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4{) Gide's Protestant background and upbringing predisposed him to take moral matters very seriously; and he could eventually congratulate himself on his deliberate decision to exploit 'so rich a material' _41 But by thus inviting the label 'moralist', Gide risked being neglected as an artist. It is a fact that still today Gide is frequently referred to as a moralist; but an over-simplistic use of the term misrepresents the nature of his narratives and indeed, of his own attitude towards the issues the label raises.

A telling illustration is Michel's reference to the Roman emperor Athalaric, whom he at first sees as a reflection and vindication of his own outlook: 'I recognized in this tragic impulse towards a wilder, more natural state, something of what Marceline used to call my "crisis"' (407; 53). At the same time he perceives a cautionary element in the young emperor's terrible death. Later, however, as the frenzy of his urges increases, 'if the youthful Athalaric himself had risen from the grave to speak to me, I should not have listened to him' (457; 121).

I walked on in a sort of ecstasy', the passage begins (391-2; 28-9). The path provides a way into a walled garden which 'seemed beyond the touch of time'; and far more than conventional exoticism is present in this mythical, mysterious spot. Is this a mise en abyme of the labyrinthine text we are exploring? Or are we to seek archetypal images of regression to the womb, with 40 Andri Gide Marceline as a mother-figure? Clearly this is a passage which seeks to signify more than a literal meaning. Other descriptions of nature may be seen as more conventionally reflecting Michel's state of mind: 'This African land ...

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