Raoule’s power of naming

There is a lot of experimenting with gender identities in this book, but all the gender labels seem to be assigned by Raoule.

She is the one who describes Silvert as “a man as weak as a girl” (41) and thereby first assigns a female identity to him. She flips her identity between that of a “gentleman” (55) to “a woman right through to her pleasure” (56) then back to “ drowning man” (58) in a short time span. She usually applies the identity of a man to herself when it has to do with her relationship with Silvert. She says that “this man is in love” (68) or that she’s “a man madly in love” and then again “a man in love with a man, not with a woman” (73), where she also assigns the identity of man to Silvert. Yet she later declares that he really is a woman. She calls him a “beauty”, says he has an “instinctively feminine soul” (74) and decides to use female pronouns for him.

Raittolbe seems to understand her because he tells her before she claims a manly identity in front of him that “two boys hearts, two hussars’ hearts must both be much the same color red” (54). I think that is what makes her accept his advances and afterwards trust him enough to confide in him about Silvert.

There is one instance where it is mentioned that Raoule’s aunt calls her her nephew when she paints or fences (28). However, Raoule uses that too when she tells Silvert “remember, now, that I’m a boy. An artist whom my aunt calls her nephew” (37).

So we see here that Raoule finds power in language and naming, a power that women usually don’t have, but that she is able to exert because of her wealth and social status.


5 thoughts on “Raoule’s power of naming

  1. Your point about Raittolbe is interesting, and I think you’re right. Raittolbe accepts Raoule’s gender-swapping, and even anticipates her own identification, and that is most probably Raoule’s motivation in confiding in him. It’s also interesting that Raoule has so much influence over Raittolbe, even without this naming power. He’s been completely seduced by her, and she knows she can continue toying with him and even shocking him with her confessions, and he will remain loyal to her. That may also play into how much she trusts him.

  2. This might be too obvious to state, but along with Raoule’s power of naming comes the acceptance from all the other characters, which is perhaps even more interesting. Raoule is a strong character, but that doesn’t fully explain the subservience many of the other characters show her. It’s not enough for her to be strong–the others must be meek/accepting as well. This would explain why Marie’s character, while being strong, isn’t as effective as Raoule’s. When Marie tries to manipulate Raoule, the latter does not succumb as easily as expected. I’m not sure if this mutual necessity of character is easily translated to traditional male power, though–are males dominant because of female submission or regardless of it?

    • It’s interesting that you compare Raoule to Marie, especially in light of Dido’s thought that economic privilege allows Raoule to name. Perhaps Marie’s inability to manipulate successfully and name things as she wishes to is a result of her economic disadvantage. Both Raoule and Marie seem to have a unique, incisive understanding of the world and the people in it, but Raoule is the only one able to successfully act on these insights.
      Also, I was thinking of the naming portion of Genesis… I wonder if maybe we could understand Raoule’s role in a kind of reversed Biblical way–self determining in her wielding of the power to identify?

      • I think the idea posed about economic power is interesting. Power definitely has many sources and they all bleed together. (potentially crazy-sounding) Thought experiment: If we could turn it all into a single ‘power currency’ how much economic power would it take to negate the negative social impact of being a woman? How rich do I have to be so that my femininity doesn’t matter?

    • This is a really interesting point to bring up in light of all we’ve been talking about this unit regarding inherent “womanhood” and “femininity.” Does Rachilde assert that power and dominance is an inherent part of “manhood” by making Raoule such a strong, dominant masculine character? In comparing Marie and Raoule, both seem to be “strong” and possess some amount of agency and initiative. Raoule, however, is presented as masculine, and Marie defaults to a feminine character (since her gender representation doesn’t pop up much), which shows in the different ways Raoule and Marie act on their motivations. Raoule seems to be much more forthright and public in her actions, while Marie seems to slink in and out of shadows and act in the background (e.g., delivering the fake letter to Raoule, revealing the truth about Raoule and Jacques’s relationship to Raoule’s aunt). It may be that, though both Marie and Raoule are “strong” characters, they exhibit their strength in different ways—one through sheer force and dominance, and the other through manipulation.

      In this case, I’m not sure what Rachilde might be saying about whether dominance in masculinity is inherent or due to female submission. It gets confusing, too, because it seems as though Rachilde makes claims about how much social and economic power is a driving force in society. Marie and Jacques are the only ones who are physically abused in the novel because it seems allowable to do so by the high-society characters. Marie can’t even exercise her strength in the same way Raoule can because of how little economic/social freedom she has.

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