Four Reflections on The Counterfeiters. by Robert Wexelblatt. ***. The Montréal Review, February ***. “The Counterfeiters: A Novel” by André Gide. Novel by Andre Gide, published in French in as Les Faux-Monnayeurs. Constructed with a greater range and scope than his previous short fiction, The. Complete summary of Andre Gide’s The Counterfeiters. eNotes plot summaries cover all the significant action of The Counterfeiters.
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Gide titled his book The Counterfeiters which suggests it will be a social satire. Yet, though there is plenty of social criticism in it, the novel does not read like social satire. If that were all there were to it, a send-up of bourgeois hypocrisy, adolescent self-absorption, antiquated moralism, and artistic pretension, one might feel scorn when a character or an inconsistency disappoints, but not sadness.
Take Bernard Profitendieu, the motor who generates so much of the novel’s energy, the character who from the first page enacts Gide’s concept of freedom; Bernard the spirited and independent, bubbling with potential; Bernard, that decent Lafcadio.
He is illegitimate, what Shakespeare called a “natural child. For the post-Rousseauian Gide, however, it is the other way around.
Notes on Gide’s The Counterfeiters
As Edouard speculates at Laura’s wedding, “It is to bastards that the future belongs” Freed from the “insidious poison” of the family “cell,” the bastard is most apt to attain the condition Gide values so highly, counterfeiterz. It is surely to Bernard that we are intended to apply the counterfiters allegory Vincent lays out at Rambouillet:. The buds which develop naturally are always the terminal Buds-that is to say, those that are farthest from the parent trunk.
Such sayings prepare us to expect wretched things from families and great ones from Bernard, nor are we wholly disappointed. And yet, in the end, what do Bernard’s rebellions and adventures come to? Does the novel actually undo itself?
I have already mentioned how Bernard rebels against his own ande, winding up a long way from the classically heroic image of himself he proposes with only faint self-mockery at the start of his picaresque adventures:. To lift up a marble slab off the top of a table and to see a drawer underneath is really not the same thing as picking a lock Theseus must have been about my age when he lifted the stone. Very well, Bernard is not Theseus any more than he is Prince Hamlet.
His letter to his father is excessively insulting and nasty. Worse yet, it is not genuine. His feelings are hurt and, while it is his father he attacks, it is his mother he blames. The once-rebellious Bernard quite astonishes Olivier with his nationalism when they meet in September. His Platonic devotion to Laura and his contrarian counterfieters have combined to transform him, but they seem only to have turned him back in the direction of his father.
This encounter between the two young men is one of the novel’s most brilliant scenes. To show the effects of the last months on them, Gide contrives to have both young men, after completing summer courses with their different tutors, reply to the same final examination question. In glossing the “Parnassian butterfly” quatrain of La Fontaine, the sartorially counterfeitfrs but emotionally tattered Olivier parrots a superficial bon mot he lifted from Passavant, just as Passavant plagiarized it from Paul Ambroise who may well have swiped it from Oscar Wilde:.
Bernard’s contrary answer on his bachot is certainly preferable ggide this, and yet it too is disappointing. In defending the “French character” against the charge of frivolity Bernard makes himself sound a lot like Charles Maurras and France not a little like Germany:. I said that we ought not to consider all this as even the smile of France, but as her grimace; that the real spirit of France was a spirit of investigation, of logic, of devotedness, of patient thoroughness In passing his baccalaureate exam with honors Bernard has bought his ticket to the middle class-or back into it.
We are assured that Monsieur Profitendieu loves his adopted son and that Bernard has been terribly unjust to him, and so it is emotionally fitting that the novel’s end should reverse its beginning as Bernard returns to his father.
And yet it feels disappointing. After all, Gide’s point with Bernard’s illegitimacy, one would have thought, was that he should not return to the father, that he should find the rule of his future life precisely in himself and not in his father, that like those deep-water creatures Vincent describes, he should live by his own lights. Gide could not let countrfeiters theme of individual and family, of fathers and sons, alone. He took it up again in in his version of the Oedipus story:.
So long as I thought I was the son of Polybius, I applied myself to mimicking his virtues Listening to the lesson of the past, I looked only to yesterday for my so-be-it, my ggide. Then, suddenly, the thread is broken. Sprung from the unknown; no more past, no more model, nothing on which to base myself, everything to create, country, ancestors No one to resemble but myself It is a call to valor not to know one’s parents.
That is the voice of the heroic Bernard of Part One, not the Bernard who in Part Three can be tempted by such phrases as “A doctrine has been bequeathed us” True, Bernard leaves the church without signing the pledge; true, he wrestles with the angel instead–though it is Boris who pays the price of the blessing-but how odd that his desire to devote himself should lead Bernard to such un-Gidean alternatives as Catholicism and Fascism.
In fact, it seems to me there is something the matter with the chapter called “Bernard and the Angel. One problem, of course, is the break in tone from the rest of the book. Forster give certainly right to say that Gide has “introduced mysticism at the wrong point. Then the angel took Bernard into the poor quarters of the town, whose wretchedness Bernard had never suspected. They wandered for a long time among tall, sordid houses, inhabited by disease, prostitution, shame, crime and hunger.
It was only then that Bernard took the angel’s hand, and the angel abdre aside to weep. Gide has suddenly turned into a sentimental sociologist. His lack of knowledge of and genuine sympathy for the poor are embarrassingly obvious from the heap of abstract nouns and the absence of human beings.
This is the one paragraph in the novel when we leave the milieu of the upper middle class. When Gide departs from realism, good prose, and his customary milieu all at the same time, things go awry. Why did he do it, then? I suspect it was a shortcut, an effort to epitomize Bernard’s development through the book and score an easy moral point. The beginning of the following chapter shows that the idea was to show that Bernard is growing up:.
His struggle with the angel had matured him. He no longer resembled the careless youth who had stolen the suitcase and who thought that all that is needed counterfiters this world is to be daring. He was beginning to understand that boldness is often achieved at the expense of other people’s happiness. This is indeed good, sound middle-aged wisdom, but it is not quite what one might have hoped for from either the audacious Bernard who picked up Edouard’s cloak counterfeitsrs ticket or the emotional one who had wept with Laura.
The Counterfeiters by André Gide
After Edouard tells Bernard to do whatever he wants so long as it leads him uphill a couple pages later Bernard vanishes from the stage. Here Gide the novelist and philosopher shows us something about the operation of freedom in a crowded, connected world.
The idea he was working out is expressed quite clearly in the second notebook:. No doubt there counterfwiters very few crimes of which the responsibility cannot be shared, to the success of which several did not contribute- albeit without their knowledge or will. The sources of our slightest acts are as diverse and remote as those of the Nile. The responsibility for the death of Boris is general.
The decisions of the other characters, and especially the “good” ones, contribute to this appalling catastrophe.
It is his job to watch over Boris, but he becomes too self-absorbed and too preoccupied with losing his virginity to Sarah Vedel, the carnal version of Laura. Even as he is wrestling with the angel Bernard is neglecting the boy in his hour of greatest need; Boris has just learned of the death of Bronja, his angel:. Boris dimly perceived that Bernard was struggling. He thought it was his way of praying and took care not to disturb him. And yet he would have liked to counterfeites to him, for his unhappiness was very great.
Edouard’s novelist’s delight in predestinating is irresistible. Surely Edouard should have known better. He had loaded, failed to use, and kept his pistol; his very presence at the school had embarrassed Boris, making him easy prey for the Strong Men as well as providing them with the murder weapon. Monsieur Profitendieu is likewise responsible. He covers up for the young delinquents, allowing the evil to sink countsrfeiters, simply because they are all from good families.
Sophroniska is guilty for deceiving herself into believing Boris has been cured, driving the evil of his neurosis deeper by her therapy, counterfieters her Catholic faith up with her science, and actually placing Boris’s talisman into the hands of Counterfeitters.
Even the angelic Bronja is responsible: Edouard also ends up by disappointing. While he is gidr Gide, of course, Edouard begins as an exemplary artist, a more than worthy rival of Passavant for the allegiance of the young, concerned that his work should honestly portray what reality dictates.
And yet, we last see him taking anre first countsrfeiters toward becoming a false artist, a counterfeiter, when, on grounds of personal vanity and moral irresponsibility, he decides to exclude from his novel the only irremediable reality he has been given:.
I shall not make use of little Boris’s suicide for my Counterfeiters ; I have too much difficulty in counterfeitres it. And then I dislike police court items. There is something peremptory, irrefutable, brutal, and outrageously real counterfeitere them Boris’s suicide seems to me an indecencyfor I was not expecting it.
For Gide, finality is the enemy of freedom, which requires change. A virtue practiced too constantly easily turns into something else.
Herein lies Gide’s sympathy with young characters like Bernard, who may move uphill so long as he keeps moving. For Gide, development is good only if it is natural, generated from the inside. The changes in Bernard arise from his own nature and so are portrayed as generally positive.
The changes in Olivier, however, are forced upon him by Passavant, abetted by jealousy and self-disgust, and so they nearly cost him his life. What is wrong with most of the other characters in the book-wrong for Gide-is that they don’t change at all, that they adhere to attitudes that limit and pervert their freedom.
These postures arrest development and make those who hold to them potentially “counterfeit. Sad too is Gide’s treatment of his females, particularly with respect to his theme of freedom. Only one, Sophroniska, has the independence of a profession, and she is a peripheral character.
One might be inclined to think that Gide was making fun of Edouard when he has him say that the terribly self-sacrificing Rachel Vedel possesses “the most beautiful woman’s nature” he knows But Gide does not offer many alternatives to her “abnegation. Gide counterfeuters to be ambivalent about the women in his book.
Here, as giide in his School for Wiveshe portrays women who are vastly superior to their fathers and husbands, but whose goodness is expressed in covering up for unworthy men.