Mademoiselle de Maupin

by Théophile Gautier
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Last Updated on August 6, 2019, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 506

Gautier's novel tells the story of d’Albert—a young, handsome, and artistic gentleman of France who has a fascination with women and the feminine ideal.

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His long search for a mistress comes to an end when his friend—who has an intimate knowledge of the appearances and characters of the women in their town—offers to take him on "a tour" of the local ladies, from which d’Albert selects Rosette as his target. He succeeds in winning her love, but after five months, their fantastic relationship falters as d’Albert grows bored.

Rosette—realizing that she must shake things up in order to keep her lover interested in her—arranges a series of feasts and parties at her country estate, to which she invites her old friend known as Théodor. d’Albert is entranced by the stranger's good looks and his skill as a huntsman, with a sword, and on a horse. He soon realizes he is in love with Théodor, and convinces himself that Théodor is, in fact, a woman in disguise, since he can't countenance being in love with a man.

One day, on hearing that d’Albert's favorite play is Shakespeare's As You Like It, the company insists on giving a performance with Théodor playing the heroine (as Rosette refused to put on man's clothes, as the role demands). Once he sees Théodor in women's clothing, d’Albert becomes convinced that he was correct in his belief that Théodor is actually a woman, and this conviction grows stronger as the play—with its various parallels to the company's situation—proceeds.

Thus, the "man" that both d’Albert and Rosette love is actually a woman by the name of Madelaine de Maupin, who has decided to dress as a man so that men will be honest with her about who they are without hiding behind flirtatious glamours.

After the play, d’Albert writes Madelaine de Maupin a letter, where he expresses his belief that she is a woman and his hope that she will reciprocate the deep affection he feels for her. She gives no reply, leaving d’Albert terrified that he was wrong and believing that he sent a passionate letter to a man. However, she meets with him one night (dressed in her costume from the play) to inform him that, since he is the only man to have ever seen through her disguise, he must be the man for her.

They share a perfect night, but it ends with tragedy when d’Albert wakes to find himself abandoned. Madelaine leaves a letter for him and Rosette to find, where she informs them that they have seen the last of her, though she also writes a private letter to d’Albert, informing him that, since they have had one perfect night, they should leave it at that and not ruin the dream. She also begs him to console Rosette and tells him that the two of them should live a long and happy together.


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Last Updated on May 5, 2015, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 978

D’Albert is a young Frenchman of twenty-two, handsome, artistic, well educated, and well versed in the affairs of the world. He loves beauty, especially female beauty. All his life he has dreamed of women, but he has never met the woman of his dreams, a woman who combines the beauty of a nude painted by Peter Paul Rubens with that of a nude by Titian. It is little wonder that he has not found her.

Another thing lacking in d’Albert’s life is a mistress. One day, his friend de C—— offers to take him around the town and discourse on the various ladies of his acquaintance so that d’Albert can make a choice. The expedition is a delightful one, as de C—— seems to have precise and full information not only on the outward circumstances of every beauty but also on the very quality of her mind. After some hesitation, d’Albert finally decides to lay siege to Rosette, a beautiful young woman; he chooses her because he thinks she is the most likely to bring his romantic and poetic mind down to earth.

It does not take d’Albert long to win Rosette’s love, and they are soon acknowledged lovers. Rosette is pliable, versatile, and always entertaining. She does not leave d’Albert alone long enough for him to indulge in musing daydreams. Variety is the spice of their love.

For five months they are the happiest of lovers, but then d’Albert begins to tire of Rosette. When she notices that his ardor is cooling, Rosette knows that she must do something different if she wishes to keep his love. If he is growing tired of her in the solitary life they are leading, perhaps he will regain his interest if he sees her among a group of people. For this reason, Rosette takes d’Albert to her country estate for a visit. There she plans parties, dinners, and visits to keep him amused, but he remains bored.

One day, an old friend of Rosette arrives, an extremely handsome young man named Théodore de Sérannes, whose conversation, riding, and swordsmanship all entrance d’Albert. The two men meet every day and go hunting together, and the more d’Albert sees of Théodore, the more fascinated he becomes. Before long, d’Albert realizes that he is in love with Théodore.

He is in love with a man, yet d’Albert always thinks of Théodore as a woman. D’Albert’s mind grows sick with the problem of Théodore’s true identity. Some days he is sure that Théodore is a woman in disguise. Then, seeing him fencing or jumping his horse, d’Albert is forced to conclude that Théodore is a man. He knows that Rosette is also in love with Théodore, but her infatuation keeps her from noticing d’Albert’s interest in the same young man.

One day, d’Albert mentions to a group of friends, including Rosette and Théodore, that his favorite play is William Shakespeare’s As You Like It (pr. c. 1599-1600, pb. 1623). The rest of the company immediately decide to present the play. At first, Rosette is chosen for the part of Rosalind, the heroine who dresses as a man to escape from her uncle, but when she refuses to wear men’s clothes, the part is given to Théodore.

As soon as d’Albert sees Théodore dressed in women’s clothes, he guesses rightly that Théodore really is a woman. What he does not know is that Théodore, whose real name is Madelaine de Maupin, has decided that she will have nothing to do with men until she finds a good and noble lover. She knows that as a woman she has no chance to see men as they really are, and so she has devised the scheme of learning about them by dressing as a man. Nevertheless, she has found perfidy and falseness in every man she has met. She has watched with amusement as d’Albert has fallen in love with her, and she has guessed the tortures of his mind at not being able to decide whether she is male or female.

As the rehearsals of the play go on, the parallels between the play and real life become ever more amusing to both d’Albert and Mademoiselle de Maupin. At last, after the play has been presented, d’Albert writes Mademoiselle de Maupin a letter in which he tells her he is sure she is a woman and that he loves her deeply. She takes so long to reply to his letter that d’Albert again becomes afraid that she really is a man. One night, however, as d’Albert stands at a window, a hand gently touches his shoulder from behind. He turns around and beholds Mademoiselle de Maupin dressed in her costume as Rosalind. He is struck dumb with amazement. Mademoiselle de Maupin tells him that since he is the first man who has seen through her disguise, he should be the first to have her as a woman.

That night, d’Albert learns that she is truly the woman of his dreams. In the morning, however, he finds himself alone. Mademoiselle de Maupin has gone, leaving a letter in which she tells d’Albert and Rosette that they will never see her again. She writes separately to d’Albert, telling him that they have known one perfect night. She has answered his dream, and to fulfill a dream once is enough. She ends her letter by telling d’Albert to try to console Rosette for the love she has wasted on the false Théodore and by expressing her hope that the two of them will be very happy for many years to come.

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