Critical Context

The reception of A Coin in Nine Hands has been mixed. Critics have usually praised the thematic content of the novel while damning the structure or technique. For example, one critic speaks of the novel as a “tragedy” which also depicts “the hope inherent in human lives.” In contrast, another scathingly calls it a “disjointed and curiously artificial work, breathing a facile pathos.” The fullest and most useful discussion of the novel is in Marguerite Yourcenar in Counterpoint (1983) by C. Frederick Farrell, Jr., and Edith R. Farrell; they place A Coin in Nine Hands into context with all Yourcenar’s other works. Especially significant is the contrast with Memoirs of Hadrian; they point out that the characters in Memoirs of Hadrian are “introspective, and eminently capable of self analysis” while those in A Coin in Nine Hands are in need of “masks and mirrors.”

Marguerite Yourcenar wrote eight novels, as well as plays, nonfiction,poems, and translations. Her best-known work is Memoirs of Hadrian. A Coin in Nine Hands is quite different from that famous novel on the Roman Empire, but it is also a novel that deals with a specific historical period. According to Yourcenar, in writing A Coin in Nine Hands, “Before me was a different set of models. For the first time in my life I felt aware of current events, of what was going on in that particular year of history, and I had to improvise my technique as the scene around me changed.” Nevertheless, even though Yourcenar was dealing with the specific period of 1933, she gave the novel the mythic dimension that is present in all of her novels.