The Forged Coupon
Greedy Children by Nikolai Nevrev (1830-1904)
|Original title||Фальшивый купон (Fal'shivyi kupon)|
|Translator||Charles Theodore Hagberg Wright|
The Forged Coupon (Russian: Фальшивый купон, Fal'shivyi kupon) is a novella in two parts by Leo Tolstoy. Though he first conceived of the story in the late 1890s, he did not begin writing it until 1902. After struggling for several years, he finally completed the story in 1904; however, it was not published until some of Tolstoy's shorter works were collected and anthologized after his death in 1910.
The story is divided into two parts. In Part I, schoolboy Mitya is in desperate need of money to repay a debt, but his father angrily denies him assistance. Dejected, under the instigation of a friend Makhin, Mitya simply changes a 2.50 rouble bond coupon to read 12.50 roubles, but this one evil deed sets off a chain of events that affects the lives of dozens of others, when his one falsehood indirectly causes a man to murder a woman at the end of Part I, and then seek redemption through religion in Part II.
Having written the novella in his dying years, after his excommunication, Tolstoy relishes the chance to unveil the "pseudo-piety and hypocrisy of organized religion." Yet, he maintains an unwavering belief in man's capacity to find truth, so the story remains hopeful, especially in Part II, which shows that good works can affect another as in a domino effect, just as evil does in Part I. The novella has also been translated with the title "The Counterfeit Note" and "The Forged Banknote."
Robert Bresson used Part I as the basis for his last film, L'Argent (1983), transposing the action from early nineteenth century tsarist Russia to capitalistic, present-day France. Bresson merges the characters of Ivan Mirinov and Stepán into "Yvon Targe", thus providing the ensemble cast with a concise protagonist and focusing more specifically in his story. Because Part II is completely omitted, there is no redeeming the many characters and their crimes that lead up to murder in Part I.
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- R. F. Christian, Tolstoy's Diaries Volume II 1895-1910 (1985) Athlone Press, p. 452. December 13, 1897, Tolstoy lists The Forged Coupon as one of thirteen "subjects which can be, and deserve to be worked up properly." p. 473, Dec. 20, 1899, Tolstoy thought about the story and thought "Perhaps I'll write it."
- R. F. Christian, Tolstoy's Letters Volume II 1880—1910 (1978) Charles Scribner's Sons, p. 733. In the index, under "Tolstoy, Lev Nikolayevich, works:" there is the index entry "False Coupon, The, 515, 639—640"
- Kent Jones, L'Argent London (1999) BFI Publishing, p. 24
- Moravia, A. (1998). L'Argent. In J. Quandt (Ed.), Robert Bresson. Toronto: Cinematheque Ontario Monographs, p. 408