Possessed

In this tale of debauchery and deviant sexuality, it seems that every moral boundary has been transgressed: cross-dressing, prostitution, masturbation, homosexuality, mechanical sexual devices… All these taboos are broached, exposed upon at length, with obvious relish on the part of the author.

Interestingly enough, however, Monsieur Vénus (or, at the very least, the main characters in the novel) seems to take seriously the traditional sexual more of fidelity. Raoule is absolutely livid when she finds out that Jacques, “his” little Ja-Ja, may have been accidentally exposed his naked body to Raittolbe’s eyes. In fact, Raoule cannot even stomach the notion of Jacques laughing at the jokes of another man: she towers over a cowering Jacques after he has a rather arch exchange with Raittolbe, and roars that “he” (Raoule) is a jealous man.

Jealousy, of course, is an omnipresent trait, easily detectable in all the most conventional heterosexual relationships–it is not altogether considered to be a wholly negative emotion, but rather a rational manifestation of displeasure at the promiscuous attention that one’s partner is giving to other men (and, promiscuity being a felony in traditional sexual ethics, the jealous partner is not to be blamed for feeling this emotion). In Raoule, however, this emotion becomes a sort of pathological affliction; when she sees that Jacques has been severely beaten by Raittolbe, she proceeds to be enraged that Jacques pristine skin has been touched by other male hands, and she punishes Jacques for this supposed infidelity by cutting deep gashes in him wherever the mark of Raittolbe’s fist left a bruise on Jaques’ body. The perverse cruelty of her reaction is genuinely astonishing, and especially in someone who initially seemed to have a rather progressive view of sexual relations–indeed, she declares that even orgies leave her indifferent, and let us bear in mind the prophetic words of the doctor, who conjectured that Raoule would grow to know many, many men.

The key to this apparent discrepancy may lie in the very special way that she has configured Jacque’s role in her mind. He is a bought thing, she possesses him–Jacques is a plaything, a beautiful doll, a precious pet that has no right to have any desires of his own. The only activity that Raoule sees as fit for Jacques is entertain her every whim and guarantee her pleasure. Though she claims to love him, she loves him in the way that a tyrant loves a concubine; there is no mutual respect, and any sign of interest that the beloved has in the outer world is seen as a sign of heinous betrayal.

And it is ultimately Jacques’ promiscuous heart that leads him to die at Raittolbe’s sword. (A point worth noting here is that there is an insinuation that promiscuity is a hereditary trait, and just as Jacques’ mother and sister were prostitutes, he himself could not help but be a whore at heart) But it did not suffice, the mere death of this poor kept creature. Raoule managed to possess him, to use him, to exert dominion over him even after his death–by turning him into a sexual cyborg of sorts. And just as well–for, with matters thus arranged, there would never be any cause for her to be jealous.

-LH

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2 Comments

Filed under Week 3 Reviews: Rachilde

2 responses to “Possessed

  1. I find this topic fascinating. For much of the novel, Raoule appears to be the most transgressive character, influencing those around her to engage in transgressive acts as well (perhaps with the exception of Marie). She is, though, the only faithful character in the novel. Jacques and Raittolbe betray her with their liaison; her fidelity (refusal to have a relation with Raittolbe, which pushes him toward Marie), may be the very thing that brings them together. I’d love to explore fidelity in the novel more in class. -KJO

  2. I think this is a really good point you bring up – it is true that transgressions of fidelity in the novel are taken with severe moral judgement on Raoule’s part, whereas other conventional “transgressions” are pursued with relish. It is interesting, I think, to consider this in light of Raoule’s conception of herself (at one point) as a slave of Jacques and he as her master, rather than the other way around. Yes, as the above comment rightly points out, Roule is the only “faithful” character in the novel. But does she act out of a virtuous sense of fidelity, or is it only that she is powerless to do otherwise? To construe one’s self as a slave suggests a helpless lack of agency that, I think, complicates the idea of Raoule as a model of the faithful lover. -A.A.

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