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Vallette, Marguerite (1860–1953)

Vallette, Marguerite (1860–1953)

French novelist and literary critic. Name variations: Mme Alfred Vallette or Valette; Mme Alfred Valette Rachilde; Marguerite Eymery; (pseudonym) Rachilde (pronounced RAH-sheeld). Born Marguerite Eymery on February 11, 1860, near Périgueux in southwest France; died in 1953; only child of a career army officer and a mother whose father was a newspaper editor; married Alfred Vallette (co-founder and editor of Mercure de France ).

Wrote erotic novels; with husband Alfred Vallette, founded Le Mercure de France.

Selected works (under pseudonym Rachilde):

Monsieur Vénus (1884, which was banned in Belgium); Nono (1885); Mme Adonis (1888); Les Hors Nature (Nature's Outcasts, 1897); L'Heure sexuelle (The Sexual Hour, 1898); La Tour d'Amour (The Tower of Love, 1899); La Jongleuse (The Juggler, 1900); La Souris japonaise (The Japanese Mouse, 1912); La Tour d'Amour (1914); La Maison Vierge (1920); Refaire l'Amour (1928); L'Homme au Bras de Feu (1931); Quand j'étais jeune (When I Was Young, 1948).

Born in France in 1860, Marguerite Vallette shocked the public of her time not only with her novels, which were considered "perverse," but with her personal appearance and outlook as well. During her adolescence she read widely, including the works of the Marquis de Sade. Her father, to whom she was devoted as a child, wanted a son and instilled in her feelings of worthlessness and contempt for her femininity. This is made clear in her autobiography, Pourquoi je ne suis pas féministe (Why I Am Not a Feminist, 1928). She wore men's clothing, a fashion among literary and artistic women of her day, referred to herself as a "man of letters," and wrote in the style of the Decadents, a highly misogynistic school of art inspired by the morbid, neurotic, and macabre.

Marguerite Vallette was a journalist before she began publishing works of fiction. Her first novel, Monsieur Vénus, was published in 1884 by Alfred Vallette, whom she later married; this work, produced under the pen name "Rachilde," launched Vallette upon a long literary career that would span some 60 works of fiction. A story of cross-dressing and gender role inversion, Monsieur Vénus was considered pornographic by many readers and was banned in Belgium, where it was first published. As is typical of fin de siècle erotic fiction, its focus on "perverse" activities seems very tame and inoffensive today. Rachilde's other novels continued along similar lines, with themes of incest (1897's Les Hors Nature), pedophilia (1912's La Souris japonaise), homoeroticism, and the complexities of the human mind. Her other titles include Mme Adonis (1888), La Tour d'Amour (The Tower of Love, 1899), La Jongleuse (The Juggler, 1900), in which the main character is in love with a Greek jar, and L'Amazone rouge (The Red Amazon).

Together with her husband, Vallette founded Le Mercure de France. It was one of the best-known literary review journals of the Symbolists, a primarily French literary movement of the late 19th century, in which ideas and emotions were expressed indirectly through symbols. Her memoirs, Quand j'étais jeune (When I Was Young, 1948), give an account of the world of the Symbolists.

sources:

Buck, Claire, ed. The Bloomsbury Guide to Women's Literature. NY: Prentice Hall, 1992.

Harvey, Sir Paul, and J.E. Heseltine, eds. The Oxford Companion to French Literature. Oxford: Clarendon Press, 1959.

Malinda Mayer , writer and editor, Falmouth, Massachusetts

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