What I’ve found most interesting about Rachilde’s Monsieur Vénus is the ease with which the characters’ identities shift. In Jacques’ first encounter with Raoule, Raoule expects to be met by a woman and instead finds Jacques. When she asks if she’s mistaken, Jacques replies, “You’re at the right place, Madame, and for the time being, I’m Marie Silvert” (Rachilde, 9). While Jacques claims this identity, he only claims it “for the time being”, implying his identity can easily shift. He continues on to explain that he “has to” be the flower maker because is sister is ill, leaving one to question where the separation between ‘has to’ and wants to lies for Jacques (Rachilde, 9). Additionally, depending on the context of the passage, Raoule refers to Jacques by different names and titles, showing that his standing in her mind is influenced by the setting and context they are in.
As Jacques is described further, tension appears between his physical attributes and his character traits. After his physical description, the author notes, “The broad hands, the sulky voice, and the thickly sown hair were the only clues on him as to his sex” (Rachilde, 12). However, after discussing Raoule’s plans for her dress, and after Raoule feels her initial attraction to Jacques, his actions become much more feminized: “Silvert picked up a daisy stem, rolling it between his fingers, and without paying attention used the skilled touch of a trained woman to make the piece of material look just like a blade of grass” (Rachilde, 15). By describing Jacques’ looks as indicating he is a male while describing his actions as those of a ‘trained woman’, Rachilde begins developing the gender struggles of the text. The descriptions of Raoule’s physical attributes and personal traits create a similar tension regarding Raoule, though this manifests itself in a reverse fashion. However, Raoule’s shifting and changeable nature are cast in a different light than Jacques’ due to her wealth and class.
My question then is whether these differences and tensions between physical attributes and gender identity are exasperated by Jacques’ lower position in life. Similarly, does Raoule’s position afford her the means through which to be more comfortable in resisting the pressure to conform to the female role in the gender binary?