the fake coin changers



Commentary on André Gide's book

At a very advanced point in the reading of the fake coin changers the narrator warns that he has not yet begun to write the work that the reader intended to read, but that he has already noted in his diary the main difficulties that have arisen; that is, that we are facing a novel about the writing of a novel in which “Édouard's Diary” functions as a “critique” of the novel in general: “imagine the interest that would have for us similar notebook kept by Dickens or Balzac; if we had the diary of sentimental education or the Karamazov brothers! "

However, in diary of fake coin changers, organized with notes taken between 1919 and 1925, we find oscillations about the beginning of the creative process, permeated with impressions of travels and readings, description of dreams, which add little to the novel, since the most relevant work notes on the invoices of the novel were included in the work itself. Such that the daily can be read as one more fold in this writing that infinitely replaces the very act of writing.

Published in 1925, the fake coin changers belongs to an era characterized on the literary level by the coexistence of two tendencies. On the one hand, the trend, in force since the last decade of the XNUMXth century and which intensified with Surrealism, is consolidated, which tries to liquidate the dominant form of the novel, either by adopting a narrative that abandons itself to the contingency of facts, or eliding the “real effects”, intended by naturalism, thus promoting an openness to new ways of presenting time and space. On the other hand, the realistic narrative is updated through political engagement, a formula marked by the general framework, broad descriptions and an allegedly objective point of view of reality, as in Malraux, Nizan, Aragon, or Drieu La Rochelle.

Em the fake coin changers we have a third way that is inscribed in modernity from the oscillation between traditional and modern forms. It is for no other reason than condemning experimentalisms that do not go beyond “effectism”, Gide aims to write a “pure novel”, with the elements that are intrinsic to it, that is, those that point to the general and not to the particular, as in a “classical drama by Racine”, or in the mathematical beauty of Bach's “Art of fugue”. So that, paradoxically, between Racine and Alfred Jarry, there is an abundance of characters and a duplication of narrators in this novel; an appeal to the dramatic concentration typical of a neoclassicism and an orientation that converges to the epic, to the desire that “everything enters the novel”.

This formal impasse, visible both in the daily as in the novel, it extends to the content, since the subject of the novel, says Gide, is “the struggle between the facts proposed by reality and the ideal reality”; and, in fact, we find the journalistic data in the entry of 16/07/1919: “it is a question of joining this to the case of the anarchist false coin changers of the 7th and 8th of August, 1907, – and to the sinister history of the suicides of schoolchildren of Clermont-Ferrand (1909). Fuse this into one and the same plot”.

Now, Gide achieves the “rivalry” between the real and the representation we make of it, presenting the facts in a slightly exalted, almost stylized scenario, in which each fact – such as Bernard's escape or the Argonauts' banquet – gains autonomy and immobilization. Furthermore, through cuts and detours within the narrative, reality is examined in an ever-changing state; the characters are sketched, then abandoned, to be taken up again elsewhere, in a web formed by a plurality of voices from which ideas are relativized, or placed in perspective, making the narrative an endless game of mirrors, always threatening the purity classic pursued by the author.

These narrative resources make the fake coin changers a classic-modern? As Auerbach showed, it was already part of the ironic-romantic program to intertwine romance and history in the emergence of the novel. There is little romanticism in Gide and, above all, intense irony in exacerbating the distrust of subjective representation, so that with the constant change in the narrator's point of view, what is intended is to stratify time and multiply the perception of reality.

After almost a hundred years of its publication, it is possible to perceive, however, that in this skein without ends, we do not have the invention of another narrative time, but only the fragment of a time that wants to be absolute. This is because, slowly, from the presentation of the characters' characters, in action, a group stabilizes itself around young people from the Parisian bourgeoisie who dream of a future of adventures or great literary accomplishments, and, therefore, revolt before from the perspective of perpetuating the suffocation of the bourgeois family, which is boring because it is obsessed with virtue and austerity.

A docked system, composed of symmetries and oppositions; forces of attraction and repulsion in the midst of which the strong and the weak, young and mature, cynical and selfless confront each other, almost always presented in an exalted, if not pedantic, tone. A set that could be multiplied to infinity, chained by a rhythm dominated by mistakes, in which the counterfeit coin refers to frayed social relations and concealed feelings and, at the limit, to the false word, which is the only instrument at hand to circulate what is taken to be true.

This set is the very field of the novelistic, full of dark areas, suspicion and avoidance. By privileging teenagers, Gide grants the “bando” or “cenacle”, not as one might imagine, freedom and enthusiasm, but theatricality and distance: “Each one of those boys, as soon as he saw himself in front of the others, played a character and lost all naturalness”. What is natural, however, is not a stabilized integral interiority, but a certain seasoning, like “the salt that, added from outside, gives flavor”, making men better, for a moment, at the end of which, they return to uncertainty: “it he's never the same for long”, says Laura about Édouard, “he doesn't cling to anything; but nothing arouses more attachment than his flight (…) his being is unceasingly undone and remade, it takes the form of what he loves. And to understand it, you have to love it.”

A romance of the passions, certainly not a moral or Christian novel, as the epigraphs might suggest; in him, the fire of passions burns, but unlike Racine, it is artifice. As a literary accomplishment, the narrative turns the action into a passion, touched either by elements of gratuitousness, or by a vacillating intentionality not devoid of tragicity. What drives the action is the inexplicable, always frightening and strange, named by Gide, “demonic” or its inverse, “angelic”; both, however, do not indicate mysticism or an absent god, since they are always “within us”. And if, in the end, the novel affirms in an almost naive tone the maxim of the duty to find the rule in oneself and, in it, the independence of the spirit, then it is the novel itself, always ironic, that demystifies this last passion, that of autonomy from himself, either through the violent irruption of reality or through a return to order: Bernard to his father's house, Laura to her husband, Olivier to his uncle.

* Arlenice Almeida da Silva is a professor of aesthetics in the philosophy department of the Federal University of São Paulo (Unifesp).

Originally published on Journal of Reviews, No. 10 in November 2010.


Andre Gide. the fake coin changers. Translation: Mário Laranjeira. São Paulo, Liberdade Station (

Andre Gide. diary of fake coin changers. Translation: Mário Laranjeira. São Paulo, Liberdade Station (

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