By David H. Walker (auth.)
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2 First-Person Narratives Symbolism's attacks on the novel did not actually discourage writers from turning their hand to the genre; but the effect of their profound dissatisfaction with the form was to generate a great multiplicity of mutually contradictory experiments amongst aspiring novelists during the 1890s. ' 39 His aesthetic instincts, as we have seen, could hardly be satisfied with such a state of affairs; and his notion of the a priori novel was one solution to the problem. It could be viewed, in fact, as the culmination of Andre Walter's assertion that 'a novel is a theorem' (W, 92; 79).
38 Andre Gide But even this is not the whole truth: for we see in Michel a peculiar reluctance to acknowledge explicitly the ideas which drive him on. Despite the defiant note of the lectures he gives in Paris, he himself is made uneasy by Menalque's words, 'which anticipated my thoughts too much ... I should have liked to hang back, to stop him' (436; 92). It is not until he finds himself back in Biskra that Michel admits to himself: 'That then was my goal' (465; 132). The irony of a supposed advance into unexplored moral territory which in fact brings Michel back to his point of departure highlights his deepseated motivation: the urge to return to the Arab boys of North Africa such as Ali (472; 140).
Here is the instinct Michel could not name; here is the force which unconsciously drove him to seek out and sympathise with all that convention and society rejected, in the unacknowledgeable pursuit of a gratification which itselffell outside the bounds of permissible behaviour. This inability to confront the true focus of his yearnings denies all value to his ideological or moral pretensions, which are revealed as rationalisations of his frustrated sexuality. His defeat is compounded by another circular irony which emerges as we consider the nature of the 'new self' (399; 40) Michel has been claiming to retrieve from beneath the stifling layers of social convention.