restricted access 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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1884, may–july The Politics of Publishing In which Monsieur Vénus is published and the French police take an interest in Rachilde It has been said that whileMonsieur 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 not in France but in Belgium. The edition most readily available today is the first French edition, published in 1889 (with the notorious preface by Maurice Barrès that fueled so many rumors and misconceptions over the years by presenting Rachilde as a twenty-year-old prodigy ), but the original—that is to say, the 1884—edition, the one published jointly under the names of both Rachilde and the enigmatic Francis Talman, was published in Brussels by an obscure publisher. The identity of Talman remains something of a mystery. Some people have speculated that Talman never really existed, but Rachilde claimed that he was someone she met while taking fencing lessons and who agreed to be her coauthor in order to fight any duels that might be provoked by the publication of the book: J’ai rencontré le François [sic] Talman qui signe avec moi sur cette première couverture dans une salle d’armes que je hantais assez souvent autrefois. . . . Donc, j’ai rencontré dans une salle d’armes de Paris un jeune journaliste qui prétendait dans une autre salle, cellel à de rédaction, où je faisais des chroniques peu payées, que l’on ne peut pas bien lancer un livre sans un duel . . . c’était la mode. Alors, il devait collaborer (le moins possible) au livre en question, mais se battre à la première polémique contenant une injure à mon adresse. J’attendis sa collaboration de plume trois mois. . . . Or, le roman était fini; mais comme je ne voulais pas qu’il se mît à me défendre pour rien, j’ai laissé sa signature. (Auriant, Souvenirs 29) Talman’s contributions to the actual writing were minimal and were suppressed in subsequent editions because, according to Rachilde, the writing was so bad.1 Whether Talman ever existed remains open to debate , but, regardless, the fact remains that Rachilde thought, or, more precisely, wanted the public to believe that she thought, that the publication of the novel might provoke duels.2 On its original publication sometime before July 1884 (Soulignac, “Bibliographie” 215), the novel carried the subtitle “Un Roman matérialiste .” Why characterizeMonsieur Vénus as a materialist novel? For one thing, the term decadent had not yet gained wide acceptance.3 Another clue is offered by an article inLa Revue indépendente that announced the defeat of “romanciers idéalistes” who want to ignore science: “Longtemps le gouvernement du monde a été dévolu aux idées mythiques et mystiques, à l’hypothèse subjective, en un mot; il est temps qu’il passe aux mains de la science experimentale, de la certitude objective, c’est-àdire du matérialisme” (La Revue indépendente 1). Thus, “materialism” shared many of the properties of literary naturalism, although the author of this article takes pains to point out that the materialist rejects the implicitly moralizing tone of naturalism by characterizing the materialist as “négateur de tout ordre social et de toute grandeur morale” (3). The subtitle thus reveals both that the authors, Rachilde and Talman, did not yet perceive themselves as part of a “decadent” movement and also that they may have seen themselves as rejecting literary idealism. Given the way in which idealism came to have certain feminized connotations in the context of the novel (see Schor), the subtitle was also a statement of literary virility. By far the most interesting thing about Monsieur Vénus from a contemporary point of view, however, is that in 1884 it appeared in two almost identical editions, both published by Auguste Brancart in Brussels . Brancart initially issued three éditions (or “printings”) of the novel.4 This “first first edition” (in the English sense) had the address of the publisher on the title page (4, rue de Loxum) and a short preface signed with the authors’ initials (“R. et F. T.”) that simply invited readers to consider “qu’au moment où ils coupent ces premiers feuillets, l’héroïne de notre histoire passe peut-être devant leur porte.”5 The “second first edition” (the fourth printing) is distinguished by an addition to the publisher...


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