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the Complete Review
the complete review - fiction


André Gide

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To purchase Marshlands

Title: Marshlands
Author: André Gide
Genre: Novel
Written: (1895) (Eng. 2021)
Length: 130 pages
Original in: French
Availability: Marshlands - US
Marshlands - UK
Marshlands - Canada
Paludes - Canada
Paludes - France
Paludes - Deutschland
Paludi - Italia
Paludes - España
  • French title: Paludes
  • Revised in 1896, 1920, and 1932; this is a translation of the final (1932) edition
  • With a Preface by Dubravka Ugrešić
  • Appendices include: three scenes published only in the first two editions; an Afterword to the New Edition (1895) by the author; and an excerpt from Prometheus Misbound (1899)
  • Also translated by George D. Painter, in Marshlands and Prometheus Unbound (1953), and Tadzio Koelb, as Morasses (2015)

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Our Assessment:

B : amusing variation on the writing-a/this-novel novel

See our review for fuller assessment.

Review Summaries
Source Rating Date Reviewer
The NY Rev. of Books* . 6/5/1965 Paul de Man
The NY Times Book Rev.* . 29/11/1953 Henri Peyre
La Revue Blanche . (I/1897) Léon Blum

[* review of an earlier translation.]

  From the Reviews:
  • "The early satire of aestheticism, Marshlands, of which the English translation has just been reissued, illustrates this in a rewarding way, for the book is more amusing and cuts deeper than some of Gide’s later satires. (...) The portrait that emerges resembles Monsieur Hulot rather than Mallarmé. Transposed into a social setting, the aesthete reveals a ludicrous aspect that remains hidden as long as he remains confined to his own self." - Paul de Man, The New York Review of Books

  • "Paludes a gay novel of boredom, a book of richness in monotony, where the uniformity of story and idea is varied by an incredible abundance of observation and psychological imagination, Paludes appears to me to be more closed, more complete, richer than The Voyage of Urien." - Léon Blum, La Revue Blanche

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:

       Marshlands is an early work by André Gide, and centers on an author working on a novel he's calling ... Marshlands. The title, and the name of the work's protagonist, are taken from Virgil's Eclogues; as the narrator-author explains to a friend early on:

Marshlands, then, is the story of someone who cannot travel. I shall call him Tityrus, after Virgil. Marshlands is the story of a man who possessing the field of Tityrus, does not strive to leave it, but rather contents himself with it.
       The narrator talks a lot about his book, and writing it, to various acquaintances; occasionally also sharing excerpts (though when he does so chooses, for example, to read aloud: "as listlessly and monotonously as I could"). He is something of a Tityrus himself -- proclaiming, unsurprisingly, at one point: "I am Tityrus" --, a man rather content with his place and situation, leading a life of leisure in a small circle, with limited ambitions beyond; he talks of travelling, but really he's quite stuck in his own marshlands. And yet, for all the soggy and muddy connotations of marshlands, Tityrus and the narrator quite revel in their respective ones. As the author writes in his work at one point: "Marshes ! Who can tell of your charms ? Tityrus !" -- though it's part of some pages that he immediately decides he can't show his lady-interest, Angela: "They make Tityrus seem happy" (and apparently that doesn't fit the image he's trying to present).
       In an Afterword to the work, included here as part of the Appendix, Gide acknowledges:
Marshlands is the story of an idea, more than of anything else; it is the story of the spiritual malaise that the idea causes.
       If not entirely a fin de siècle anomie, the narrator's lifestyle, and his writing, have a languorous feel. The narrator makes quite a point of noting that he keeps a daily planner -- drawing from it a: "sentiment of duty", as he lays out things to be done. Its actual use and usefulness, however, seem better conveyed not by good intentions but examples such as:
     As soon as I woke up, I saw in my daily planner: Try to get up at six. It was eight. I picked up my pen; I crossed out the words; I wrote instead: Get up at eleven. -- Then I went back to bed without reading the rest.
       (Typically, too, while he gets a few things done and even briefly receives a visitor at ten he here eventually: "went back to sleep until noon".)
       Marshlands is meant to be a project for when real life does not demand his attentions, so he turns to it when the day's page in his planner is blank:
That is what I do: reserve for work the days when I haven't decided to do anything else.
       It is, in no small way, a consuming work -- obviously all the more apparently in this account about writing it -- but also, amusingly, one that reïnforces his listless aimlessness. Marshlands is an indulgence -- and, for better and worse, the narrator fully wallows in the exercise:
It seems to me that I carry Marshlands with me always. -- Marshlands will never bore anyone as much as it has bored me ...
       But this is also not mere thumb-twiddling vacuity; as Gide reminds readers in his Afterword:
Anyone who thinks he sees something dull and ordinary in this world is wrong: there is nothing the least bit dull and ordinary in it, and that which you initially believe to be so is only being squeezed together by the rest, and it often gains in depth as a result. If it looks dull to you, then it is you who are looking at it too close up; step back ! Enlarge your vision
       The narrator engages with other littérateurs (who, to varying degrees, have a similar feel of the flâneur to them), and they are more and less supportive -- though at least pleased with the form he has devoted himself to, approvingly noting: "that I was quite right to not write poetry anymore, because I was bad at it", and similarly agreeing it's better that he hasn't turned to drama.
       It makes for a fairly amusing artist-tale, Gide not taking himself or his narrator too seriously and having some good fun with the premise. His narrator insists: "I arrange facts to make them conform to the truth more closely than they do in real life" -- but fortunately Gide takes a playful approach to this: as serious as his narrator wants and tries to be, he can't nearly transcend his basic lack of seriousness. And appropriately enough the book ends with the narrator -- also noting down in his daily planner: "Try to get up at six" ... -- setting out on his next work, to be called, almost inevitably, Polderlands.
       It makes for an enjoyable writer-tale, complete with amusing addenda -- a: 'Table of the most remarkable sentences in Marshlands', for example, with two examples given and a third left for the reader to fill in, as well as scenes from earlier editions and even a bit of the 1899 work Prometheus Misbound (which was published in full together with Marshlands in the earlier translation/edition of the work), telling: 'The Story of Tityrus'.
       A bit slight and light, but certainly good fun.

- M.A.Orthofer, 19 December 2020

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Marshlands: Reviews: 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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