In the multitude I become bewildered

André Gide by Lady Ottoline Morrell, August 1920
NPG Ax140868 © National Portrait Gallery, London

When he wrote the following entry in his journal in October 1940, André Gide was living through a chaotic period in history. A French literary titan known for probing works like The Immoralist and The Counterfeiters, Gide now found himself grappling with the profound impact that World War II, and the occupation of France, had on culture and sentiment. Seven years after writing this entry, Gide was awarded the Nobel Prize for Literature “for his comprehensive and artistically significant writings, in which human problems and conditions have been presented with a fearless love of truth and keen psychological insight.”

The Diary Entry

12 October

Art inhabits temperate regions. And doubtless the greatest harm this war is doing to culture is to create a profusion of extreme passions which, by a sort of inflation, brings about a devaluation of all moderate sentiments. The dying anguish of Roland or the distress of a Lear stripped of power moves us by its exceptional quality but loses its special eloquence when reproduced simultaneously in several thousand copies. Isolated, it is a summit of suffering; in a collection, it becomes a plateau. I sympathize with the individual; in the multitude I become bewildered. The exquisite becomes banal, common. The artist does not know which way to turn, intellectually or emotionally. Solicited on all sides and unable to answer all appeals, he gives up, at a loss. He has no recourse but to seek refuge in himself or to find refuge in God. This is why war provides religion with easy conquests.

Further Reading

Andre Gide’s extensive diaries were translated into English by Justin O’Brien and published by Secker & Warburg in four volumes, the first arriving in 1948. Those four books can be found at the Internet Archive. It’s worth noting that in the second volume, as mentioned on his Wikipedia page, Gide identifies as a “pederast.”


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