Mademoiselle de Maupin

by Théophile Gautier

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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 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.

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