Power Plays in “Monsieur Venus”

Throughout the entire novel, the language of Monsieur Venus speaks of love and sex not just in terms of affection and emotion, but specifically relates those feelings to the language of power – of dominance over and submission to another person. Other factors play into this power dynamic – money, beauty, occasionally narcotic substances. What follows is an attempt to trace these power dynamics.

In chapter seven, Rachilde abandons the plot momentarily and theorize about the power exchange that happens between a man and a woman during sex. Initially, “man possesses, woman submits” in the generative act, as the physical force of the man gives him control (90). After the sex act, however, man “deplet[es]” his power and thus becomes “feminized” and at mercy to pleasure (92). Pleasure is, of course, woman, that which tempted him in the first place and that which he originally conquered. Rachilde sees women as ultimately powerful over men because of their unceasing capacity to be sexually alluring. Interestingly enough, she states at the end of the passage that this conclusion means that Raoule will come to “possess” Jacques (92). (This foreshadows not only the dynamics of their relationship but also the ending of the book.)

I had a hard time following the power play between Raoule and Jacques, though. Initially, the power seems to be held entirely by Raoule – not only is she Jacques’ patroness and thus in charge financially and artistically, but she is also more aware of the sexual implications of their relationship and sex in general. She plays this up with the simultaneous infantiliation and feminization of Jacques; he feels like a “six-week-old baby” and is “more of a belle” than Raoule (85-86). This is in line with Rachilde’s foreshadowing at the end of chapter seven. Over the course of time, however, their power dynamic is complicated. Raoule states that “fresh and healthy flesh is the only power in the world,” and indeed, it seems as if she is the man, and not the woman, Rachilde speaks of in chapter seven. Her desire for Jacques causes her to do more and more extraordinary things – marrying out of her class in society, attacking Jacques in a fit of rage, and even ultimately being the catalyst for his death. Even if she is, to a certain extent, in control of Jacques, it seems as if she is not in control of herself, not caring whether her love for him takes her to “heaven or hell” (143).

After a certain point, even Raittolbe succumbs to the “power” of Jacques’ attraction when Jacques visits him, dressed as a woman. His honor becomes “vulnerable,” and the true extent of his vulnerability is exposed at Jacques’ death, when Raittolbe proclaims his love for Jacques (198). I’m not sure whether it confirms Jacques’ prowess as a seducer or merely demonstrates the weakness of all “men” when it comes to sexual temptation, though.

I don’t think I have anything too concrete to say about the power roles, but I personally thought that their ambiguity was one of the elements that made Monsieur Venus such an interesting read.

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3 thoughts on “Power Plays in “Monsieur Venus”

  1. I wonder since Jacques never seemed to realize his own sexual prowess, what kind of power did he have? Like you said, I’m also unsure if we can call Jacques powerful or call his seduced audience weak. He certainly had an ability to drive others crazy with desire, like a woman who represents pleasure, but sexual power seems to be beneath things like the ability to control others (if there is a hierarchy of types of powers). However, for Raoule, she’s both powerful in terms of being the controller as well as the appealing woman.

  2. I agree that the power dynamic was interesting and confusing. Raoule was dependent on Jacques desiring to play a passive feminine role in order to continue with her masculine identity. He was her female ‘Other’. It seemed to me that before he met Raoule he was comfortable with his gender identity and that it was only under her influence that he came to embrace his femininity.

  3. I thought it was interesting how power dynamics and slut-shaming intersected throughout the novel. Marie and Jacques are both physically abused for being “sluts,” yet they’re still portrayed much differently. As a prostitute, Marie is looked down upon by Raoule, but Raoule sees Jacques as “pure and fresh,” even though he’s essentially a prostitute, as well. It doesn’t seem as though an argument can be made that Raoule looks down upon Marie because she’s promiscuous, either, because Raoule herself is. A double-standard is at work here, where the person in power determines who’s a “slut” or not. Raoule, who asserts herself as masculine, can freely flow between gender (perhaps sexual, too) identities with little punishment. Marie ends up “in love” with only Raittolbe (or so assumed by Raoule), while Jacques, as a feminine character, begins to explore (or at least attempt to grasp) his own sexuality and is slain for it. What, then, is Rachilde saying about feminine sexuality and how it’s repressed by power dynamics? I think this brings back the question of whether Monsieur Vénus is cautionary or empowering. Must feminine sexuality be based in love and monogamy?

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