Academic journal article The Romanic Review

Rachilde, Maurice Barres, and the Preface to Monsieur Venus

Academic journal article The Romanic Review

Rachilde, Maurice Barres, and the Preface to Monsieur Venus

Article excerpt

One of the minor literary scandals of the Parisian New Year in 1889 was the appearance of a new edition of Rachilde's novel of androgyny, Monsieur Venus, prefaced by Maurice Barres. (1) It was not the re-edition of the novel that shocked. Rachilde's aggressive titles (2) were now familiar stock among a certain informed readership attuned to decadent works. It was the Barres preface that had the potential to create damage, for he was at a crucial point in an important electoral campaign. In April 1888 he had thrown his support publicly behind General Boulanger and his party, (3) and many were now giving him credit for convincing young writers and intellectuals to throw in their lot with the General. (4) As the New Year began, Barres and the writer Paul Adam had just taken over the editorship of the Courrier de Meurthe-et-Moselle, in order to convert it into a Boulangiste newspaper, the Courrier de l'Est, which Barres would use to promote his own election as a depute for Nancy. The General's attempt to win a seat in the Assemblee Nationale was scheduled for January 27. On January 23, the new edition of Monsieur Venus appeared. (5) What could have possessed Barres, at this particular time, to connect his name with a novel that depicted the total subjugation of the male by a heroine of ambivalent sexuality? (6)

And yet, the names of Rachilde and Barres had already been connected much earlier. Rachilde had dedicated what she called her first "serious" novel, A Mort, to Barres in 1886, and in his review of the work, "Mademoiselle Baudelaire", (7) he had maintained provocatively that "beneath the covers" Rachilde was more intriguing than the book-jacket illustration (a nude woman) chosen for her novel. In fact, Jean Lorrain, well-known to both writers, had suggested the pair were lovers in a little-noted passage of his collection Dans l'Oratoire. He himself had published a lively portrait of Rachilde entitled "Mademoiselle Salamandre", (8) and when he updated it for inclusion in Dans l'Oratoire, he added the following paragraph:

   Depuis, Mlle Rachilde a commis Mme Adonis et recu du papier timbre de Mlle
   Sapho, (9) elle a edite l'Homme Roux et soufflete de sa main virginale et
   guerriere un conferencier coupable de ne pas croire a la vertu de Mme
   Leonide Leblanc[;] nous avons egalement appris que M. Maurice Barres,
   l'auteur du seul roman dandie de ce temps, Sous l'OEil des Barbares, aurait
   pose devant elle pour le Maxime de Bryon de son livre A Mort, et qu'elle
   aurait [...] subi le charme tres reel de ce delicat entre les delicats et
   de ce seul sincere entre les Bourgetisants. De profundis donc sur la
   Salamandre, puisque la Salamandre s'est quelque peu, je ne dirai pas
   brulee, mais empetree dans le bourbier du ridicule. (10)

There is in fact a significant personal prologue to the preface which Maurice Barres wrote for Monsieur Venus. It is that the two writers had a relationship, at times a rather disturbing relationship for each of them, that lasted, with interruptions, high and low points, from late 1884 until Rachilde's marriage to Alfred Vallette in 1889. It was a relationship of lasting admiration on both sides, complicated and constrained by feelings of reticence about sexuality and by a prideful struggle for the upper hand that left each protagonist, alternately, with a bitter taste in the mouth.

Our image of Barres as a depute, as the novelist of "national energy", and as quasi-fascist spokesman for the French Right has obscured the brilliant and extremely attractive 22-year old Rachilde met in late 1884. Even Alfred Vallette, Rachilde's future husband, was impressed by his looks: "Qu'est-ce que ce grand garcon au teint bistre et aux yeux de houri qui se promene avec vous a Bullier? Un modele d'atelier?" (11) Supercilious and arrogant, Barres was also by all accounts an irresistible ladies' man. (12) Rachilde and he met at the offices of Rene Brissy, the publisher of both Les Taches d'Encre, Barres' short-lived literary magazine, and of Rachilde's Histoires betes pour amuser les petits enfants d'esprit. …

Search by... Author
Show... All Results Primary Sources Peer-reviewed

Oops!

An unknown error has occurred. Please click the button below to reload the page. If the problem persists, please try again in a little while.