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the Complete Review
the complete review - dialogues

Imaginary Interviews

André Gide

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To purchase Imaginary Interviews

Title: Imaginary Interviews
Author: André Gide
Genre: Dialogues
Written: 1942 (Eng. 1944)
Length: 181 pages
Original in: French
Availability: Imaginary Interviews - US
Imaginary Interviews - UK
Imaginary Interviews - Canada
Interviews Imaginaires - Canada
Interviews Imaginaires - France
  • French title: Interviews Imaginaires
  • These interview were originally published in Le Figaro
  • Translated and with an Introduction by Malcolm Cowley

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Our Assessment:

B : minor, but of some interest

See our review for fuller assessment.

Review Summaries
Source Rating Date Reviewer
The Kenyon Review . 7:3 (Summer/1945) Lawrence Leighton
The New Republic . 30/10/1944 Harry Levin
The New Yorker . 4/11/1944 Edmund Wilson

  From the Reviews:
  • "Malcolm Cowley's translation, which is excellent, will probably be more serviceable to the average reader, although omitting the bibliographical note that the original contains, it includes material that is not in the French edition, notably an interview on the subject of contemporary American fiction, as well as a sensible foreword on Gide by Mr. Cowley and a helpful appendix by him on the subject of French prosody. (...) It is the lack of reference to the events of the times, the non-political character of the interviews, that has caused doubts and more than doubts to many people with regard to their seriousness." - Lawrence Leighton, The Kenyon Review

Please note that these ratings solely represent the complete review's biased interpretation and subjective opinion of the actual reviews and do not claim to accurately reflect or represent the views of the reviewers. Similarly the illustrative quotes chosen here are merely those the complete review subjectively believes represent the tenor and judgment of the review as a whole. We acknowledge (and remind and warn you) that they may, in fact, be entirely unrepresentative of the actual reviews by any other measure.

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The complete review's Review:

       Imaginary Interviews collects a series of sixteen 'imaginary interviews' (originally published in Le Figaro) André Gide conducted with himself during the time of the German occupation of France in the Second World War, along with a few other odds and ends. The interviews are unusual in that they are narrated not from the perspective of the interviewer but rather that of the interviewee, Gide -- Gide doing away with even the pretense that anyone other than the author-subject is in complete control of the material. Unusually, too, Gide replaces interviewers over the course of the conversations, several of the final ones conducted by a colleague of the initial one; neither is even given so much as a name, but for several of the interviews Gide wants an even more specific type as foil (a younger-generation 'poet-poet', rather than the more experienced and considerably older original interviewer).
       Gide is hopeful about French literature in these interviews, but sees it at a crossroads; the German occupation is rarely directly addressed, but clearly part of the heavy blow to the nation and the culture. He has his interviewer suggest:

Wouldn't you at least be willing to admit that our literature, generally speaking, had its own share of responsibility for the defeat ?
       Sage old Gide doesn't directly answer the leading question (offering in place of a direct answer: "a fable that is told by the natives of the Congo"), but eventually he does speak of: "the rut in which so many of our writers seemed to enjoy being mired". Here he expresses hope, suggesting the works of: "Giono, Malraux, Saint-Exupéry and Montherlant" show a (new) promise. It is also repeatedly noted how much poetry is being written and published, and Gide considers it as well -- critically, in no small part (getting the second interviewer, the young 'poet-poet', to admit he published his own verses too soon ("and wrote them too fast"), while also acknowledging that in these difficult times: "It would seem that poetry has become a refuge").
       Much in Imaginary Interviews is assessment -- Gide casually judging books and authors --, right down to the inclusion of Gide's 'Ten Desert-Island Novels' in an Appendix to the volume (the list having originally appeared in an untranslated 1924 work of Gide's). Among the cases Gide makes at greater length are for Victor Hugo's poetry
He proved his intelligence by never allowing his verse to be overburdened with or crippled by ideas. Everything is subordinated to the plenitude of his verse; even his emotion
       Gide also admits:
I am something of a botanist and look at the plant to find the explanation of the flower. I have a tendency (perhaps it is a fault) to be more interested in the producer than in the product
       Despite the volume's title and format, the centerpiece is not a conversation, but rather Gide's essay for a Pléiade-Goethe volume, 'An Introduction to Goethe's Dramatic Works', and his work on this piece comes up repeatedly in the first ten interviews which precede it. Covering many other literary subjects, these are considerably more than just his working notes towards it, but the essay is clearly the piece of work that most preöccupies him during this time, and he works through some of the issues raised by it (both the writing of it and the subject-matter itself) in these interviews.
       As he works on his introduction for the Goethe volume, he wrestles with the approach and problem of paying more attention to producer than to product, realizing that the German master's work has been almost overwhelmed by the commentaries on it:
Deep in a thicket, the work itself almost disappears, and -- particularly in Goethe's case -- people declare themselves for or against, put forward their opinions on the author of Faust, without ever having examined the texts themselves, knowing them only by the reactions they provoke in others. Ethical systems confront each other; camps are formed; Goethe ceases to be primarily an author and become either a battlefield or a rallying ground.
       It's impossible not to think about the times and circumstances under which Gide was grappling with this -- a France occupied by Germany -- and Gide makes it all the more pointed in wondering about Goethe's fascination with Napoleon, as he also points out that:
Goethe was still dazzled (as how could he fail to be ?) by a dream that seemed on the point of being realized: the dream of a pacific and glorious unification of all of Europe
       The Europe of the time when Gide was writing this was, of course, not living the dream but rather the nightmare of a less than pacific continental unification; as Gide writes (most of) this, France has already largely resigned itself to being a part of the Hitlerian vision. So also included in the volume is a (non-conversational) piece in which Gide writes on Jacques Chardonne's Chronique privée de l'an 1940, helpfully described by Malcolm Cowley in a translator's note as: "the first literary work in the French language that, from an allegedly French point of view, idealized the German victory over France".
       Perhaps unsurprisingly, Gide did not use the interviews to delve too deeply into the very changed circumstances of the time, with much of the conversation instead on poetry -- and on the technical aspects of it at that (to the extent that translator Cowley found it necessary to include in his Appendix several pages explaining: "The laws that govern the writing and reading of French verse").
       Gide has clear ideas of what poetry should be:
     Poetry should tend, or pretend, only to perfection. Obscurity is something that the true poet should neither seek nor fear. What he should fear is affectation.
       Some of the interviews then get very specific -- one focuses on rhyme, another on: "questions of accentuation in French verse". If rather specific, it's nevertheless not so overwhelming that it should put off readers with less interest/familiarity with French poetry from the rest of the volume. There's a great deal sprinkled into all of the interviews; the focus is literary, but otherwise ranges far and wide.
       The final interview is on: 'The New American Novelists' -- an interesting glimpse of Gide's reading, and opinions, of authors of those times (as he admits: "There is no contemporary literature that arouses my curiosity more than that of the United States") -- though, amusingly, he also give the interviewer a bigger role here, and puts some of the opinions ("Dos Passos makes me suffocate") in his mouth. The obvious candidates -- such as Faulkner, Steinbeck, Hemingway -- get a mention, but it's also amusing to see some discussion of less obvious choices: Dashiell Hammett ("I regard his Red Harvest as a remarkable achievement, the last word in atrocity, cynicism, and horror"), or Erskine Caldwell ("he puzzles me").
       The brief mention of the ten French novels Gide would take to a desert island -- presented in basically summary form by Cowley in his Appendix -- is also of some interest -- including Gide's observation that, if the selection not limited to French novels he would choose only foreign ones after his top two (Stendhal's The Charterhouse of Parma and Choderlos de Laclos' Dangerous Liaisons). As is, he makes some interesting choices -- including Pierre de Marivaux's immense Marianne (something he hadn't read yet -- "he wanted something unfamiliar in his baggage"), as well as Eugène Fromentin's Dominique (alongside more predictable choices including Madame Bovary and The Princesse de Clèves).
       Also included in the volume are a few pages from Gide's journal on 'The Deliverance of Tunis'. (Note also that the volume differs slightly in make-up from that of the first (French) US edition of Interviews Imaginaires, published the year before, as several of the interviews did not make it, or make it in time across the ocean for publication in that volume.)
       Imaginary Interviews is certainly little more than secondary Gide -- of some interest, especially in the context in which the pieces were written, but mostly simply padding to the more important work. The conversations make for an appealing presentation, however, and there's some real charm to how Gide handles them -- including his repeated frustration at not having nearly enough source-material at hand and having to rely on (often faulty) recollection; he berates himself several times for mistakes he made in earlier pieces. With the supplemental material, and Cowley's helpful Introduction, it's also a well-conceived collection.
       A minor work, but certainly of some interest for anyone interested in twentieth century French literature, and especially in writing during the time of the German occupation.

- M.A.Orthofer, 31 July 2020

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Imaginary Interviews: André Gide: Other books by André Gide under review: Other books of interest under review:

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About the Author:

       French author André Gide lived 1869 to 1951. He was awarded the Nobel Prize in Literature in 1947.

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