(Born Marguerite Eymery) French novelist, short story writer, dramatist, biographer, autobiographer, and critic.
Rachilde is considered an important figure in the fin-de-siècle French Decadent movement. Characterized in public life by her male dress, and habit of calling herself a "man of letters," Rachilde tittilated readers with frequent depictions of unconventional sexuality, including gender inversion, androgyny, and homoeroticism. Her most well-known novel, Monsieur Vénus (1884), is a meditation on the nature of sexual desire from the female perspective.
Rachilde was born near Périgueux in southwestern France. Her mother was the daughter of a successful publisher, while her father was the illegitimate son of an aristocrat and a colonel in the French army. As a child Rachilde's relationship with her mother was strained, and she often felt the harsh disappointment of her father, who made it clear that he would have rather had a son. Informally educated in her parent's home, she was allowed to peruse the works of her grandfather's library, where she discovered the works of the Marquis de Sade. In her youth she turned to writing as a form of imaginative escapism, producing her first novel at the age of sixteen. She moved to Paris in 1878 to begin her career as a writer. Once there she adopted the name Rachilde and applied for permission from the French authorities to dress as a man in public. She published her first novel Madame de sans-Dieu that same year. In 1884 she won immediate notoriety with the publication of her fifth book Monsieur Vénus. The work, because of its frank and iconoclastic depiction of sexuality, was almost immediately banned in neighboring Belgium under charges of pornography, quickly earning her the appellation "Mademoiselle Baudelaire." By the late 1890s, Rachilde's weekly salons in Paris had become well known, and in 1889 she married Alfred Vallette. The following year, the couple began publication of Mercure de France, a journal devoted to promoting the literary works of the Symbolists and Decadents. Rachilde contributed short stories to the periodical (later collected and published separately under the title Le démon de l'absurde in 1894), and wrote regular reviews for it until 1914. After World War I she continued to produce novels as well as a handful of nonfiction works, most notably her biography Alfred Jarry; ou, le Surmâle de lettres (1928). By this time, however, she was experiencing somewhat failing health and had taken to collaborating with other authors on many of her novels. In 1935 her husband died, leaving her with little money. She continued to write well into her eighties, producing her final work, the autobiographical Quand j'étais jeune, in 1947. She died at the age of 93 in 1953.
The vast majority of Rachilde's writings were novels in the Decadent style. Among her early novels, Monsieur Vénus is typical in its emphasis on passion and sexuality from a female point of view. In this work Rachilde inverts the gender roles of master and mistress by allowing its heroine, Raoule de Vénérande, to take a working-class man as her lover. After his violent death in a duel, however, she withdraws from society and succumbs to a pathological depression. Several works that followed dramatized similar themes. La Marquise de Sade (1887) is a psychological study of Mary Barbe and her burgeoning sadism. Androgyny and gender ambiguity are the motifs of Madame Adonis (1888), in which the recently married Louise Bartau falls in love with a enigmatic woman whom she believes to be a man. The heroine of Le Jongleuse (1900) forsakes all men, choosing instead a Greek vase as the object of her amorous desires. The varied manifestations of sexual deviance are evident in a host of Rachilde's later novels, including studies of incest L(es hors nature, 1897), erotic obsession (L'heure sexuelle, 1898), and pedophilia (La souris japonaise, 1921). In her dramatic works Rachilde often employed symbolism to explore deeply hidden emotions or to develop a social critique. In Madame la Mort, first performed in 1891, a young man's thoughts of suicide are personified as Madame Death, who vies with his living girlfriend for his love. Le vendeur de soleil, originally staged in 1894, criticizes the inability of the bourgeoisie to appreciate natural beauty, as its protagonist attempts to sell indifferent passers-by a glimpse at the setting sun. Of her nonfictional works, Rachilde's essay Pourquoi je ne suis pas fé ministe (1928), is among the most telling. Semi-autobiographical in format, it describes her thoughts on relations between the sexes and explains the sources of her often misogynistic writings.
Rachilde achieved considerable celebrity in her lifetime, in large part due to the publication of Monsieur Vénus and the charges of immorality it elicited. Her fame grew with the production of several plays in the 1890s and her many contributions to the Mercure de France into the early twentieth century. After the First World War, how however, her popularity declined as her Decadent novels—no longer in vogue—began to take on a bleaker and more cynical tone, and her strong female protagonists were replaced by mysterious and brooding male figures. Rachilde is little known outside of France and Belgium; only a few of her novels, including Monsieur Vénus and Le jongleuse (The Juggler), have been translated into English. Nevertheless, Rachilde, although typically appreciated for the role she played in the French Decadent movement, has most recently attracted the attention of critics for her nascent Modernism, as well as for her exploration of sexual politics and changing gender roles.
Madame de sans-Dieu (novel) 1878
Monsieur de la nouveauté (novel) 1880
La Femme du 199e régiment (novel) 1881
Histoires bêtes pour amuser les petits enfants d'espirit (short stories) 1884
Monsieur Vénus (novel) 1884
Nono (novel) 1885
Queue de poisson (novel) 1885
A mort (novel) 1886
La virginité de Diane (novel) 1886
La Marquise de Sade (novel) 1887
Le tiroir de Mimi-Corail (novel) 1887
Madame Adonis (novel) 1888
Minette (novel) 1889
Le mordu (novel) 1889
Les oubliés: L'homme roux, filles de neige (novel) 1889
La sanglante ironie (novel) 1891
Théâtre: Madame la mort. Le vendeur de soleil. La voix du sang (dramas) 1891
L'animale (novel) 1893
Le dé mon de l'absurde (short stories) 1894
La princesse des té nè bres (novel) 1896
Les hors nature (novel) 1897
L'heure sexuelle (novel) 1898
La tour d'amour (novel) 1899
Contes et nouvelles, suivis du Théâtre (short stories,...
(The entire section is 314 words.)
SOURCE: "Madame Rachilde: 'Man' of Letters," in Performing Arts Journal, Vol. 7, No. 1, 1983, pp. 117-22.
[In the following essay, Gerould presents an overview of Rachilde's literary works, including several of her best-known plays.]
One of the most colorful and appealing figures in Parisian artistic and literary circles at the turn of the century—a period rich in flamboyant characters—was Marguerite àEymery, wife of Alfred Vallette (founder of the magazine Mercure de France) but known to her readers and fellow writers by her pen name Rachilde. Author of dozens of novels with provocative titles (The Marquise de Sade, The Sexual Hour) that dealt with bizarre sexual fantasies, she was condemned by respectable bourgeois society as a monster and hounded by the police as a pornographer, but revered by the literary world for her generosity in recognizing and encouraging new talent. The guardian angel of Lugné-Poe's Théâtre de l'Oeuvre, Rachilde played a crucial role in advancing the cause of symbolist drama, herself contributing several of the earliest French plays in that new mode. As Alfred Jarry's closest friend and associate, she was instrumental in seeing that Lugné-Poe staged Ubu Roi. At a time when there were almost no women writers of any note in France, Rachilde was accepted as an intellectual equal by her peers. Maeterlinck, Verlaine, Mallarmé, Huysmans, and Remy...
(The entire section is 2365 words.)
SOURCE: "'La Marquise de Sade': Rachilde (Marguerite Eymery) 1860-1953," in The Sins of the Fathers: Decadence in France 1870-1914, Quartet Books, 1986, pp. 159-89.
[In the following essay, Birkett provides a psychological interpretation of Rachilde's works.]
Woman's place, for the writers and artists of the decadence, was inside the work of art, as an image to fix the male imagination. If Rachilde, almost alone of women writers of her period, was accepted into the Club des Hydropathes and Le Chat Noir, patronized by Victor Hugo and Barbey d'Aurevilly, approved by the misogynists Huysmans and Léon Bloy, and befriended by Verlaine, Jean Lorrain, Catulle Mendès, Laurent Tailhade and Camille Lemonnier, this had much to do with her willingness to play and play up to the decadent stereotypes. Squeezing every possible thrill from her autocratic, sadistic heroines, casually dismissing effeminate and inept anti-heroes to madness and death, she nevertheless respected the limits of the images allotted her—Salome and Scheherazade, but never Herodias. She is the reallife counterpart of Clara, heroine of Octave Mirbeau's bitter satire on decadence, Le Jardin des supplices, maker, vehicle and victim of other people's dreams, whose function is to reproduce the values of a world with no energy of its own. For admirers and reviewers, she embodied all the contradictions of Baudelaire's women: animal and...
(The entire section is 13554 words.)
SOURCE: "Monsieur Venus: A Critique of Gender Roles," in Nineteenth-Century French Studies, Vol. XVI, Nos. 1 & 2, Fall, 1987 & Winter, 1988, pp. 162-79.
[In the following essay, Hawthorne argues that Rachilde 's literary portrayal of gender roles lends her works a greater interest and relevance than they are usually accorded.]
A review of recent Modern Language Association Bibliographies reveals that most nineteenth-century French women prose fiction writers have received little critical attention. (The exceptions are, of course, Madame de Staël and George Sand.) Those who have been considered (Hortense Allait and Louise Colet, for example) have not been validated as writers, but rather considered in the context of their relationships with important men. This dearth of information may seem surprising to those familiar with the Anglo-American tradition, marked by the time and effort invested in the researching and recovery of a lost tradition of female writers.
This archaeological phase of feminist scholarship has resulted in a large body of primary and secondary material that now serves as the foundation for endeavors seeking to develop new critical theories and perspectives that inform the feminist study of literature. Perhaps paradoxically, the dominant mythological metaphor of the Anglo-American tradition would seem to be given by Freud: the discovery of some previously...
(The entire section is 6841 words.)
SOURCE: "The Suicide of 'La Comedienne' in Rachilde's La Jongleuse," in Continental, Latin-American and Francophone Women Writers, edited by Eunice Myers and Ginette Adamson, University Press of America, 1987, pp. 55-61.
[In the following essay, Ziegler analyzes the implications of the sadistic behavior of Rachilde's female protagonists, focusing on the novel The Juggler.]
Swords and daggers, bayonets and scalpels: all the pointed instruments men use for invading others' bodies are appropriated by the women characters in the novels of Rachilde. In the evolution of "l'amour compliqué" [Maurice Barrès, Preface, Monsieur Vénus] that Barrès sees emerging in these works, the men are stripped of masculinity and weapons. They become vulnerable and sexless while the women turn into predators and warriors. Indeed, one need only consult Praz's list of "Belles dames sans merci," figures like Huysmans' Madame de Chantelouve or Clara, the torture-loving nymphomaniac in Mirbeau's Le Jardin des supplices, to realize how frequently such characters appear in "fin-de-siècle" fiction. In this respect, Rachilde's works differ little from the writings of her contemporaries. Still, her novels which show the conjugation of aggressiveness and female sexuality deserve attention, not just because they examine from a woman's standpoint the same questions dealt with by her peers, but because they point out...
(The entire section is 2742 words.)
SOURCE: "The Social Construction of Sexuality in Three Novels by Rachilde," in Michigan Romance Studies, Vol. 9, 1989, pp. 49-59.
[In the following essay, Hawthorne regards Rachilde as a novelist whose works presented a view of human sexuality that was in opposition to the dominant psychological and medical theories of the late nineteenth century.]
In his multi-volume work on the history of sexuality, Michel Foucault explains how, with the rise of capitalism, sexuality passes from action to discourse: the energy previously invested in action is transformed into discourse about action. One of the resulting intersections of power, sexuality, and knowledge is what Foucault calls scientia sexualis, a system in which "le sexe [a] été constitué comme un enjeu de vérité," a system which "ours" is the only culture to have elaborated.
The emergence of the discourse of scientia sexualis has been charted even more specifically by feminist historians such as Lillian Faderman and Judith Walkowitz. They have analyzed in particular the shifts in discourse of the nineteenth century (a period also privileged by Foucault), and the concomitant development of a form of medical discourse which structured contemporary ideology about sexuality. But while Foucault emphasizes the continuity of sexual discourse (while shifting from religious to medico-scientific, the...
(The entire section is 2932 words.)
SOURCE: Introduction to The Juggler by Rachilde, translated by Melanie C. Hawthorne, Rutgers University Press, 1990, pp. xi-xxix.
[In the following essay, Hawthorne focuses on Rachilde's thematic and technical innovations in her novel The Juggler.]
The novelist Rachilde (Marguerite Eymery Vallette) became an instant success in French literary circles when, at the age of twenty-four, she published her fourth novel, Monsieur Vénus (1884). Her celebrity stemmed in large part from the public condemnation of the book: it was published by Brancart in Brussels, where it was immediately declared pornographic. Copies of the book were seized, and Rachilde was condemned to two years in prison and a fine of two thousand francs. She prudently chose to remain instead in Paris, where the sentence offered a passport to notoriety. Maurice Barrès dubbed her "Mademoiselle Baudelaire," while Jules Barbey d'Aurevilly averred, "A pornographer, granted … but such a distinguished one!" A more measured, but no less fêted, response came from the poet Paul Verlaine. Responding to the heroine's claim to have discovered a new form of perversion, Verlaine retorted that if indeed Rachilde had succeeded in inventing a new vice, she would have been the benefactor of society. Whatever the subversive nature of Monsieur Vénus (and the debate goes on), the impact of the novel guaranteed Rachilde a faithful...
(The entire section is 4794 words.)
SOURCE: "The Companion and the Dream: Delirium in Rachilde and Jarry," in Romance Studies, No. 18, Summer, 1991, pp. 33-41.
[In the following essay, Fisher examines depictions of delirium in Rachilde's La princesse des ténèbres and Alfred Jarry's Les jours et les nuits, claiming that these works illustrate a view of dream-states differing from the theories advanced by Sigmund Freud in his Interpretation of Dreams.]
It is inevitable that discussion of the dream in literature, and particularly over the last hundred years, tends to focus on Freud and the relevance of Freudian interpretation. The mark of Freud upon twentieth-century thought is in fact so great that other reflections on the dream are often forgotten. This article discusses two French novels of the 1890s, Rachilde's La Princesse des ténèbres and Alfred Jarry's Les Jours et les nuits, which belong to the period leading up to the publication of Die Traumdeutung (1900) and illustrate an approach to the literary dream which is distinct from Freudian attitudes, and has identifiable links with the native thought of the time. The novels also merit joint discussion on the grounds of the high level of intertextuality that exists between them. Jarry and Rachilde were close friends—indeed Jarry paid Rachilde the compliment of selecting her novel for the library of his Dr. Faustroll in the first manuscript...
(The entire section is 3976 words.)
SOURCE: "To the Lighthouse: Fictions of Masculine Identity in Rachilde's La Tour d'Amour," in L'Esprit Createur, Vol. 32, No. 4, Winter, 1992, pp. 41-51.
[In the following essay, Hawthorne interprets Rachilde's novel La tour d'amour as an allegory of the author's place as a woman writing in a literary world dominated by men.]
"Is a pen a metaphorical penis?" asked Gilbert and Gubar in their study of women writers, [The Madwoman in the Attic: The Woman Writer and the Nineteenth-century Literary Imagination] encapsulating the question of the role of gender in women's writing in the nineteenth century. The cultural assumption of a link between writing and gender explains in part the difficulties women had to overcome in order to write. But Gilbert and Gubar's study focused on British women writers; when turning to the French context, the question must be more nuanced. For one thing, the French nineteenth-century novel is not dominated by women in the same way as its British equivalent. As Joan DeJean writes [In Tender Geographies: Women and the Origins of the Novel in France]: "in the nineteenth century, when both the novel and English women's writing reach what from today's perspective is considered their fullest expression, the French female literary presence is, with an occasional exception, most notably that of George Sand, at its nadir." Naomi Schor has suggested that, in...
(The entire section is 4239 words.)
SOURCE: "The Epithalamic Horror: Displacement in Rachilde," in Neurosis and Narrative: The Decadent Short Fiction of Proust, Lorrain, and Rachilde, Southern Illinois University Press, 1992, pp. 111-44.
[In the following essay, Kingcaid argues that the world of Rachilde's literary works is symbolic of the functions of women's bodies, especially the female reproductive system.]
To be a woman writer at the turn of the century, Rachilde maintained, was to assume an unenviable personality. Rachilde's preface to her 1888 Madame Adonis assures that the "woman of letters" commits herself to "a god-awful career, the most god-awful career possible." Engaged in by women, this career "is immoral, meaning that it ruins one good marriage in twenty, produces illegitimate children under the specious pretext of excess cerebral activity, leads to unnatural vices for the same reason … disrupts the harmony of the household, stains the fingers, and bugs the hell out of magazine publishers."
Rachilde wrote this preface to counter a personal attack by the press. It seems that the author of Monsieur Vénus, whose masculine garb and provocative novels had already earned her considerable notoriety, had actually slapped a journalist, producing cries of outrage against her lack of feminine decorum. If she lacks femi-nine decorum, Rachilde responds, this is because she was either not...
(The entire section is 12885 words.)
SOURCE: "Rachilde: Fin de siècle Perspective on Perversities," in Modernity and Revolution in Late Nineteenth-Century France, edited by Barbara T. Cooper and Mary Donaldson-Evans, University of Delaware Press, 1992, pp. 52-64.
[In the following essay, McLendon perceives what is usually considered perverted behavior in Rachilde's fictional works as an indirect means used by the author to protest oppressive social conventions and institutions of her time.]
So far from constituting a threat to "good" moral values of the belle époque, the offbeat French novel of the 1880s and 1890s, often subtitled "Parisian Manners" or even "Foreign Manners" and regularly kept under surveillance by the civil and literary police concerned about its depravity, actually promulgated a message and an ethic founded to a great extent on those very values it appeared to bring under attack. Bourgeois life during the Third Republic had done a rather good job of hiding its seamier side beneath the dignity of bearded faces and the amplitude of feminine attire. Certain novelists such as Oscar Méténier, Dubut de La Forest, Jean Lorrain, and the young Rachilde devoted considerable talent and energy to peeling off these false beards and pulling up those skirts a bit further than was deemed permissible. The images of this lovely society that have come down to us through Nadar's legacy of charming photographs and Gustave...
(The entire section is 4225 words.)
SOURCE: '"En el Profundo Espejo del Deseo': Delmira Agustini, Rachilde, and the Vampire," in Revista Hispánica Moderna: Columbia University Hispanic Studies, Vol. XLVI, No. 1, 1993, pp. 51-63.
[In the following essay, Bruzelius examines the figure of the vampiric female as portrayed in the works of Rachilde and Uruguayan author Delmira Augustini.]
I have been faithful to thee,
Cynara, in my fashion.
The nineteenth century fascination with the femme fatale may have reached its apogee in the figure of the Vampire—that marble white, silent woman with luxuriant hair, heavy lidded eyes and blood red lips. Her nocturnal invasion of the daylight world of patriarchal propriety is invoked by artists who wish to escape the deadly trammels of the bourgeoisie (Baudelaire, Swinburne), by those who wish to reaffirm its primacy (Bram Stoker), and by those who cannot make up their minds (Coleridge, who could never finish Christabel). Of course, the history of the "belle dame sans merci" is an old and dishonorable one, and there are many fatal women who are not vampires. [Mario Praz's chapter entitled "La Belle Dame Sans Merci" in The Romantic Agony is a useful survey of this type of female character. Although he is not particularly interested in stressing the vampiric aspect of these women, a reading of this...
(The entire section is 7369 words.)
SOURCE: "Decadent Queen," in The Times Literary Supplement, No. 4813, June 30, 1995, pp. 5-6.
[In the following essay, Showalter discusses the dominant themes in Rachilde's works.]
In "Grape-Gatherers of Sodom", a remarkable story about the genesis of homosexuality published in 1894, the French writer Rachilde displayed the perverse tastes and sensuous prose style that had won her the nickname "Mademoiselle Baudelaire". Out of the walled town of Sodom comes a procession of male grape-pickers led by a stern patriarch. As they rest in the vineyard, the men are approached by a naked girl, her breasts burned black by the sun, who seductively twines about their sleeping bodies. She is one of the wives and daughters who have been condemned as temptresses by the priests, and driven into the desert. "I am thirsty", the woman cries, and the men look knowingly at one another: "Oh yes! It was evident to them all that she had a thirst in her!". At the patriarch's command, they stone her to death, and she falls writhing into the vat of grapes where her blood mingles with the wine. That night, the Sodomites fill their cups, and commit for the first time their eponymous "sin against nature".
This lurid parable (translated in Brian Stableford's Dedalus Book of Decadence, 1992) also conveys the negative and contradictory nature of Rachilde's sexual politics. Homosexuality, she appears to say, is...
(The entire section is 2551 words.)
Lukacher, Maryline. "'Mademoiselle Baudelaire': Rachilde and the Sexual Difference." In Maternal Fictions: Stendhal, Sand, Rachilde, and Bataille, pp. 109-69. Durham, N. C: Duke University Press, 1994.
Feminist, psychoanalytic readings of Rachilde's Monsieur Vénus, La Marquise de Sade, and Le meneur de louves.
Waelti-Walters, Jennifer. "Perversion and Social Criticism." In Feminist Novelists of the Belle Epoque: Love as a Lifestyle, pp. 156-73. Bloomington: Indiana University Press, 1990.
Discusses Rachilde's presentation of sexual deviance in her novels as a critique of nineteenth-century bourgeois morality.
Zeigler, Robert. "Rachilde and 'l'amour compliqué'." In Atlantis: A Women's Studies Journal 11, No. 2 (Spring 1986): 115-24.
Links qualities of aggressive female sexuality in Rachilde's novels, Monsieur Vénus, La Marquise de Sade, and La jongleuse, to the suicidal proclivity of her heroines.
Additional coverage of Rachilde's life and career is contained in the following source published by Gale Research: Dictionary of Literary Biography, vol. 123.
(The entire section is 145 words.)