Rachilde & Mulvey: Images and Bearers of Look

On Tuesday we talked about how Jacques and Roule blur the lines between male and female. While I was reading over the weekend this stuck with me but I’m most interested in how this works in connection with men and women’s roles as images and viewers. In chapter 1 Roule suggests that Jacques should be a stonebreaker because it would be more natural for him. The note attached to this line states that it is an allusion to Corbet’s painting ‘The Stonebreakers’ and “turns Jacques, as a workman, into subject matter for an artist and displaces him from the status of being an artist himself” (Rachilde, pp 16).

While I was reading this line I also began to think of its connection to Visual Pleasure and Narrative Cinema by Laura Mulvey. Looking and sight are incredibly important for an artist. I think Mulvey’s understanding of women and men in cinema can be applied here for artists. They painter is the one who views something and puts it on a canvas—they are always the lookers in the relationship and their subject matter is the object. In this relationship traditionally men were the artists and women were their models. (I think this is even more interesting because often models were prostitutes because no other respectable woman would sit nude for a man). Later in the novel we can see how Roule creates an entirely new version of Jacques to fit her desires—she is the creator and he is her masterpiece. Side note: for anybody who’s seen Vertigo (which Mulvey cites) this reminded me a lot of Scottie transforming Judy into Madeleine.

Although, I think it’s interesting that Roule and Jacques trade roles as man and woman in their relationship (switching the terms wife and husband, cross-dressing, etc) I think it’s especially compelling that Rachilde explores this idea down to a very basic level of who is subject and who is the object. Even without considering clothes, and forms of address, Rachilde is playing with the very essence of what people thought of as inherently feminine or inherently masculine. Even if Roule’s did wear masculine clothing, hairstyle, or name, I think the reader would still understand that a subversion of accepted gender roles was taking place.

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2 thoughts on “Rachilde & Mulvey: Images and Bearers of Look

  1. I remember watching Vertigo for media aesthetic eons ago! We had been talking about Freud’s The Uncanny and Hoffman’s The Sandman, both of which heavily focus on viewing things that are both familiar yet unfamiliar at the same time (a paradoxical image). I feel like the idea of the uncanny is something definitely worth exploring in relation to our readings – Judy transforming into Madeleine, Raoule and Jacques’ identities and relationship, as well as the idea of women writers in the 18th century. I agree that Rachilde is playing with the supposed feminine and masculine essence, and I wonder what about how Raoule and Jacques have switched this up allows her novel to be so disturbing, and I wonder how exactly does this involve the uncanny.

    • At least for me the uncomfortableness of Rachilde’s novel has a lot more to do with the uncanny nature of their relationship and not the switching of male and female. Like Professor Thakkar said the uncanny is particularly unsettling because of the blurred lines between life and death. An automaton or even just a copy seems real and alive but perhaps it isn’t completely so. Is it really alive? I think Roule’s relationship with Jacques is unsettling even before Jacques death but even more so after he’s been turned into the automotan. Even while he was alive Roule preferred Jacques to be completely submissive (just a body) and the automaton is culmination of this desire. I think the automaton is especially disturbing because it feels like it confirms our worse fear that Roule always wanted that completely passive, submissive body to have sex with. This is similar in Vertigo with Scottie and Judy. Scottie is attempting to recreate a woman that is dead. But more importantly he is satisfied with just creating the body/appearance of Madeline. Both the book and the movie play on our uncomfortableness with the dead body, but especially the idea of necrophilia.

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