Thoughts on “Monsieur Venus,” pt. 1

I was really struck by the connections between material poverty, materialness, luxury, morality, power, fixity, and art in this section of Monsieur Venus. I’m still not too sure on how they all overlap, so this post will serve as a sort of mapping of conceptions encountered thus far.

The rooms of the different characters reflect their economic, moral, and sexual natures and complicate the possibilities for art that Woolf describe as coming with a simple room and a door to close. Jacques reconfigures the luxurious “room of his own,” so to speak, that Raoule provides for him, as if his poverty is an inevitable fact that transcends his physical surroundings. Rachilde notes that when Jacques and Marie settle in to the new apartment, the grease spots and the broken chairs of their old run-down apartment “would be there before long” (32). In addition, Marie burns through the cash that Raoule readily gives to her. It is interesting to note, however, that even though Jacques technically has a room in which to produce art, it does not have a door – Raoule barges in whenever she feels like it and even rips the curtain away when Jacques is bathing. Woolf sees the transfer of money to an artist as an emancipatory exchange, but in Raoule’s transaction of money to the Silvert siblings, both Raoule and Jacques seem bound together in a complex romantic and sexual power relationship (example: naked baby Jacques is described as a “conqueror”) that I am still trying to wrap my head around

Raoule’s room, in contrast, is a place of sensuality and luxury, as well as physical danger – there are ‘weapons of all kinds and of all countries, exquisitely proportioned to a feminine wrist” occupying space amongst all the sumptuous fabrics. Interestingly enough, Raoule’s room is specifically non-sexual – she states to the baron that he should not expect sex when he comes back to her room, and she travels to Jacques’s apartment to conduct their affair (66). In contrast, Mme Ermengarde’s purposefully austere room is decorated “entirely of a steel gray that saddened the eye,” reflecting her repressive sexuality and adherence to religious morality. The sensual and sexual is bound up with the economic – Marie’s poverty is tied to her occupation as a prostitute and her “flat bed.” Money is just a manner of speaking,” and the rooms in Monsieur Venus inherently reflect the wealth of the characters that inhabit them (51).

Rachilde also speaks to the inherent morality or amorality that arises in different members of social classes. When describing Raoule’s family history, her mother is noted to be provincial but lusty and her father as a debaucher who enjoys the works of the Marquis de Sade, a French aristocrat whose sexually explicit writings inspired the terms “sadist” and “sadism.” This binary calls to mind the writings of Ghandi we read for class, as the cry of “god’s bosom or that of passion” implies that morality and sexuality are mutually exclusive. A casting-down of one is necessary to achieve the other. Similarly, the artistic and sexual are sometimes (but sometimes not) seen as mutually exclusive. A doctor describes the two possibilities of Raoule’s fate as “no happy medium! A nun or a monster!” after he has slept with her (26). In this way, the sexual is the only way by which to surpass the performances that Raoule puts on. Her only two possible fates are inherent virginity or inherent sin which she does not seem to discover so much as “invent” from a source inside of her (27). This calls to mind original sin and the images of plants and apples that greeted us on the first page of the first chapter.

In relation, there is also this really interesting part on page 72 where Raoule laments that only original sin is worshipped, as it is “creative” despite its vice (72). This is why her love for Jacques could be “respectable” – its originality. This originality also serves to give Raoule a source of power, making her a “priestess” and a “Christopher Columbus of modern love.” This depiction is contrasted with Jacques’ wretched art.

Finally, I was really interested by the footnotes’ discussion of the different forms of “vous” and “tu” in the French. Can someone who has actually taken a French class speak more on that?

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3 thoughts on “Thoughts on “Monsieur Venus,” pt. 1

  1. Awesome post! You brought up a lot of amazing connections, and I’ll be hard-pressed to find more, haha. But as far as the French goes, “vous” is the formal 2nd person pronoun, and is used for people who are older than you, have more power (ie. government officials, teachers, etc), or strangers that are not obviously younger. The footnote which mentioned that its use between Raoule and Raittolbe is indicative of equality was new to me, although it makes sense if it is being used to denote mutual respect. “Tu” is used for friends, younger people, casual encounters, and those who are in a lower position of power. I hope that helps!

  2. Lots of really cool points! In particular, your connection of the apples and original sin really struck a chord with me. I wonder if we are meant to consider Raoule as Eve, and Jacques as her forbidden fruit (for initially, her attraction to him weakened her almost as much as the apples did, and their relationship would be the original or modern sin), or if Raoule is our Adam and Jacques our Eve. After all, Jacques is being formed from Raoule’s influence (both monetary and otherwise) as Eve was made from Adam’s rib. I don’t know if that’s too much of a stretch, but I really enjoy the idea of their relationship being a second fall of man (perhaps a fall of the societal expectations of man?), in both senses of the word ‘man’.

  3. I also think the relationship between material and sexuality is interesting in relation to Marie and prostitution– the female body is one that is easily bought in this world. I do think the relationship between Marie and Raitolbe is also complicated in this lens in that their financial/sexual transactions take place at her apartment and that at one point she speaks of the potential of a marriage with him, if Raoule and Jacques are married.

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