André Gide: La porte étroite (Strait is the Gate)
Jérome tells his story and then quotes from Alissa’s diary. The two are cousins and Jérome is very much in love with Alissa. He lives in Paris with his mother and her mother’s friend, Miss Ashburton, his father having died when he was thirteen. She lives in the Le Havre with her younger sister, Juliette, and brother, Robert. Jérome visits them every year. One year he finds Alissa crying. She had learned that her mother is having an affair and is about to leave her father for another man (which she subsequently does). Jérome realizes at this time that he is in love with Alissa. He is hoping that they will get engaged but Alissa holds back, when she finds that Juliette is in love with Jérome. Abel, Jérome’s best friend, is also in love with Juliette and only discovers later that she is in love with Jérome. Juliette finally (though not very willingly) marries a local wine grower while Jérome and Alissa go their separate ways. Alissa finds religion and brushes Jérome off and he goes off to do his military service. But Alissa continues to write to him and they are to get together after his military service. Alissa has clearly devoted herself to God and, despite his attempt and her indication that she still loves him, it is clear that that are not going to get together. She has given herself to God and sacrificed their relationship for her relationship with God. At one last meeting, he finds her looking thin and ill and a month later learns of her death. It is then that he receives her diary where he learns that she does love him but that her devotion to God prevails.
How to read this novel? On the face of it, it seems incredibly mawkish. It could, of course, be taken simply as a novel about the dangers of extreme religious devotion. It can also be seen as a mystical work, where there is a greater love than the love between two humans. To me, a non-religious person, it does not really work though it remains an interesting if odd part of Gide’s work.
First published 1909 by Mercure de France
First published in English 1924 by Knopf
Translated by Dorothy Bussy