Posted by: artandlove | December 16, 2008

Mademoiselle de Maupin


To young and romantic Théophile Gautier Madame Madeleine d’Aubigny, wife of Monsieur de Maupin, definitely must had appeared as the true and very ideal of audacity, independence and altogether passion for a daring life. Mademoiselle de Maupin was actually an amazing historical character: in the beginning of 1700 still young she left her husband to follow her lust for a gifted swordsman and most of all her own relentless adventurous instinct. Portrayed as a remarkable, though slightly masculine, beauty endowed with an highly wrangling temperament, renowned sword abilities and a fantastic contralto voice (once also a famous singer at the Opéra) she fell in love with one of her admirers, she chased her to Avignon to kidnap her from a convent – which by the by she set on fire… Wanted by the French authorities she fled to Brussels where eventually she became the mistress of the Count Albert of Bavaria. Nothing is known about her ever since.

Based on this little – and rather legendary – information and strong of his literary fervour Gautier submitted the fruits of his intuition for a best-seller: “Mademoiselle de Maupin” to his publisher Renduel who, almost reluctantly accepted to print it for the market. In truth, regardless the title, the real protagonist of this novel can rather be considered Chevalier d’Albert as the daring Mademoiselle appears, disguised as a young strikingly handsome gentleman (Theodore), only from the second half of the novel and almost acts as a teasing and uncomfortable object of the passions of both d’Albert himself and his lover Rosette.

D’Albert leads a spasmodic and contradictory life, running away from the present reality and in search of a perfect and superlative – but clearly inexistent – realm, set far and away from actual time and space dimension.

Jusqu’ici, je n’ai aimé aucune femme, mais j’ai aimé et j’aime l’amour. Quoique je n’aie pas eu de maîtresses et que les femmes que j’ai eues ne m’aient inspiré que du désir, j’ai éprouvé et je connais l’amour même : je n’aimais pas celle-ci ou celle-là, l’une plutôt que l’autre, mais quelqu’une que je n’ai jamais vue et qui doit exister quelque part, et que je trouverai, s’il plaît à Dieu. Je sais bien comme elle est, et, quand je la rencontrerai, je la reconnaîtrai.

He stumbles into lively Rosetta, draws her freshness, her fantasy, her joy and pleasure, and then he reverts to his atavic dissatisfaction. Notwithstanding her efforts Rosetta stays and remains extraneous to his faultless idyllic soul-mate seeking process, thus leaving d’Albert’s anxiousness for peace of mind and heart practically intact.

When Mademoiselle de Maupin sets foot into the scene she is a brave and brainy young lady that, disillusioned by false men’s chivalry and by the hypocrisy of courteous noblemen resolves to disguise herself as a gentleman, to blend with knights and to discover eventually the real nature of men, in order not to be fooled when one day she will have to choose the right spouse for herself:

Une chose m’inquiétait principalement, c’était de savoir ce que les hommes se disaient entre eux et ce qu’ils faisaient lorsqu’ils étaient sortis des salons et des théâtres: je pressentais dans leur vie beaucoup de côtés défectueux et obscurs, soigneusement voilés à nos regards, et qu’il nous importait beaucoup de connaître…
…Tous, les jeunes comme les vieux, me paraissaient avoir adopté uniformément un masque de convention, des sentiments de convention et un parler de convention lorsqu’ils étaient devant les femmes.
…J’aurais donné un an de ma vie pour entendre, sans être vue, une heure de leur conversation.

This circumstance of course adds a great deal of excitement to the plot and it is also a smart artificium of Gautier to criticise young ladies’ education, as our heroine moves from the mockery of girls’ dreams and expectations to the very diminishing of silly etiquette, court rules and protocols:

Pauvres jeunes filles que nous sommes; élevées avec tant de soin, si virginalement entourées d’un triple mur de précautions et de réticences, nous, à qui on ne laisse rien entendre, rien soupçonner, et dont la principale science est de ne rien sa-voir, dans quelles étranges erreurs nous vivons, et quelles perfides chimères nous bercent entre leurs bras!

In her manlike camouflage Theodore also has the opportunity of analysing, commenting and revisiting the man-woman interaction under a very untraditional light, thus demystifying many aspects of sentimental and sexual relationships. Small wonder that his/her advent into the picture completely outmatches poor Rosette, who though witty and joyous, incarnates the ordinary lady of her times. Even her transgressive impetus, and her sweet deviancies, still are not truthfully spontaneous, but mere reactions and thus the sole reckless outcome of the environment she has been raised within and has dwelt in.

Nonetheless the real devastating impact provoked by Theodore/Madeleine is on d’Albert. Finally his haunt for the ideal pulchritude and the perfect woman seems to be over, and his exhausted soul could finally enjoy some rest, if it was not for a tiny insignificant detail: he recognises all those supreme characteristics and features of beauty and grace he had been seeking for through such an interminable frustrating quest bestowed into a man…

Quel malheur, quel coup de hache sur ma vie déjà si tronçonnée! Quelle passion insen-sée, coupable et odieuse s’est emparée de moi! C’est une honte dont la rougeur ne s’éteindra jamais sur mon front. C’est la plus déplorable de toutes mes aberrations, je n’y conçois rien, je n’y comprends rien, tout en moi est brouillé et renversé; je ne sais plus qui je suis ni ce que sont les autres.

Thus under the misleading title of the novel it lurks a marvellous and subtle zibaldone of fantasies, lyrism, dialogues, epistula, introspections aiming at scorning – indeed, without one single ounce of vulgarity – the prosaic, greedy and plebeian bourgeois lifestyle and proposing a more refined, contemplative and sophisticated refuge into the cult of beauty; a myth without any connection to the reality and therefore sadly unattainable if not through literature, art and poetry which is often quite a worrisome task:

…enfin, si j’étais un homme et non pas un poète, je serais certainement beaucoup plus heureux que je ne suis…


  1. Darling,
    My compliments for your new blog.
    I confess I never read anything of Gautier, except for “Capitain Fracasse”. I am curious to get this masterpiece and read it myself.
    Thanks as usual,

  2. Chérie,
    tous les billets de ton blog “STOA” sont formidables, en plus “ART AND LOVE” c’est magnifique pour célébrer la poésie et la littérature.
    C’est toujours un grand plaisir à te lire.
    Bisous ,

  3. Hello darling,
    What a fascinating piece! Well written and very well documented!

  4. Hello my dear I see you are doing fine!!!!
    Simply exquisite and insightful post.
    Kissess and hugs,

  5. Knowledgeable article, motivating, inspiring and well written.
    Scottsdale, AZ

  6. Hi
    Enjoyed reading.
    Beautiful paintings.
    Language is the thought of the beautiful mind which reflects in your writing ,in addition to the valuable information .
    Thank you for making me rich with knowledge which I aspire.
    Please do keep on writing.


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