Polite society fails to grasp its own hypocrisy.

from The Immoralist by André Gide page 113 fiction ~3 min read

And yet I should have not have been able to say what I meant by 'living' nor whether the very simple secret of my trouble was not that I had acquired a taste for a more spacious, breezier life, one that was less hemmed in, less regardful of others; the secret seemed to me much more mysterious than that; it was the secret, I thought, of one who has known death; for I moved a stranger among ordinary people, like a man who has risen from the grave. And at first I merely felt rather painfully out of my element; but soon I became aware of a very different feeling. I had known no pride, I repeat, when the publication of my Essay had brought me such praise. Was it pride now? Perhaps; but at any rate there was no trace of vanity mixed with it. It was rather, for the first time, the consciousness of my own worth. What separated me— distinguished me— from other people was crucial; what no one said, what no one could say but myself, that it was my task to say.

My lectures began soon after; the subject was congenial and I poured into the first of them all my newly born passion. Speaking of the later Latin civilization, I depicted artistic culture as welling up in a whole people, like a secretion, which is at first a sign of plethora, of a superabundance of health, but which afterwards stiffens, hardens, forbids the perfect contact of the mind with nature, hides under the persistent appearance of life a diminution of life, turns into an outside sheath, in which the cramped mind languishes and pines, in which at last it dies. Finally, pushing my thought to its logical conclusion, I showed Culture, born of life, as the destroyer of life.

The historians criticized a tendency, as they phrased it, to too rapid generalization. Other people blamed my method; and those who complimented me were those who understood me least.

It was at the end of my lecture that I came across Menalque again for the first time. I had never seen much of him, and shortly before my marriage, he had started on one of those distant voyages of discovery which sometimes kept him from us for over a year. In the old days, I had never much liked him; he seemed proud and he took no interest in my existence. I was therefore astonished to see him at my first lecture. His very insolence, which had at first held me aloof from him, pleased me, and I thought the smile he gave me all the more charming because I knew he smiled rarely. Recently, an absurd —a shameful —lawsuit had caused a scandal and given the newspapers a convenient occasion to drag him through the mud; those whom he had offended by his disdain and superiority seized this pretext to revenge themselves; and what irritated them most was that he appeared not to care.

"One must allow other people to be right," he used to say when he was insulted, "it console them for not being anything else."

But 'good society' was indignant and people who, as they say, 'respect themselves' thought it was their duty to turn their backs on him, and so pay him back his contempt. This was an extra encouragement to me; feeling myself attracted by a secret influence. I went up to him and embraced him before everyone.[1]

  1. It should be noted that, far from a prescription of truth, this passage delves into a deep hypocrisy on the part of the narrator whom Menalque later says, "You are burning what you used to adore... Very good." ↩︎

—André Gide, The Immoralist, p. 113