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Rachilde and French Women's Authorship

From Decadence to Modernism

Melanie C. Hawthorne

Publication Year: 2001

Under the assumed name Rachilde, Marguerite Eymery (1860–1953) wrote over sixty works of fiction, drama, poetry, memoir, and criticism, including Monsieur Vénus, one of the most famous examples of decadent fiction. She was closely associated with the literary journal Mercure de France, inspired parts of Oscar Wilde's The Picture of Dorian Gray, and mingled with all the literary lights of the day. Yet for all that, very little has been written about her. Melanie C. Hawthorne corrects this oversight and counters the traditional approach to Rachilde by persuasively portraying this "eccentric" as patently representative of the French women writers of her time and of the social and literary issues they faced. Seen in this light, Rachilde's writing clearly illustrates important questions in feminist literary theory as well as significant features of turn-of-the-century French society.
Hawthorne arranges her approach to Rachilde around several defining events in the author's life, including the controversial publication of Monsieur Vénus, with its presentation of sex reversals. Weaving back and forth in time, she is able to depict these moments in relation to Rachilde's life, work, and times and to illuminate nineteenth-century publishing practices and rivalries, including authorial manipulations of the market for sexually suggestive literature. The most complete and accurate account yet written of this emblematic author, Hawthorne's work is also the first to situate Rachilde in the broader social contexts and literary currents of her time and of our own.

Published by: University of Nebraska Press


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pp. vii-viii


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pp. ix

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pp. xi-xiii

Since this book ended up taking over ten years to complete, I have accumulated more debts to more people than I can ever hope to repay, but let me begin to acknowledge some of them here. First, I must thank the person without whom I would never have heard of Rachilde...


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pp. xiii

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INTRODUCTION: On Writing Biography: In which the author pays a visit to Périgueux and makes a detour to Galveston

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pp. 1-11

It is early July, and I am sitting in a café in Périgueux, Rachild's hometown, after a sudden summer thunderstorm. I am drenched. The clouds blow away as suddenly as they came, the swallows resume their spiraling antics, and I contemplate my predicament. I have just come from a fruitless search at the Bibliothèque...

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1860, FEBRUARY 11: Women as Outsiders: In which Marguerite Eymery (Rachilde) is born, a werewolf appears, and traps are both set and sprung

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pp. 12-28

An examination of the way in which Rachild's birth is presented in the three biographies already available illustrates something of the unacknowledged stakes and assumptions in biography.1 Analyzing the way others have framed a central event—Rachilde's birth—shows...

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1870, OCTOBER 29: The Ambivalence of the Paternal: In which Captain Eymery is taken prisoner

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pp. 29-47

One of the most significant events of Rachild's childhood was also an event of national and international importance: the Franco-Prussian War of 1870. It was the first of three Franco-German conflicts that Rachilde would witness, and, although she would experience World...

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1875, JANUARY OR EARLY FEBRUARY: The Cultural Injunction to Silence: In which Rachilde is engaged, appears to attempt suicide, and meets a ghost who delivers an important message

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pp. 48-62

Despite being educated by priests (Rachilde's education is described in more detail in "1900: Women and Education"), Rachilde remained a religious skeptic, thinking of herself as owing more to Voltaire and Sade than to religious or mystical patterns of thought.1 This skepticism coexisted...

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1876, MARCH 1: Woman as Medium: In which séances are held, Madame Eymery meets “Rachilde,” and doubles mysteriously appear

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pp. 63-77

Part of what must have frightened Rachilde about the figure of the noyé was that it told her that she would never find a voice. "Tu ne parleras jamais," he prophesied. It must have been difficult to separate those elements of this forbidding voice that sounded like her father from...

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1877, JUNE 23: Authority, Authorship, and Authorization: In which Rachilde publishes her first story and Victor Hugo authorizes her

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pp. 78-87

Rachilde was extremely proud of her first publication, "La Création de l'oiseau-mouche," a "legend" describing the creation of the humming bird. Some of the circumstances connected with its appearance were discussed in the previous chapter. The story was quickly followed by...

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1884, MAY–JULY: The Politics of Publishing: In which Monsieur Vénus is published and the French police take an interest in Rachilde

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pp. 88-100

It has been said that while Monsieur Vénus was not Rachilde's first novel, it was the first one that counts (Coulon 547). To understand why, let us begin by stating a banal yet significant fact: Monsieur Vénus was published...

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1884, DECEMBER 12: Writing as Cross-Dressing: In which Rachilde applies for permission to cross-dress and become a writer

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pp. 101-113

That Rachilde cross-dressed is one of the most well-known and oftenrepeated facts about her life. The precise form of her cross-dressing, along with its meaning for her life and writing, however, is a much more...

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1885, A THURSDAY IN MARCH: Marriage and the Woman Writer: In which Rachilde meets Alfred Vallette and marries him, despite some second thoughts

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pp. 114-137

Rachilde was once again "en travesti," acting the part of George Sand, when she met her future husband, Alfred Vallette, on a Thursday evening in March 1885. Although their marriage was to be a long and stable one, no one would have predicted this from their first encounter at thelll

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1887, FEBRUARY 26 (A SATURDAY): The Photograph Never Lies: In which a front page brings attention to Rachilde’s hair

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pp. 138-150

The February 26, 1887, edition of La Vie moderne features an engraving of Rachilde on its cover by Ernest Langlois. It appears to depict the head and shoulders of a short-haired Rachilde in three-quarters profile, a man's hat perched on her head, and wearing a tailored man's jacket. This chapter analyzes this image further in order to show how the public...

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1889, OCTOBER 25: The Cultural Legitimacy of the Woman Writer: In which Rachilde’s daughter is born and questions are raised about legitimacy

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pp. 151-159

When Rachilde married Vallette, a married woman could not legally enter into a contract. In some senses, then, women writers were all operating illegally to the extent that they entered into writing contracts (both in the strict sense of publishing...

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1890, NOVEMBER 10: Imagining the Self: In which Rachilde’s first play is performed and some mirrors are looked into

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pp. 160-171

In addition to being at the forefront of movements such as decadence, Rachilde was at the forefront of symbolist theater in France, and some have gone so far as to suggest that she was the only "domestic" symbolist playwright. Moreover, the symbolist movement of the 1890s...

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1894, A TUESDAY: Male Anxiety at the Fin de Siècle: In which Rachilde, cupbearer to the symbolist gods, meets Alfred Jarry

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pp. 172-184

Rachilde opens her book of memoirs devoted to Jarry, Alfred Jarry; ou, Le Surmâle de lettres(1928), with her recollections of her first meeting with him: "La première fois que je vis cet étrange personnage, qui se jouait à lui-même la comédie d'une existence littéraire poussée...

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1900, DECEMBER 10: Women and Education: In which Rachilde’s mother is admitted to the asylum of Charenton and some deficiencies in Rachilde’s education become apparent

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pp. 185-202

On July 27, 1900, Doctor Albert Prieur was called to the side of Gabrielle Eymery. In his report, the doctor later declared "que cette dame est atteinte dâ'dées délirantes manifestes entretenues par des hallucinations auditives presque constantes pendant...

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1925, JULY 2: Women and Surrealism: In which Rachilde gets into a bun fight

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pp. 203-216

A number of witnesses and critics have described the banquet Saint- Pol-Roux, that memorable encounter on Thursday, July 2, 1925, that started out as a dinner organized by the Mercure to honor the poet...

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1928, JUNE: Gender Anxiety in French Modernism: In which Le Prisonnier is published and Rachilde acts rather queerly

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pp. 217-227

"On or about October 11, 1928, the character of the woman writer changed," asserts Bonnie Kime Scott, paraphrasing Virginia Woolf's famous formulation in order to pinpoint a later moment in modernist....

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1953, APRIL 4: On Minding: In which Rachilde is reunited with Lison

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pp. 228-234

Rachilde was a master of not minding. This is just as well because there was much to mind in her final years. The deprivations of World War II were hard to bear: in addition to...


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pp. 235-260


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pp. 261-286


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pp. 287-304

E-ISBN-13: 9780803200821
E-ISBN-10: 080320082X

Publication Year: 2001