The Gide-Claudel Letters
The friendship between Paul Claudel and André (side, which lasted for twenty-five years, was a friendship of advance and retreat, of attraction and repulsion. Claudel, the ardent Catholic, was intent on bringing Gide into the Church; and Gide, as will be seen, was strongly moved by his friend’s persuasion. But in the spring of 1914, Gide precipitated a crisis in which each man turned to the other in anguish of spirit and unsparing candor. Coolness and silence followed, and then, a quarter of a century later, shortly before Gide’s death, they agreed to the publication of the intimate letters which had passed between them. Pantheon Books, Inc., is bringing out an American edition from which we have selected a few of the most significant letters.
Edited by ROBERT MALLET
FROM 1890 to 1894Mallarmé’s “evening classes,” as Paul Claudel has called them, attracted a large number of studious disciples. Among them were two young men who had already made themselves felt, the one by his violence, the other by his subtlety; both listened with an identical fervor to the master’s teaching. The first had already conquered the truth; the second was still searching for it. Mallarmé’s conversation had the miraculous effect of providing these two very divergent natures with something that sent both of them, at the same moment, into the wildest exaltation. Chance decreed that Andre Gide and Paul Claudel should never come face to face in the little salon in the rue de Rome; but this common devotion to Mallarmé had its part in the initial encounter of the two writers. They first met at the apartment of Marcel Schwob who, with his usual sureness of judgment, had discerned the germs of genius in the earliest writings of the two young men, who for their part were each quick to discover and appreciate the other; fired by an identical veneration for Mallarmé, they instantly struck up a friendly acquaintance.
In 1893 Paul Claudel went into professional exile — an exile to which his temperament, ill-suited to the literary intrigues of Paris, was well able to adapt itself; and in fact he profited by it to preserve intact an intransigent originality of mind which would elsewhere have inevitably been modified. André Gide also went on his travels, but these, in his case, were in the service — for such he conceived it to be — of nothing but his own longing for knowledge. He did not lose track of Claudel, who was successively Vice-Consul in Boston, Vice-Consul in New York, and (from 1896 onwards) Consul in Foochow. He sent him all his books as and when they appeared. It was on receiving Le Promethce mal enchainc and Philoctète, in 1899, that Paul Claudel began the correspondence.
In 1900 the Consul profited by a long spell of home leave to strengthen the literary ties which bound him to his correspondent; Gide for his part was drawn in curiosity towards Claudel, but some secret, intuition discouraged him from concluding any formal pact of friendship. His tormented spirituality attracted Claudel. Claudel’s proselytical self-assurance disturbed Gide. Gide was apparently more interested in Claudel’s work than in the man himself; whereas for Claudel the secrets of the heart were more important than those of any book—though both of course knew that the one cannot be separated from the other, and that they must rather be sought out reciprocally. “I had a sort of presentiment,” Gide said later, “of the trouble which Claudel would give me later, and of the stifling effect that he might have upon me. An instinct of preservation told me to be on my guard. I didn’t listen to it.”
The two men met again on November 30, 1905, at the house of Arthur Fontaine, a great friend of Francis Jammes, who had organized a literary party at which Gide was to read aloud from Jammes’s latest work — L’Eglise habillée de Feuilles. No doubt Claudel inferred, from the fact that Gide, a Protestant, was prepared to read so profoundly Catholic a poem, that he really understood Catholicism; and perhaps — why not?—he saw in it the presage of a conversion which it was his duty to accelerate. Five days later, Claudel lunched with Gide and did not hesitate to make a frontal attack on the problem of faith.
5 DiccmEcr 1905
Paul Claudel came to lunch. Too short a jacket, aniline-colored necktie; his face still more square than the day before yesterday; his speech both precise and full of images; his voice staccato, clipped, and authoritative.
His conversation, very rich and alive, does not improvise anything, you feel. He recites truths that he has patiently worked out. Yet he knows how to joke and, if he only let himself go a bit more on the spur of the moment, would not be without charm. I try 1o discover what is lacking in that voice....little human warmth? . . . No, not even that: he has something much better. It is, I believe, the most gripping voice I have ever heard. No, he doesn’t charm: he does not want to charm; ho convinces — or impresses. I didn’t even seek to protect myself from him, and when, alter the meal, speaking of Cod, of Catholieism, of his faith, of his happiness, he added as I said that I understood him: “Hut, Cide, then why don’t you become converted? . . .” (this without any brutality, without even a smile), I let it be apparent how his words had upset my mind. . . .
He talks a great deal; you are aware of the pressure of ideas and images within him. As, apropos of I don’t remember what or whom, I spoke of the weakening memory: “ Memory doesn’t weaken,’he immediately exclaimed. “Noneof man s faculties weakens with age. That is a gross error. All man’s faculties develop continuously from birth to death,
lie talks endlessly; someone clse’s thought does not stop his for an instant; even a cannon could not divert him. In talking with him, in trying to talk with him, one is forced to interrupt him. He waits politely until you have finished your sentence, then resumes where he had stopped, at the very word, as if you had said nothing.
He shocked Francis Jammes some time ago (in 1900) when he replied to Jammes s anguish with “ I have my God.”
(The greatest advantage of religious faith for the artist is that it permits him a limitless pride.)
Upon leaving me he gives me the address of his confessor.
ANDRÉ GIDE TO PALE CLAUDEL
Tlmrstlay [Silt DCCCILIIKT 1905
MY DEAR FKIEND, I am deeply touched by your letter and by (be loan of your most precious notebook. I see you look my confused questions quite seriously . . . thank you.
No, I did not understand — how could I understand?— that you had “a profound love of souls. That was what i needed you to tell me and that my own soul was dear to you. You mustn’t see it as a matter of pride—but a hideous need of affection, of love, so great a thirst for sympathy that I feared I was deceiving myself, and was only trying to draw near to Cod in order to draw near to you — near enough, at any rale, to hear you better.
But since you love souls you will understand that there are some to whom nothing is more repellent than a temperate and businesslike religion; and that after having at the beginning of my life drawn daily nourishment from the Bible, and found in prayer the first of necessities, I have since preferred — finding, as it seemed, more illumination in what the Christian calls “the false gods” — I have since preferred to break abruptly with my first beliefs rather than to arrive at some lukewarm compromise between art and religion. Perhaps Catholicism would have offered a less strenuous opposition within me — not so much to two beliefs as to two systems of ethics. . . . For the first time the day before y esterday (but I could glimpse it already in your books) I could see by the light of your mind, not-so much a solution — it would be absurd to hope for that as a new and acceptable battleground.
And do you know w hat was tormenting me at this time the difficulty, the impossibility perhaps, of reaching sanctity by the road of paganism; and when you spoke to me, Claudel, of one’s “absolute duty to be a saint,” did you guess that you could not have said anything to which I should react more violently? Ah! How right I was to he apprehensive of meeting you! And how frightened I am of your violence at this moment!
I may keep the notebook for a few days, mayn’t I ? It’s only right that, after making me hungry, you should satisfy my hunger.
PAUL CLAUDEL TO ANDRÉ GIDE
[postmarked 16th December 1905]
Mv DEAR FRIEND, Well, is there a new silence between us? Do not consider my last letter as indiscreet — it isn t. I spoke to you directly — something that does not happen often in this world like brother to brother, like soul to soul, irrespective of any consideration of time, or place, or physical personality. But I understand your distress, my poor friend. Every thing in tem pore suo. And it would have been very unbecoming in me to have demanded of you, immediately. what it took me four years to decide for myself. Something has to die inside one. How deeply I feel that, and how I wish I could help you more! I shall not be in France forever; while I am here, do not scruple to profit by what lies near at hand. Consider me as a nameless, impersonal thing — a sort of vegetable Mibslanee with whom vou have no need to he embarrassed.
If you no longer need my Biblical notebook, be kind and send it back to me. I have other souls in anguish who have asked for ray help, and I should like to lend it to them. They offer me a degree of confidence which I find both frightening and humbling. But in any case they will later see for themselves the grotesque insufficiency of the helpmeet whom they have chosen. A plank of fir is no great matter, but at least it can sometimes help somebody to cross a ditch, and even an abyss.
I grasp your hand, my dear Gide. Don’t think ill of me, don’t sulk with me, don’t feel awkward with me — and above all don’t think of me as a man of letters.
6 February 1907
Have forsaken this notebook the last few days, but for the sake of work. I am composing an Enfant prodigue, in which 1 am trying to make a dialogue of my spiritual reticences and impulses.
This morning, from Claudel, a letter full of a sacred wrath, againsl the epoch, against Gourmont, Rousseau, Kant, Renan. . . . Holy wrath no doubt, but wrath all the same, and just as painful to my mind as the barking of a dog is to my ear. I cannot endure it, and cover my ears at once. But I hear it nevertheless and then have trouble getting back to work.
Gide was not a good correspondent. He admits to it himself and adds in explanation: “If I am not a better correspondent, it is because each of your letters causes a great commotion within me, and it would be a considerable business for me to reply to it.” But his interest in Claudel is greater than his fear of being encircled, and he goes on to say: “Do not imitate my long silence.” He is evidently possessed by a two-edged desire: not to sacrifice his freedom of mind for the sake of his friend, and not to sacrifice his friend for the sake of his freedom of mind. On January 9, 1909, he wrote to Claudel to explain the underlying reasons for the formation of La Nouvelle Revue Erançaise, to which he asks him to contribute. it is a very long letter, but only in one short passage does the vital thread of the correspondence show through. “I often think of y ou, dear friend, for the memory of you is allied to certain grave preoccupations towards which I am ceaselessly impelled by the natural bent of my mind and the hideous pressure of the external world.
I am extraordinarily anxious to read your new works.” And he offers to watch over the various publications which Claudel himself is prevented, by absence, from supervising effectively. In this way the two writers remain in contact without having to refer to the problems which preoccupy them.
Perhaps Gide was the first to weary of a correspondence in which nothing was discussed but the merits of d’Ablancourt’s version of Tacitus or the typography of ’Otage; anyway, on December 7, 1911, he seemed to turn back to the subject of religion by tolling Claudel of his sister-in-law’s conversion. Claudel was quick to respond: “I was greatly moved by the news of a conversion in your family. When shall I learn of your own, my dear friend?”
By return post — contrary to his usual custom — Gide acknowledges receipt of this letter, whose impassioned tone must certainly have moved him.
ANDRÉ GIDE TO PAUL CLAUDEL
Sunday, 10th December 1911
MY DEAR FRIEND, . . . I’m almost afraid to tell you how much I was moved by the other part of your letter. I still feel that I haven’t the right to tell you of this until I make up my mind to go with you all the way. But just imagine what it is like to have been surrounded in childhood with admirable and saintly people whom I love, in death as in life, whom I revere, and who watch over me, as you were saying. Jammes talks of my heredity; I let him have his say; but I can very well tell you that the secret of my incapacity to believe does not lie there (my brain is made up of almost as many Catholic as Protestant cells, after all); it lies rather in the fidelity which I owe to those people, my relations and my seniors, who lived in such constant, noble, and radiant communion with God, and gave me my noblest images of abnegation. . . .
PAUL CLAUDEL TO ANDRÉ GIDE
Frankfurt, 12th December 1911
DEAR GIDE, . . . How moved you must have been by that conversion, by the intervention of Somebody so close to yourself and in such astonishing circumstances! But why do you suppose that you would be unfaithful to those lovely and noble beings who surrounded you in your childhood if you were to go further along the road which was pointed out to you? Religion consists essentially in the love of God and of one’s neighbor; that closer union with both one and the other which allows of the Real Presence and of obedience to a visible Father is entirely compatible with the examples which you were given in childhood. Every theologian will tell you that those souls (no matter to what doctrine they belong) who have always acted according to the best of their lights do veritably belong to the Church. Consequently they are saved —nor be it surprising, in view of the principle that all the parts of Creation are bound by a common solidarity and homogeneity, that they, as souls, influence the souls of each of us. And not only can they do good to us, but we in our turn can do good to them. They are all round us — begging in hunger for the light which we can give them.
Something which makes a great many people t urn away from the Church is that they see so many noble and lofty spirits who remain outside the Church and yet fulfill all their human duties — whereas, among ourselves, among most religious people, there is something disagreeable which gets in the way, a sort of crust which prevents all human contact. The fact is that we all share a common secret. The love of God (like that other love of which it is simply, and at last, the authentic version) does not address itself to the noblest faculties of the soul, but to that dead center of our personalities where body and mind are united. It is a need, rather than a virtue, and as such it is infinitely pitiable and pathetic. It does not destroy our external defects. On the contrary, one might say that it makes them all the more conspicuous by contrast with the extraordinary profession of faith which we have made. But it cuts off these defects at the roots: it ensures that, they (like many other pagan things) no longer belong to us. They hang about us like an illfitted garment which no longer suits us and is no longer a part of ourselves. The convert is often like a man whom no woman finds attractive, but who has a wife who is blind.
Thank you for your New Year wishes, my dear Gide! I send the same to you with all my heart, and also to Madame Gide. One more year! But, as Rimbaud says, “of what importance is an external springtime to us who are concerned with the search for heavenly truth and have nothing in common with those who die at a given season”? As we grow older, and the day of this world becomes darker and more clouded, so does the mysterious golden light shine ever more and more upon the inward sanctuary of our souls!
I grasp your hand with affection,
Zurich, Wednesday [January 1912]
I should like never to have known Claudel. His friendship weighs on my thought, and obligates it, and embarrasses it. . . . I can still not get myself to hurt him, but as my thought affirms itself it gives offense to his. How can I explain myself to him? I should willingly leave the whole field to him, I should give up everything. . . . But I cannot say something different from what I have to say, which cannot be said by anyone else.
Gide executed a strategic retreat and remained under cover for some considerable time. In September, 1912, Claudel complained that he had been for a long time without news of Gide, and three weeks later he wrote to ask: “Why this delay? Why go on living in that terrifying void?”
In the autumn of 1912 they met once more in Paris. Gide was disappointed by the encounter, for he had the feeling that Claudel’s flood of rhetoric had never left him the chance of saying so much as one word. Claudel, who still did not realize the strength of Gide’s resistance and thought that he was merely hesitating over the final step, discussed him with the Abbe Fontaine, his director of conscience, and was rash enough to tell Gide about the discussion, and to urge him to go and see the Abbé Fontaine.
Once again Gide closer! up completely on the religious issue, but Claudel continued to allude directly to it and to say, for instance, that “it is simply appalling to let oneself die of hunger when there is bread enough for all.” And then, remembering that Gide might well be offended, he added: “Don’t, bear me any grudge.”
At the end of 1913 Claudel displayed some anxiety about Gide’s new book, Les Caves du Vatican, which was to include an epigraph from Claudel’s L’Annonce faite àa Marie. The title had made Claudel apprehensive lest his name should be associated with a book in which the person of the Sovereign Pontiff was not treated with the respect which all Catholics owed to him. The book began serial publication in the N.R.F. for January 1, 1914, and Gide, who did not feel that he had endangered the dignity of the Pope, saw no reason to expunge t he epigraph. But, although Claudel’s original fears were unfounded, he detected in the Caves certain allusions to forbidden habits; and these he could not but condemn unreservedly. He at once wrote oil what Gide later described as a letter of “commination.” He did not mince his words,
PAUL CLAUDEL TO ANDRÉ GIDE
Hamburg, 2nd March 1914
In the name of heaven, Gide, how could you write the passage which I find on page 478 of the last issue of the N.R.F.? Don’t you know that after Saül and ’Immoraliste you cannot commit any further imprudence? Must I quite make up my mind, as I have never wished to do, that you are yourself a participant in these hideous practices? Answer me. You owe me an answer. If you remain silent, or if you don’t make yourself absolutely clear, I shall know where I stand. If you are not a pederast, why have you so strange a predilection for this sort of subject? And if you are one, cure yourself, you unhappy man, and do not make a show of these abominations. Consult Madame Gide; consult ihe better part of your own heart. Don’t you see that, you will be lost. — you yourself and all those who are nearest to you? Don’t you realize the effect, which your books may have upon some unfortunate young people? It pains me to say these things, but I feel obliged to do so.
Your distressed friend,
ANDRÉ GIDE TO PAUL CLAUDEL
Florence, 7th March 1914
What right have you to issue this summons.“ In what name do you put these questions? If it is in the name of friendship, can you suppose for an instant that I should evade them?
It pains me very much that there should be any misapprehension between us; but your letter has already done much to create a new one—for, no matter how I take it, and whether I answer or whether I don’t, I foresee that you are going to misjudge me. I therefore beg you to consider this only: that I love my wife more than life itself, and I could not forgive any word or action on your part which might endanger her happiness. Now that has been said, I can tell you that for months, for years, I have longed to talk to you — although the tone of your letter makes me despair of receiving any advice from you today.
I am speaking now to a friend, as I should speak to a priest, whose binding duty it is to keep my secret before God. I have never felt any desire in the presence of a woman: and the great sadness of my life is that the most constant, the most enduring, and the keenest of my loves has never been accompanied by any of the things which normally precede love. It seemed, on the contrary, that in my case love prevented me from desiring.
If, after that avowal, you prefer to break with me, YOU will, I suppose, find it seemly that I should ask vou, in the name of those whom you love, to take no matter what pretext the impropriety of my book, for instanceand not in any way to bring forward what I have revealed to you here. Alone, I should rare nothing for the world’s contempt ; hut I am married.
As for the evil which, you say, is done by my books, I can’t believe in it, for I know how many others are stilled, as I am, by lying conventions. And do not infer from this that I commend any particular habits, or even any particular desires; but. I loathe hvpocrisv, and I know that some hypocrisies are mortal. I cannot believe that religion leaves on one side all those who are like myself, by what cowardice, since God calls me to speak, should I evade this question in my books? I did not choose to be so. I can light against my desires; I can triumph over them, but I can neither choose the object of those desires, nor can I invent other objects, either to order or in imitation.
Is it really possible that you should despise me, repulse me, after reading this letteri ... I have always thought that one day L could speak to you as I have spoken here — even if you did not understand — and that I owed you this confession. Doubtless it is not necessary lo understand in order to advise, Yet I do not ask for your advice today. I expect only your anger.
I feel that my letter gives you very poor answers to your questions; but at least you will feel I have not been reticent. — except in so far as it is difficult to answer m a few phrases where a whole volume of explanations and the story of my life might not perhaps be enough.
Au revoir. Now it is for you to stretch out your hand to me— if, that is to say, you still consent to extend it.
PALI. CLAUDEL TO AND UK HIDE
Hamburg, 9tb March 1914
My poor Gide, I should not have written to you if I were not still your friend. I admit that that passage in the N.R.F. came to me as a shock! but I’m too old a hand to be scandalized by anything, and I don’t really know what right I should have to judge anybody. Now that that s been said, I in going to try to answer you point by point as objectively as I can.
No, you know quite well that the habits of which you tell me are neither permitted, nor excusable, nor avow able. You will have against you both Revelation and ihe natural order of things.
Common logic and decency tell you that man is not an end in himself; still less so are his pleasures and his private delights. If sexual attraction does not lead to its natural conclusion — that is lo say, reproduction — it is irregular and evil. That is the only firm principle. Without it, you abandon yourself to private fantasies. Where will you draw the line? If one person claims to justify sodomy, another will justify onanism, vampirism, the rape of minors, anthropophagy, etc. There’s no reason to stop any where.
Revelation also tells us that this particular vice is particularly odious to God. I need not remind you of Sodom, the mode muriatur (?), of Leviticus, the beginning of the Epistle to the Romans, and the Neque fornicatores, neque adulteri, neque musculorum cuncubitores.
That’s enough. I deny that the individual has the right to be both judge and defendant in his own case. The devil, pride, and the passion that holds us in its claws — all these are quick to whisper pretexts and excuses in our ear.
You claim to be the victim of a physiological idiosy ncrasy. That would be an altenuatmg circumstance, but it would not constitute a permit or a license. You are the victim of two things above all: your Protestant heredity, which has accustomed you to look only to yourself for your rules of conduct, and the fascination of aesthetics which lends luster and interest to the least excusable of actions. In spite of all the doctors, I absolutely refuse to believe in physiological determinism. It you have abnormal instincts, the natural uprightness of your nature, allied to your reason, your education, and the fear of God, should have given you the means of resistance, Medicine is meant to cure, not to excuse. Alas! In your ease you would have needed a confessor as well.
You ask for my advice. I advise you first of all to do what lies within your power. What lies within your power is to suppress at once that horrible passage in the N.R.F. I entreat you to do it for reasons of morality and for reasons of your own personal interest.
Lor reasons of morality: —
You talk of hypocrisy, but there is something infinitely more odious than hypocrisy, and that is cynicism. In these grave questions of the flesh, we are all sinners in greater or less degree, and I must admit to you quite sincerely that, as between you and myself, if I were to make a comparison, it would be to my detriment. But, it’s one thing to sin, and to be sorry about, it, and to know that it’s wrong and to wish to do better, and to ask Cod to give one the strength to do better; it’s quite another thing to believe that one is right, to do wrong, and to talk of it, and be proud of it. For in such a case there is not only perversion of the senses, but perversion of judgment, and conscience as well.
You also take on yourself responsibility for the souls which you lead astray. Literature can sometimes do a little good, but it also does great harm. The vice of which you speak is spreading wider and wider. It’s no small matter when a man like you, with all the weight and charm of your intelligence, your cultivation, and your talent, becomes its champion, or simply accustoms the minds of his readers to thoughts from which they should rather turn away in horror. In this respect also, you will have accounts to settle, both in this world and in the next.
For your own personal interest: —
I tell you again: you trill be lost. You will lose all position, you will become an outcast among other outcasts, rejected by humanity. Parisian opinion is more discreet, but it is also more pitiless than that of London. You will cease to count—and you know it. You ask me to keep your letter secret, you beg me not to let your wife suspect the truth. Wretched man! And at the same time you make public, you display on every wall in Paris, a passage which everybody will interpret as a definitive and official confession. Have no illusions on that subject. At the very least, promise me that the passage will not appear when your novel is published in book form. I beg you, if you set any value on my friendship, to suppress it. Little by little people will forget.
5 es, I shall keep an absolute silence — but it is y ou who talk, you who make a public show of yourself! Such a thing has never been seen since pagan times. No writer, not even Wilde, has done it.
I shall not hide from you the fact that when I wrote to you I also wrote to two people: Jammes (a word only), and poor Rivière, to whom you could do so much harm. Poor boy —he trusted you! As I did. But what have I told them that they have not already learned from page 478?
’ve reread my letter and it seems to me very harsh. Read it coldly, as if it were a doctor’s prescription. And above all don’t give up hope. There’s no such thing as a mortal illness for souls. You can be cured. No, God does not wish for the death of any of his children, he neither hates nor despises you. Each of your faults is merely one more claim upon his compassion. For seven vears, as far as I can judge, something has been going on in the best part of yourself; something is going forward, bill I don’t know what. But don’t tell me that you are satisfied and at peace.
And have no doubt of this: that when everybody else has abandoned you, you will still have me. I know the incomparable worth of a human soul. I wrote to a third person, too; but he is a priest. It was the Abbe Font aine. Now you can go and seek him out. You will not astonish him — be sure of that.
And shall I say that I am almost comforted by the removal of that great load of doubt which has hitherto embarrassed me in our relationship?
Poor Gide, how much you are to be pitied, and how tragic is your life!
I grasp your hand,
I can’t now contribute to your Whitman, It’s impossible.
ANDRÉ CIDE TO PAUL CLAUDEL
16th March 1914
MY DEAR CLAUDEL, What will you think of my silence? . . I wrote you a very long letter, but I can’t make up my mind to send it to you. “Harsh,” your letter? No; it would only have been harsh, to me, if I had felt that you were withdrawing your friendship. But how can I answer you without seeming to defend myself (where, in my last two letters, could you find anything resembling an apologia or even an excuse? I simply told you how. things stand) or going in deeper than I can honestly go.
Send me the Abbe F.’s address. I am grateful to you for writing to him and making it easy for me to call on him. But persuade yourself, I beg you, not to bear me any grudge if my conversation with him does not lead to the results for which, no doubt, you are hoping. I shall listen respectfully, piously even, to his words. But if the most ardent, and constant of loves has never coaxed any response from my flesh, I leave it to you to imagine the efleet of his exhortations, his counsels, and his reprimands. (And what, pray, do you mean me to understand by the phrase: “in spite of all the doctors, I absolutely* refuse to believe in physiological determinism”?)
I thank you for the sentiments which lead you to ask me (as prudence would likewise do) to suppress a passage from my book; but I cannot consent to do so. Shall I admit to you that your phrase, “Little by little people will forget,” seems to me shameful? No; do not ask me either to whitewash or to compromise; or it will be I who will think less of you.
I can’t make out why you felt you had to write to Rivière. I prefer to think that you gave way to an unthinking impulse. I like Rivière, I respect him, and I have the liveliest reverence for him. Has there ever been anything in my conversation or my actions that could disquiet him? No, none at all, it would seem, since you say that he refused to believe anything against me. What absurd or monstrous fancies will he entertain now? Couldn’t you understand that you were compelling me to have it out with him, and to embarrass him with confidences that I should have liked to spare him? Au revoir. Be assured that I have never been more
PAUL CLAUDEL TO ANDRÉ GIDE
Hamburg, 17th March 1914
MY DEAR GIDE, You will remember with what apprehension and repugnance I allowed you (since you had courteously asked for my permission) to use as the epigraph for a chapter in your new book a passage from L’Annonce faite à Marie which, in isolation, has the appearance of heresy, I finally resigned myself to thinking that an epigraph, like a quotation, is beyond my control. Now I find that my Catholic friends are very much shocked by your use of this passage. And I have to take great account of their views. I therefore venture to ask you insistently, and to appeal to your friendship and your sense of delicacy, to expunge this epigraph from the volume which will give the definitive text of your Caves.
I grasp your hand with great affection,
PAUL CLAUDEL TO ANDRÉ GIDE
Hamburg, I7lh March 1914
MY DEAR GIDE, The Abbe Fontaine lives at Clichy — 6 rue ’ Alisace.
You have done a great wrong by inserting in your novel an abominable and scandalous passage. You do an even greater wrong by retaining this passage instead of cutting it out, as you are absolutely bound in duty to do.
I ask you in any case, and in the most formal manner, to expunge my name from a work of this kind. As you asked for my authority before I knew what kind of book it was, I have the right to tell you today that you no longer have this authority.
And may God, whom you mock, be with you.
ANDRE GIDÉ TO PAUL CLAUDEL
19th March 1914
MY DEAR CLAUDEL, Your two letters, both dated the same day but so different in tone, have arrived together. I am trying in vain to understand which is the later of the two — the gentle or the furious one. It is to your courteous request, and not to your imperative, that I yield in promising to expunge from the book the epigraph which you had originally authorized me to use. The amusement which I derived from this unexpected and prodigiously appropriate epigraph counts for nothing when set beside the displeasure which it has apparently caused you. I fancy, moreover, that you are not the sole source of your annoyance, and you have yourself admitted to me that your Catholic friends have had some part in it. But you have only to ask: the epigraph shall be suppressed. I seriously considered whether, in response to your other request, which I was really sorry not to be able to grant — I mean, the suppression of the passage which offends you — I should not come to an extreme decision: that of not allowing the book to appear. . . .
You know me very little if you think that I should have been incapable of it. But your letter of today — the angry one, I mean — makes it too clear that you would not think better of me for it; that you would attribute the sacrifice to motives of “pride”; and that tomorrow t he whole thing would have to be begun all over again. And I thought with some bitterness, and also (forgive me) with a smile, that I, too, had once asked Jammes to suppress the very painful and disobliging passage at the beginning of the article which he sent when Ch. L. Philippe died. But he insisted on leaving it in, and was indignant that anyone should dare to touch his prose or dare to ask him to touch it; and you, then, as a true friend, declared that he was like St. Jerome.
14th June 1914
This morning, at work at six-thirty, I got fairly well ahead with my notes; but the mail brought me absurd bits of newspaper gossip to which I had to reply for they question my friendship for Claudel. All this because of the epigraph for the third book of I he Caves, which I had used with his approval and later suppressed at his request.
14th July 1914
They took me for a rebel (Claudel and Jammes) because I was unable to get — or unwilling to force — myself to that cowardly submission which would have assured my comfort. That is perhaps the most Protestant trait I have in me: my horror of comfort.