Gender Binary in Rachilde

            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? 

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2 thoughts on “Gender Binary in Rachilde

  1. I’m not entirely sure what Jacques’ poverty serves in terms of affecting the power inequality between him and Raoule. At some points, he seems extremely feminized, but this seems a function more of his appearance and mannerisms – he tends to exhibit classically feminine traits (shyness, etc). There is another component to his powerlessness, however. Besides being feminized, Jacques is also infantilized not just by Raoule but by Marie as well. They describe him as a naive baby and speak as if he isn’t there. It certainly took him a while to catch on to the nature of his relationship with Raoule (a potentially sexual one) so there is some truth to the innocence. I don’t know if this is particular to a certain gender; Marie is a woman and poor but is well-versed in the ways of the world. I don’t really have any formal conclusion but I hope this helps!

    • Marie however is looked down on even by her brother for being a prostitute and earning her living that way, when I assume that she didn’t have much choice to earn money, with her brother being an artist, while Raoule’s affairs are acceptable within her class, as long as they are kept secret. So even when both women are more knowledgable, only Raoule’s status is not reduced for it.

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