The Role of Raittolbe

Raittolbe and Marie’s relationship in Monsieur Venús serves as a foil to Jacques and Raoule’s relationship and reveals the extent to which Jacques and Raoule’s relationship subverts traditional gender roles and sexual practices. Marie attempts to transform herself socially through her relationship, while Raoule attempts to transform Jacques physically/mentally through hers. In both relationships, the females seem to be the ones possessing agency to manipulate people and relations, and an analogy can certainly be drawn between female agency in Monsieur Venús and that in Pride and Prejudice. However, while Jacques and Raoule’s relationship seems intended to serve as the main subversion in the novel, it can be argued, too, that their relationship often strengthens traditional gender roles, similarly to the argument Catharine MacKinnon makes in “Sexuality, Pornography, and Method: ‘Pleasure Under Patriarchy’”: Raoule takes the role of the man in her relationship and acts “as a man would” by exercising sexual control over Jacques, who takes the submissive role of the woman. In this way, even if Raoule and Jacques’s sexual practices aren’t “congruent with gender identity as it has traditionally been constructed” (xxx), their practices still seem to conform to a heterosexual norm.

That’s not to say Raittolbe and Marie’s relationship does much by way of subversion, either. However, Raittolbe’s character alone presents an interesting case. His sexual attraction to various characters in the novel appear much more fluid than others’, even if he is conflicted about his own. He is at various times attracted to Marie, who may represent a heterosexual norm; to Raoule, as a woman who he knows often cross-dresses and acts as a “man”; and to Jacques, as a man who appears and acts as a “woman.” Even though Raittolbe’s gender identity appears stabler than Jacques and Raoule’s, his sexual attractions put the notion of a stable sexual identity into question.

Looking at Raoule and Jacques alone, sexual identity seems to be presumed, while gender identity is put into question. With the inclusion of Raittolbe, however, both identities are unclear, and in this novel about subversion, it seems as though there’s a double subversion going on, with Raittolbe subverting the relationship of the main subversive couple. What, then, is Rachilde trying to say about gender and sexual identities, given the fact that there still seems to be an ever-present straight male gaze (on Jacques more than on other women in the novel, though this, too, puts into question the notion of a “straight male gaze”)? Raittolbe certainly plays an important role in the development of Raoule and Jacques’s relationship as he acts upon his disapproval of the relationship and his attraction toward both parties, and his presence makes the subversive element of their relationship even more evident. However, in imagining what Raoule and Jacques’s might have been without the interference of Raittolbe, I wonder if Raoule would have treated Jacques any differently in her house if he were alive or dead. That is, if Jacques had lived, would he still have been kept like a prisoner in the Vénérade mansion as a figure for Raoule to control and manipulate as Raoule does at the end of the novel with her wax mannequin of Jacques? If so, what does this then indicate about Raittolbe’s role?

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5 thoughts on “The Role of Raittolbe

  1. I feel like Raoule treats Jacques as a wax mannequin “to control and manipulate” even when he is alive. I know that Jacques, at times, asserts his power through his sexuality in turn over Raoule, but I think even if Raoule didn’t kill Jacques, their relationship would continue. I think eventually it would become so erratic that there would necessarily have to be a “breaking point,” which is Raittoble’s function.

  2. I think that the scene at the party where Jacques is introduced to high society is interesting in that it affirms that Raoule and Jacques have a passionate romantic connection beyond simply a mutual role playing of genders. I think that the book puts a lot of pressure on their gendered experience instead of describing their love/feelings/passions independent of that perspective.

  3. I like your characterization of Raittolbe as someone with a stable gender identity but semi-fluid sexual identity. I’m curious as to why you decided to refer to Raoule and Jacques’ relationship as a subversion rather than an inversion of gender binaries, and I’m wondering if you could speak more about how Raittolbe is subverting Raoule and Jacques’ gender/sexual relationship either by this presence or by his relationship with Marie? Like, is Raoule more or less a man with Raittolbe? Is there a constant flip in Raoule’s gender identity when Raittolbe is present? What does that mean?

    As to if Jacques was kept alive – I don’t know if that’s even a possibility? After all, the reason why Raoule needed him dead was so that Jacques would stop having freakouts about him being treated as a woman…It seems that it’s easier for women to slip on the mask of men, than vice versa – that women are more psychically loose with their gender identity (women writers writing under men names) than men can be.

    • I think I see Raoule and Jacques’s relationship as a subversion rather than an inversion because an inversion of male/female roles can’t be mapped exactly on to each aspect of their relationship. Socially, their roles are inverted; sexually, they derive pleasure from “traditional heterosexual penetration.” Raoule doesn’t seem to be attracted to women, per se, but rather the idea of changing a man into a woman; Jacques doesn’t seem to have sexuality of his own, except that which has been given to him by Raoule, until the end when he may be coming to terms with his actual sexuality and becomes severely confused/distraught. So I wouldn’t say their relationship is a complete inversion, though inversion definitely plays a huge role in it.

      As for Raittolbe playing into all of this, he seems to be more fluid with his sexuality than Raoule or Jacques. His relationship with Marie doesn’t represent any kind of subversion. But the fact that he’s attracted to Marie who is a feminine woman (though this could be debatable since Marie does have agency in various parts of the novel), Raoule who is a masculine woman, and Jacques who is a feminine man (though Raittolbe isn’t very comfortable with this attraction), demonstrates a fluidity that Raoule and Jacques don’t seem to have.

  4. There’s the point where Raoule declares that Raittolbe and Jacques will duel and she says to Raittolbe, “To the death.” So despite his attraction to Jacques and his apparent sadness over his death, he still acted under Raoule’s commands. So it’s hard to tell whether he has any actual agency, because he seems to be acting against his wishes for someone he isn’t even in a traditional relationship with.

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