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Monsieur Vénus: A Materialist Novel

3.71  ·  Rating details ·  423 ratings  ·  43 reviews
When the rich and well-connected Raoule de Venerande becomes enamored of Jacques Silvert, a poor young man who makes artificial flowers for a living, she turns him into her mistress and eventually into her wife. Raoule's suitor, a cigar-smoking former hussar officer, becomes an accomplice in the complications that ensue.
Paperback, 211 pages
Published October 1st 2004 by Modern Language Association of America, an Imprint of Modern Language Association of America (first published 1884)
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Nov 11, 2008 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Excellent decadent novel: moving and disturbing, with an ending that echoes, in an abstract way, many later horror films and stories.

The perversions presented are, by this point in time, passe: mainly a dominant/submissive relationship between a masculine rich woman and her "kept" lover, an already effeminate male artist whom she further feminizes through the course of the novel. This is the crux, but the novel also strays into both vague and specific transvestism, wanton and calculated lust, pr
Jul 24, 2014 rated it liked it
Shelves: french-lit
3.5 stars. One of the novels included in Asti Hustvedt's "The Decadent Reader", which I'm currently reading. Very well-written, bizarre story that explores gender roles, transvestism, and sado-masochism. Weird, yet I couldn't stop reading. I can't believe the author was only 20 when she wrote this.
Saint Monique
Apr 29, 2018 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: classics
4 'A Demon or a Woman?' stars

This is not exactly a review for this book but rather a short summary of my article about the representation of femme fatale in literature and art of Symbolism and Decadence.

Femme fatale was a popular motif in Symbolism and Decadence. Both movements - despite being quite distinguishable - are also similar in many matters. One of them being an emphasis on sensuality and sexuality. The characters who usually embodied femme fatale were Eve, Lilith, Judith, Salome, Sfinx
Aslı Can
Reading Monsieur Venus is as hard as reading something deeply theoratical. Despite the subject and language is so simple, most of the time I hardly understand what's going on, who talks with whom. I don't know Rachilde did it purposely or not, but all the narration is like covered with blanket. And I always felt like: please take me in.
When one considers the time it was written in, it is certainly fascinating and one can see how it must have been shocking at the time.

For a review in Dutch, see the winteruitdaging 2019/2020 of the Netherlands & Flanders group.
Alexandra Sullivan
Jul 30, 2018 rated it it was amazing
Strange and beautiful. Must read if you're interested in decadent literature.
Mar 29, 2020 rated it liked it
this is so fucked up lol kind of like reading a BL doujinshi w/ a horrifically written seme/uke relationship except it’s 19th cent translated French lit w/ themes of transsexuality & possible commentary on class & gender performance ...more
I've harped on about the misuse of the term decadent in the boring dystopia of modern America many, many times to friends and acquaintances and unfortunate people stuck next to me at parties (see my review of Sologub's Petty Demon, for example). Monsieur-Venus is decadent. Full stop. Like, reconsider your definitions of "kinky"-level decadent.

Especially when you consider how staid Anglo-American literature was at the time, you have to think that all of these French weirdos (Huysmans, Mirbeau, Ba
Aug 01, 2014 rated it really liked it
Recommends it for: Fans of Colette, Radclyffe Hall, and Sarah Waters
Shelves: adult, french
Must the French writers always end their novels this way? Not trying to spoil it for anyone. This was such a unique read. The writing style was somewhere between Colette and Radclyffe Hall. I kind of wish there had been a little more passion in the writing style, but I enjoy the simplicity too. What makes this story so exciting for me is the art of bending gender so far that it turns its way back straight. I know the United States just recently embraced homosexuality, but I'm telling you people, ...more
Aug 03, 2008 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition

I have now finished reading Monsieur Venus, which I really enjoyed. I thought it was superbly written: the French just flows, the imagery and play on words (especially, you will have guessed, on masculine and feminine articles and pronouns) are just astounding.

I thought the story was well constructed, and could see a clear progression in the events and plot. You start off with this young woman who can get whatever she wants. She has no boundaries. Her aunt is an almost comic character: she is ou
Jul 16, 2016 rated it liked it
If I were to use a single word to describe this book it will be unsatisfying or maybe insufficient. It is the type of book you rate 3* because deals with taboo issues, made such a rumpus when it was published, was banned; you know, issues you care about, and not because you really enjoyed it.
It is build on the familiar frame of rich lady taking as a lover a young and poor man. That in itself can pass as outrageous for some, but if you are familiar with French costumes and French literature it's
May 29, 2011 rated it really liked it
I had to read this book for a course in university and while the French was sometimes challenging I ended up really enjoying it.
When it was released it was banned in Belgium and considered to be pornographic, although by today's standards it is not so shocking.The story is about a wealthy young woman called Raoule de Venerande who starts a relationship with a working class man named Jacques Silvert. The story raises questions of gender roles and identities, as they are often reversed. The chara
Betty H.
Jul 29, 2009 rated it really liked it
Recommended to Betty by: my french lit professor.
really creepy french book about transvestism and feminism... but ultimately fascinating. but creepy.
Jan 07, 2020 rated it really liked it
3.5 Stars. Totally see why Barrès named Rachilde as Mademoiselle Baudelaire. But I really cannot agree with the idea that the protagonist is a feminist.
Madame Histoire
Woman pretends to be a man and makes a man be her woman, or the acme of fin-de-siècle perversity beautifully written by (what is more!) a maiden. One of the unknown classic of the French literature of the Décadence (end of the XIX century). An interesting read, poetic, which goes far beyond its storyline and into the exploration of love till complete self-abnegation.

Some quotes, in the original French:

"A sa honte éprouvée devant le mâle qu'elle avait eu l'audace de rendre grossier succédait une
Lily McDonnell
Sep 14, 2020 rated it really liked it
*4.5--read for class
Was extremely interested with the ways in which Rachilde played with masculine and feminine language to transgress the gender binary. Raoule's character was someone to hate and love, and Jacques was a character to relate and sympathize with. Excellent use of 19th c. tropes to the extreme to call out gender and class roles.
The only reason it's not a 5 star is because I wish the end was more flushed out. Maybe it's because I read it in all in 1 night, but I found it to be confu
Jul 23, 2020 rated it liked it
An intersting novel set in decadent France. Woman and man change roles and the powerful man becomes the loving mistress. Very heavy surroundings with exotic flowers and deep blue velvety stores.
Sep 19, 2016 rated it liked it
Rachilde was a fascinating figure in the Symbolist/Decadent crowd in Paris at the turn of the last century. The wife of the publisher of the influential Mercure, close friend to Alfred Jarry, she was known for going about cross-dressed, and for writing works that upended traditional notions of gender. "Monsieur Venus" is perhaps the prime example of such things. The main character, a woman named Raoule, accidentally meets a very beautiful young man, and becomes enamored of him, despite the huge ...more
Nov 26, 2017 rated it it was ok
Intriguing gender subversion, but the characters were not particularly engaging. I found it difficult to relate to or empathize with most of them because they were fairly one-dimensional and kind of nasty. The only facet that I enjoyed was the sexual and gender playfulness.
Catherine Siemann
Dec 28, 2009 rated it really liked it
Shelves: victorians
I've listed this with Victorians because it's 19th century, but it's a clear example of why the French were so very *not* Victorian. The story of Raoule de Venerande, an wealthy aristocratic woman who makes Jacques Silvert, a poor young maker of artificial flowers into her "mistress," the novel is full of fascinating gender play and performativity, with the two characters slipping fluidly between gender roles. It features one of the most disturbing endings I've ever read.

I rather regret buying
Jun 04, 2010 rated it it was amazing
Shelves: decadent-fiction
Raoule de Venerande, a young woman from an ancient noble family, has a taste for cross-dressing as well as fairly exotic sexual appetites. Her meeting with a poverty-stricken florist and would-be painter gives her the opportunity to indulge her tastes to the full. Jacques Silvert is a passive young man to begin with and is therefore ideal for Raoule’s purposes. She sets him up in a studio and begins an affair with him, but she is to be the man in the relationship while he is to be the woman. But ...more
"My friend," she said in a voice that trembled all at once with forced gaiety and contained passion, "I warn you I shall become drunk, because my tale cannot be told in the accents of reason, you would not understand it!"

"Ah! Very well!" muttered Raittolbe. "Then I shall contrive to keep my own head!"

Then he emptied a flagon of sauterne into an ornately chased drinking-cup. They considered one another for a moment. To prevent himself from losing his temper, Raittolbe was compelled to acknowledge
Feb 19, 2016 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: literature
Fantastic retelling of the classic Pygmalion story. A dashing and modern heiress remakes a poor artisan into something fit for high society. But, y'know, with a dark, edgy side. In this nearly perfect experiment in gender role reversal, even the macho officer Raittolbe comes down with the vapors. As the mytharc behind the story goes, its 20-year-old author had secretly read Sade in her uncle's library.

Like others here, I read this in an anthology (reviewed at
Steven Felicelli
Nov 15, 2013 rated it it was amazing
had this on my readlist forever and finally read it - it's authentically transgressive (still - was written in late 19th Century) - Rachilde turns gender power-structure on its head without lapsing into easy feminism

this is a strange and violent book (if occasionally over-the-top, melodramatic) - surprised she's not a bigger name (yet - soon maybe) and that no one's made a film version of this book
Katie Petersen
Dec 01, 2008 rated it liked it
I appreciate this book from a purely scholastic point of view. It wasn't the most well-structured or entertaining read but definitely interesting. More simply put, I could write endless papers about this novel but would only give a lukewarm recommendation of it to someone not actively involved in the study of 19th century French literature or Gender and Women's Studies.
Feb 24, 2008 rated it really liked it
A wealthy, aristocratic woman discovers a starving artist and literally makes him her bitch. Students of Eve Sedgwick take note, this novel is rife with gender performativity and intriguing sexual reversals. And it has a supremely creepy ending.
Akila Ally
Nov 29, 2015 rated it really liked it
Extremely entertaining even when you dislike the protagonist. Touches on gender fluidity, the question of biological essentialism - gender identity vs sexual orientation and how they contrast or overlap.
Disturbing but very interesting
Oct 22, 2010 rated it it was amazing
One of the more incredible studies of gender and class I've ever encountered.
Jul 08, 2013 marked it as to-read
Shelves: scary, fraaance
Consider me intrigued...
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Rachilde was the nom de plume of Marguerite Vallette-Eymery, a French author who was born February 11, 1860 in Périgueux, Périgord, Dordogne, Aquitaine, France during the Second French Empire and died in April 4, 1953.
She is considered to be a pioneer of anti-realistic drama and a participant in the Decadent movement.
Rachilde was married to Alfred Vallette.

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