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?