By Tracy Hargreaves
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111) The condition of androgyny is, in this instance, one of bare possibility, noumenal, intuited; the androgyne is a fleeting figure without content, a spectre caught in a passing glance. The narrator names the androgyne only as the barely glimpsed liminal condition in which the masculine and the feminine momentarily coexist. What the nature of that transitional embodiment might be is, tantalisingly, never disclosed, as though it must operate outside, rather than constitute, the transgressive sexual space that Des Esseintes both controls and is controlled by.
In order to escape his oppressive suburban community, Dennis escapes to London to stay with Neil Barnaby, the librettist for an opera they are both working on: Karen and the Red Shoes. 20 Karen’s desire for the red shoes is punished by the demands of an unforgiving Christian authority, but Dennis evacuates the power of Andersen’s story by developing a new interpretation of his musical aesthetic, which will unite and redeem the warring world. And yet there is another strand to this, too. His desire to set Karen and the Red Shoes to music seems to belong to the transitional period of the pre-war and wartime years.
Monsieur Vénus explores the possibility of rupturing sexual and social norms by literally marrying an aristocrat to an artisan and by disengaging the hetero-normative alliance of male/masculine, female/feminine sex and gender roles: a woman whose identification is masculine marries a man who is cast in the role of inert and masochistic woman (p. 66), and for Jacques at least, to periodically lament and repudiate. ”’ (p. 50). In Raittolbe’s limited imagination, he cannot understand how a woman could love another woman without being Sapphic (and therefore masculine), but Raoule puts him right: lesbianism is the ‘crime of the boarding school girl or the prostitute’s foibles’ (p.