On Reading Andre Gides Journals.
When I was sixteen years old, I got Gide's Journals through an interlibrary loan, my first such loan. I felt the librarians had done me an enormous favor. Perhaps they had; they charged nothing for the service.
They were two blue bound editions, quarto sized, printed and bound with glorious good taste. The peccantine librarians had vulgarly clad them in white laminated plastic emblazoned with the words "INTERLIBRARY LOAN"; I ripped them off as soon as I got home.
I remember the cool old blue cloth cover in my hands, and how my heart beat when I opened volume one. I read them through in a month and returned them with regret and gratitude. I would have been hard pressed to explain the secret hold over my imagination Gide exerted; but since I hesitate to anatomize the man to explain the magic away, let me simply speak of Gide in the same way I have heard Will Shakespeare praise good men:
Gide is an immaculate prose stylist, a strong moralist and comic ironist par excellence; a blending of intellect and emotion, with only sensuality and solitude to bring his luminous flights to ground every so often; a character shoveled with fits of sentiment and fires of redemption which his airy emotional nature could never bear to fully actualize; a man, in short, in whom all the fruits of the intellect grew delicately from the moral sentiments without any intervening sense of individual labor, private hope of restraint of instinct or release from reason, or evasion from the duty of his talent.
Soon after I bought the Penguin edition of Gide's Journals. I found myself disappointed. What magic had been in the text? - I could not recapture it. The book was water damaged and stiff after some years in my mother's basement, and when I re-read it this year it sounded as if it had been never written but only translated. The Penguin translation of Gide's Journals was execrable. Let me see who the job fell upon... Justin O'Brien. Seems he also wrote a frigidly inadequate introduction.
Last week I came upon the old blue bound books. They were forty dollars in the snobby overpriced antiquarian bookshop on North Terrace. But after I verified they were the same books I had devoured so eagerly as a teen, I longingly put them back on the shelf. Better the memory of a magical read than the disillusionment of a mediocre second read. Or was it simply that I did not wish to fall in love again with that luminous prose, and thereby find myself spending forty dollars on the Journals?