The Counterfeiters (novel)  

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French literature

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 that 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 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 1926 Journal of The Counterfeiters.


Plot summary

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. After a night in Olivier's bed (where they discuss sexuality with Olivier recounting a recent visit to a prostitute and how he did not find the experience very enjoyable), Bernard is finally, after having stolen Edouard's suitcase and the ensuing complications, 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 newspaper, and at the end decided to return to his father's. 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 revolved around Boris, another illegitimate child, grandson of La Pérouse, who is led to commit suicide in front of the assembled class 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:

Image:Counterfeiters - Character Network.svg
Main characters in The Counterfeiters

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.

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.

Further reading

  • André Gide: The Counterfeiters. ISBN 0394718429
  • André Gide: Journal of The Counterfeiters.

See also

Unless indicated otherwise, the text in this article is either based on Wikipedia article "The Counterfeiters (novel)" or another language Wikipedia page thereof used under the terms of the GNU Free Documentation License; or on research by Jahsonic and friends. See Art and Popular Culture's copyright notice.

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