Form and Content

(Masterpieces of Women's Literature)

A Coin in Nine Hands is a highly structured narrative based on nine apparently separate stories loosely connected by the passage of a ten lire coin from the protagonist of one tale to the next. On closer examination, it becomes clear that Marguerite Yourcenar has set up these stories quite symmetrically. The first and last stories are the shortest; both focus on insignificant men who are easily self-deluded. The second and eighth stories are slightly longer; both focus on characters who are dying and who concern themselves with the meaning of artifice and illusion. The third and seventh stories introduce two good citizens—the cosmetics merchant and the flower seller—who are both loyal to the law-and-order party and spend much of their time thinking and worrying about money. The fourth and sixth stories contrast the two daughters of Don Ruggiero, one a narcissist, the other a martyr. The fifth offers the central action of the novel: Carlo Stevo’s death and Marcella’s failed attempt to assassinate the Dictator (Benito Mussolini). These three middle chapters are by far the longest and most complex.

Each of the nine chapters can be read as a self-contained portrait of its central character. There are also a variety of connections which link the characters to one another. For example, the wife who has run away from Paolo Farina, the protagonist of chapter 1, turns out to be the same Angiola featured in chapter 6 who is the sister of Rosalia of...

(The entire section is 555 words.)