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Last Reviewed 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 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.

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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. 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....

(The entire section contains 1187 words.)

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Critical Essays