Gide's Rhetoric of Acceptance in Les Faux-monnayeurs
Etudier d'abord le point d'ou doit affluer la lumiere; toutes les ombres en dependent. Chaque figure repose et s'appuie sur son ombre.
--Le Journal des Faux-Monnayeurs, 1921 (479)
La culture doit comprendre qu'en cherchant a absorber le christianisme elle absorbe quelque chose de mortel pour elle-meme. Elle cherche a admettre quelque chose qui ne peut pas l'admettre, elle; quelque chose qui la nie.
--Journal, 1926 (817)
Andre Gide is a writer of contrariness and ambiguity: of light and shadow. The two epigraphs I've chosen here express in a nutshell part of the contrariness of Les Faux-monnayeurs. Critics have read Gide's contrariness from a number of different positions. Just over two decades ago many saw a Gide poised between two "ages": between that poorly defined age that reigned before--and existentialism. Currently, because of his self-contradictions and relativism, combined with his use of religious language, some see a Gide looking forward to postmodernism. Others read him theologically, as embodying a transitional notion of God in a century when God is being constantly redefined (one book I've been reading is entitled Andre Gide: The Theism of an Atheist). And finally there are those who see his contradictions as a weakness, as symptomatic of a simple lack of commitment. Though I am certain there is much work of interest on Gide, that which I have been able to find in our limited stacks hasn't been all that noteworthy, nor has it significantly altered (or even addressed) my own, initial understanding of Les Faux-monnayeurs. This is surprising to me, because it seems that many parts of the novel function in obvious ways, ways that, nonetheless, never get mentioned.
Perhaps it is the case that my understanding of Gide is too obvious for publication. Perhaps I'm off the mark presenting an analysis of Gide from this angle. In any event, I was about to give up on my Gide essay until I was emboldened by this entry in the journal: "Les choses les plus importantes a dire sont celles que souvent je n'ai pas cru devoir dire--parce qu'elles me paraissaient trop evidentes." (824) Thus I will begin by insisting that the following assertions are trop evident.
Gide's Les Faux-monnayeurs employs rhetorical and other narrative devices to establish the acceptability of homosexual love. One of the more important devices used to this end concerns the reader projected by the novel. What I will call the "projected reader" offers a telling example of the contrariness mentioned above. This projected reader is meant to hold simultaneously the moral convictions of a literate French bourgeois Catholic and those of someone who doesn't see anything too objectionable in male homosexual love. In other words, this reader is a being that, in the 1920s, didn't quite yet exist. Such a projected reader is of particular interest to us insofar as it does and does not overlap with the actual readers Gide could expect in his contemporary French public. The distance between the reader projected by Les Faux-monnayeurs and the readers actually anticipated by Gide is the distance that Gide must negotiate with his painstaking rhetoric. This projected reader is perhaps the most crucial and interesting aspect of Gide's rhetorical efforts, and it is one we will spend some time analyzing.
Another important series of devices can be found intertwined with the theme of counterfeiting. The all-pervasiveness and, in some cases, acceptability of counterfeiting in the narrative allows for an easily manipulated circulation of moral judgment from one character to the next. Gide establishes a Dark Side in the form of the character Passavant and his circle of fiends, a Dark Side to which all the dirt is sent and against which Edouard's noble and accepted version of pedophilia is established. The constant movement of counterfeit goods in the forms of art, theatricality, hypocrical speech, and texts (novels, journals, letters, even a magic talisman) makes a constant shifting of readerly judgments quite simple, if only because such shifting seems so natural in such an environment. In addition, Gide also manipulates age barriers, the differences between Protestantism and Catholicism, and religious feeling in general towards his end of establishing acceptance. Thus, in the case of Les Faux-monnayeurs, Gide's apparent self-contradictions are not to be seen as a flaw, but rather as part of a subtly deployed rhetorical strategy.
I ought to make something clear from the outset. I do not see this project as a means of trying to pin down Gide so that he may be condemned for dishonesty, or, as some might do, for his sexual preference. These considerations are not at all to the point as far as I am concerned, and I respect both the novel and its writer. Considering the historical and biographical determinants of Gide's work, one is led in writing on Gide to analyze his struggle to establish the legitimacy of homosexual love. Of course there have already been many studies of just this theme, studies that focus in the main on his work Corydon. But to imagine that Gide's struggle can be seen mainly in Corydon--which Gide considered his most important work--and that this struggle is somehow absent or only slightly relevant to a reading of Les Faux-monnayeurs--this seems to me ridiculous. Klaus Mann, in his biographical and journalistic sketch, provides a quick overview of the virulent hatred Gide had to face in the public realm. (note 1) When Gide's work was not being attacked for its irrelevance, it was being portrayed as powerful and wicked enough to corrupt all of France. "His work is the most revolting moral and intellectual scandal of this century," screamed the Revue Francaise in the mid-twenties. (19) Mann recounts a conversation with a young French writer--a recent convert and Catholic priest in the making--with whom he was looking at a portrait of Gide.
As usual, I was taken with the noble shape of [Gide's] physiognomy, and expressed my delight.
"Mais oui," admited the devout young man, "il est beau." And he added, with a transient shudder, "Que voulez-vous? C'est la beaute du diable." (22)
It is against this background of public condemnation that Gide had to choose his strategies as a writer. Rather than stand up in the manner of a late 20th century gay pride activist and shout his defiance, he chose to employ his considerable literary skill to establish the possibilities of acceptance, to establish a basis on which homosexuality might not immediately seem so disagreeable to those so predisposed to be horrified. Gide thus had a difficult task ahead of him, and it is in relation to this difficulty that his chosen methods in Les Faux-monnayeurs must be judged.
I've raised the notion of a historical distance between ourselves and the early twentieth century as regards acceptance of homosexuality. That this distance is real is evident. And yet one difficulty for late twentieth century readers in accepting Gide's presentation of homosexuality in Les Faux-monnayeurs will be the fact that the homosexuality he presents is in the main pedophilia. Everywhere in this novel it is a question of the potential relations of men and boys. We have rightly become sensitized to the dangers of such relations; and whereas most of us accept homosexuality as part of the normal human spectrum, we would also insist that pedophilia is too often a matter of the abuse and sexual manipulation of those who cannot adequately defend themselves. Though I raise Gide's "rhetoric of acceptance" sympathetically, I am aware of this issue as problematic. Here too there is an element of distance between us and the early part of the century. Just as we have learned to accept homosexual love, we have certainly also learned to be more careful about the differences between adult and child: more careful about protecting those who are potentially victims.
To begin I would like to consider in detail the first appearances of the homosexual theme in Les Faux-monnayeurs. Because my reading seeks to take into account Gide's contemporary public, when I refer to "the reader" I am thinking particularly of the reading public of the 1920s in France. When, on the other hand, I refer to the "projected reader," I am thinking of the artificial and more tolerant reader projected in Gide's text.
The first appearance of the homosexual theme occurs at the beginning of Part I, chapter VI. I will quote the whole passage:
We are all bastards;
And that most venerable man which I
Did call my father, was I know not where
When I was stamped.
Bernard a fait un reve absurde. Il ne se souvient pas de ce qu'il a reve. I ne cherche pas a se souvenir de son reve, mais a en sortir. Il rentre dans le monde reel pour sentir le corps d'Olivier peser lourdement contre lui. Son ami, pendant leur sommeil, ou du moins pendant le sommeil de Bernard, s'etait rapproche, et du reste l'etroitesse du lit ne permet pas beaucoup de distance; il s'etait retourne; a present, il dort sur le flance et Bernard sent son souffle chaud chatouiller son cou. Bernard n'a qu'une courte chemise de jour; en travers de son corps, un bras d'Olivier opprime indiscretement sa chair. Bernard doute un instant si son ami dort vraiment. Doucement il se degage. Sans eveiller Olivier, il se leve, se rhabille et revient s'etendre sur le lit. (58)
Some of the ambiguities here are more obvious than others. The epigraph is read most obviously as a reference to Bernard's false relation to Profitendieu. In light of the homosexual theme, however, the passage can be read in an entirely different way. If we are to understand that "[the] man which I did call my father" can refer to a male role model (either the real father or not) and "stamped" can refer to the development of sexual orientation (as the term has such heavy overtones of fate), the passage may refer to the theory of the origin of male homosexuality being the lack of a male role model. "We are all bastards" can be understood as establishing a sort of legitimacy in the face of illegitimacy through the assertion of averageness, or normality. The ambiguity is not only grounded in the epigraph, however. We are immediately told of Bernard's absurd dream, which he is both trying to forget and has forgotten. As one usually tries to remember dreams, the reader is placed in an ambiguous relation to this strange dream: the reader would like to remember it, read its content. "What sort of absurd dream?" one is asking oneself just as one reads of the possible cause of the dream: Olivier's body is pressing heavily against Bernard's. The reader may thus understand why Bernard is trying to repress his dream, but the reader also knows that dreams hold the truth. "You shouldn't repress your dream, Bernard, but face up to it," the reader thinks. The next sentence hints that Olivier's touching of Bernard may be intentional (Olivier may have been awake), but also gives an objective reason for this contact (the narrowness of the bed) just in case the reader himself is too uncomfortable to face the (possible) truth. Gide is using narrated monologue here both to establish Bernard's reactions ("ou du moins pendant le sommeil de Bernard"; "et du reste . . .") and to cause the reader to have similar reactions while simultaneously condemning Bernard for his shy refusal of the truth in the form of the dream. Next we have a description of the boys' position and of Bernard's scant clothing, and implicit in this is the fact that Bernard does not move away all that quickly. The word indiscretement is of interest here: it is difficult to attribute it wholly to Bernard, to the reader, or to the narrator. It can be seen as a single, floating chaperone on the scene: it keeps things respectable while at the same time describing the most graphic aspect of the boys' contact. The next sentence--"Bernard doute un instant si son ami dort vraiment"--can also be felt as a light query to the reader: Je doute un instant si mon lecteur dort vraiment--or, in other words, one may wonder if the reader's moral reactions are sufficiently numbed by all this ambiguity. And then, a request to the reader for acceptance and gentle patience: "Doucement il se degage." Thus if the reader is unwilling for such contact, he is given a discreet escape. But the discretion of this escape actually forces the reader to be gentle: it doesn't give him the option of harshly pulling away. The reader's consciousness is by this point too close to Bernard's and too benumbed to disagree harshly with any of his actions. In any case, one must not wake the (awake? asleep? dreaming?) Olivier. Finally, after dressing himself (establishing a bit of distance) the reader is not averse to lying down next to Olivier, perhaps to consider things a bit more comfortably.
Gide thus brings us into the theme of homosexuality by means of a strategic manipulation of doubt and of our identification with Bernard. Though it is true that the epigraph is only read ironically upon a second reading, the ambiguity of the first sentences seizes the reader immediately. The ambiguity and truth of dreaming, along with the ambiguity of narrated monologue, prepares the way for an encounter whose apparent innocence and obvious implications are finally put temporarily to rest as Bernard gently disengages himself and gets dressed, only to lie down once again in Olivier's narrow bed. A few sentences later, still in bed, we read his nascent and heroic plans in a quoted monologue. His use of the term destin echoes the ambiguous fatalism of the epigraph. "Dans un instant, se dit-il, j'irai vers mon destin. Quel beau mot: l'aventure!" (58-9)
The second instance of the homosexual theme occurs in Part I, chapter IX. The whole chapter is worthy of attention. It opens:
Nous n'aurions a deplorer rien de ce qui arrive par la suite, si seulement la joie qu'Edouard et Olivier eurent a se retrouver eut ete plus demonstrative; mais une singuliere incapacite de jauger son credit dans le coeur et l'esprit d'autrui leur etait commune et les paralysait tous deux; de sorte que chacun se croyant seul emu, tout occupe par sa joie propre et comme confus de la sentir si vive, n'avait souci que de ne point trop en laisser paraitre l'exces. (78)
In the last instance, homosexual intentions were defused through their being hidden or ambiguous: Bernard was dreaming, but we know not what; Olivier was probably asleep, and the bed was so small, after all. Here the intentions are not at all hidden, and the mutual attraction of Olivier and Edouard is obvious. How is this, then, an instance of Gide's rhetoric of acceptance?
In the first sentence we are led to value the two characters more highly than they value themselves: each has "une singuliere incapacite de jauger son credit dans le coeur et l'esprit d'autrui." In particular, we are set on the track of sensing their goodness behind their self-presentation, if only because we learn that their incapacity has paralyzed both of them, a dilemma with which we can sympathize. Olivier and Edouard become pitifully concerned with hiding their own joy (and thus their own intentions) from the other. Further, each is comme confus to find this joy so great. In this way the reader is led through his or her sympathy to put value on the characters' hidden selves; to feel shame along with them--not for their feelings, however, but for their inability to express them (after all, what reader hasn't been in a similar painful situation?). The reader is led to share in the excessiveness of their joy as a dulling confusion (similar to the ambiguous and foggy confusion suffered by Bernard and the reader in the passage analyzed above), and finally is thus prepared for the narration of an unsatisfying and stifled encounter. The surface being of Edouard and Olivier is thus devalued at the same time as it is presented, and their intentions are all the more valued because hidden--and this regardless of the fact that these intentions are not presented or even in the smallest way fulfilled. Through the reader's disappointment with and sympathy for their befuddlement, he is led to support their still unspoken desires.
One can see how this passage works rhetorically simply by imagining the opposite: What if their meeting was written as a success? Gide obviously sensed that writing of such a success would mean failure to attain the reader's sympathy. The reader's sympathy, he feared, would be dashed on the rocks of such a straightforward narration. Gide's efforts are everywhere in the direction of a subtle establishment of sympathy rather than in any clear declaration of gay pride. In fact there is no homosexual encounter in the whole novel narrated step by step as a success; there is no instance when a homosexual declaration of love is spoken by any of the characters. This rhetoric may be too low-keyed to be even noticed by many readers of the late 20th century, who are used to the more direct methods of the gay pride movement. But to attain the sympathy of anything near a majority of educated readers in 1920, Gide could not have resorted to such tactics.
Through the embarrassment of Edouard and Olivier, what does this chapter finally become? It becomes an entirely conventional encounter between a somewhat formal older man and a shy young boy. Its homosexual content is almost entirely defused; the topics of their conversation are only the most banal. Edouard asks when Olivier's examination is and wishes him luck, then interrogates him as any uncle would. Olivier goes so far as to ask for a little advice, but Edouard stodgily throws a gulf between them by saying: "Oh! les conseils, il faut savoir se les donner a soi-meme ou les chercher aupres de camarades; ceux des aines na valent rien." (80) The reader may be led to think something like: "So this is what happens when those fellows get together. Quite typical, actually. One doesn't see anything wrong in that."
There is yet another element in the chapter that defuses the reader's judgment. As Edouard and Olivier are walking away from the station, Bernard stalks secretly behind. The reader's eye for vice is thus placed on Bernard: he becomes a scapegoat for the reader's suspicions. Poor Edouard is about to lose his luggage because of his confusion in the presence of Olivier. Not only is his confusion the culprit, but the adventure-hungry Bernard. The reader is led to feel sorry for Edouard as the victim of a crime precisely in the course of Edouard's own would-be criminal come-on to the young Olivier.
Concerning this chapter as a whole, we can again quote its first sentence: Gide himself "n'avait souci que de ne point trop en laisser paraitre l'exces."
The two passages I have analyzed thus far give many good examples of Gide's techniques for establishing the acceptability of his homosexual characters. I would say, as they are early in the novel, that they go a long way toward projecting a reader that can do little other than sympathize and accept. To do justice to Gide's wide range of devices in service to this end, it is necessary to consider several of them in more general terms rather than glean them from longer quoted passages. First I would like to consider Gide's small pantheon of characters and the religious images he generates from their interaction.
Gide sets up a whole cosmological battle between good and evil in the narrated space between Edouard and Passavant. Their respective fields of influence chart the parameters of a miniature epic of the salvation or damnation of French youth. (note 2) Passavant, and his circle of fiends, constitute the shadow against which Edouard shines and against which Edouard's quiet goodness triumphs. Gide is not so unambiguous in his opposition of Edouard and Passavant that he portrays Edouard as perfect. But the fact that Passavant is everywhere so demonstrably evil and corrupting supports the contention that Edouard is in some senses a Christ figure (fallible in his humanity, but divine nonetheless) and that Passavant is a Devil figure (wily, polished in a Mephistophelean manner, and purely evil). Gide has not set up this moral micro-universe only as a means of justifying Edouard's pedophilia. It is obvious, however, that one of the crucial uses of this micro-universe is as a backdrop for what I am calling Gide's rhetoric of acceptance.
The boys in the novel are stretched between the two poles of Edouard and Passavant, and the Molinier boys in particular are possessed by both of them at one time or another. Little George Molinier is the most innocent of the lot, and the one whom it would be easiest to save. Olivier is older and so is corrupted more thoroughly by Passavant for a time, but is finally saved also. Vincent functions as an example of one who has completely fallen under the influence of evil. The resemblance between Edouard and Passavant--they are both male novelists of presumably the same age, of similar class backgrounds, with similar sexual preferences--allows Gide a certain amount of light irony in his presentation of Eduoard as noble and Passavant as wicked, but at the same time allows him more easily to stage his drama of salvation and damnation. How is a young boy to tell the difference between these two men, after all? Edouard and Passavant are, in a perverse and functional way, counterfeits of each other, but Passavant is more deeply counterfeit. Edouard is, moreover, almost the sole voice of judgment here (there is some narrative judgment of Edouard now and then, but it is meager in comparison with Edouard's constant judgments), and the Christian language of good and evil is obviously presented as the language of Edouard's camp. The following passage shows how Gide's moral universe functions. After receiving Bernard's letter from Saas-Fee, Olivier is precipitated, through false jealously, into the clutches of the evil Passavant.
Bernard etait beaucoup trop spontane, trop naturel, trop pur, il connaissait trop mal Olivier, pour se douter du flot de sentiments hideux que cette lettre allait soulever chez celui-ci; une sorte de raz-de-maree ou se melait du depit, du desespoir et de la rage. . . . Une phrase surtout de la lettre de Bernard le torturait, que Bernard n'aurait jamais ecrite s'il avait pressenti tout ce qu'Olivier pourrait y voir: "Dans la meme chambre", se repetait-il--et l'abominable serpent de la jalousie se deroulait et se tordait en son coeur. "Ils couchent dans la meme chambre! . . ." Que n'imaginait-il pas aussitot? Son cerveau s'emplissait de visions impures qu'il n'essayait meme pas de chasser. . . .Il les imaginait tour a tour l'un et l'autre ou simultanement, et les enviait a la fois. Il avait recue la lettre a midi. "Ah! c'est ainsi. . .", se redisait-il tout le restant du jour. Cette nuit, les demons de l'enfer l'habiterent. Le lendemain matin il se precipita chez Robert. Le comte de Passavant l'attendait. (171)
This passage begins by stressing Bernard's innocence in Olivier's jealousy, an innocence in which we are not necessarily inclined to believe. Bernard should at least have suspected Olivier's real feelings for Edouard, and should thus have avoided the temptation to show off his newfound employer. His innocence is asserted, even so, and the fact of his showing off can only increase Edouard's value to the reader. Bernard is still far from perfect: he is currently a protege of the almost perfect Edouard. What is of interest here is how Bernard's sentiments hideux, originally attributable to this arrogant letter, are slowly converted into a demonic possession by the forces of Passavant. This is certainly the standard Christian understanding of the dangers of jealousy, spite, despair and rage. Allowing such feelings to get the better of one eventually leads one into the Devil's clutches. Here, indeed, Olivier is given a little time for the transaction or transformation to take place. His visions repeat themselves in a shamanic excess of jealousy. "Il avait recu la lettre a midi. 'Ah! c'est ainsi. . .', se redisait-il tout le restant du jour." That night, the demons of hell possess him. The next morning, naturally, he runs to Passavant. The last sentence finally establishes Passavant's collaboration with, or even identity as, the Devil: that Passavant was waiting for him proves that he knew he was coming; that he knew he was coming proves that he sent the demons of the previous night.
Gide is not averse to calling forth the reader's resistance to homosexuality in this passage. "Que n'imaginait-il pas aussitot? Son cerveau s'emplissait de visions impures qu'il n'essayait meme pas de chasser." What is the origin and status of the term impure here? It can be read ironically, of course, but it also functions as a precursor of the condemnation of jealous rage immediately following. It is not a term from Gide's projected reader, nor is it narrated monologue. It simultaneously calls forth the graphic nature of Olivier's visions and blankets them under a false piety. That these visions are objectively incorrect (Bernard and Edouard are not lovers) provides a sort of objective prop on which the term rests, on which, in other words, the moral indignation of the language can be dissipated. The reader is not sure whether he is horrified that Olivier has homosexual visions or whether he is marking the unfoundedness of Olivier's jealousy. This ambiguity--"Que n'imaginait-il pas aussitot?"--between two distinct moral issues--Olivier's jealousy and Olivier's homosexuality--confuses the reader and brings his condemnation off of Olivier's homosexuality and onto his jealousy. The upshot: it is not at all the homoeroticism of Olivier's visions that leads him to the Devil, but the rage of his jealousy.
Other characters are similarly shifted between Edouard and Passavant. Boris and George are both under the aegis of the two of them. Bernard (who is on Edouard's side) saves Sarah from Passavant at the party, as well as saving her from the inauthenticity of her family's puritanism. Edouard and Passavant both have their flunkies. Bernard's moral imperfection reflects that of Edouard, but Bernard's goodness, like Edouard's, truimphs in the end. (More on this below.) Edouard and Bernard constitute a team against the more organized and sinister hierarchy of Passavant, Strouvilhou and Gheridanisol. The latter three are in descending order of importance. The Angel that meets Bernard can be understood as a divine endorsement of Edouard's side.
I stated in my introduction that Gide manipulates the reader's understanding of different age groups in order to establish the acceptability of pedophilia. This is worth considering at this point, because it also functions within the opposition of Edouard and Passavant. The most important point, which need only be stated briefly because of its obviousness, rests on the fact that the children in this novel (with the exception of Boris and Bronja) have the feel of adults. There are a number of ways Gide establishes their adult-like characters. We find out that the children are involved in crime and go to prostitutes. Olivier runs off on his own as Passavant's secretary, and several of the boys are offered adult jobs (editor or secretary, for example). Bernard has much of the precocious verve of a Stendhal hero: he is always trying to fit into adult clothes. These modifications of the characteristics of childhood serve Gide's rhetoric of acceptance because they lessen the moral revulsion that might otherwise meet his presentation of pedophilia. Boys that are men are not the victims of child abuse. At the same time Gide has turned the adults, particularly the fathers and grandfathers, into ineffectual clowns. Profitendieu is first presented limping along with a pain in his side: "la fatigue, chez lui, portait sur le foie, qu'il avait un peu delicat." He can think of nothing in this first scene but the warm bath he is looking forward to, before which he will be certain not to take any tea. "[Il estime] qu'il n'est prudent d'entrer dans l'eau, fut-elle tiede, qu'avec un estomac non charge. Apres tout, ce n'etait peut-etre la qu'un prejuge; mais les prejuges sont les pilotis de la civilization." (17) This is precisely the point: the fathers in Gide's novels are nothing but the "[lazy, cramped] props of civilization." When he hears the news of Bernard's departure--presented to him by a servant whose job it is to maintain the hypocritical normality of the household at all costs--he can do little but wheeze and fall back into an armchair. (20-24) Molinier is not much better. Because he leaves his mistress' love letters lying around, his wife needs to help him out by putting them back in his coat. (273) Both of these clowns, particularly the more experienced Molinier, subscribe to a legal philosophy that defines justice as that which balances the reputations of wealthy families against the preservation of their own jobs. (18-19) This particular characteristic makes them no match for the organized evil of Passavant, and so the middle class and its public guardians are exposed as insufficient to fight the damnation threatening the boys. The pathetic weakness and bureaucratic stiffness of these men also makes their value systems almost completely irrelevant to anyone who is concerned with authentic life. Thus, once again, Edouard is the answer. The other father figure of any importance is Pastor Vedel. Armand describes him as stuck in his role, going through the motions of faith, too terrified of the consequences that might ensue from inquiring into the basis of this faith. (358) Along with the hypocrisy and corruption of those upholding the laws, there is a parallel corruption in those upholding a false faith. Neither of them is in touch with the authentic source represented by Edouard.
One can briefly lay to rest the old men as well. Azais's childlike oppressiveness and blindness to reality is powerful only in that it forces hypocrisy on those around him. (106) The pervasive paranoia and quirkiness of the La Perouses is presented as the alternative vision of old age. La Perouse cannot even control the boys within the confines of the classroom: that he might contribute to their salvation is thus out of the question.
Women are treated with more sympathy, but they are not presented as being particularly powerful. With the exception of Sophroniska, the important women in this novel depend on men. Their virtue rests on the fact that they are at least wise enough to perceive who the good men are. Pauline and Laura both come to Edouard as a last rock of hope. Sarah is liberated by Bernard.
If we have not already been dealing in counterfeit goods, it is worth looking into the all-pervasiveness of the counterfeiting theme and how it functions within Gide's rhetoric of acceptance. As I suggested in my introduction, counterfeiting here is not to be understood simply as the production and passing of counterfeit coins, and counterfeiters are not simply those who engage in this production and passing. Counterfeiting takes many forms: art, hypocritical speech, hypocritical religious sentiments and images, theatricality, and texts of all sorts (journals, novels, letters, Boris's magic mandala). The all-pervasiveness of counterfeiting gives Gide many opportunities to shift readerly judgments toward his own ends. Some of Gide's devices have been considered above (his use of the counterfeit nature of narrated monologue, of the counterfeit nature of dreams, of embarrassed behavior, of his "boys" and "men," of the illusory unity of the actual reader and his projected reader, etc.). Such an environment allows Gide to play the role of the quick-change artist if only because his machinations seem natural within it. Gide allows Edouard to present his unfinished novel as an unplanned production in which the necessity of characters' changing needs, rather than some artificially imposed plot structure, will presumably determine the progress of the narrative. Chapter VII of Part II, where "L'auteur juge ses personnages," implies that Gide's Les Faux-monnayeurs is itself such a novel. Thus Gide's characters are meant to have their own internal necessity, one that will lead them where they are meant to go. The reiteration of the unplanned nature of Les Faux-monnayeurs makes the reader less likely to suspect the careful subterfuge that is everywhere present, just as it justifies the abruptness of much of the action and the shiftiness of many of the characters' decisions. (note 3) The constant movement of most of the characters, along with their tendency to soliloquize, gives the novel its theatrical feel, and the many trap doors and escape routes Gide provides allows him the quick changes necessary for demonstrating human mutability in the face of the opposing forces of Good (Edouard) and Evil (Passavant). In numerous instances Gide uses the trap doors in his micro-universe to carefully orchestrate a shifting of readerly condemnation onto objects other than homoeroticism or Edouard. As the text borrows heavily from the Christian tradition, it is worth looking into the opportunities for counterfeiting this tradition offers.
In the literal counterfeit racket little George Molinier is involved in, the counterfeit coins must be produced and passed. For the unnamed counterfeiters that produced the coins, the goal is to create money that will be accepted by n'importe qui. For Gide, the goal is likewise to create a counterfeit object that will be accepted. Gide's most obvious counterfeit object is the novel itself, which, like other novels, makes pretentions to the real. I have shown that Gide also counterfeits a whole structure of acceptance and condemnation, one mediated across a projected reader. Gide "passes" this structure by building it in the traditional language of piety, and, perhaps more importantly, by counterfeiting scapegoats onto which the reader can dissipate the evil the reader potentially perceives. Thus for Gide's more rhetorical counterfeiting the buck must also be printed and passed. Gide passes the buck.
The Christian tradition is particularly suited to Gide's enterprise. It is not simply that scapegoating was a historical Hebrew practice designed to cleanse a community of sin. Christ himself is a scapegoat--the final scapegoat, according to the Book of Hebrews, who has taken on the sins of the world. Christian theology thus depends on a transfer of negative value--sin--onto a counterfeit human--Christ--stamped in the womb of his mother by a father who is in fact the artificer of the universe itself. Though the Devil continues to work his wiles in the world, we are still saved through our patient faith in the value of this transaction, by our faith in Christ and God's grace. Perhaps this kind of analogy seems to be stretching things a bit. Gide's novel has a Christ figure in it, however. Though Edouard is Christlike in ways, the real Lamb here is Boris.
It is of interest that Little Boris and Bronja are the only real children in Gide's novel, and that both of them are dead by the end. They are presented in the following lines from Edouard's journal:
La petite Bronja est exquise; elle doit avoir quinze ans. Elle porte en nattes d'epais cheveux blonds qui descendent jusqu'a sa taille; son regard et le son de sa voix semblent plutot angeliques qu'humains. Je transcris les propos de ces deux enfants:
"Boris, maman prefere que nous ne touchions pas a la lorgnette. Tu ne veux pas venir te promener?"
"Oui, je veux bien. Non, je ne veux pas."
. . . .
"Il fait trop chaud, il fait trop froid." . . . .
"Voyons. Boris, soi gentil. Tu sais que cela ferait plaisir a maman que nous sortions ensemble. Ou as-tu mis ton chapeau?"
"Vibroskomenopatof. Blaf blaf."
"Qu'est-ce que ca veut dire?"
"Alors pourquoi le dis-tu?"
"Pour que tu ne comprennes pas." (172-73)
Boris's companion is the angelic Bronja. The rhythm of this conversation, the curtness and decisiveness of his tone, suggest that he is an intelligent child in control of what he says. The contradictory nature of what he says, combined with his intelligence, give him the air of speaking in riddles or parables. Gide may be playing with the obscurantism of religious language by having Boris say something simply in order that Bronja not understand. Boris's self-mystification, when considered along with his lamblike qualities, is Christlike in a way. Later in the conversation, Boris suggests his own fated sinfulness as if it were a burden laid on him: "Bronja, toi, tu ne's pas mechante, c'est pour ca que tu peux voir les anges. Moi je serai toujours un mechant." (173) Several sentences later he establishes himself as a sacred/profane being, in the manner of Noli me tangere. Bronja asks him if he wants to go off and pray to the Virgin so that she can help him not to be so mechant. Boris suggests that he close his eyes and Bronja lead him there on the end of a stick, each of them holding one end. Bronja is about to grasp the stick, but Boris stops her:
"Oui, non, pas ce bout-la. Attends que je l'essuie."
"J'y ai touche." (174)
All of this may be seen simply as the quirks of a neurotic child, but Gide would not have introduced this neurotic child without some intention. Boris's paradoxical guilt/innocence are further established in Edouard's conversations with Sophroniska. (174-78) Sophroniska is convinced that Boris is hiding some fundamental guilt, and she is using all her insidiously oppressive techniques to force him to confess. Edouard sees no reason for weighing so heavily on the child, and is not so sure that Sophroniska is not projecting the guilt onto him. Later we find out that Boris's guilt is linked to magic. Sophroniska discovers the meaning of a "parchemin" that Boris always wore around his neck, on which was written a text all the more cryptic for its banality: "GAZ. TELEPHONE. CENT MILLE ROUBLES." (202) Boris's mysterious guilt (it turns out to be the sin of all mankind: masturbation) is thus linked to a Logos, as was Christ's in the sense that Christ was the prophesied Word made flesh, preordained to his role as ultimate sacrifice. The meaning of this word is further established by the fact that Strouvilhou mysteriously shows up at the hotel and acquires it from the prying Sophroniska. The word is later used to weaken Boris for his final sacrifice.
Boris's sacrifice and in particular its aftermath should establish him as a Christ figure. To begin with, he is aware that he is being betrayed by the other members of La Confrerie des Hommes Forts, as Christ was aware that he would be betrayed by Judas.
Boris eut le soupcon que l'on trichait; mais se tut. A quoi bon protester? Il savait qu'il etait perdu. Pour se defendre, il n'eut pas fait le moindre geste; et meme, si le sort avait designe l'un des autres, il se serait offert pour le remplacer, tant son desespoir etait grand. (370)
Boris's suicide saves a number of sinners, and manages to put the families somewhat back in order. The hypocritical and oppressive Vedel-Azais school is discredited, and many of the boys go home. Gheridanisol and his realm are also discredited and lose their hold: "George n'etait pas si corrumpu que son admiration pour Gheridanisol ne cedat enfin a l'horreur. Lorsqu'il revint ce soir chez ses parents, il se jeta dans les bras de sa mere; et Pauline eut un elan de reconnaissance vers Dieu, qui, par ce drame affreux, ramenait a elle son fils." (375) Armand, we are told, has decided to help his family by working in the school, which should distance him a bit from Passavant. Perhaps his cynicism will inject a little authenticity into the Vedel faith. (376) Bernard has also returned to his father out of sympathy, which, according to the good Edouard, is the best thing he could have done. The last conversation with La Perouse (it is the last conversation in the novel) is also instructive. Earlier La Perouse had told Edouard of a noise coming from the wall near his bed: the noise kept him awake at night, but he could never manage to identify it. After Boris's suicide, the noise is gone. La Perouse's joy at this newfound peace and quiet leads him to a more mystical interpretation of noise: "Avez-vous remarque que, dans ce monde, Dieu se tait toujours? Il n'y a que le diable qui parle. Ou du moins, ou du moins. . ., reprit it, quelle que soit notre attention, ce n'est jamais que le diable que nous parvenons a entendre." What is the message of all this if not that Boris, in his self-sacrifice, has conquered Satan? La Perouse continues, perhaps reminding the reader of the magic talisman: "Vous vous souvenez du debut de l'Evangile: 'Au commencement etait la Parole.' J'ai souvent pense que la parole de Dieu, c'etait la creation tout entiere. Mais le diable s'en est empare." (377) And finally, referring to God: "Et savez-vous ce qu'il a fait de plus horrible?. . . C'est de sacrifier son propre fils pour nous sauver. Son fils! son fils! . . . La cruaute, voila le premier des attributs de Dieu." Edouard comments on this: "Il ne m'avait pas dit un mot de Boris; mais je pensai qu'il fallait voir dans ce desespoir mystique une indirecte expression de sa douleur, trop etonnante pour pouvoir etre contemplee fixement." (378) Edouard unwittingly identifies Little Boris with the Savior.
The final image of the novel is one of order restored. Edouard is invited to dine at Profitendieu's with Bernard, Molinier, Pauline and the two boys. Gide's sacrifice of the Lamb has brought his wayward characters into harmony.
Boris's suicide paradoxically allows Gide to end his novel on a positive note, with the forces of Edouard in the transcendent. Gide makes several characters partially responsible for the suicide: Edouard advised sending him to the school, though he knew such an oppressive atmosphere would only be bad for him; Sophroniska, in attempting to dissect his psyche, only threw him off balance; La Perouse's clinging obsession with the boy could only make him uneasy (one can read his suicide in La Perouse's presence as a rebellion against his feeble old authority); George's and Phiphi's desire to shine before the demon Gheridanisol, and their competition with each other, led them to betray Boris against their own hearts. The fact that the sins of all are responsible for Boris's death further emphasizes the narrative reason for his death: to wash away the sins of Gide's miniature world. This illusory transference of the accumulated sin of the novel onto Boris--a counterfeit Christ--manages to obliterate the image of the sin that would otherwise most stand out in the minds of Gide's contemporary readers: namely, the sin of pederasty. This transference is illusory precisely because this latter sin is not really purged by the sacrifice; neither is it laid on the Lamb's shoulders (as the sins leading to Boris's death are laid on his shoulders), nor do any of the characters renounce it or "reform," as the young George is led to do. The last sentence of the novel--"Je suis bien curieux de connaitre Caloub"--in fact narrates Edouard's interest in another man. The reader is given the feeling of sin purged, and so is led to the subconscious conviction that any tension caused by sin earlier in the novel has been alleviated. Gide's rhetoric of acceptance thus makes use of the potentialities for counterfeiting inherent in the Christian tradition: he counterfeits a salvation of the micro-universe of Les Faux-monnayeurs. Without ever having explicitly labeled homosexuality a sin, Gide, by means of the numerous devices demonstrated above, frequently goes along rhetorically with the anticipated reader's conviction that it is a sin. This hardly mentioned sin is eventually purged with the other sins, and is not purged. The redemption of sin by Christ would necessarily become ambiguous if sin itself were ambiguous. But Gide provokes a strategic moral ambiguity in Les Faux-monnayeurs by establishing Edouard as the prime source of goodness, by occasionally projecting a reader that accepts homosexuality as normal, and by occasionally and very strategically adopting the language of those readers who think homosexuality is a sin. In such an ambiguous milieu, the rhetorical sleights of hand appear merely as the necessary march forward of the plot.
I mentioned in my introduction Gide's use of the tension between Protestantism and Catholicism. In the form of the Vedel-Azais family, Protestantism is more fully represented in the novel than Catholicism, and is clearly held up to scorn as a religion full of possibilities for inhuman stiffness and hypocrisy. What's more, it is represented mainly through Edouard's eyes, and it is represented as Other (see especially Part I, chapter XII). That Edouard positions himself as an observer viewing Protestantism from the outside, and that he lightly mocks its puritan tendencies, allies him further with the French Catholic reader. Edouard needn't express his own Catholicism to establish this alliance: his French nationality, his relation to the Protestants, and the narrator's use of the language of good and evil in relation to Edouard all go a long way to establish his voice as the voice of the true faith. This alliance is most remarkable because of Gide's lifelong adherence to Protestant beliefs (though it is clear he never advocated a strict orthodoxy). It is as if Gide downplayed his own religious beliefs in order to put his homosexuality on better terms with the French Catholic reader. It is true, however, that Catholicism does not go unscathed in Les Faux-monnayeurs, particularly in its nationalist strains (see especially Part III, chapter XIII, "Bernard et l'ange").
Because I have so frequently reiterated the devices Gide employs in Les Faux-monnayeurs to establish the acceptability of homosexuality, I will only very briefly summarize them here. Gide often makes use of narrated monologue to project an ambiguous haze around the reader's attitude to homoeroticism. He uses the ambiguity of different states of consciousness--sleep, dreaming, embarrassment, jealous rage, protectiveness--to obscure the intentionality of homosexual passion. An elaborate microcosmic battle of good and evil is staged between Edouard and Passavant so that Edouard (and thus Edouard's homosexual love of the boys) is made to appear the embodiment of virtue in relation to his demonic counterpart. The major theme of Les Faux-monnayeurs--counterfeiting as manifested in art, writing, religion and behavior--creates an environment in which quick shifts in behavior of the characters and in the moral values placed on these behaviors are made to appear natural. Gide can thus deploy his rhetoric with less attention from the reader and this, of course, is part of his rhetoric. Finally, Christian thinking itself is founded on a transfer and redemption of the negative power of sin, and Gide does not miss the opportunity of reenacting the Passion of Christ in the character of Little Boris, thus somehow redeeming, and thus obliterating, any impression of sinfulness that the reader may have picked up over the course of the novel. This serves Gide's rhetoric of acceptance, for, although many of the other characters reform their behavior, Edouard, in the last sentence of the novel, is looking forward to getting to know Caloub.
In conclusion, I would like to stress once more that my analysis here has not been in service to any intention of somehow morally condemning Gide, but has rather been an effort to show how his novel established the authenticity of its erotic milieu in a historical period when the author's very notions of passion were seen as unnatural, as in fact gravely sinful. The novel represents a stage in the debate of modern western culture over the status of homosexual love. Aside from being a carefully constructed novel, it is a subtle and nuanced plea for acceptance addressed to a literate public that, if addressed more directly, would surely have scowled with disapproval.
(This paper was written in the fall of 1989 for Professor David Hayman's undergraduate course on Flaubert and modernism at the University of Wisconsin-Madison.)
1) See Klaus Mann: Andre Gide and the Crisis of Modern Thought, Creative Age Press, Inc., 1943, pp. 18-22.
2) D. J. Fletcher, in "The Epic Strain in Les Faux-monnayeurs" (Modern Language Review 72, 1977, pp. 53-61), discusses the epic desire in Edouard's theory of the novel and considers Fielding's influence on Gide (Fielding as "the founder of the English prose epic"). Fletcher seems to miss some very crucial points, however. Gide's erosion of normal novelistic contours and the "high seriousness" of his concern with "exploring the nature and conditions of authenticity in human relationships" are stressed as the bases of his epic quality, while his obvious construction of a miniature and closed cosmos of good and evil is ignored. (54) Epic depends not so much on "exploration" as on assertion and recording of religious or national history, as well as on assertion of moral precepts. Bakhtin and others have taught us that one of the defining characteristics of epic is its attempt to seal off a field of action as having occurred in mythic time: this rather than any tendency to Romantic indeterminacy is crucial. Fletcher seems to depend too much on Gide's stated desires and intentions and not enough on the text of Les Faux-monnayeurs.
3) Catherine Brosman, in her article "The Relativization of Character in Les Faux-monnayeurs" (Modern Language Review 69, 1974, pp. 770-78), considers and applauds Gide's characters in terms of different twentieth century assertions of the illusory nature of the unified subject. The questions I raise here are not addressed.
NB: All quotes from Les Faux-monnayeurs were taken from the Folio edition. The quote in the epigraph from Le Journal des Faux-monnayeurs was taken from the second Gallimard edition cited.
Brosman, Catherine S. "The Relativization of Character in Les Faux-monnayeurs." Modern Language Review 69 (1974): 770-78.
Fletcher, D. J. "The Epic Strain in Les Faux-monnayeurs." Modern Language Review 72 (1977): 53-61.
Gide, Andre. Les Faux-monnayeurs . Paris: Gallimard (Collection Folio), 1925.
---. Les Faux-monnayeurs; suivi du Journal des Faux-monnayeurs . Paris: Gallimard, 1925.
---. Journal: 1889-1939. Paris: Gallimard (Bibliotheque de la Pleiade), 1951.
Mann, Klaus. Andre Gide and the Crisis of Modern Thought. New York: Creative Age Press, Inc., 1943.
Nersoyan, H. J. Andre Gide: The Theism of an Atheist. Syracuse: Syracuse UP, 1969.
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