In Les Faux Monnayeurs, Andre Gide adopts an experimental literary style. Employing the novel-within-a-novel format, Gide tries to capture his own persona through the character of Edouard. The usage of omniscient and multiple narrators makes the reader privy to the most intimate thoughts of the characters. There are two distinct layers to the novel. The first is the obvious reference to pure and counterfeited gold coins, which is outwardly the plot of the story. But at another level, even the characters are shown to wear two personalities – real and artificial. To this end, Gide creates a careful sketch of each of the characters. The composite nature of their personalities is most evident in characters such as Edouard, Olivier, Bernard, Georges and Laura.
In comparison, the number of characters in Lettres d’une Peruvienne is lesser than that of Les Faux Monnayeurs. This is partly a result of the epistolary form employed by author Francoise de Graffigny. This novel form exposes to the reader the most intimate thoughts of the characters, chief among them being Zilia. Being the protagonist of the story, Graffigny fleshes out the character of Zilia in much detail. The story of the young Incan princess abducted by Spanish Conquistadors, and later turned by French soldiers, has a fairy tale feel to it. But within this attractive plot structure Graffigny sketches out the complexity and profundity of Zilia’s character. Zilia is shown to be an extraordinary woman, possessing wide-based knowledge and astuteness of observation. This is all the more remarkable, since the novel is set in mid-eighteenth century, when women did not enjoy access to education, let alone social parity with men. It is for this reason that Lettres d’une Peruvienne has become a classic feminist text. In contrast, Gide’s work does not treat any one character in such detail as Graffigny treats Zilia. But what it lacks in depth of characterization, it makes up in the complexity of inter-relationships between several characters.
Coming back to Lettres d’une Peruvienne, even after two centuries of its publication, it remains relevant to the women’s rights movement. This enduring relevance is in large part due to the rich, vibrant and detailed characterization of Zilia – the story’s hero. In order to keep the reader engaged, Graffigny brings in intrigue in the form of Zilia’s love toward Aza. It is kept suspenseful through the novel whether the two lovers would consummate their engagement in marriage. This device also helps her to flesh out the romantic side of Zilia, with her honour-bound attachment to her fiancé Aza. In contrast, while there is no major treatment of romance in Gide’s work, much attention is instead paid to human interrelationships. For example, in the beginning part of the novel the story of each character forms a subplot to the larger picture. But as the story moves on the lives of several characters are shown to intertwine. This adds new dimension to the already known facts of their persona. The contextualizing of their personal traits and attitudes in the backdrop of erstwhile unrelated characters gives readers new perspectives.
Françoise de Graffigny, Letters of a Peruvian Woman. “Oxford World classics.” Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2009.
André Gide: The Counterfeiters. Alfred A. Knopf: New York. 1998.