I wonder what kind of shot Raoule has fired into the canon when she enters readers’ minds as a female character unforgivably sexual and also willing to play with being both feminine and masculine. What are the repercussions of this shot? And why was it forgotten from the era of decadence?
To get at these questions, we could look at how Raoule adopts masculine gender roles and see if there’s anything in how she plays with masculinity that challenges or fails to challenge the canon. In the story, there are multiple places where Raoule openly rejects feminine convention, her treatment toward Jacques Silvert (peeking while he bathes), her demand to be called “Monsieur” and referring to herself as a man, and particularly the scene in which she berates herself for thinking like a girl in love (41). However, at the same time, these very scenes also seem to reveal how hysterical Raoule can be and how her behavior could be viewed by outsiders as a rich woman’s flight of fancy, not as behavior that could elevate unheard women’s voices.
In addition to her masculine behavior, Raoule still very much operates within the ‘sign’ of woman. She half-heartedly strings Raittolbe along, and easily dismisses his anger with her when she shows up nine hours late by saying, “Nothing ought to astonish you, since I’m a woman,” Raoule answered, laughing nervously. “I do the complete opposite of what I’ve promised. What could be more natural!” (64) But when her femininity and masculinity meet, during the vertiginous conversation between her and Raittolbe, Raoule is driven to delirium when she attempts to explain her situation to him. When she says that “I’m a man in love with a man, not with a woman!”, Raittolbe responds by saying his brain is collapsing (73). He can’t comprehend Raoule, as much as he tries to.
Maybe Raoule is operating within the role of the hysterical woman who can adopt masculine roles without seriousness, and her class and unique situation allow her the freedom to do so. She becomes someone not to be envied because of her diversity, but to horrified by because of her split personality. Because of her inability to pick a gender role, along with the implication that there are gender roles to pick in the first place, is she still stuck in the hegemony of canon? Moreover, Pollock says that this hegemony entices us to construct self-identities in relation to them (11). Does Raoule’s gender hysteria stem from attempting to construct opposing self-identities within the canon?