Analysis

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Last Updated on June 19, 2019, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 334

In the novel, Théophile Gautier takes the themes of disguise and mixed-up gender identities that William Shakespeare presented in his comedy As You Like It and transports them to twentieth-century France. However, Gautier further complicates the situation by embedding Shakespeare's play into the novel's action. As his characters declare their...

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In the novel, Théophile Gautier takes the themes of disguise and mixed-up gender identities that William Shakespeare presented in his comedy As You Like It and transports them to twentieth-century France. However, Gautier further complicates the situation by embedding Shakespeare's play into the novel's action. As his characters declare their fondness for the play, they decide to stage a production. This enables a re-disguise of the already-disguised characters and an extension of the mix-ups—which were already fairly complicated before this point.

Gautier addresses themes of sexuality more openly than Shakespeare did in addition to considering questions of love. The protagonist, d'Albert, is a dreamy, impractical sort who believes in an ideal love for a woman. His endorsement of this idea and his conviction in his total heterosexuality is challenged when he meets Théodore de Sérannes and finds himself sexually attracted to the young man.

His fervent belief that he straight convinces him that Théodore must really be a woman in disguise, which turns out to be true; the young man's true identity is Madelaine de Maupin. d'Albert comes to this conclusion after seeing Théodore re-disguised as Rosalind in the play, and the question is raised as to whether d'Albert was attracted to the idea of his own sexual ambiguity or if he truly "knew" that the object of his desire was actually female.

Ultimately, the author suggests that both d'Albert's fickleness in his casual dismissal of his lover, Rosette, and his burning desire for true love are equally unworthy of a mature adult man. What he imagines will be the fulfillment of true love turns out to be a one-night-stand with Madelaine, who leaves him the next day. Her advice is that he accept reality and reconcile with Rosette before he loses her forever. Through her experiment, Madelaine learns not only about what men want but about what she wants from a sexual partner, as she concludes that she must embrace rather than reject her own bisexual longings.

Places Discussed

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Last Updated on May 5, 2015, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 599

Rosette’s house

Rosette’s house. Home of Monsieur d’Albert’s mistress, Rosette. Little is revealed about the location or contents of this house, save for the fact that Rosette’s bath is a large marble tub, and that an odor of lime trees drifts in from the garden. Readers are never told the name of the town in which it is situated.

Avenue of elms

Avenue of elms. First location significant to d’Albert’s affair with Rosette that is described. Significantly, it is only there that d’Albert imagines, for one brief moment, that he loves Rosette. The avenue’s elms are very tall, sifting the light of the setting Sun in such a way as to create strange and striking chromatic effects in the sky and the surrounding terrain.

Mansion

Mansion. House selected for a love nest by Rosette, located twenty miles from d’Albert’s hometown. The mansion is elaborately described, in terms of its quaint surroundings—including the quasi-magical oak forest, in which Rosette and Théodore de Sérannes (who is really Mademoiselle Madelaine de Maupin) go hunting, its eccentrically ornamented architecture, and its internal decoration. There, again Théophile Gautier’s emphasis is on fanciful chromatic effects, and he makes symbolic use of flowers. The mansion’s surroundings are strongly contrasted with the remembered environment in which d’Albert grew up, which is described in terms redolent of severity and gloom. When “Théodore” arrives there at the end of her journey of discovery, her approach and arrival are described in a similar manner, although more particular attention is paid to the scenery depicted in its tapestries.

Gothic tower

Gothic tower. Edifice that features in an allegory offered to Rosette by “Théodore” in chapter 6. Human life is likened to a pilgrim ascending a serpentine staircase within the tower’s dark interior, toward heights from which dazzling vistas can be glimpsed, albeit through narrow windows.

Red Lion

Red Lion. Hostelry at which Mademoiselle de Maupin, as “Théodore,” winds up after her mad ride in chapter 10. In its dining room, whose oak-beamed ceiling is blackened by smoke, she listens to male guests bawdily discussing women, and in the bed which she has to share with one of these men she first realizes the extent of her confusion regarding her own sexuality.

Theater

Theater. Most bizarre of all the imaginary environments featured in the story, a representative model of d’Albert’s hectic and seemingly perverse desires after he has fallen in love with “Théodore,” still mistakenly believing “him” to be a man. The theater’s apparatus and orchestra are made up of insects, while the souls of poets are accommodated in its mother-of-pearl stalls, using dewdrops as opera glasses. The scenery is utterly exotic—even the sky is striped—and the theater’s players wear the most fantastic costumes imaginable. The characters they play are not from any known place or period of history, and their actions do not display any comprehensible motives. The plots through which they move defy causality, and their dialogue is chaotic. The unusually extended description of a world turned upside down dissolves into a supplementary vision in which d’Albert represents his soul as an equally fabulous continent, lush and splendid but haunted by decay. Although these flights of the imagination are prompted by a plan to mount a production of William Shakespeare’s As You Like It (1599-1600)—a play whose plot hinges on mistakes caused by characters’ cross-dressing—they are a uniquely extreme depiction of sexual confusion, quite unparalleled in method or extravagance.

Bibliography

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Last Updated on May 5, 2015, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 254

Lloyd, Rosemary. “Rereading Mademoiselle de Maupin.” Orbis Litterarum: International Review of Literary Studies 41, no. 1 (1986): 19-32. Provides a valuable overview of previous discussions, many of which are only available in French. Traces the many literary allusions in the text and places the novel within the larger tradition of explorations of human sexuality.

Richardson, Joanna. Théophile Gautier, His Life and Times. London: M. Reinhardt, 1958. The most comprehensive biography of Gautier in English, combining biographical detail with textual evaluation. Proposes the novel as an example of the art-for-art’s-sake principle outlined in the author’s preface.

Scott, David. Pictorialist Poetics: Poetry and the Visual Arts in Nineteenth-Century France. Cambridge, England: Cambridge University Press, 1988. Argues that the aesthetic theory and literary practice of the nineteenth century combined to produce a new conception of literature’s potential. Examines Gautier’s preoccupation with the visual arts, as both critic and artist, and its impact on his literary efforts.

Smith, Albert B. Ideal and Reality in the Fictional Narratives of Théophile Gautier. Gainesville: University of Florida Press, 1969. One of the only books in English devoted to Gautier’s prose. Smith offers a detailed analysis of Mademoiselle de Maupin, as well as a broad discussion of Gautier’s aesthetic philosophy and literary style.

Spenser, Michael C. The Art Criticism of Théophile Gautier. Geneva: Librarie Droz, 1969. Explores the concept of the microcosm in Gautier’s art criticism and fiction. Spenser considers the preface to Mademoiselle de Maupin to have been the inception of his cult of metaphysical and sensual beauty.

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