What struck me the most in Rachilde’s Monsieur Vénus, was the gender transformation Jacques Silvert goes through. Certainly his feminine nature is permanently asserted throughout the text from his very first encounter with Raoule; but he does not appreciate her constant reaffirmation of his effeminate nature immediately.
In chapter VI, Raoule calls Jacques a woman when she is apologizing to him and says “pardon […] j’oubliais que tu es une petite femme capricieuse qui a le droit, chez elle de me torturer.” (89) Jacques is emotionally hurt, and retorts immediately by saying “Raoule […] ne m’appelle plus femme cela m’humilie…” (90) As the novel presses on, Jacques transitions into a more feminine role when Raoule gives him the blue peignoir that he so wanted. The narrator describes him on the night he surprises Raoule with dinner: “il avait sa robe de velours serrée à la taille par une cordelière, et sa chemise à plastron brodé avait juste ce qu’il fallait de col pour ne pas être complètement du linge de femme. Ses mains, qu’il soignait beaucoup, étaient d’un blanc mat comme les mains d’une paresseuse; dans ses cheveux roux, il avait mis de la poudre à la maréchale.” (105)
Jacques has not totally transitioned into the role of Raoule’s woman, and it actually takes his attraction to de Raittolbe to do so. It is when he must sneak into de Raittolbe’s that he dares go to his sister to acquire a full female garb. He is so convincing as a woman, that even de Raittolbe’s butler mistakes him for the actual Mme. de Vénérande.
There is a final and dramatic gender muddled climax in chapter XIV on Raoule and Jacques wedding night. After they are wed, Jacques and Raoule take to their wedding bed. Jacques tells Raoule “n’ôte pas cet habit, puisque tes belles mains suffisent à enchaîner ton esclave.” (184) Have Jacques and Raoule been so caught up in their convoluted world of sexual and gendered role-play that they have never had sex thus far? Jacques all of a sudden, after Raoule has pressed her breast to his (ibid) is repulsed by her female body; he cries out “pareil au hurlement d’un demon qui vient d’être vaincu.” (ibid) and all of a sudden exclaims “Raoule tu n’es donc pas un homme! Tu ne peux donc pas être un homme!” (ibid). Did he not know this well before wedding her? I was totally taken aback; Jacques slowly transitions into this woman figure and actually seems to convince himself that his body’s physiognomy will change with it. And thus, in his mind, Raoule’s body would change with his. It is from this moment that Jacques permits himself to go behind Raoule’s back and be a true man’s (de Raittolbe) submissive. -MCR