Le procédé de la mise en abyme dans “Les Faux-Monnayeurs” d’André Gide,” by Artur K. Wardega
I don’t want to talk specifically about André Gide. Just last week, I’ve read the splendid chapter “Portrait of Proteus, A Little ABC of André Gide,” by Simon Leys and I believe that certainly I cannot add any more value to this topic. I like André Gide—he had the courage of his ideas and convictions—and his portrait is genuinely brilliant.
I thank Angelo Paratico for the gift of “The house of uselessness” by Simon Leys, which is like a casket of treasure, unbelievable and unique, I agree. I want to thank B39 too that is becoming a real room of encounters, suggestions and good hints: it is a pleasure.
By the way, talking about books, I received three emails concerning my blog “The Headmaster’s wage” by Vincent Lam. In all of them, there is a critic—kind, affectionate, and intelligent—but in any case a critic about my descriptions of the physical book. I understand. Now, just reading the Leys’ essay about André Gide, I can confirm that a digression about the quality of the paper, for instance, would have been an out of tune and useless note, correct. However, I’m writing neither an academic review nor an article, luckily. In B39, I’m sharing my feelings with my friends, and for me it is necessary to maintain a complete transparency and an uncut picture of the story I’m telling. Yes, story, since a good book represents a story for me, which goes beyond the particular content. So I’d like to keep faithfully to this method, maybe loosing some opportunities, who knows?
“Le procédé de la mise en abyme dans “Les Faux-Monnayeurs” d’André Gide” by Artur K. Wardega, is a lovely book that tells another account. Everything started with a meeting with an exquisite lady, Betty Wey, at the Domani restaurant, in a beautiful day of September. Angelo introduced me to her, and we had a dessert and a coffee together. She was as minute and elegant as only the Hong Kong ladies are, and smart and very sensitive. She knew “Sea and Sardinia” by D.H. Lawrence—this thing made me proud. Unexpectedly, she gave me a yellow, graceful book as a welcome present. She didn’t know that I speak French, and this was another touch of mystery I appreciated so much.
In short, I spent the evening reading Le procédé de la mise an abyme as if I was starving, feeling young and slim again. Oh, how much I love French! It has the taste of my youth, of my sentimental education, of another world that disappeared.
So, before talking about the essay, I would like to express my gratitude to Betty Wey, hoping to reciprocate her courtesy as soon as possible.
Going to the content of the book, the technique of mise en abyme means ‘story within story’ and was employed by André Gide the first time in 1924 in his novel “The Counterfeiters”—translating the title in English. Using the words of Professor Zhu Jing, who wrote the preface, “Gide has shifted from the traditional “writer-focused” approach to a new “reader-focused” method. The latter invites both readers and on-lookers to become personally involved in the creative process… In the novel, Gide also constructed a second layer that allows various characters to provide different perspectives on the same event. Borrowing from the form of heraldry, the writer formulated a new technique, namely, mise en abide or story within story, by using the form of the novel itself… It broadened the novel’s dimension of expression, shattered the traditional model in which the narrator is omniscient and omnipresent, and empowered readers to take an active part in the reorganization of plots whilst at the same time experiencing the genuine emotional life of the characters in the novel.”
What is the book about? Wardega says: ““Les Faux-Monnayeurs”—le seul ouvrage de Gide étiqueté roman—est tout à la fois un roman policier qui présente des enfants dévoyés passant du trafic de fausses pièces au crime; un roman d’apprentissage… Un roman d’aventures sentimentales qui suit au présent les révoltes et les interrogations d’adolescents déboussolés… C’est un roman de moraliste, un roman d’idées, … un roman de psychologue qui traque la fausse monnaie, c’est-à-dire les manifestations de mensonge, d’hypocrisie… C’est un roman d’un romancier, Edouard, qui inscrit en abyme sa réflexion sur un nouveau roman intitulé aussi ‘Les Faux-Monnayeurs’ et présente les différentes facettes de sa genèse où il s’interroge notamment sur son rapport avec la réalités de la vie…”
What I want to underline is “from then on, the novel backed away from presenting the world as a ‘tranche de vie,’ or as a slice of life, this being inadequate to reflect the varied aspects of our complex existence. In consequence, the writer cannot limit himself to pursuing a single train of thought or following a single path.”
I’m talking about a book written in 1924. Maybe there is a parabola in literature as well as in life, I don’t know. But nowadays, if your book hasn’t a single path, a single focus, a single story, and no more than two main characters, better only one, it will be judged too complicated for the readers, “without focus,” and it will be rejected, inevitably. André Gide wouldn’t have had space in the Americanish literature of today.
We are looking again for a ‘tranche de vie’ as if it was an absolute value, like in the Romanticism. But our obsolete Romanticism is not a step of evolution but often a by-product of provincialism and superficiality.