Jerome Pallisier spends many summers at his uncle's house in the Normandy countryside, where the whole world seems 'steeped in azure'. There he falls deeply in love with his cousin Alissa and she with him. But gradually Alissa becomes convinced that Jerome's love for her is endangering his soul. In the interest of his salvation, she decides to suppress everything that is beautiful in herself - in both mind and body. A devastating exploration of aestheticism taken to extremes, Strait is the Gateis a novel of haunting beauty that stimulates the mind and the emotions.… (more)
Title:La porte étroite
Authors:André Gide (Author)
Other authors:André Gide
Info:Mercvre De France (1959), Mass Market Paperback, 182 pages
Collections:Your library, Books
Tags:Books, French Fiction, French Writer, French literature

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Strait is the Gate by André Gide (1909)


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English (12)  Italian (2)  Dutch (1)  Finnish (1)  French (1)  All languages (17)
Showing 1-5 of 12 (next | show all)
This is a truly exasperating story of a man's love for a woman and how the insanity of religion destroys it. If you need proof that religion is a mental illness, look no further than the painful story of Alissa. This probably isn't how the author intended it, but how can an intelligent person interpret it otherwise? Nice translation except that the translator leaves important quotes in French that you'll have to seek out on the internet if you don't read the language.

The plot reminds me of a Jane Austen story--except filled with a pessimism that would have had Austen's characters drowning themselves by the end of the story. ( )
  datrappert | Sep 16, 2016 |
The entire novel is based on she loves me, she loves me not. If Alissa was so determined to act like a nun, she should have set Jerome free to love another. Instead she strung him along for years, never revealing her terminal illness. Very tiresome. I don't understand how Gide could have won a Nobel Prize for Literature for this book. A waste of time. ( )
1 vote ShelleyAlberta | Jun 4, 2016 |
Better known as "Strait is the Gate".

This is the second French classic I have read translated by Walter Ballenberger. I appreciate the way he has put them into modern English without losing the flavor of France.

I have only read one other book by Andre Gide, "The Immoralist". Both that novel and this one deal with people who choose to live their lives according to a guiding principle and where that decision takes them. While I could understand the main character in "The Immoralist" better, I had more sympathy for Alissa & Jerome in this novel.

Both are quite short and would make a good introduction to this Nobel Laureate. ( )
1 vote leslie.98 | Feb 25, 2015 |
"I advanced slowly; the sky was like my joy---warm, bright, delicately pure. No doubt she was expecting me by the other path. I was close to her, behind her, before she heard me; I stopped . . . and as if time could have stopped with me, "This is the moment," I thought, "the most delicious moment, perhaps, of all, even though it should precede happiness itself---which happiness itself will not equal." (p 96)

"Enter ye in at the strait gate: for wide is the gate and broad is the way, that leadeth to destruction and many there be which go thereat: Because strait is the gate, and narrow is the way, which leadeth unto life, and few there be that find it." (Matthew 7:13-14).

This is the text from which Gide drew the title of his short novel, Strait is the Gate. It is a first person narrative that begins forthrightly with the words:
"Some people might have made a book out of it; but the story I am going to tell is one that it took all my strength to live and over which I have spent all my virtue. So I shall set down my recollections quite simply, and if in places they are ragged I shall have recourse to no invention and neither patch nor connect them; any effort I might make to dress them up would take away from the last pleasure I hope to get in telling them." (p 3)

The author signals in this short paragraph the importance of virtue (of what sort we shall find out) and that these are personal "recollections", subject to the vicissitudes of memory and desire, but not invented. Finally, the narrator claims to have pleasure, or at least hopes to, in telling them. One may see already the potential for the contradiction of truth presented as fiction and fiction telling the truth.

The setting is the Protestant upper-middle-class world of Normandy in the 1880s. The narrator, Jerome Palissier, originally from Le Havre, is eleven when the story begins. His father having died he is living with his mother and a governess. He is surrounded by family including a creole aunt Lucille who alternately fascinates and terrifies him. She has two young daughters, Alissa and Juliette Bucolin, who are devoted to their father. Alissa and Jerome become childhood sweethearts and this gradually develops into a situation such that it becomes assumed, at least unofficially, that they are engaged. Unfortunately Alissa never truly agrees to any such arrangement. Complicating matters further are the feelings of Juliette for Jerome and the entry of Jerome's good friend Abel Vautier who quickly becomes infatuated with Juliette. The relations among these young people are complicated by the strength of youthful Eros, their own growth, and their search for identity. It is this search that leads Alissa in the direction of religion, in spite of which she professes to love Jerome. But she is no longer her former self and as Jerome is about to leave the country home of Fonguesemare where they have been together she claims that he has been in love with a ghost. Jerome replies that the ghost is not an illusion on his part: "Alissa, you are the woman I loved . . . What have you made yourself become?" Jerome leaves, "full of a vague hatred for what I still called virtue". Strong stuff for teenagers.

Three years later he returns but their relations are never the same; the strength of her religious convictions has altered Alissa both spiritually and physically. The affairs narrated here are apparently drawn from Gide's own life, however loosely. Their are also parallels with Gide's own work as Alissa may be seen as corresponding to Michel, the protagonist in Gide's novel, The Immoralist, written about a decade earlier. Strait is the Gate presents itself as a small gem of a literary work. With its focus on the passions and desires of young love I am reminded of Goethe's Sorrows of Young Werther. Gide's biographer, Alan Sheridan, suggests that it is also a meditation on Gide's relationship with his own wife, Madeleine. Whether that is the case or not this short novel is has a beautiful clarity of prose and a haunting style that suggests the memories of young love that, while strong enough to leave permanent impressions, in some way become ghosts of one's youth. ( )
1 vote jwhenderson | Aug 24, 2014 |
As with most all of Gide's best novels, this one concerns the anxiety and yearning at the heart of human experience. A very young Jerome Palissier regularly spends holidays at the house of his aunt and uncle's estate in Fongueusemare in rural Normandy. One day, he happens upon his cousin Alissa, who is distraught at her aloof, hypochondriacal mother. Both desperate to rescue her and drawn by a genuine affection, Jerome takes it upon himself to sweep in and rescue her like a good, Christian knight errant. The subtle imagery of Jerome as a kind of salvific hero is only a foreshadowing of the religious unease that drives this novel forward toward its foreordained conclusion. As Jerome portentously declares, quoting Baudelaire, "Bientot nous plongerons dons les froides tenebres."

Jerome and Alissa spend irenic summers together reciting poetry, reading from books to one another in their splendid garden, and enjoying music. The appropriateness of Jerome's name jumps out at you when he mentions another of their mutual literary interests: "We had procured the Gospels in the Vulgate and knew long passages of them by heart." (It was Saint Jerome who made the first Latin translation of the Bible.) Jerome wishes to become engaged before moving off to the Ecole Normale, but Alissa refuses. He is understandably upset by her rejection, but is only more spurred on by his ecstatic vision (again, that religious imagery) of eventually marrying her. Eventually, we learn that Alissa has sacrificed Jerome so that her sister, Juliette, will be able to get married first, yet even after Juliette gets married - to a boorish, business-minded vintner - Alissa continues to push him away.

He visits her at Fongueusemare while finishing both his schooling and a military stint, but every time he mentions wanting to marry her, she rejects him and requests that he leave soon, that she cannot bear his presence. Eventually, she tells him that her love of God surpasses her love for him, even though she has always passionately loved Jerome. During their last meeting together, Alissa has grown thin and pale, presumably because of her anchorite-like existence; she has also removed the books of poetry and novels she and Jerome used to read together, and replaced them with works of cheap, vulgar piety. Even while there is room here to doubt Alissa's love for Jerome, a chapter that includes her personal journals makes it perfectly clear that she loved Jerome just as much as he loved her, if not more so. Jerome has a final meeting with Juliette while she is enceinte with her fifth child by the vintner. Seeing him calls to mind both her sister's Christ-like sacrifice and makes her reflect on her own uneventful, bourgeois life. As Flaubert said: "Madame Bovary, c'est moi."

For maximum effect, as noted above, read this right next to Gide's "The Immoralist" for a most effective couple of case studies. Considering the year of publication (1909) and the ideas considered - repression, sexuality, sublimation - it should be noted that Gide almost certainly had Freud in mind when he was writing this, though it yields wonderful insights into human psychology even without a Freudian reading.

When reading a novel, sometimes the most difficult obstacle to being able to truly and fully appreciate it is the historical change that has taken place between the time in which it was written and when you read it. Judging from some of the reviews I have seen, that seems to be the case with this novel, too. In both this and "The Immoralist," Gide looks at the tension, confusion, and repression that can often come about when romantic love is pitted against, and forced to compete with, love for the divine. Since this novel was published, this antagonism has almost completely died, which may lead some readers to accuse Alissa of being frigid. Once we are able to bridge that historical gap, however, and realize that Alissa did not see her torment as self-imposed but rather something that was required of her, this novel proves itself to be a superior meditation on both romantic passion and, what was once thought to be its opposite, sacrifice. ( )
1 vote kant1066 | Aug 15, 2011 |
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» Add other authors (11 possible)

Author nameRoleType of authorWork?Status
Gide, Andréprimary authorall editionsconfirmed
Bussy, DorothyTranslatorsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
義雄, 山内Translatorsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
Frasconi, AntonioCover designersecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
Nijhoff, A.H.Translatorsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
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"Efforcez-vous d'entrer par la porte étroite" (Luc. XIII, 24)
"Strive to enter in at the straight gate" (Luc. XIII, 24)
To M.A.G.
First words
D'autres en auraient pu faire un livre; mais l'histoire que je raconte ici, j'ai mis toute ma force à la vivre et ma vertu s'y est usée.
Some people might have made a book out of it; but the story I am going to tell is one which took all my strength to live and over which I spent all my virtue.
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