Academic journal article West Virginia University Philological Papers

Perversion as Diversion: The Female Gaze in the Novels of Rachilde

Academic journal article West Virginia University Philological Papers

Perversion as Diversion: The Female Gaze in the Novels of Rachilde

Article excerpt

In his essay on "The Sexual Aberrations" found in his work Three Essays on the Theory of Sexuality of 1905, Freud discusses in some detail the relationship between perversion and the act of gazing:

... this pleasure in looking [scopophilia] becomes a perversion if, instead of being preparatory to thc normal sexual aim, it supplants it. (1)

Freud goes on to say that, "The force which opposes scopophilia, but which may be overridden by it (in a manner parallel to what we have previously seen in the case of disgust), is shame" (ibid). In order to mitigate the shame, the scopophilic will engage in a number of practices designed to heighten the pleasure and minimize the shame, among them sadism and masochism. Referring to this desire to inflict pain upon the sexual object and to receive it from the beloved, Freud writes:

In the perversions which arc directed towards looking and being looked at, we come across a very remarkable characteristic . . . : in these perversions the sexual aim occurs in two forms, an active and a passive one. (ibid.)

In addition, the scopophilic will idealize the beloved, even the basest of humans. This process of idealization is necessary in order to make the love object worthy of the gaze and of being an active voyeur in this speculative economy of exchange. The intense pleasure associated with the sexualized act of looking that is the gaze is at the source of the development of neuroses

expressed in a variety of symptoms. In other words, the neurotic develops certain symptoms in order to negate a perversion. "Thus," says Freud, "symptoms are formed in part at the cost of abnormal sexuality; neuroses are, so to say, the negative of perversions" (165).

Based on these psychological observations linking together the act of gazing and perversion, few writers have focused as intently on the pleasures of scopophilia as the writer Rachilde. Born Marie Marguerite Eymery in the Perigord in 1860, the daughter of a military officer and his sickly, coquettish, and highly depressive wife, Rachilde left home at age eighteen to pursue a writing career in Paris, encouraged by a few anonymous local publications of her works and a brief note from Victor Hugo to whom she had sent an early work titled Premier Amour and which said simply, "Remerciements et applaudissement. Courage, Mademoiselle." (2) Her only literary education had come from her grandfather's library, where she had immersed herself in the writing of Voltaire and the Marquis de Sade, and from reading the local legends about werewolves. It was reported that she had taken as her pen name the name of a spirit who had appeared to her one night during a seance. She obtained formal permission to wear men's clothes, a nd she arrived in Paris determined to make her way as a writer.

This descendant of Brantome and the Spanish Grand Inquisitor Dom Faytos would soon be surrounded by the literary luminaries of her time: Maurice Barres Barbey d' Aurevilly, Catulle Mendes, Marcel Schwob, Jean Lorrain, Remy de Gourmont, Villiers de l'Isle-Adam, Oscar Wilde, and Aubrey Beardsley, and Verlaine. She befriended Willy, Colette's future husband, and through this relationship discovered the writer in Colette. She also discovered and promoted Alfred Jarry, with whom she maintained a lengthy correspondence. (3) Together with her husband Alfred Vallette, she founded the Mercure de France, and in her salon she gathered the literary minds of her time at her famous "mardis." Close friends and mere acquaintances were struck by her most unusual eyes. The poet Albert Samain celebrated them in this sonnet:

Ses yeux glaces de vert. acs yeux deja vus, ou?...

Etangs mysterieux qui hantent les memoires

Couvent de l'inconnu sos leur changeanle moire,

Ses yeux. ses pales yeux, las d'avoir reve tout... (Dauphine 37)

Given her own powers to seduce with her marvelous eyes, it is little wonder that Rachilde will equip her heroines with alluring eyes of their own. …

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