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The Counterfeiters / Journal of The…
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The Counterfeiters / Journal of The Counterfeiters

by André Gide

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Steinbeck made me do it.

Years ago, while working on my thesis for my master's degree, I learned everything there was to know about East of Eden. One bit of information I learned was the books that had influenced Steinbeck, particularly in his writing of EoE. There were titles I'd heard of: Moby-Dick and Don Quixote. And there was this: The Counterfeiters. Because I loved all things East of Eden, I made it a point to read these influential books.

Now that I've read The Counterfeiters, I see how it influenced Steinbeck. The Counterfeiters is an intelligent and imaginative novel. And it is perhaps the earliest example of post-modernist metafiction I've encountered. Here is a novel called The Counterfeiters, a novel which includes a character who is an author writing a book named The Counterfeiters. And as the character in the novel shapes the story, so changes the story in the reader's hands. Lovely. I thoroughly enjoy works like this. (Steinbeck's original draft of East of Eden featured some similar metafictional elements, but many of these were toned down at the instance of Steinbeck's editor and publisher.)

Also groundbreaking was Gide's approach to sexuality. The majority of the characters in the novel are either gay or bisexual. Their relationships are presented realistically—in both positive and negative light—just like you'd expect from any heterosexual relationship. Published in 1925, this display of authentic, non-sensationalized homosexual relationships was surely an original take.

So The Counterfeiters was definitely a groundbreaking novel, but oh, is it void of anything enjoyable. It's intelligent and creative, but there's not much of a story. It is art for the sake of art. And it's so incredibly hard to follow. The Counterfeiters has a cast of characters that rivals War and Peace; the difference is that The Counterfeiters introduces these character in a third of the space Tolstoy allowed for his characters to develop. Another big difference, War and Peace was vastly interesting.

While trying to follow this novel, I stumbled upon this graphic. I think it nicely illustrates one of the problems I had with The Counterfeiters. (Graphic by Morn the Gorn)
What you see here is the cast of characters, and their convoluted relationships. It's not unlike a graphic you might find for War and Peace. Halfway through this novel, though, I couldn't honestly tell you more than one or two details about no more than two or three of these characters. Many of the others were recognizable by name only. Looking at this diagram should have made the story easier to read, but it didn't, and that's purely because Gide made a much too tangled mess of a novel. Honestly, and I hate admitting this, it got so bad that I began to skim pages and skip entire passages. I just didn't enjoy anything about this story.

To Gide's credit, however, this novel was definitely groundbreaking. For me, the way it shattered the confines of story and sexuality were the only redeeming qualities. I'm glad he wrote it, if for no other reason than it changed the landscape of the modern novel, but I have no desire to read this novel ever again. ( )
  chrisblocker | Jan 28, 2019 |
The self-conscious tracts on writing really cement its dullness for me. ( )
  mattresslessness | Feb 6, 2014 |
A tangled web of a novel. Drifts from one character to the next. Good conversations and a pretty exciting plot. Assume everyone is gay until proven otherwise. ( )
  HadriantheBlind | Mar 30, 2013 |
Andre Gide’s "The Counterfeiters" is a novel about individual development in a society structured by deceit. The French writer began the novel after World War I and continued working on it for years until it was published in 1927. Set in Paris, the story describes upper middle class adolescent boys and the men who exploit them. The plot progresses in a somewhat disjointed fashion as Gide inserts psychoanalytic insights popular at the time. Some of Gide’s journal entries, included as an appendix to the novel, indicate a dissatisfaction with his ability to produce seamless connections between realistic structure and unconscious processes.

In the first half of the novel, the young characters are introduced, and their intellectual, social, and artistic developments are described in an engaging manner reminiscent of Balzac. The reader is involved in the plot and cares about the behavior of each of the boys. The children are becoming adults without the realization that a single immature act can determine a life path.

In the second half of the book, the pace of the plot slows as Gide inserts an increasing number of psychological interpretations into the story. The device he uses is a journal written by a novelist character, Edouard, who is using his experience with the boys and their families to write his own novel. With this voice, Gide is able to discuss events from the point of view of a witness who is intimately involved in the action and assumes the role of psychoanalyst.

The final chapters of the novel demonstrate Gide’s success in the integration of form and free expression as the plot accelerates to chaos and resolution. The reader understands that all of the boys are counterfeiters in their interactions with family, friends, and others. This is expected from adolescents who are impulsive and largely ignorant of life’s consequences. But we do not expect the adult characters to be counterfeiters, to try to deceive by pretense and dissembling in order to exploit the boys socially, intellectually, and sexually. Though this counterfeit life is entrenched in the adults, Gide provides hope that the younger generation is capable of insight and judgment and can avoid dissolute lives.

Complete redemption by the boys is possible if they recognize the immorality of their external counterfeit roles. They must learn to stop the narcissistic internal voice that speaks to them incessantly reflecting the counterfeit influence of parents and friends. Finally, they can enter the silence of genuine communication with other people, without guile or envy, and experience a compassionate and selfless immersion in the lives of others. ( )
1 vote GarySeverance | Feb 22, 2008 |
Edward is sexually attracted to his young nephew George.
Published in France as Les faux-monnayeurs ( )
  TonySandel | Sep 13, 2007 |
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Please don't combine "The counterfeiters" with the editions including "The journal of the counterfeiters".
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Amazon.com Product Description (ISBN 0394718429, Paperback)

A young artist pursues a search for knowledge through the treatment of homosexuality and the collapse of morality in middle class France.

(retrieved from Amazon Thu, 12 Mar 2015 18:25:20 -0400)

A young artist pursues a search for knowledge through the treatment of homosexuality and the collapse of morality in middle class France.

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