112th Annual Conference - Riverside Convention Center, California
Friday, October 31 - Sunday, November 2, 2014

This page is about the 2014 conference. For 2015 conference info, go to PAMLA 2015.

"There’s something about Marie": Gender Performance and the Rejection of Non-normative Femininity in Monsieur Vénus

Carolyn EmBree, University of California, Los Angeles

Throughout Monsieur Vénus (1884), Rachilde retains conventional gender roles for the purpose of subverting their gender specificity. Though the author succeeds in indicating facile stereotypes of femininity, she does little to garner acceptance for non-normative female behavior, particularly when this behavior does not attempt to incorporate traditional displays of masculinity.

Proposal: 

In Monsieur Vénus (1884), Rachilde retains conventional gender roles for the purpose of subverting their gender specificity. The ambiguity of the sexes is first announced with the title, but appears throughout the novel. Raoule (Mademoiselle Vénérande) seduces the young and innocent florist (Jacques Silvert) in a series of exchanges where the gender binary of their sexed bodies becomes increasingly indistinct. Without maintaining stereotypical notions of masculinity and femininity, it would be impossible for the reader to follow Rachilde’s critique: Language, dress, and behavior serve as markers of the arbitrariness of normative gender; and the characters more or less indulge Raoule and Jacques’s gender swapping through their willingness to employ terms like neveu or femme (instead of nièce and mari).

Although Rachilde succeeds in indicating facile stereotypes of femininity in literature through her destabilization of the established gender categories of the time, I argue that she does little to garner acceptance for non-normative female behavior, particularly when this behavior does not attempt to incorporate traditional displays of masculinity. Madame Ermengarde (Raoule’s aunt) and Marie Silvert (Jacques’ sister) present two possible extremes of non-masculine female characters in the novel. Tante Ermengarde follows a socially acceptable path for women— which ultimately lead her to the convent— while references to Marie’s stint as a prostitute make it so that she is unable to escape the condemnation of her supposedly rampant, but more importantly non-masculine, female sexuality. The supposedly open gender categories proposed by Rachide thus appear closed to the jeunes filles who do not walk these more clearly defined (or clearly subverted) paths.