The Counterfeiters (novel)
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Recent English Edition
|Original title||Les faux-monnayeurs|
|Publisher||Nouvelle Revue Française (French)
Alfred A. Knopf (English translation)
Published in English
|Media type||Print (Hardback & Paperback)|
|Pages||480 p. (French)
365 p. (English first edition)
The Counterfeiters (French: Les faux-monnayeurs) is a 1925 novel by French author André Gide, first published in Nouvelle Revue Française. With many characters and crisscrossing plotlines, its main theme is that of the original and the copy, and what differentiates them – both in the external plot of the counterfeit gold coins and in the portrayal of the characters' feelings and their relationships. The Counterfeiters is a novel-within-a-novel, with Edouard (the alter ego of Gide) intending to write a book of the same title. Other stylistic devices are also used, such as an omniscient narrator who sometimes addresses the reader directly, weighs in on the characters' motivations or discusses alternate realities. Therefore, the book has been seen as a precursor of the nouveau roman. The structure of the novel was written to mirror "Cubism," in that it interweaves between several different plots and portrays multiple points of view.
The novel features a considerable number of bisexual or gay male characters – the adolescent Olivier and at least to a certain unacknowledged degree his friend Bernard, in all likeliness their schoolfellows Gontran and Philippe, and finally the adult writers Comte de Passavant (who represents an evil and corrupting force) and the benevolent Edouard. An important part of the plot is its depiction of various possibilities of positive and negative homoerotic or homosexual relationships.
Initially received coldly on its appearance, perhaps because of its homosexual themes and its unusual composition, The Counterfeiters has gained reputation in the intervening years and is now generally counted among the Western Canon of literature.
The making of the novel, with letters, newspaper clippings and other supporting material, was documented by Gide in his 1927 Journal of The Counterfeiters.
The plot revolves around Bernard – a schoolfriend of Olivier's who is preparing for his bac – discovering he is a bastard and taking this as a welcome pretext for running away from home. He spends a night in Olivier's bed (where Olivier describes a recent visit to a prostitute and how he did not find the experience very enjoyable). After Bernard steals the suitcase belonging to Edouard, Olivier's uncle, and the ensuing complications, he is made Edouard's secretary. Olivier is jealous and ends up in the hands of the cynical and downright diabolical Comte de Passavant, who travels with him to the Mediterranean.
Eventually, Bernard and Edouard decide they do not fit as well together as anticipated, and Bernard leaves to take a job at a school, then finally decides to return to his father's home. Olivier is now made Edouard's secretary, and after an eventful evening on which he embarrasses himself grossly, Olivier ends up in bed together with Edouard, finally fulfilling the attraction they have felt for each other all along but were unable to express.
Other plotlines are woven around these elements, such as Olivier's younger brother Georges and his involvement with a ring of counterfeiters, or his older brother Vincent and his relationship with Laura, a married woman, with whom he has a child. Perhaps the most suspenseful scene in the book revolves around Boris, another illegitimate child and the grandson of La Pérouse, who commits suicide in front of the assembled class when dared by Ghéridanisol, another of Passavant's cohorts.
In some regards, such as the way in which the adolescents act and speak in a way beyond their years and the incompetence of the adults (especially the fathers), as well as its motives of developing and confused adolescent sexuality, the novel has common ground with Frank Wedekind's (at the time scandalous) 1891 drama Spring Awakening. The Counterfeiters also shares with that play the vision of homosexual relationships as under certain conditions being "better" than heterosexual ones, with the latter ones leading inevitably to destructive outcomes in both works.
The characters and their relationships
As the novel unfolds, many different characters and plotlines intertwine. This social network graph shows how the most important characters in The Counterfeiters are related to each other:
Relationship to The Thibaults
Some of the situations in the novel closely parallel those of the major novel of Gide's good friend, Roger Martin du Gard, The Thibaults, which was published in installments beginning in 1922. Both novels center around two adolescent boys who have an intense (although apparently non-erotic) relationship and artistic or literary aspirations; both begin with one boy (Gide) or both boys (Martin du Gard) running away from home; both delve into the lives of the boys' siblings, including an older brother who is, at the beginning of the narrative, in training to be a physician; in both novels one of the boys becomes the protégé of an older man regarded as being of questionable character and edits a magazine under his direction; and in both novels there is a banquet scene in a public restaurant that corresponds to a falling out between the boy and his protégé. In manner there is little resemblance between the two novels, and in the later parts of Martin du Gard's sequence (not completed until 1940) the correspondences are less notable. The two authors read each other parts of their respective manuscripts prior to publication, and remained on good terms thereafter, so it appears that neither felt wronged in any way by the similarities. Gide acknowledged the influence of Martin du Gard's novel in a letter to the author dated July 8, 1925.
Possible identification of characters with real-life persons
Besides bearing the character traits of Gide himself, some of his characters have also been identified with actual persons: in this view, Comte de Passavant is seen as alluding to Jean Cocteau, Olivier to Marc Allégret, and Laura to Gide's cousin and eventual wife Madeleine. According to the historian of psychoanalysis Elizabeth Roudinesco, the character of Madame Soproniska is based on Eugénie Sokolnicka, with whom Gide had been in analysis in 1921.
Alfred Jarry is also present in the party scene under his real name and his Ubu Roi is mentioned, meaning that the plot must be set between 1896 (the premiere of Ubu Roi) and 1907 (Jarry's death). Édouard's journal entry in chapter 12 of the third part, which makes mention of a 1904 vintage wine, seems to confirm this supposition with a more specific range of time in which the novel is likely to be set.
The setting must take place at least after 1898, the year in which the shipwreck of La Bourgogne occurred.
2010 film adaptation
- André Gide: The Counterfeiters. ISBN 0-394-71842-9
- André Gide: Journal of The Counterfeiters.
- André Gide, Roger Martin Du Gard: Correspondance, 1913-1934
- Elizabeth Roudinesco, Jacques Lacan & Co;., A History of Psychoanalysis in France 1925-1985, trans. Jeffrey Mehlman, University of Chicago 1990, p.91-92
- "trouvons ensuite la maison Droz, Nous. "Les Consulats suisses à l'étranger reçoivent le journal. pa."" (MLA) (in French).
- "Gide's Rhetoric of Acceptance in Les Faux-monnayeurs" by Eric Mader
- "Gide's Fictional Technique" by Justin O'Brien
- "Four Reflections on 'The Counterfeiters'" by Robert Wexelblatt