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Rachilde and French Women's Authorship: From Decadence to Modernism

The history of censorship during the Third Republic involves a lot more than just moral outrage, although that certainly was a factor see The Politics of Publishing 91 Angenot and Stora-Lamarre. There were economic interests at work of which Rachilde was aware and on which she capitalized in order to launch her career. These interests had to do with the censorship laws and the publishing industry which was experiencing explosive growth at the end of the nineteenth century.

In the s, France had had repressive publishing laws, and a number of those who wished to publish sensitive material had turned to Belgian publishers, who were not subject to French law but yet published for a francophone reading public. Around , however, the market dynamics shifted. As a result, books that had previously generated revenue for Belgian publishers could now be published in France. To offset the loss, Belgian publishers needed to develop new sources of income. Pornography was one such possibility. Of course, these changes did not happen overnight, and the early s saw intense competition between French and Belgian publishers as both struggled to renegotiate their place in the market and test the limits of the law.

The case of the Belgian publisher Henry Kistemaeckers — offers a paradigmatic example that illustrates the shifting dynamics of the market. In the s, Kistemaeckers considered himself a socialist and a supporter of the Communards, and his work in publishing was explicitly political: not only was he making political works available by publishing them , but he also made sure there was a place people could buy them by operating a bookstore Baudet. When the market changed in the s, he could no longer make a living publishing only such material and consequently set out to explore other options.

This novel was intended as a naturalist work of literature, but the sensitive subject matter meant that it quickly became embroiled in controversy. Kistemaeckers proved good at recruiting literary talent but poor at retaining it. Thus, he published the works of Camille Lemonnier but broke with him after and never quite succeeded in becoming the publisher of the younger generation of Belgian writers. Kistemaeckers, too, would travel to Paris and make deals with publishers of reviews and journals for them to publish extracts of his novels in return for his distributing their journals in Belgium.

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This brief and relative but undeniable commercial success did not make Kistemaeckers any friends among French publishers. Between and , jealous Parisian publishers used the remaining censorship laws to attack Kistemaeckers and his business, perceived as based on an unfair advantage the greater freedom of the press in Belgium. Not surprisingly, those books disappeared from shelves, and his business suffered. The police also interrogated customers as far away as the Persian Gulf and Cairo in an attempt at intimidation Kistemaeckers — The Politics of Publishing 93 The campaign by French publishers appears to have been successful: Kistemaeckers served a brief prison sentence in — 86, then tried to pick up the threads of his business again, but was unable to reestablish himself completely.

Finally, Kistemaeckers left Belgium to live in exile in and died in Paris in , all but completely forgotten. A book with dubious content could be published in Belgium, ostensibly because it was too pornographic to be published in France, but it could still be bought and sold and read in France. It would be bought and sold and read, however, only if the public knew about the book, if there was, in other words, some publicity.

Thus, being banned in Belgium but not in France seems a perfect strategy. Fortunately for Rachilde, the threatened commercial interests of French publishers made them the perfect stooges. A very different account one with its own set of reading problems is embedded in the notes taken by a representative of the Paris police during a meeting with Rachilde concerning her application for permission to cross-dress a topic taken up in greater detail in the next chapter.

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These two descriptions stress different elements, obviously with different audiences in mind. It presents Rachilde as suggestible, as hysterical, as an artist rather than a businesswoman. This account no doubt made the right sort of impression on purchasers and readers of A mort. Bref, le belge aidant, on trouva M. Nor could the police report have been written in , presumably before such a title even existed. But, allowing for some slippage perhaps the report dates from or later and Rachilde was confusing a recent publication by Maizeroy with an earlier work on a similar theme , the report remains valuable for the perspective that it provides on the business aspects of writing.

Rachilde was not impervious to such social shifts.

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Whatever the motive attributed to the players, the public was becoming too cynical to believe that such theatrical events took place off the stage without some planning, and perhaps Rachilde was among those who derived the message that nothing sells like scandal. A decisive criterion was that, in order to be liable to criminal charges, an obscene book had to have been publicized.

In addition, the price and the mode of distribution were also factors to be considered.

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Booksellers did prudently remove the novel from their displays as reported in the preface to A mort—see above , thereby avoiding any accusation that they were publicizing an obscene book, but they were somewhat protected by the fact that it was a complete book. While she was prosecuted in Belgium, she managed to avoid prosecution in France. Despite the stricter publishing laws, prosecution was in fact more rare in France than in Belgium to begin with: there were only fourteen such trials in France from to Stora-Lemarre To begin with, they did not understand it and were not sure exactly what was pornographic about it.

Eventually they did investigate, not on their own initiative, but because the parquet had received some complaints letters of denunciation from French 98 , May—July publishers, perhaps.

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Sometimes, the real motive in getting books banned in France may have been to prevent Belgian competition. Accounts of exactly what happens in the novel vary, both then and now. More recent critics have continued to offer analyses of what makes the novel so scandalous. Indeed, the transgression may be more effective for not being named and for pervading the novel in such as way as to avoid efforts to contain, to isolate, and to quarantine it.

On the loose, it can communicate, infect, pervade more effectively. I stop round the slaughterhouse with other blood-drinkers for my daily cup of ox blood, and that seems to help.

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Perhaps this medicine only further shows I am a vampire? The precise form of her cross-dressing, along with its meaning for her life and writing, however, is a much more cloudy issue.

There is no doubt that cross-dressing conveyed transgressive connotations for both men and women. Codes regulating dress had originated in Europe as sumptuary laws intended to patrol class borders Garber 21—32; P. Perrot 15 — In order to preserve visible class differences, the wearing of certain items such as ermine was declared the privilege of those who enjoyed a certain status. No matter how much wealth an individual accumulated, and no matter what he or she could afford to buy, wear, or display to advertise that wealth and here I stress the connection between clothing and advertisement , the old distinctions of rank based on blood line and family were maintained through the regulation of outward appearance.

Although such beliefs in class difference were challenged, most notably in France through the Revolution, the class distinction was preserved in vestigial form through the gender system. For a woman to appear as a man was to make claims above her station. Although there is much that goes into self-presentation including, not only clothing and other fashions such as hairstyles, but also body language and other nonverbal cues , the claim to the privileges of manhood has come down to a metonymy, the wearing of pants.

The regulation of dress has often boiled down to proscriptions against women wearing trousers, as in the case of the French decree against cross-dressing of 16 Brumaire IX November 7, , promulgated as no one will be surprised to learn by the misogynistic Napoleon. This act formed the core of legislation regulating the behavior of women and men who contemplated cross-dressing in France in the nineteenth century.

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Permission was granted to men as well as women, from very different classes. Her choice to cross-dress was not without precedent. Indeed, it was the precedents that gave it meaning. Such unwomanly interest in physical recreation was a hallmark of the New Woman, both literary and real. The nineteenth century saw the emergence of cycling as a sport, and nontraditional women jumped on such two-wheeled bandwagons as well as on horseback as part of their challenge to gender roles.

Auriant quotes a letter in which Rachilde applied for permission to cross-dress and also provides extensive information about the response.

Auriant, Souvenirs 61 This letter is both a fount of information and a confoundment of puzzles. To begin with, according to Auriant, the letter is addressed to a Monsieur Puybaraud, not a Monsieur Camescasse as David had claimed. That Rachilde was anxious to appeal to fellow feeling may be inferred from the fact that she includes such biographical information as her place of birth, but Thiviers?

This aberration occurs in a document notable for its accuracy in other matters. So why Thiviers? One possible explanation is simple confusion. The most likely explanation, however, is that Rachilde was appealing to family connections to help her case. The current deputy, M. Teulier, was also from Thiviers and came up in their conversation. Alas, Auriant gives no source for the letter. As with other books of memoirs, it draws heavily on information supplied by Rachilde in letters and conversations, but there is no further documentation.

But perhaps she reapplied, perhaps she dealt directly with Camescasse,8 perhaps she appealed to the deputy Monsieur Teulier to intervene, perhaps.

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Evidently, , December 12 the inhabitants of Paris needed to be reminded periodically that there was a law against cross-dressing, and this was duly done. In this sense, while Rachilde was clearly part of a minority, her crossdressing was not such an unheard-of thing and needs to be situated in the larger context of challenges to dress codes and their sumptuary associations that were taking place. If her eccentricity has been exaggerated in this regard, so has the degree and extent of her cross-dressing.

Rachilde applied for permission to cross-dress in It was not, however, a particularly long-lived desire.