The Portrait of a Gentleman:
Representing Men in (French) Women's Writing
I want to know
your true opinion
which one you prefer, and what's
the mirror where you stare
For the mirror with no image so disrupts
my rhyme that it almost interrupts it
but then when I remember what my name records,
all my thoughts unite in one accord
In 1980 an exhibition was held in London that, according to its organizers, "aroused enormous controversy and attracted record attendances." The theme of the exhibit was "Women's Images of Men." Not surprisingly, male critics responded with particular outrage to this attempt on the part of women to "look back," to reverse the centuries-old model-artist relationship, just as some hundred or so years earlier the impudent gaze of Manet's Olympia had aroused the ire of a primarily male bourgeois spectatorship.
What made the London exhibit so shocking was not merely its display of images of men produced by women, for after all women artists have been producing male imagos for centuries. Nor was it the fact that these images, informed by the feminist revolution of the second half of the twentieth century, were overtly political. What created the scandal and drew the crowds was that the women artists who displayed their work in various media at the Institute of Contemporary Arts, in a manner unimaginable to women artists of earlier times—who were, as we know, barred from the figure drawing classes of the Academy—dared to depict the male nude, indeed the penis in every state from the limp to the erect. Now the transgression of the secular taboo on women representing the male sexual organ is, as Sarah Kent reminds us, a very recent phenomenon: "With a few notable exceptions like Suzanne Valadon and Alice Neel, the male nude is a subject that women have turned to only during the last twenty years—a minute length of time when compared to the illustrious history of its female counterpart." To subject the penis to representation is to strip the phallus of its empowering veil, for—and much of what follows turns on this aporia—while the phallus
can be said to draw its symbolic power from the visibility of the penis , phallic power derives precisely from the phallus's inaccessibility to representation . Again in the words of Sarah Kent: "This points to a fundamental problem in depicting the penis. For as a symbol of masculine power, authority, and potency within the patriarchy the phallus has to carry an enormous burden of significance. That bulge in the trousers on which the hero's sexual identity depends and on which pop stars, like Elvis, focused their fans' attention to such good effect, cannot withstand exposure to view."
Clearly it is a far cry from the risqué visual representations of male sexual organs by late-twentieth-century women artists to the non-sexually-explicit textual representations of male characters by such women writers as Mme. de Lafayette, Mme. de Staël, and George Sand, but I will want to argue here that at least in France—and the question of national difference will have to be considered—the representation of men by women writers has been every bit as subversive of phallic hegemony over the symbolic as the unveiled penises on view in the "Women's Images of Men" exhibit. But, because of the constraints of a representational system coterminous with patriarchy, the women writers I have in mind were obliged to resort to complex strategies to lay bare the source of both male power and female powerlessness. My argument is based on the close analysis of a recurrent scene, a female topos, that links up Mme. de Lafayette's The Princesse de Clèves , Mme. de Staël's Corinne , and George Sand's Indiana . Briefly stated: the scene stages the violation by the male gaze of the female protagonist's private space and the male protagonist's discovery therein of a portrait, his own and/or that of another masculine figure.
But, as a preliminary to the detailed examination of this recurrent "portrait of a gentleman" scene, I want to raise the larger theoretical issue at stake here, that is, the representation of men in women's writing, a question neglected by feminist critics (myself included) more concerned with the urgent question of the representation of women first by male writers and, more recently, by women writers. Though the field has hardly been exhausted, it seems opportune now to turn to the question of the representation of the Other's other, and some of the questions before us then are: what strategies do women writers enlist to represent men? Are they different from those at work in men's writings about women? Do they cut across national boundaries and constitute a specificity of women's fiction?
That the representation of men is problematic for the female novelist is stated very clearly by George Sand in the preface to one of her early woman-centered novellas. Responding to the criticism that in her writings she systematically foregrounds and favors her female characters, Sand writes:
It is very difficult for a woman to successfully define and depict a fully worthy man and above all to employ him as the active protagonist in a novel. For a woman writer to know well the causes and the play of man's moral forces, she must with time, observation, and some studies unjustly reputed useless to her sex and estate become not man himself, for
that would be impossible, but somewhat less of the child she was left by her early education. She will then be able to understand certain intellectual preoccupations foreign to her and not restrict the masculine role to his relationship to love or the family.
Lest these remarks appear to suggest that male writers experience no difficulty in representing women, Sand goes on to say:
To be fair, let us say that men writers also experience great difficulties when it comes to entering with delicacy and impartiality into woman's heart and mind. In general they make her too ugly or too beautiful, too weak or too strong, and those who have met the rugged challenge of this work of divination know that it is no small thing.
Yet, for all her attempts at evenhandedness, Sand goes on to conclude: "Thanks to his more complete education and more practiced reasoning, man can more easily depict woman than woman can depict man."
Sand's problematization of gender-bound representations is itself characteristically problematic, in that it stops well short of contesting the system of values that accords less prestige to depictions of the domestic and erotic spheres inhabited by women than to the supposedly wider spheres in which men traditionally deploy their activities: commerce, the professions, war. No lover of the homely details of everyday life, Sand does not valorize the world of home and family. And yet, despite Sand's implicit endorsement here (and elsewhere) of the ideology that attaches more value to representations of public than private spaces, despite her explicit privileging of men's writing, her remarks install a significant and potentially subversive dissymmetry between gentlemen and lady novelists. For whereas women writers are prevented from creating well-rounded protagonists by their infantilizing education, men writers fail in their depictions of women for reasons less amenable to remediation: lack of tact and fairness. Their representations are distorted by a seemingly congenital blindness; theirs is a failure not of education but of vision. Thus, while recognizing the advantages enjoyed by her male contemporaries in representing the Other, Sand implies that in the long run, when women are given equal access to higher education, it is the men who will be at a disadvantage. It will require a complete overhaul of the curriculum—the introduction of women's studies, perhaps?—to enable men to represent women without indulging in the twin excesses that are the hallmarks of male misogyny: idealization and demonization.
Male critics who have recently raised the specter of misandry, a sort of woman writers' revenge, would, I am well aware, want to take issue with the scenario I have teased out of Sand's text. They would argue, as does K. K. Ruthven, that it is only for lack of opportunity that women have not produced a volume of misandrous representations to rival the proliferation of misogynous representations produced by men:
If men appear to have spent more time abusing women than women men (which is what the textual evidence suggests), this is not because misandry is a more rare phenomenon
than misogyny, but because for several centuries most printed books were written by men. "If wommen hadde writen stories," Chaucer's wife of Bath points out, "They wolde han writen of men moore wikkednesse/Than al the mark of Adam may redresse"—to which one can only add that feminist writing published during the last fifteen years or so has been doing what it can to ensure that misandry will eventually be as well represented in print as misogyny now is.
That there have been excesses committed in recent women's writings about men is open to debate, providing, of course, that specific examples of offending texts are cited in place of such unverifiable references as "feminist writing published during the last fifteen years or so." But the unquestioned assumption that misandry simply mirrors misogyny is, arguably, only another avatar of phallocentrism's "old dream of symmetry," to quote Luce Irigaray, and as such is highly suspect. The important question, however, lies elsewhere and it is: can men, who have for centuries enjoyed a virtually undisputed monopoly on the means of representation—the pen, the brush, and the chisel—so surely distinguish between misandry and women's talking, looking, and writing back? The discourse of misogyny, let us recall, has throughout the centuries singled out for unique scorn women who, refusing to be mere signs to be exchanged among men, have sought instead to become producers and circulators of signs in their own right: the précieuse in seventeenth-century France, the bluestocking in nineteenth-century France and England. To put the question another way: can men who have for centuries, as Virginia Woolf so memorably phrases it in A Room of One's Own , consigned women to the role of magnifying mirrors so surely distinguish between life-size representations and caricatures? In her unendingly prescient book, Woolf suggests that when women do write, they provide their male readers with a view of "the spot the size of a shilling at the back of the head [which one can never see for oneself]." Finally, the question is: can men stand the sight of their blind spot, or, having caught a glimpse of it, will they hastily turn their gaze back on Woolf's reassuring "female looking glasses," which possess "the delicious power of reflecting the figure of man at twice its natural size"? It is with these questions in mind that I would like to turn now to my reading of The Princesse de Clèves, Corinne , and Indiana .
That The Princesse de Clèves is the inaugural text of the French psychological novel is a matter of historical record, and Mme. de Lafayette's place in the canon—unlike those of Mme. de Staël and George Sand—is secure. And yet it is only now, in the wake of pioneering feminist studies of the novel by such critics as Nancy K. Miller, Peggy Kamuf, Marianne Hirsch, and Joan de Jean, that The Princesse de Clèves 's role as the matrix of French women's fiction can begin to be fully grasped and assessed. French women novelists well into the nineteenth century appear to have inscribed themselves into a specifically female literary tradition by endlessly rewriting and refashioning the story of the beautiful young
princess who loves a man who is not her husband, implausibly confesses her illicit love to her husband, and still more implausibly refuses to marry the object of her passion when her husband dies of grief, leaving her free to wed whomever she pleases. My concern in what follows, however, is with The Princesse as a model not for fictions of avowal and renunciation but for representations of men in a manner that calls into question what Nancy K. Miller has described as the "subject in power['s] . . . fascination" with "his own representation." What the discovery of the intertextual relationship linking The Princesse de Clèves, Corinne , and Indiana demonstrates is the persistence in French women's writings of representations of men that work to unsettle man's secure relationship to his own image and the representational system it underwrites.
After both her husband and her would-be lover, M. de Nemours, depart from the court at the king's bidding, the Princesse de Clèves decides to go to Coulommiers, her country estate. In retreating to her private space, the princess does not leave Nemours altogether behind because her baggage includes some paintings of historical scenes in which the duke figures prominently:
She went to Coulommiers, taking with her two big pictures which had been copied for her from originals painted for Madame de Valentinois's beautiful house at Anet and which represented all the outstanding events of the King's reign. Among others there was the siege of Metz, with portraits of all those who had distinguished themselves there; M. de Nemours was one of these and perhaps that may have been the reason why Madame de Clèves was so anxious to own these paintings.
The use of the word perhaps here is distinctly at odds with the omniscient stance of the "knowing narrator" throughout the story and thus serves to draw the reader's attention to these paintings and to the princess's interest in them well before they are foregrounded in the narrative. Indeed it is only several pages later that the doubt cast by the narrator on the princess's motives for transporting these bulky works of art—a doubt that does not so much diminish the narrator's omniscience as underscore the princess's unawareness of her own feelings—is lifted. Alone at night in the pavilion where she is at last able to give free rein to her erotic fantasies, the princess contemplates the portrait of Nemours with rapt adoration:
She took a candlestick and went up to a big table which stood before the picture of the siege of Metz in which was a portrait of M. de Nemours. She sat down and gazed at this portrait with a far-away look that only love can give. (168)
There is in Pride and Prejudice an analogous scene, where on a visit to Darcy's estate Elizabeth Bennet stands similarly transfixed before a portrait of her suitor. However, as one critic has remarked: "Elizabeth can accept the hand of the man who steps out of the frame: the princess cannot." Whereas Elizabeth's intense study of Darcy's portrait causes her to view him in a new and more favorable light and eventually to marry him, the princess's dreamy contemplation of Nemours's
portrait presages her final refusal to marry him and her retreat into a new and inviolable space of erotic reverie: the convent. This difference in outcome depends on another difference between the two scenes: whereas Elizabeth looks at Darcy's portrait in his absence, at the very moment when the princess gazes rapturously at the portrait of the duke, the portrait's model is gazing equally rapturously at her. For the second time in the novel—the first is when he overhears the princess's avowal to her husband—the duke has sneaked onto the secluded property to spy on the princess. As he, unbeknownst to her, watches her from his hiding place in the garden, he experiences something verging on that supreme form of sexual pleasure known in French and now also in English as jouissance .
How to express the feelings of M. de Nemours at this moment? What lover can ever have seen, at night, in the most perfect spot imaginable, the person he adored, have seen her without her knowing it and have seen that she was only occupied with things which had to do with himself and the love she kept hidden from him? Such things had never been enjoyed or imagined by any other lover. The Prince was beside himself, so much so that he forgot the precious minutes were ticking away as he stood there looking at Madame de Clèves. (168)
What makes this voyeur's pleasure so uniquely, so hyperbolically gratifying is not only that he holds the object of his desire prisoner of his gaze, not only that his gaze violates her most intimate secret, but rather and above all that what he beholds is his own likeness as viewed through the eyes of an adoring woman. Jouissance for Nemours is being the spectator of his own desirability. When but moments later he comes to his senses, the duke arrives at the sobering realization that his image and the fantasies it enables are his most powerful rivals for the princess's affections. But the portrait scene unfolds outside of the relentless flow of narrative time, for the moment of narcissistic contemplation suspends temporality; it is a moment of eternity. I want then to stay with this timeless scene for just a little while longer, to scrutinize it at leisure, for in it Mme. de Lafayette offers us conjointly a representation of a male protagonist and en abîme a commentary on man's relationship to his own representation. By training, as it were, her spotlight on the spectacle of the duke's ecstatic vision of the princess's no less ecstatic vision of his image, Mme. de Lafayette places the reader in a position to discover the voyeur's secret, a secret far less innocent than the princess's. Lest we doubt that what we have here under the cunning guise of a supremely romantic episode is a devastating exposure of the male subject's fascination with the evidence of phallic power, we must now turn away from this captivating scene to the scene that immediately precedes it and from which it cannot be separated except for heuristic purposes. Moments before the princess takes up her candle to go over to the duke's portrait, she is engaged in an activity whose fetishistic significance was first pointed out some years ago by Michel Butor:
She lay on a day-bed and on a table beside her there were several baskets full of ribbons. She was picking over these ribbons and choosing out certain ones, and M. de Nemours saw that these were the very colours he had carried at the tournament, and then he saw that she was making knots and bows to go on the unusual malacca cane which, having used it for some time, he had given to his sister. Madame de Clèves had taken it from her without seeming to recognize it as having once been his. She worked away with a grace and a look of pure goodness which reflected the state of her soul. (167–68)
The duke's blissful vision of the princess's occupation with "things that had to do with himself" both confirms and exploits the metonymic and metaphoric links between the portrait and the cane. The double scene that the duke beholds stages the generally hidden, should I say veiled relationship between the phallus and representation in a society ruled by men. In other words, what the diegetic contiguity of these two objects lays bare is the phallicity of the representation and the iconicity of the phallus . In a scopic economy, the idolator worships indifferently at the altar of the image and the phallus, for there is at least in the "rhetoric of iconoclasm," recently studied by W.J.T. Mitchell, a pervasive symbolic equation between these two icons of the visible.
If we now replace the portrait scene in the narrative, it becomes clear that the princess's ultimate enigmatic refusal is motivated not only by her fear of falling victim to the "poetics of abandonment," not only by her privileging of desire over satisfaction, but by her unwillingness to support a representational system so intimately bound up with male narcissism. The portrait scene, as noted earlier, repeats an earlier scene that unfolds in the same spot in the hidden presence of the same trespasser: I allude to the princess's celebrated avowal to her husband of her love for another man, a man the eavesdropping duke recognizes to be himself. Unable to keep this story so flattering to his person to himself, the duke proceeds to communicate it to his friend and traveling companion, the Vidame de Chartres. In recounting this episode the narrator is at her perfidious best, first by minimizing the seriousness of the duke's indiscretion, second by parrying the widespread assumption that women's writing is indistinguishable from autobiography. For Nemours's narrative, his sole attempt at fiction, is a flimsily disguised autobiographical fragment that fools no one:
M. de Nemours, obsessed with his passion and the surprise of what he had overheard, now fell into a not unusual indiscretion, that of talking in general terms of one's own experience, and narrating one's own adventures with fictitious names. During the journey brought the conversation round to the subject of love, emphasizing the pleasure of loving a person really worthy of it. He spoke of the curious manifestations it sometimes produces and finally, unable to bottle up his amazement at what Madame de Clèves had done, he told the Vidame the whole thing, without mentioning any names or saying that it had anything to do with him. However, the Vidame guessed this at once. (135)
Given the laws that govern the circulation of fictions of female desire in this novel, dispossessing women, as Joan de Jean has shown, of the exclusive rights to
their own stories, the vidame cannot resist repeating the duke's secret to his mistress, Mme. de Martigues, who tells it to the queen-dauphine in the presence of the princess. After initially accusing her husband of having put the story into circulation, the princess comes to the inescapable conclusion that the indiscretion was Nemours's and that realization is devastating to her love for him:
How mistaken I was when I thought there existed a man capable of hiding anything which flattered his vanity [ce qui flatte sa gloire ]. And it is for the sake of this man, who seemed to me so different, that I find myself on a level with other women, I, who used to be so different indeed. (151)
The only man worthy of the love of a princess deeply marked by a maternal discourse that enjoins her to be different from other women is a man who would be similarly distinct from the other members of his sex. There is, however, a notable difference between male and female difference: to be unique among her sex a woman must practice an exemplary virtue and thus avoid, in Mme. de Chartres's dying words, "descending to the level of other women" (tomber comme les autres femmes , which is more accurately translated as "falling like other women"; 70), whereas to rise above his peers a man must refrain from advertising his conquests. In short, vanity and the indiscretion it provokes are to masculinity what easy virtue and the fall it entails are to femininity. In refusing to accept the duke's proposal of marriage and by placing herself beyond the reach of the irremediably specular male gaze—retired behind the walls of the convent and her country estate, the princess becomes in the end literally and quite spectacularly invisible —the princess engages, as has been pointed out by Dalia Judovitz, in the elaboration of a "new concept of ethical and aesthetic representation." Judovitz locates the novelty of the princess's representation in its affirmation of the power of fiction over the real; for her the princess's is an "aesthetics of implausibility." For me, on the other hand, the princess's aesthetics is one of discretion , an extreme rarefaction of representation.
Discretion is hardly a virtue one would think of associating with Corinne, perhaps the most exhibitionistic female protagonist in the history of women's writing. Actress, improvisationalist, conversationalist, Corinne is constantly engaged in spectacularizing her life. From her first appearance in the novel, being crowned poet laureate on the steps of the Roman Capitol, to her last, staging her swan song, Corinne plays out her story on the public stage. Coming from England, which functions in this novel as the evil empire of patriarchy, Lord Oswald Nelvil, Corinne's lover, is both attracted to and repelled by her very public success. The attraction poses no challenge to our understanding or expectations. Nineteenth-century French fiction is full of male protagonists whose desire is mediated by the desiring gaze of other men—hence the erotic prestige enjoyed by the actress or indeed by any beautiful woman who ventures into the polyfocal
space of the theater. Less common in the French tradition is the reversal of this scenario, where instead of swelling male desire, the spectacle of female success irritates the lover's jealousy, arouses his desire for exclusive possession of the admirable love object. Oswald's typically ambivalent oscillation between these two contradictory desires is given full play in chapter 3 of book 7, when he watches Corinne act the part of Juliet in a production of Romeo and Juliet . Before the play begins, Oswald looks forward to the event with mixed emotions:
Oswald felt at once disquiet and delight; he enjoyed Corinne's success, by anticipation; but even thus grew jealous, beforehand, of no one man in particular, but of the public, who would witness an excellence of which he felt as if he alone had a right to be aware. He would have had Corinne reserve her charms for him, and appear to others as timid as an Englishwoman.
As the play unfolds, however, Oswald's regressive fantasies of exclusive possession are for one brief moment replaced by the sense of omnipotence that comes from being loved by a star: "He thought himself the king of the world since he held sway over a heart which contained all life's treasures" (197; my translation). This triumphant moment coincides with Oswald capturing Corinne's gaze at the very instant when she is declaring her love to Romeo. For Corinne, on the other hand, the supreme pleasure she experiences in performing the role of Juliet in front of Oswald would not be enhanced by having Oswald step onto the stage and play Romeo to her Juliet. If for her (and for the narrator) the event constitutes the high point of her doomed love affair with Lord Nelvil, it is because it constitutes a unique synchronization of their analogous but disparate desires: his to occupy Corinne's gaze exclusively and hers to have her success witnessed by Oswald. Hers can only be a reflected glory. Both Corinne and Oswald seek then in different ways for visible proofs of the effect they produce on others: he on her and she on the crowd. He can experience power over Corinne only by capturing her gaze and she can measure her success only by seeing it reflected in Oswald's eyes. Theirs is a battle of the gaze and, one might add, though Corinne wins many of the skirmishes, she does lose the war: in a dysphoric reversal of the Romeo and Juliet sequence, going to the theater in London she becomes a spectator to her own loss of effect as she watches how Lord Nelvil's gaze, once fixed on her, is transferred onto a rising star, her own half sister Lucile, whom Lord Nelvil eventually marries:
Suddenly, in an opposite box, she perceived Lord Nelvil, whose gaze was fixed on Lucy. What a moment for Corinne! She once more beheld that face, for which she had so long searched her memory every instant, as if the image could be effaced—she beheld it again—absorbed by the beauty of another. (318)
Corinne differs then strikingly from The Princesse in that it lays bare the specularity of both male and female desires . How then does the portrait scene function in this very different context? Though not foregrounded as it is in both The Princesse
and Indiana , the portrait scene in Corinne serves as what Michael Riffaterre, borrowing from C.S. Peirce, has called an "interpretant," an intertext that stands literally between two other texts and mediates their relationship. The portrait scene in Corinne rewrites the one in The Princesse even as it anticipates the one in Indiana .
Corinne has gone off to a convent for her annual pre-Easter retreat. Although forewarned of her absence, Oswald is shocked to discover her departure and is overcome by a feeling of abandonment that revives his grief for his father, whose recent death hangs like a pall over him and the entire novel. To comfort him, Theresine, Corinne's faithful maidservant, says:
"My lord, for your consolation, I will even betray a secret of my lady's: I hope she will forgive me. Come to her bedroom, and you shall see your own portrait!"—"My portrait!" he repeated.—"Yes; she drew it from memory, and has risen, for the last week, at five in the morning, to have it finished before she went to the convent." The likeness was very strong, and painted with perfect grace. This evidence of the impression he had produced on Corinne filled him with a most agreeable feeling. (161; translation modified)
Two related innovations serve to differentiate this scene from its homologue in The Princesse : Corinne is absent from the encounter between Oswald and his faithful likeness, and Corinne is herself the author of the portrait. In fact, one difference acts to cancel out the other, for the time and pains lavished by Corinne on the execution of the mimesis of her lover compensate for her absence. And yet, Corinne's absence and the noncoincidence it determines between the scene of the painting and the scene of self-contemplation introduce a time lag into the portrait scene that works to mute the emphasis on male narcissism. Indeed, though deeply touched by this "proof" of Corinne's love for him, Oswald is far less excessive in his response to the sight of his representation as produced by his lover than Nemours is to the sight of his as viewed by his beloved. And yet it is of the essence that Oswald is shown looking at the portrait signed by Corinne. Here again a brief comparison with an analogous scene in a work by an English woman writer serves to underscore the specificity of the insistently specular French tradition. While away from Thornfield on a visit to her Aunt Reed's, Jane Eyre draws a likeness of Rochester from memory.
One morning I fell to sketching a face: what sort of face it was to be, I did not care or know. I took a soft black pencil, gave it a broad point, and worked away. Soon I had traced on the paper a broad and prominent forehead, and a square lower outline of visage: that contour gave me pleasure; my fingers proceeded actively to fill it with features. . . .
"Is that the portrait of some one you know?" asked Eliza, who had approached me unnoticed. I responded that it was merely a fancy head, and hurried it beneath other sheets. Of course, I lied: it was, in fact, a very faithful representation of Mr. Rochester. But what was that to her, or to any one but myself?
Not only is Jane's portrait of Rochester a far more spontaneous creation—it is done quickly and as though her hand were being guided by a force independent of her will—but its significance is purely personal: Rochester never sees it.
But the major difference between the portrait scenes in The Princesse and Corinne lies elsewhere: in penetrating illicitly into Corinne's bedchamber, Oswald discovers an unexpected secret: the bedchamber is in fact a miniature gallery, containing other images, notably the portrait of another man. The scene is worth quoting in full:
His looks strayed tenderly through this chamber, where he stood for the first time. At the head of the bed he beheld the miniature of an aged man, evidently not an Italian; two bracelets hung near it, one formed by braids of black and silver hair, the other of beautiful fair tresses, that, by a strange chance, reminded him of Lucy Edgermond's, which he had attentively remarked three years since. Oswald did not speak; but Theresine, as if to banish any jealous suspicion, told him, "that during the eleven years she had lived with her lady she had always seen these bracelets, which she knew contained the hair of Corinne's father, mother, and sister." (162)
At first glance there is something odd about Oswald's response to his latest discovery: rather than focusing on the portrait of the mysterious old man, he is seemingly fascinated by the sight of the two hair bracelets contiguous with the painting. It is the sight of these bracelets and not of the other man's portrait that awakens the jealousy Theresine seeks to forestall; given the custom of lovers exchanging locks of hair, the presence of the bracelets suggests sexual intimacies that Oswald can only guess at. If, however, we superimpose this scene on the like scene in The Princesse , the logic at work in the displacement of Oswald's attention becomes apparent: the tressed bracelets stand in the same relationship to the portrait of the old man as the beribboned cane stands to that of the Duke of Nemours. There is in these novels—and Indiana will only serve to confirm this observation—a persistent association between the representation of the representation of men and fetishism, the perversion, that is, that enshrines the centrality of the phallus. What is troubling to Oswald is the uncanny doubling of the fetish, for this multiplication works to undermine the uniqueness of the phallus, and to underline its infinite substitutability. The doubled hair bracelet is in fact symptomatic of what Mme. de Staël sets out to do in Corinne , namely to ruin the foundation of man's relationship to his own image by a strategy of proliferating images. Indeed, often classified as a guidebook, Corinne has bewildered, not to say dismayed, many readers by its seemingly aberrant generalization of description. Leaving aside the masterworks on view in the churches, monuments, and galleries (both private and public) that Corinne visits with Oswald, the novel features a small collection of portraits: in addition to the portraits of Oswald and Corinne's father, there are the two portraits of Corinne, during and after
her relationship with Oswald. Significantly, on her deathbed Corinne asks the attending priest to remove Oswald's portrait and to replace it with the image of Christ, as though only what René Girard once termed "transcendental meditation" offered a way out of this universe marked by a deliberate and spectacular excess of representation.
Texts published anonymously or under a pseudonym constitute a supreme test for theories of sexual specificity in writing: a test critics of French literature have famously failed to meet in the celebrated cases of The Letters of a Portuguese Nun and The Story of O. Indiana , the first major novel George Sand published under her new masculine pseudonym, briefly obliged critics—for the biological sex of the suddenly famous author quickly became known—to articulate their assumptions about what it meant to write like a woman or a man. Most of these critics resorted to conventional ideas about gender to make their case, arguing, for example, that men write better of sensual love; women, of refined feeling—hence, this love story, both sensuous and delicate, must be a collaborative effort, on the model of George Sand and her lover Jules Sandeau's Rose et Blanche . Sainte-Beuve, however, goes beyond the predictable clichés and locates the femininity of the writing of Indiana precisely in the unsparing representation of one of its male protagonists, the vile seducer Raymon. According to Sainte-Beuve, "This disappointing character, exposed and unveiled [dévoilé ] in detail in his miserable egotism, as never a man, were he a Raymon, could have realized it and would have dared to say it," is the surest giveaway of the author's sex. Writing like a woman for Sainte-Beuve is in this instance bound up with a literal unveiling of the full horror of male egotism, the pre-Freudian term for narcissism. Now this gesture of unveiling is figured en abîme as it were in the portrait scene of Indiana . Raymon de Ramière, a dashing young aristocrat whose country home borders on that of Indiana and her husband, M. Delmare, has (unbeknownst to Indiana) become the lover of Noun, Indiana's maidservant and foster-sister. In a pathetic attempt to revive Raymon's flagging desire for her, Noun hits upon the idea of making love with him in Indiana's bedroom, while the Delmares are away in Paris. This arrangement suits Raymon fine for two reasons: first, it enables him to imagine that in making love to the sensual Noun he is possessing the unattainable Indiana, to whom (unbeknownst to Noun) he is attracted; second and perhaps more important, it allows him to penetrate into the private space of Indiana's curiously shaped circular bedroom. When, on the morning after their lovemaking, Noun hides Raymon in the bedroom, he continues to explore his surroundings with a mixture of reverence and ill-concealed curiosity:
When Noun left him to go and find something for breakfast, he set about examining by daylight all those dumb witnesses of Indiana's solitude. He opened her books, turned the leaves of her albums, then closed them precipitately; for he still shrank from committing
a profanation and violating some feminine mystery. At last he began to pace the room and noticed, on the wooden panel opposite Madame Delmare's bed, a large picture, richly framed and covered with a double thickness of gauze.
Perhaps it was Indiana's portrait. Raymon, in his eagerness to see it, forgot his scruples, stepped on a chair, removed the pins, and was amazed to see a full-length portrait of a handsome young man.
This scene, toward which, as I have tried to show, an entire literary tradition has been tending, is remarkable in its complexity. The gesture of tearing away the doubled gauze veil doubles back upon itself, for in uncovering the portrait of the other gentleman—here no harmless old man as in Corinne , rather a most threatening young one—Raymon exposes his own egotism, even as Sand demonstrates the functioning of what Eve Sedgwick has termed the "homosocial" bond. Beyond or bound up with male representational narcissism is an aggressive fascination with the imaginary Other. When Noun returns, carrying the breakfast tray, Raymon can barely contain the "violent flame of wrath" (67) the sight of the portrait kindles in him. He rants:
"Upon my word!" he said to himself, "this dapper young Englishman enjoys the privilege of being admitted to Madame Delmare's most secret apartment! His vapid face is always there, looking coldly on at the most private acts of her life! He watches her, guards her, follows her every movement, possesses her every hour of the day." (68)
And he goes on to say to Noun that were he in Delmare's place, "I wouldn't have consented to leave it [the picture] here unless I had cut out the eyes." Not surprisingly, then, given the violence of Raymon's reaction to the fancied voyeuristic privileges enjoyed by the man in the portrait, the rivalry between Raymon and Sir Ralph, the portrait's model, will be entirely ocular, a struggle over who shall possess the exclusive right not to be gazed at by Indiana but to gaze at her:
She exchanged a meaning[ful] glance with Raymon but, swift as it was, Sir Ralph caught it on the wing, and Raymon was unable, during the rest of the evening, to glance at her or address her without encountering Monsieur Brown's eyes or ears. A feeling of aversion, almost of jealousy, arose in his heart. (117)
Clearly at these moments, as Leslie Rabine has phrased it, "the heroine is the space within which Ralph and Raymon look at each other."
In the earlier versions of the portrait scene, the possibility of a misreading is carefully inscribed. Both Mme. de Lafayette and Mme. de Staël do allow the male protagonist and the male reader who identifies with him some measure of narcissistic gratification, even as they condemn the specularity of male desire and its representations. Sand's rescripting of this scene allows the resisting male reader no recourse to the comforts of misprision. In the event that the meaning of the portrait scene should have escaped the reader, male or female, it is doubled by another scene that takes place in Indiana's bedroom. This time it is Indiana who, giving in to Raymon's insistent pleas, has invited him to a midnight rendezvous
in her room. Alerted by Ralph, Indiana has begun to suspect the truth about Raymon's affair with Noun and the part he played in driving the pregnant and abandoned Noun to commit suicide by drowning. Racked by doubts as to Raymon's guilt, Indiana is suddenly inspired to devise "a strange and delicate test against which Raymon could not be on his guard" (161). As Raymon approaches Indiana, she points to a "mass of black hair" (162) she holds in her hands. At first, believing that the hair is Indiana's, Raymon is beside himself with joy:
"O Indiana!" cried Raymon, "you know well that you will be lovelier than ever to me henceforth. Give it to me. I do not choose to regret the absence from your head of that glorious hair which I admired every day, and which now I can kiss every day without restraint. Give it to me, so that it can never leave me." (163)
But when he takes "that luxuriant mass" of hair into his own hands, Raymon realizes that it is not shorn from the scalp of the living Indiana but rather from the corpse of the dead Noun. Upon which, he faints away. When he comes to, he exclaims:
"You have inflicted a horrible wound on me," he said, "a wound which it is not in your power to cure. You will never restore the confidence I had in your heart; that is evident to me. You have shown me how vindictive and cruel your heart can be." (164)
The diabolical trap set for Raymon works in ways unforeseen by Indiana, though not, of course, by Sand. The sudden and irreversible death of Raymon's love for Indiana is caused less by the confirmation of his heartless seduction of Noun than by the supplementary revelation of his fetishism. Once again, as in our earlier examples, male narcissism and fetishism are shown to be inextricably linked; to unmask the one is to unmask the other, and to unmask both is to attack the very foundations of the representational system elaborated by patriarchal society. Or, perhaps more important: to attack representation is to attack patriarchy and its distributions of power. For it is a central intuition of postmodernist thought that "representation stands for the interests of power." An impassioned condemnation of the barbarous "laws which still govern woman's existence in wedlock, in the family and in society" ("Preface of 1842"), Indiana has long been recognized as the most feminist of Sand's early feminist fiction, so it is surely no accident that in this novel the subversive intent of the portrait scene, so artfully camouflaged in the works of Lafayette and Staël, should be stripped of its protective veil and revealed in something like its truth.
At this juncture several questions arise, two of which I will raise only in passing: the first concerns the reasons for the difference between the French and the English traditions in women's writing. To begin to answer this question one would have to risk venturing onto the slippery terrain of national character, to speculate on the historical, social, economic reasons why French culture seems
more self-consciously visual than the English. This I have neither the inclination nor the competence to do. The second question concerns not national but sexual difference and could be formulated as follows: what features distinguish exposures of male narcissism in men's writings from those in women's writings? While I am not yet prepared to answer that important question, the implication of the preceding analysis is that that difference is bound up with the recurrence of the portrait scene in women's fiction, that is with the persistent linkage in female-authored texts between representations of men and representations of representation. Ultimately what is at stake in women's representations of the specularity of male desire is representation itself. This brings me to a third question and one that I will attempt to answer: what becomes of the portrait scene in French women's writing of the twentieth century? Does it simply disappear, suggesting that it is historicizable, bound up with a social organization that being neither natural nor eternal has changed significantly over the years? The portrait scene recurs, but it does so in a guise so new and unfamiliar that it is at first unrecognizable. It recurs of all places in an early novel by Nathalie Sarraute, aptly entitled Portrait of a Man Unknown . What makes this example so compelling from my perspective is that over the years Sarraute has consistently and vigorously denied the impact of gender on (her) writing. The following response to a journal questionnaire on the fictional inscription of sexual difference is typical:
On the level on which the interior dramas I strive to bring to light are produced, there is, I am firmly convinced, no difference between men and women, just as there is none in their respiratory or circulatory systems. . . .
Consequently, I have never asked myself if it [the text] had qualities or defects said to be masculine or feminine.
I think these distinctions are based on prejudices, on pure conventions. They are unverifiable assertions which rest only on a very small number of examples, examples where the male or the female author claims to possess certain qualities he believes proper to his sex.
Sarraute's refusal to be read as a woman writer extends far beyond her public statements about her own work. In Portrait of a Man Unknown it takes the form of a denial of female intertextuality; in a novel replete with literary allusions—e.g., War and Peace, The Notebooks of Malte Laurids Brigge, Madame Bovary —one would be hard pressed to find any reference to a literary foremother; if there exists any conscious link between Portrait and the tradition we have been tracing all material evidence of it has been completely expunged. To further complicate my effort to appropriate Sarraute's novel for my argument, Portrait is a first-person narrative whose narrator is male and whose story, to the extent he tells one, is a deliberate rewriting of Balzac's Eugénie Grandet , entirely focused on the father-daughter struggle to the complete and significant exclusion of the mother and Charles, the love-object. Though the novel does end with the daughter's engagement to be married, Sarraute writes from beyond the erotics of the conventional
marriage plot in which the previous portrait scenes function. Consequently, what I will nevertheless call the portrait scene takes place not in a woman's boudoir but in the very public space of a museum somewhere in Holland. I want now to compare Sand's description of the portrait of Sir Ralph, an example of academic portraiture of the school of Ingres or better Gainsborough, with Sarraute's description of a Dutch painting of the school of Frans Hals or Rembrandt:
The peaceable baronet was represented in hunting costume . . . and surrounded by his dogs, the beautiful pointer Ophelia in the foreground, because of the fine silver-gray tone of her silky coat and the purity of her Scotch blood. Sir Ralph had a hunting-horn in one hand and in the other the rein of a superb, dapple-gray English hunter, who filled almost the whole background of the picture. It was an admirably executed portrait, a genuine family picture with all its perfection of detail, all its puerile niceties of resemblance, all its bourgeois minutiae; a picture to make a nurse weep, dogs bark and a tailor faint with joy. (67)
The lines of the face, the lace jabot and waistcoat, as also the hands, seemed to present the kind of fragmentary, uncertain outlines that the hesitant fingers of a blind man might come upon haltingly, feeling his way. It was as though all effort, all doubt, all anxiety had been overtaken by a sudden catastrophe, and had remained congealed in action, like corpses that have petrified in the position they were in when death overtook them. The eyes alone seemed to have escaped the catastrophe and achieved fulfillment. It was as though they had attracted and concentrated in themselves all the intensity, all the life that was lacking in the still formless dislocated features.
What we have here are two instances or stages of what I will call "female iconoclasm," a peculiarly feminine form of antirepresentationalism. Sand's description of the portrait of a true English gentleman is a witty send-up of a sex, a class, a nation, and, above all, an aesthetic ideal: bourgeois realism. The butt of the humor is clearly the male human figure, here singularly diminished by being sandwiched between the foregrounded canine and the backgrounded equine figures, and further by being reduced to a mere clotheshorse. And yet, however clever the pastiche, by definition the portrait of Sir Ralph obeys the very convention it mocks. The same cannot be said of the portrait of a man unknown. The extraordinary disfiguration of the anonymous gentleman bodies forth the radical assault on representation Sarraute undertakes in what Sartre in his preface to Portrait describes as her "antinovel." Visiting an exhibit with the novel's female protagonist later in the novel, the narrator elaborates on the aesthetic ideal embodied in his favorite painting:
"I believe that rather than the most perfectly finished works I prefer those in which complete mastery has not been attained . . . in which one still feels, just beneath the surface, a sort of anxious groping . . . a certain doubt . . . a mental anguish . . ." I was beginning to sputter more and more . . . "before the immensity . . . the elusiveness of the material world . . . that escapes us just when we think we have got hold of it . . . the goal that's never attained . . . the insufficiency of the means at our disposal." (201)
That the painting of the man unknown represents en abîme Sarraute's fictional universe with its celebrated tropismes —those multiple, minute stirrings that lie midway between the inchoate formlessness of the semiotic and the rigid armature of the symbolic—is hardly cause for surprise, given the relentlessly self-reflexive nature of the modernistic new novel. Further, one might argue that there is nothing particularly feminine about Sarraute's attack on the figure in an era when figurative art was giving way to abstraction. And yet the terms in which Sarraute's attack is formulated resonates with feminist critiques of representation. The main thrust of Sarraute's assault on traditional modes of figuration is significantly double: the visual and the whole. The morcelizing of the masculine imago works here to dethrone the visual from its hegemony over representation in favor of the tactile. And the promotion of the tactile in the arts leads inevitably to an end to mastery.
Sarraute's deconstruction of masculine representation does not end there. As the narrator stands transfixed before the portrait of the one he calls "The Man with the Waistcoat," he experiences a lyrical moment of total identification with the figure in the painting:
And little by little, I became aware that a timid note, an almost forgotten strain from long ago, had sounded within me, at first, hesitantly. And it seemed to me, as I stood there before him lost, dissolved in him, that this faltering note, this timid response he had awakened in me, penetrated him and reverberated inside him, that he seized it and gave it back to me increased and magnified as though by an amplifier; it began to rise from him and from me, louder and louder, a song filled with hope that lifted me up and bore me along. (85)
Though the narrator's ecstatic fusion with his alter imago calls to mind the duke of Nemours's jouissance , it arises from a curious form of mutual resonance that bypasses the specular in favor of the vocal. And, as though to seal the end of the reign of the specular, the operatic merging of the two male figures—with its vestigial male narcissism—is brutally undercut by the narrator's description of his reflection:
As I trotted along beside her, I avoided looking at the fellow "beyond his prime," with the bedraggled air and short legs, balding and slightly pot-bellied. But occasionally, I was unable to avoid him. He sprang forth from a mirror just opposite me, as we crossed the street. Never had my weary lids, my dull eyes, my sagging cheeks, appeared to me so pitilessly, as at that moment, beside her reflection, in that garish light. (198)
Unsupported by an adoring female gaze—the narrator's female companion registers no surprise on catching sight of his sorry figure in the glass; "She had seen me like that for a long time," he remarks ruefully—the male figure appears here in its un- or de-idealized form, in its all-too-human contingency. The mirror has turned on Narcissus.
I began this piece by evoking an exhibit entitled "Women's Images of Men," suggesting that what would follow would deal by analogy with "images of men" in women's writing, as though feminist criticism were somehow condemned to revert always to its origins, the now largely discredited pioneering work on "images of women" in men's writings. If I hope to have demonstrated anything in the course of this paper it is that one of the major differences between men's and women's writing, at least in France, is that there are, so to speak, no "images of men" in women's writing because that writing is marked from the outset by a profound suspicion of the image and its grounding phallicism. Rarefaction, multiplication, pastiche, and disfiguration are some of the operations to which the image, the male image that is, is subjected in French women's fiction from Lafayette to Sarraute. My final question then becomes: can there be misandry where there are no unproblematized images, where representation is from its very inception in crisis? For cannot it be said that misogyny, like all forms of discrimination, relies on the power of the subject in power to fix the Other in a static image, a stereotype or better yet a cliché. And cannot it be further said that the subject in power's ability to do so derives from his own possession of a secure, larger-than-life self-image? If the answer to these questions is affirmative—and that is, of course, a rather big if—then we can better understand why it is that for women writers, for whom the mirror has for centuries remained empty, the representation of men is bound up with the death of the image of man.