Indeterminate and Inhuman: Georgette Leblanc in L'Inhumaine (1924)

Maureen Shanahan
Content Type
Working Paper
Institute for European Studies at Cornell University
This essay argues that L'Inhumaine, directed by Marcel L'Herbier, succeeded as a display of avant-gardism but failed as a heterosexual romance due to misquotation of heterosexual paradigms and its citation of gay, lesbian, and queer signs of the era. Georgette Leblanc, who was the film's lead actress and a principal financial contributor, signified as too “authoritative” both to collaborators and critics, yet her role in shaping the narrative has not been acknowledged. Leblanc scripted the principal character, the singer Claire Lescaut, as an “inhuman woman” who refuses marriage, fails to mourn her suicided male suitor, and is reviled by other women, suggesting post-war women who persisted in their careers and failed to mourn male losses from the Great War. In one scene, when a theater audience breaks into partisan factions rioting over Lescaut's “inhumanity,” two garçonnes or mannish women appear to take Lescaut's side against others in the audience, a scene staged in part by Leblanc's lover Margaret Anderson, co-editor of the Little Review. The presence of the garçonne couple suggests Leblanc and Anderson's desire to connote a lesbian meaning to the “inhuman woman” and to address a lesbian spectator. In addition, Leblanc's age, on-screen persona, and her partnership with a younger male actor disturbed the contemporary ideological ordre familial in post-war France. Instead, both Leblanc and Jaque Catelain, the male lead, resembled other public queer figures, such as Sarah Bernhardt and Jean Börlin, the lead dancer for the Ballets Suédois. In its emphasis on theatrical performance, audience relations, masking and deflected emotions, L'Inhumaine produces a slippage between the visible and invisible and permits multiple spectatorial positions.
Gender Issues, Peace Studies
Political Geography
Europe, France