Rachilde and French Women's Authorship: From Decadence to Modernism

Rachilde and French Women's Authorship: From Decadence to Modernism

Rachilde and French Women's Authorship: From Decadence to Modernism

Rachilde and French Women's Authorship: From Decadence to Modernism

Synopsis

Under the assumed name Rachilde, Marguerite Eymery (1860-1953) wrote over sixty works of fiction, drama, poetry, memoir, and criticism, including Monsieur Venus, 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 Venus, 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.

Excerpt

It is early July, and I am sitting in a café in Périgueux, Rachilde’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 Municipale de Périgueux, where I have been looking for L’Exposition sans chemise: Lanterne périgourdine hebdomadaire, a rare journal of the 1880s produced by a local group of avant-garde writers and one of the first periodicals with literary pretensions to which Rachilde contributed. Rachilde used many pseudonyms (other than that of “Rachilde”) and probably wrote under yet another one in L’Exposition sans chemise so I am not even sure what I might learn from this publication, but I feel a need to look at everything just in case. Perhaps it would reveal something about the transition from writer of regional color “à la Ponson du Terrail” to self-consciously artistic writer of the decadent movement. Perhaps it would reveal more about the somewhat mysterious and enigmatic figure of Léo d’Orfer (Marius Pouget), who seems to have been an early love interest. But I will probably never know because the municipal library has the only copy of this rare journal, and no one seems able to locate it for me.

This story of dead ends has been a recurring motif during this trip. The helpful conservateur with whom I had been corresponding before my trip has recently taken another job in another area. His replacement is not unsympathetic and wants to help, but he does not seem really to know what is in the collection, at least this part of it. In addition, the municipal library is open only during limited hours, so in the meantime I have been to the regional archives—the “archives départementales”— where I hope to trace some members of Rachilde’s family through records of births, marriages, and deaths. I have also been told to contact Pierre Pommarède, a priest and local historian who has been working on the same subject, or so I am told by helpful archivists. They give me . . .

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