Fidelity in Monsieur Vénus

As expected in a novel depicting transgressive liaisons, the concept of fidelity plays a major role in Rachilde’s Monsieur Vénus. Raoule serves as the transgressive catalyst in the novel in seducing Jacques and involving Raittolbe in her affair; at the same time, she remains one of few faithful characters in the novel. Amongst the five major characters—Raoule, Jacques, Raittolbe, Marie, and Aunt Ermengarde—the two de Vénérade characters are the only faithful ones. Aunt Ermengarde maintains her purity and piety, devoted to God rather than men. Raoule forms a mesalliance, but takes no lover other than Jacques, despite Raittolbe’s urging at the beginning of the novel.

Marie Silvert is established as a prostitute in the early chapters of a novel. Her dalliance with Raittolbe has no expectation of fidelity. He appears to have paid her for her services. Marie, furthermore, has little loyalty to her brother, as evidenced by her use of him as a vehicle to take money from Raoule, then exhort her and her aunt following the wedding. In such a way, Marie betrays two fidelities: that to her lover and that to her brother.

Raoule’s two possible romantic partners—Raittolbe and Jacques—betray their friendship and relationship, respectively, through a relationship with one another. Jacques lack of fidelity proves most shocking in the novel. His growing feminine characteristics render him submissive to Raoule’s more domineering personality. Throughout the novel, he waits for Raoule, seemingly enjoying his position as a kept man. He shows few signs of unfaithfulness. Perhaps the turning point occurs on their wedding night when Jacques cries “’Raoule, you just aren’t a man! You just can’t be a man!’” (183). At this moment, Jacques comes to terms with the fact that Raoule is still, despite their pretending, a woman and, possible, cannot fulfill his desires. This leads him to Raittolbe, whose passion for Marie and Raoule seems tepid at its height. Jacques goes to Raittolbe as a woman, causing the servants to mistake him for madame. By going to Raittolbe as a woman, Jacques complicates the question of fidelity: does he betray his wife by taking a lover as a woman? -KJO

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