Published in 1948, Mademoiselle De Maupin is the 7th book from The Folio Society. It is loosely based on the life of an extraordinary French woman Julie d’Aubigny.
The book was first published in 1835
Set in Perpetua Type and printed by photo-lithography. The plates were reproduced by Collotype. There were 8 pencil illustrations. There was a second impression of the book in 1950.
The preface to this book is not included in the FS version. It is available here
There are three principal characters, D’Albert – a young man of well to do means who is searching for his ideal version of love, Rosette – his wealthy widowed mistress and “Theodre” – an androgenous visitor who is loved by both D’Albert and Rosette. The story starts off with a long letter from D’Albert to his friend Silvio. His desire is to have a mistress, but the mistress must meet his criteria and embody his ideal of perfect beauty. D’Albert is introduced to Rosette and she becomes his mistress. The affair is satisfying for them both but eventually it loses its lustre, though neither of them will admit it to each other. After a time they go to an estate in the country.
One day Theodore arrives on horseback with his page. It turns out that Theodore and Rosette have some history. Theodore is actually a woman, Madelaine de Maupin. Madelaine had decided to spend some time disguised as a man so she could share their company and discover what men really thought about women. During her travels she stayed with the family of a young man she met along the road. The young man’s sister was the young widow Rosette. Rosette fell deeply in love with Theodore/Madelaine, and, to a certain extent this was mutual. This created an impossibility as the disguise would have to be revealed and marriage would never occur.
Theodre left and along the way rescued a young girl from a careless mother and a prospective older lover, and the girl became his page. Of course the girl had to be disguised as a boy to pass muster. Theodore/Madelaine share a bed along the journey and the book leaves no doubt about the affection of Madelaine felt for her page.
At the country estate D’Albert becomes increasingly attracted towards Theodore. At first he is somewhat repulsed at the thought that his true love is a man, but also believes that he/she may be a woman. He becomes more certain that this is the case when the guests do a performance of Shakespeare’s As You Like It. Theodore plays the role of Rosalind, who plays a woman dressed up as a man. The initial scene of the play has Rosalind as herself without disguise, so in this inverted version the supposed male Theodore must disguise himself as a woman for that scene. He/she says and shows enough that D’Albert becomes convinced and sends a love letter. There is no acknowledgment of this letter and D’Albert begins to despair. Then, one night, Madelaine visits in her Rosalind dress, and a night of passion ensues. When D’Albert falls asleep she goes to Rosette’s bed and more of the same continues until noon the next day.
The following day she has gone, and a week later a letter arrives which basically says that the pleasure was great, and the remembrance of that night would never die. Better to keep that memory than become disillusioned by staying together.
The plot is really just a scaffold for the three principal characters to explore love, beauty, virtue, friendship, sexuality, age, morality and the transitory nature of things.
At times the flowery language left me yawning, but it was worth ploughing through to get to the last couple of chapters.
This book can be looked at in so many ways – one could look at it as a study in deceit, a battle of the sexes, an examination of the concept of “beauty”, an exploration of sexuality etc.
Theophile Gautier (1811 – 1872) was born in France and had wide ranging artistic interests – drama, poetry, art, opera and dance.
Mademoiselle De Maupin is his most famous novel but some details about his life and works can be found here
R. & E. Powys Mathers
Mark Severin provided the pencil illustrations for this edition. Charles Ede would have like these as engravings, but finances did not permit.
The Remaining Illustrations
Likely Gulliver’s Travels, not read for many years