Last Updated on May 8, 2015, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 558
Although a band of counterfeiters does in fact appear in the novel, the title functions intentionally at several levels, calling attention to the falsehood and hypocrisy of adult lives lived under the watchful, inquiring gaze of the often-disturbed children and adolescents who are, in fact, the novel’s main characters.
Focusing primarily on the students and faculty of a small Protestant boarding school, the novel repeatedly contrasts the restless questioning of the youthful characters with the unquestioning smugness of their parents and other elders. For years, the students of the Pension Azais-Vedel have turned a deaf ear to the hollow, hypocritical platitudes of the pastor, Azais, and his son-in-law, Vedel, realizing that such advice does little to prepare them for the realities of life. Even the pastor’s own children and grandchildren have had to fend for themselves, with often disastrous results. The opening scene, in which young Bernard Profitendieu runs away from home after discovering his illegitimacy, sets the tone for the entire novel; later, young Georges Molinier will steal a packet of love letters from his father’s mistress to use as a form of blackmail.
Although somewhat confused in its organization, the action often hinging on improbable coincidence, the novel nonetheless manages to hold the reader’s interest even as it explores the problems and possibilities of novel writing: Georges’ maternal uncle, Edouard, a former teacher at the Pension who functions as the prime viewpoint character, is himself planning a novel of the same title that will doubtless never be written. In fact, the bisexual Edouard himself is one of the “counterfeiters” of the title, even as he remains somewhat more lucid, and honest with himself, than the other adult characters.
Notable in 1925 for its frank and open discussion of homosexuality, the novel remains so because of its exploration of the novel form, and also for such memorable characters as Bernard, the anarchist-counterfeiter Strouvilhou, and the utterly amoral, American-born Lady Griffith.
Brée, Germaine. Gide. New Brunswick, N.J.: Rutgers University Press, 1963. One of the best introductions to Gide and his work available in English. Brée’s analysis of The Counterfeiters and The Journal of “The Counterfeiters” emphasizes sociological aspects, connections to Gide’s life, and the importance of the readers’ own participation in the novel’s meaning.
Cordle, Thomas. André Gide. Updated ed. New York: Twayne, 1993. Contains a good analysis of The Counterfeiters, which Cordle considers Gide’s greatest work. The social critique of early twentieth century petty bourgeoisie comes out as an important theme of the novel. Selected bibliography.
Gide, André. Journal of “The Counterfeiters.” Translated by Justin O’ Brien. In The Counterfeiters by André Gide. Translated by Dorothy Bussy. New York: Knopf, 1951. Gide’s own account of his novel’s genesis is a fascinating document in its own right and provides many insights into its meaning.
Guerard, Albert J. André Gide. Cambridge: Harvard University Press, 1951. Still an important introduction to Gide’s work. Places The Counterfeiters in the tradition of the modern novel of the turn of the century, and makes some interesting parallels with the work of Russian novelist Fyodor Dostoevski, who was an important influence on Gide.
Walker, David H. André Gide. New York: St. Martin’s Press, 1990. Contrasts The Counterfeiters with Gide’s earlier work. Analyzes the psychological aspects of the novel and the problem of causality.