It's time for the Wednesday Recap! I've started summarizing 19th-century short stories I've read, beginning with Guy de Maupassant's 1881 phallic story of phallic phalluses, "Cockcrow". I'm going to do another Guy de Maupassant 1881 short story today (because he wrote a lot of them).
This one is called "Femme Fatale", and it is a remarkably candid and lovely depiction of lesbians, considering its time. I was actually shocked when I read it, because we don't get well-rounded and dignified depictions of lesbians often like this TODAY, 135 years later. All cited quotations are directly from the text. You can read the story yourself here.
At a fashionable boating party, Paul and his main squeeze, Madeleine, are canoodling. This is clearly a high society party that gradually gets more and more rowdy as the evening goes on and vulgar people and women of ill-repute start showing up. It’s all fun and games until the moneyed bourgeois arrive.
A boat goes by filled only with women, and with a female oarsman. The crowd notices and starts chanting “Lesbos!” over and over again. The women in the boat wave, and it’s all good-natured heckling. Except for Paul, who breaks out a whistle and starts creating a serious scene. Everyone knows the best way to scare away lesbians is through shrill noises. It’s like warding off bears, I guess.
Madeleine keeps trying to get him to put down the whistle because he’s acting like he done lost his fool mind, but “he was beside himself with male jealousy and a deep, instinctive ungovernable rage. His lips trembling with indignation he stammered: ‘Shouldn’t be allowed! They should be drowned like puppies with stones round their necks!’” (15).
Well, that escalated quickly.
Madeleine quickly becomes my hero by yelling, “Mind your own business, will you! They’ve got a perfect right to do whatever they want. They’re not doing any harm to anyone. Why don’t you just shut up and leave them alone.” (15).
He rants about getting the women locked up and forbids Madeleine from ever having anything to do with them. She gets all “Haaaaale no” and says, “I shall do exactly as I please. If you don’t like it you know what you can do. Get the hell out. Now. I’m not your wife, so shut up.” (15).
She is my spirit animal. Holy butthole, guys, are you sure this story wasn’t written yesterday? Because we’re still debating this crap, and her perspective is incredibly modern. I have used those arguments myself, and recently.
The women in the boat land at the party, again to the good-natured heckling of all the other party goers. Apparently it is an open secret that all four of the ‘Lesbos’ live together, as two couples, in a single house. Some douchebag neighbors had previously been scandalized and tried to get the police involved, but the police were like, “What exactly do you want us to charge them with?” and the neighbors were like, “Uh . . .” and the police were like, “Uh . . .” and nobody could think of anything, and everyone had to drink a big tall glass of Shut The Fuck Up.
The women strut their stuff through the party, like the queens they are, and they come right up to Madeline, and it turns out she knows the woman who was rowing the boat. They hug and greet each other, and Paul is terribly threatened, because, bless him, his masculinity is a fragile, fragile thing. He’s threatened not least of all because the woman’s name is Pauline.
He gets territorial and says that Madeleine is under strict orders not to talk to those women, so Pauline unleashes upon him a torrent of cussing so bad it makes me sound like a nun. Everyone stops to listen. He is too shocked for words, and it stops the party dead. *mic drop*
Paul runs away, crying, and becomes all emo staring out at the water. He’s upset not because he got righteously served by some lesbians, but more because he was a poetic soul who was desperate to fall in love with some gorgeous woman and have a passionate love affair, but instead he had fallen head over heels in love with Madeleine, who was ugly and ‘bad tempered’ and had that horrible thing that men hate, self-respect. Ugh, the worst.
He and Madeleine leave the party, but he’s distressed to find out she’s going to another party the other women are throwing at their house that night. You see, Madeleine, unlike the rest of us, can actually escape his nauseating fuckwittery. He keeps trying to manipulate her and guilt-trip her into not going, and she keeps reading him the riot act: you’re free to leave, but if you stay, you have no right to control my actions.
I wonder how many times she’s going to have to say this before it sinks in.
He ends up going to the party with her, and it sounds fucking fabulous. Everyone is doing the can-can or some other sort of acrobatic dance, and drinks are flowing, and I want to start my own belle époque lesbian party shack, because it’s clearly all fun, all the time.
Madeleine disappears at the party and his first thought is, “She is most definitely banging a chick”. He barrels around the grounds like the world’s worst secret agent, trying to spy, but crying too hard to be discreet. Finally he hears her voice coming from some bushes (pun intended?) and hears Madeleine in the throes of passion. Awwwww yeaaaaaaaaah. Sho nuff, she is in flagrante de Sappho with Pauline.
He screams “MADELEIIIIIIINE”, a la Marlon Brando in Streetcar, and throws himself into the river, committing suicide. It’s like he was allocated a certain number of diva moments at birth and had to use them all up before he died.
His body is found not long after, and Madeleine is kind of sad, but Pauline says, “Hey, he made his own choices. And you’re not responsible for those choices. Wanna have a sleepover at our party palace?”
And Madeleine goes, “Okay.”