Mademoiselle de Maupin

This morning I finished reading

First published in 1835, although hailed as a masterpiece by Honoré de Balzac and Victor Hugo, the book did not gain critical acclaim, although there are now many available editions in print.

Letting us know, in case we missed it, that the work is based on Shakespeare’s ‘As You Like It’, the narrator hopes that we will be introduced or sent back to that work by association. I will certainly revisit the bard’s play. As usual I will not reveal the story, save to say that it is hardly the comic romance of the original.

Had it not been for Gautier’s sublimely elegant flowing prose I may not have persevered to the end. By means of the device of letters to friends the protagonists explore obsession with physical beauty and perfection impossible to reach. Surface female beauty is idealised yet women are treated as prey, to conquer, use, and reject, particularly in the self-centred fantasising in the first third of the book, which I began to find boring. The period and culture in which it is set is nevertheless well evoked.

When the link with the original play becomes apparent and a story involving relationships emerges, my interest was rekindled. Gautier is a master of the long, effortless, graceful sentence; his descriptions of furnishings, fabrics, plants, landscapes, light, shade, and nature in all its forms, are as exquisite as those of physical comeliness. He never overlooks an apt adjective. Dialogue is credible and well paced.

The author explores themes of hetero – bi – and homo – sexual and lesbian attraction and, of course, crossdressing.

In his lengthy introduction Jaques Barzun suggests that the book’s earlier popularity with the English was because we were hoping for prurient descriptive details. If so, we were in for disappointment, because, despite the frontispiece shown above, they are in short supply.

André Dugo’s pen and wash sketches ably reflect the elegant fluidity of the prose.

Now to revert to ‘As You Like It’

This evening we dined on oven fish and chips and mushy peas with which Jackie drank Hoegaarden and I drank more of the Shiraz.

Published by derrickjknight

I am an octogenarian enjoying rambling physically and photographing what I see, and rambling in my head as memories are triggered. I also ramble through a lifetime's photographs. In these later years much rambling is done in a car.

34 thoughts on “Mademoiselle de Maupin

  1. I enjoyed reading this review of yours, but will refrain from seeking out this novel. The author was quite ahead of his time in exploring those themes, I imagine.

  2. I am slowly digesting a wonderful book (written by a man who looks to be a crackpot otherwise) called “Seven Basic Plots.” Wonderful pairing of things like the movie “Jaws” and “Beowulf.” He would get the connection between the two works here.

  3. Thank you for the intriguing review. I always get Shakespeare’s comedies confused–twins and crossdressing is all I could tell you about As you like it. 😊

  4. I think I must have studied him at university although I struggle now to think exactly what I studied. Maybe his lasting legacy will be inventing a movie franchise with his horror book, “Le roman de la momie” (The novel of the mummy)

  5. I always enjoy reading your book reviews!
    The illustrations are wonderful…so much motion and emotion conveyed with ink and watercolours!
    (((HUGS))) 🙂
    PS…emotional-sentimental peas…AW. 😉 😀

      1. Thanks – I likely won’t try to read a copy but I enjoy all of your books shares
        I think you are a speed reader!
        And by the way – can I use your little
        Comment feedback you sent me about avian friends? I want to mention the book in an upcoming post and thought it would be a nice comment to add?

  6. That is a masterly summation of the book. It’s theme appears pretty modernist too. Too bad, the comely frontispiece is a scam for people looking for shades of grey inside!

  7. I always feel that the writing of that period was filling different purposes than those of today and, for this reason, may be difficult to appreciate today.

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