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Aesthetic Rivalries

Word and Image in France, 1880–1926


Linda Goddard

This book explores interaction and competition between painting and literature in France, from the late nineteenth century to the early twentieth, offering new readings of works by key figures including Paul Gauguin, Stéphane Mallarmé, Pablo Picasso and André Gide. Combining close visual and literary analysis with a broader examination of critical discourse, the volume uncovers a mutual but often contentious exchange of ideas. The author challenges habits of periodisation, drawing attention to the links between Symbolist and Cubist criticism. Issues such as the debate about ‘literary’ painting, the role of art criticism and artists’ writings, as well as themes such as newspapers and gold, alchemy and forgery, are shown to connect the two centuries. In examining how the rejection of mimesis in painting affected literary responses to the visual arts, the book explores a shift in power from the verbal to the visual in the early decades of the twentieth century.


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Chapter 5 - Gide’s Les Faux-monnayeurs: From Alchemy to Forgery 197


Chapter 5 Gide’s Les Faux-monnayeurs: From Alchemy to Forgery In a diary entry of 16 July 1919, Gide recorded his intention to incorporate several faits divers that he had collected between 1906 and 1909 into his work-in-progress, Les Faux-monnayeurs, and admonished himself to ‘start from there and to stop trying to create in the abstract’. Appended to this diary, in which he charted the progress of his novel, one of these reports recounts the tragic fate of a schoolboy pressured to commit suicide after drawing lots; another gives details of a coin-counterfeiting ring using young students and writers as traf fickers. Together with at least three other inci- dents involving counterfeiting, these cuttings were to provide material for the novel’s action and themes.1 Like the ‘Litre d’Or’ clipping in Picasso’s Bouteille, tasse, journal (1912), and Mallarmé’s meditation, in ‘Or’, on the financial scandal of Panama, Les Faux-monnayeurs is also composed of newspaper cuttings that deal with the theme of gold. Like Mallarmé and Picasso, Gide transformed the ‘low’ material of journalism into the pre- cious metal of art, setting up a tension between the commercial value of economic currency and the transcendent worth of the artist’s gold. Deriving inspiration from faits divers, he moulded an apparently arbitrary assort- ment of events into an intricate literary structure whose contrivance is 1 ‘partir de là sans chercher plus longtemps à construire à priori’. Gide, Journal des faux- monnayeurs (1926), 1927 edn, p. 20. Gide notes: ‘j’ai ressorti ce matin les quelques découpures...

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