A Decadent’s Personal Freedom

What I found most interesting in Gide’s Immoralist, was the notion of destroying the other to truly attain what you need most for yourself. Michel seems to be on a constant search not only towards understanding his homosexuality, but also for his personal freedom. He says “The capacity to get free is nothing; the capacity to be free is the task.” The concept of freedom, specifically the freedom of Michel’s soul is a constant one within in the book. Although unearthing his homosexuality, and feeling strong desire to want to live and thus to be free are also important themes, what is more interesting is the fact that Michel’s freedom is also Marceline’s undoing. There is yet another layer to be added to this mixture, that of what seems to be a true desire in Michel to help his wife get better. His affection for her is difficult to doubt because of how often, and with what innocence he praises her; we see this especially in the beginning of the book. Although some of this praise comes out of a sentiment of pity, Michel has no ill will towards his wife. Maybe it is specifically the fact that he appreciated his wife that makes her demise so difficult to grasp. This seems to be a recurring theme in the decadent vein—we saw it much more dramatically in Rachide’s Monsieur Vénus, but also in Wilde’s Picture of Dorian Grey. The use of others, and eventual end of others for the purpose of this freedom Michel is so attached to, defines what decadence means to me. If I were to leave you with one quote from the Immoralist it would be: “Envying another man’s happiness is madness; you wouldn’t know what to do with it if you had it.” Michel doesn’t want anyone else’s happiness, or to have a freedom like anyone else’s, it is his own freedom he craves so intensely. There is some sort of constricting, contriving aspect of the 19th century that causes decadents that screams for a release, a release which causes the characters of our books to behave oddly, inappropriately, and at times even violently. For Wilde we know it had something to do with the utterly ultra-pure convictions of the Victorian times, but it seems to me there must be something more. This more is what we have been looking for all quarter. We have described decadence in many ways but if I were to describe it now, it would be the unquenchable thirst for freedom of one’s own mind, body, and soul, with no consideration for those around you. Not only this but, it also concerns the measures which our characters are willing to go to attain this personal freedom. -MCR

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Filed under Week 9 Reviews: Wilde's "Portrait of Mr. W.H," Mallarmé’s “The Windows" and "The Azure”

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