Rachilde’s Monsieur Vénus revisits the Pygmalion and Galatea myth with Raoule playing the role of Pygmalion and crafting the identity of Jacques. It goes further than the myth, however, which ends with the animation of Galatea, and explores the aftermath of the metamorphosis, showing the difficulty of living alongside a creation. In terms of the novel’s sadomasochistic content, the use of this myth seems to present an argument about the masturbatory nature of the sadomasochistic relationship between Raoule and Jacques.
The mutuality of Jacques and Raoule’s relationship is presented ambiguously throughout the novel. when Raoule is initially moulding Jacques, he does not seem particularly comfortable, being able to accept it only by small increments and seeming often to be uncomfortable with his dwindling masculinity. Later, showing the success of this moulding, Jacques refuses Raoule when she commands him to take back his liberty, saying “… when you want me I shall still be your slave, he whom you call: my wife!”* This is not, to say the least, a modern understanding of a “consensual” relationship. Instead of entering into this all-consuming relationship with his own identity, Jacques enters into it and is made (by Raoule) to love Raoule. In this way, Raoule, the craftsman of the relationship and of Jacques himself, does not love another person (i.e., in the traditional sense, where the other person is a separate individual), but rather an object that she has made for herself, adding a masturbatory aspect to what seems, in these instances, to be her relationship.
Rachilde complicates this image, however, with the description of the Raoule and Jacques’ dance. During this dance, the two are described as Plato’s primordial, hermaphroditic human, presenting them as both possessing “true,” traditional and divine love and equality within their relationship. By presenting the sexual deviants as the two most beautifully impressive members of the cast of “good society,” Rachilde indicates that the two have a more genuine love than could possibly be created under the constraints of society’s artifice. However, the interaction seems highly out of character. For the two to fuse in this way, Raoule descends from her position of master and Jacques ascends from his position as slave, undermining the nature of their relationship entirely and seeming to condemn its inequality.
But what I mostly have in mind with the argument that this text presents the masturbatory nature of sadomasochistic relationships is the end of the novel, when Raoule has continued to have sex with Jacques’ body after his death. Though Jacques is in a lifeless state, Raoule is still able to make him satisfy her sexual needs. This casts the events of the novel in a suddenly new light. Though earlier depictions of Raoule and Jacques’ love presented its mutuality ambiguously, this last use of Jacques seems to imply that, at the end of the day, the relationship had been primarily to Raoule’s benefit.
* I’m not sure how to cite this; it’s location 859 on the Kindle version of Monsieur Vénus, 1884 translated by Liz Heron.