A topic we’ve discussed with increasing frequency is whether there is actually such a thing as feminine writing. Cixous said yes, but Nochlin argued against the idea. Looking at Monsieur Venus through that lens… doesn’t really help the tension.
One level, it must be a feminine text because it is written by a woman, but on another, it is published under a pseudonym (either a masculine or gender-neutral one–can anyone confirm this?), so it does not explicitly state its femininity.
Another level, the text is about a woman and her interactions within her social sphere. But even though her independence is liberating and empowering, she often does this through assuming masculine traits. The introduction states,” [Rachilde’s] powerful female protagonists… are frequently disarmingly unfeminine (as is literally the case for Raoule de Venerande in Monsieur Venus). Thus Rachilde appears to embrace and reclaim characteristics that would be identified with abusive enactments of power prerogatives and associated with certain constructions of masculinity or with social class or economic power” (xxi).
I find this quote fascinating because it seems to imply that Raoule gains her power by being unfeminine, which seems to support the same trends of masculine power that were prevalent. However, in class we discussed the possibility that the feminine text is that which subverts the traditional framework . Would this be an example of that? Rachilde does push the gender binary through her language (especially with the use of pronouns). So if Raoule is a strong character because of the masculine traits she adopts, does the fact that she is a woman who is adopting these traits make it subversive? Or a case of a woman trying to gain power by acting like a man and denying her own femininity? (I feel like the latter is less likely, because there are moments where she does seem very feminine… but they also seem like places where she feels like she is being weak. So there’s some food for thought.) This also reminds me of Scott and her views on the gendered language of power, though I’m not sure how she would feel about this text.
The following part of the introduction seems to offer a solution to that. If we view feminism as requiring a feminine language (not succumbing to male structures), then Monsieur Venus cannot be a feminist text (is that different from a feminine text?). However, this novel does challenge concepts of what is masculine and what is feminine through the masculinization of Raoule and the feminization of Jacques (who exists as an object for both Raoule and his sister). The idea of subversion as feminine or non/masculine rises up again. This text does lead me to believe that subversion is an important role in feminine writing, but it leaves a bitter taste in my mouth, because there are male writers who are also subversive in their writings (Flaubert with Madame Bovary, perhaps? I don’t know how well this holds up). Are they then creating feminine texts?