André Gide
By: Joshua Glenn | Categories: HiLo Heroes, Literature


In the 1890s Oscar Wilde lured ANDRÉ GIDE (1869–1951) out of the closet; in 1908, he co-founded the Nouvelle Revue Française; in 1916, he adopted a friend’s teenage son with whom he’d be romantically involved for years; in the 1920s, he wrote unashamedly about his predilection for boys, and at the same time influenced the burgeoning anti-colonialism movement by criticizing the exploitation of Africans; in the ’30s he became a communist, then (after a visit to the USSR) an anti-communist. He won the Nobel Prize for Literature in 1947. But the Gide in whom I’m interested is the one who rejected the either/or choice of conventional morality vs. cynicism; the one about whom a 22-year-old André Breton wrote, to fellow Dadaist Tristan Tzara, “You can’t imagine how much André Gide is on our side.” This is the Gide of whom we catch a glimpse via his 1902 novel The Immoralist, his 1925 novel The Counterfeiters, and most directly via his 1914 adventure yarn The Vatican Catacombs. In this proto-postmodernist sotie (jape), three brothers-in-law — a Masonic scientist, a renowned author, a pious Catholic — are entangled to various degrees in a con game the victims of which are led to believe that the Pope has been kidnapped. Across their interwoven stories like a comet streaks their illegitimate half-brother-in-law, Lafcadio, a sexy young hustler whose one goal in life is to perform an acte gratuit — an action, whether a good deed or a crime, that is truly unmotivated. Though hailed and reviled as a nihilist and anarchist, Gide’s hero is more feral than that. He’s an ironist!


On his or her birthday, HiLobrow irregularly pays tribute to one of our high-, low-, no-, or hilobrow heroes. Also born this date: Terry Gilliam and Karen O.

READ MORE about members of the Anarcho-Symbolist Generation (1864–73).



Joshua Glenn is a cultural and brand semiotician, and co-principal of the agency SEMIOVOX LLC. He is editor and publisher of HILOBROW and the Radium Age sci-fi paperback imprint HILOBOOKS. He is author of (with Mark Kingwell and the cartoonist Seth) THE IDLER'S GLOSSARY (2008) and THE WAGE SLAVE'S GLOSSARY (2011), and editor of the object-oriented story collections TAKING THINGS SERIOUSLY (2007) and (with Rob Walker) SIGNIFICANT OBJECTS (2012). With Elizabeth Foy Larsen and Tony Leone, Josh produced the popular family activities guides UNBORED (2012), UNBORED GAMES (2014), and UNBORED ADVENTURE (2015), not to mention two UNBORED activity kits from MindWare. In the ’00s, Josh was an editor and columnist for the BOSTON GLOBE's IDEAS section; in the ’90s, he published the high-lowbrow zine/journal HERMENAUT. He was born and raised in Boston, where he lives with his wife and sons.