Scrambling Sex and Gender with Rachilde

Towards a reading of Monsieur Vénus as ‘proto-queer’


  • Alexandra Pugh University of Oxford MSt Women's Studies



queer theory, feminism, French literature, bodies, identity, proto-queer, Rachilde


Taking Monsieur Vénus (1884) as its focus, this article expands upon the limited critical discourse connecting the work of Rachilde (1860-1953) to queer theory. Monsieur Vénus and queer theory are mutually illuminative: Butler’s theory of performativity allows us to interpret the unstable bodies in Rachilde’s text, while Monsieur Vénus in turn elucidates, or at least exemplifies, some of the questions at the heart of queer studies. For example: can sex exceed the human body? Can a transgender person live a heteronormative life? What is the relationship between queerness and reproduction? In asking such questions, this article grounds a piece of Decadent, fin-de-siècle French literature in the context of queer, feminist and trans studies, and thereby maps the connections between Rachilde’s work and these contemporary cultural conversations. As the author of Pourquoi je ne suis pas féministe (1928), Rachilde rejected progressive social movements. I therefore borrow Lisa Downing’s notion of the ‘proto-queer’ (Downing, ‘Notes on Rachilde’ 16) to guard against the complete recuperation of Rachilde into the queer canon. Regardless of its author’s positionality, however, I am seeking to frame Monsieur Vénus as part of our queer literary heritage. Monsieur Vénus is more playful and provocative than it is political, but Rachilde succeeds in ‘scrambling’ sex and gender in that the two categories become muddled, unfixed and denaturalized.