My Sources on Mlle. MaupinI have here two versions of the history of Mlle. Maupin, seventeenth century opera star, duelist and adventurer. The first is a quick translation by a network corespondent of mine and the second an excerpt from the introduction to a collection of fantasy stories. Together they represent most of what I have ever read about this remarkable lady.
Following the two main articles are several smaller bits taken from mail and the Web.
a loose translation by François Velde
Copyright © 1995, by François Velde
[FetisBirth:] Born around 1673, was the daughter of a secretary of the count of Armagnac called d'Aubigny. [FetisMarriage:] Married very young, [FetisPosition:] she obtained for her husband a position in the excise duties administration in the provinces. [FetisMarseilles:] During his absence, she met a clerk called Seranne, and eloped with him to [FetisTraining:] Marseilles, where she learned to fence. Soon after, pressed by the lack of money, the two lovers found employment as singers in the theater of that town; but a scandal forced her to quit the theater and move away from Marseilles. [FetisNovice:] The parents of a young woman, who had noticed this actress' infatuation for her, hastened to send the woman to a convent in Avignon. Mlle. Maupin entered the convent as a novice. A few days later a nun died; the actress took the body and placed it in the bed of her friend, then set fire to the room, and in the confusion caused by the fire, spirited away the object of her love. [FetisDebut:] After a few adventures in province, she went to Paris and had her debut at the Opera as Pallas in Cadmus, in 1695. She was much applauded; to thank the public, she rose from the machine in which she was, removed her helmet and bowed. [FetisStar:] After the retirement of Mlle. Rochois, in 1698, she shared the lead roles with Mlles. Desmatins and Moreau.
Born with masculine inclinations, she often dressed as a man, either to amuse or to avenge herself. [FetisDumenil:] Duménil, an actor of the Opera, had insulted her: she waited for him dressed as a nobleman on the Place des Victoires, and asked for a duel; upon his refusal to fight, she beat him with her cane, and stole his watch and snuffbox. The next day, Duménil told his friends that he had been attacked by three robbers, that he had fought, but had not been able to stop them from taking his watch and snuff-box. "You lie", she exclaimed, "you are but a coward; I alone beat you, and as proof here are the watch and snuff-box which I give back to you." [FetisBall:] During a ball given by Monsieur, brother of the king, she dared to make indecent proposals to a young lady. Three friends of the young lady's provoked her: she went out without hesitation, drew her sword, and killed them all three. Returning to the ball, she presented herself to the prince, who obtained a pardon for her.
[FetisElector:] Soon after, she went for Brussels where she became the mistress of the Elector of Bavaria. This prince left her for a countess, and gave her 40,000 F and an order to leave Brussels. The husband of the countess herself was sent to give her the order and the money. She threw the money to his face, saying that it was a present worthy of a m___ such as him [the word is only given with its first initial "m", I don't know what it means -- FV]. [FetisRetirement:] Returning to Paris, she went back on stage at the Opera, which she left for good in 1705. [FetisReconciliation:] A few years earlier, she had made up with her husband, whom she brought back from the provinces; it is said that she lived with him in perfect accord until his death in 1701. [differences:] differences, Volume 11, Number 1 She had little talent for singing, but her voice was beautiful.
Copyright © 1982, by Jessica Amanda Salmonson
The Gay Cavalier. A Roman author remarked on the fighting spirit of the Gaulish women, whose ferocity exceeded that of the men. By the 17th century, swordswomen were viewed as oddities, but still viewed; the French would pay to see women duelists much as they might pay to see a dancing bear. La Maupin made her earliest public debut at such occupation, so astounding audiences with her swordplay that, once, a heckler jeered that the audience was duped and it was no woman dressed as a Cavalier, but a young man who was some Cavalier's exceptional pupil. In reply, La Maupin angrily cast down her foil and tore open her shirt so that the audience could judge for themselves.
It was not long before her exceptional talents took her away from the category of dancing bears and found her instead in the limelight of French Opera. She played such characters as Dido, the founder of Carthage, and war goddesses Minerva and Pallas Athena. She sang contralto. Off-stage she continued to dress as the cavalier, golden curls framing a face as handsome as it was beautiful. Her behavior was so outrageous that once she was condemned to death by fire, a punishment happily not carried out. The crime was one of passion, mutual it must be stated, with a nun of Avignon. It was three months before the ravished novice returned to her convent and La Maupin to Paris, daring the tribunal to see through their notice of condemnation. The tribunal's unwillingness to admit the full meaning of the delicate matter, and la Maupin's friends in high places saved her from the flames.
Her life would have made a fine Dumas adventure, fraught with duels both serious and comic. It was an age when an estimated ten thousand professional duelists lived in the Latin Quarter and Faubourg St. Germain; it was here that La Maupin repeatedly tested her prowess with the foil. On at least two occasions her boldness lent her to try her skill against three opponents at once. The first time was the result of her unwillingness to listen to some lout's boasting in a low tavern. He and two friends challenged her, not realizing that the fair-face cavalier was a woman. She repaired with them to a courtyard. In the ensuing match, she pierced one of the three clear through the shoulder and held him skewered until he had the chance to crane his neck and see the reddened tip behind him. The injured party was the son of a Duke, whom La Maupin nursed back to health. resulting in a lasting friendship and another influential connection with royal families.
Another famous duel was the result of her amorous inclination towards women. Attending one of King Louis's fabulous balls, she proceeded once more to act the role of cavalier and to monopolize the attentions of a certain beauty. After several dances which won the whispers and speculations of all the guests, La Maupin suggested a secret rendezvous and there upon the dance floor kissed the woman passionately. Three of the woman's male suitors immediately surrounded the couple. "At your service, gentlemen," said la Maupin, agreeing to the duel. In the darkness outside, she proceeded to injure and disarm her three opponents. On returning to the ball, La Maupin was approached by Louis, who said, "You are the jade La Maupin? I have heard of your handiwork! Need I remind you of my decree against duels in Paris?" The next day she awaited arrest, but Louis had been amused by the incident and, while speculating that his law governed only men, and La Maupin was free to duel at will, she was given the opportunity to flee to Brussels until the dust cleared from the air.
Historians tell us La Maupin was unique, one of a kind. But how many other swordswomen might have strode the streets of a violent, amoral Paris of the 17th century, their lives unrecorded because the lacked La Maupin's wit, glamor, and distinguishing operatic career? We shall never know how many.
Summarized by François Velde
Emile Campardon quotes the Dictionnaire des Theatres by Claude et François Parfaict (Paris, 1756), who publish a manuscript given to them concerning Mlle. Maupin.
Here are some of the missing details:
- Maupin was the husband's name, he was from Saint-Germain-en-Laye.
- She used her maiden name in Marseille but took up her married name again when she went to Paris.
- one of her successes was as Medee in the opera Medus by La Grange, in 1702. Marthe Le Rochois had said that it was a role she would not have undertaken (it was difficult).
- She quit the stage in 1705 and reconciled with her husband soon after.
- She had auburn hair with shades of blonde, blue eyes, an aquiline nose, a pretty mouth, very white skin and "perfect breasts". She did not know any music, but had a phenomenal memory.
The manuscript also apparently contained details of her adventures, but the Parfaict brothers did not find it appropriate to publish them, deeming them irrelevant to their main purpose.
Campardon has a list of the roles she sang, in the years 1690, 1693, and every year from 1698 to 1704. This implies that she had returned from Brussels by 1698.
Sadie's adds the following details:
- her birthdate as 1670
- agrees with Campardon (and disagrees with Fétis) on 1690 for her debut
- her first name is unknown
- She once tired to commit suicide over unrequited love for the soprano Fanchon Moreau
- mentions the novel by Theophile Gautier
- provides a few more references, all in French
- A biography was written in 1904
(I have since obtained the text directly from Sadie's Grove Dictionary article.)
François adds a note on the use of "Mlle."
The use of "Mademoiselle" with her married name may be a theater tradition. There are other examples, e.g. Mademoiselle Deschamps who was married to a Deschamps. It may be a reflection of the low social status of actresses, that they would not be called Madame.
From the Web
"Tancrède was quite successful, and revived until 1764. It was written for Melle Maupin, whose gorgeous alto voice and swashbuckling personal life were renowned, and was the first opera in Paris whose leading female role was not a soprano."
an article, originally published in issue #15 of the magazine, entitled "Composer au féminin" by Catherine Buser which gives La Maupin's name as "Emilie d'Aubigny". The passage is a brief one. With the help of Rappar and Systran, I have come up with the following translation of it.
"Also [during the Baroque period], lived a professional singer Emilie d'Aubigny, better known as "La Maupin", notorious for her incredible escapades, and Demoiselle Chantilly, wife of the comic opera director, with whom she undertook to explore all the facets of the occupation."
The original French and German, along with mechanical translations, can be found in my "On Translations" page.
From "Musica et Memoria"The following brief reference shows up in Musica et Memoria, the on-line journal of the Elisabeth Havard de la Montagne Association, in an article entitled Women and Music.
La Cercamanen (Anne de Fonteaux) born about 1630 and deceased about 1719, was already singing at Court by 1656. Praised for the beauty of her voice, she was one of rare women of her generation to obtain the title of ordinary musician of the Chamber of the King. She owed her triumph mainly to her admirable interpretation of La Pastorale d'Issy (1659) created by Perrin and Cambert, which was a major success. Marthe Le Rochois (v.1658-1728), formed by Lully, was her ideal interpreter in particular with Persée, Amadis and especially Armide which was her major triumph. After the death of Lully (1687), she played Médée (1693) by Marc-Antoine Charpentier and Issé (1697) by Destouches. Curiously two famous professional singers, Marie-Louise Desmatins, born in 1670, and la Maupin (Mlle d'Aubigny), born at the same time, both died young people, at the ages of 38 and 37 years in 1708 and 1707. They met with success after the retirement of Marthe Le Rochois (1698) in works of Campra; Calypso in Télémaque (1704) for Desmatins and Clorinde in Tancréde (1702) for Maupin. The first, suffering an "attack of plumpness", withdrew in 1708 and died the same year. As for the second "small, very pretty, tempting women and men, she often dressed as a cavalier and fought in duels..." (R. Legrand), she left the scene in 1705 and died withdrawn from the world in loneliness.
The original, with interlineated translation can be found in my "On Translations" page.
article entitled Purebreds and Amazons: Saying Things with Horses in Late-Nineteenth-Century France, that appeared in differences, A Journal of Feminist Cultural Studies, Kari Weil writes,
The poet, Catulle Mendès, asks in a letter that acts as a second Preface to the Baron de Vaux's Les Femmes de sport:Here Weil confines her own comments to Gautier's fictional Mlle. Maupin, but it is clear that Mendès is talking about the historical actress rather than her fictional counterpart. While there is no evidence that La Maupin "always dressed as a man", she did quite often, and the image of her lips always baring defiance or a kiss is quite appropriate, if a bit hyperbolic. Certainly the image of her as a sexual preditor in competition with men is far more true of La Maupin than of Gautier's de Maupin.And who could foresee just how far this virilization of woman will be taken? What remorse would be yours, my dear fellow, if by virtue of weapons and of fighting strong horses, of muscling their bodies and hearts as well, the Parisian women of 1885 or 1886 made themselves similar to that extraordinary actress from Marseilles whose name was immortalized by Théophile Gautier, to that fanatic Maupin, always dressed as a man, always defiance on her lips as long as she didn't have a kiss, always a sword out of its sheath, and how in the same night, during a ball, would abscond with two beautiful damsels and killed two jealous suitors between the two abductions.(III)Mendès reminds his reader of the hermaphroditic title character of Théophile Gautier's Mademoiselle de Maupin (1834) not so much as a warning against her celebrated transvestism, but against her cultivation of the body, which is connected to the wearing of pants. In Gautier's novel, we may recall, Maupin is quite clear about the gender distinctions of exercise: "I was determined to have those successes as a cavalier which I could not aspire to as a woman . . . , for courage and skill in bodily exercises are the means by which a man most easily makes his reputation" (282). Maupin's name is mentioned quite frequently by fin-de-siècle writers in connection with the growing popularity of women's sports. In a chapter on "Sportswomen and gynanders" of 1884, the writer and observer of French society, Octave Uzanne, refers to "attitudes à la Maupin" (a term which can refer to both mental and physical positions) as one way for women to shake off the "already sleepy romanticism" of their suitors" (197). Mendès' letter goes even further as he explains just where Maupin's virilization will lead: not only to a confusion of gender, but also to alternative practices of sexual seduction and orientation: "I leave you to consider the pitiable face the men would make around the rare women who had kept the preciousness of their sex, if they had to enter into battle with strange rivals, no less men, and far more pretty."
From Gender Swapping List V4, June 7, 1991posted on Usenet by firstname.lastname@example.org (Bob Ewoldt)
with major contributions by email@example.com (Dan Nichols)
Mademoiselle De Maupin -- Theophile Gautier (trans) 1855
Takes its name from and is based on the 17th century actress who dressed as a man in order to seduce women. It is narrated by the poet D'Albert, who falls in love with "Theodore" (which is the name she is using), and is overwhelmed with self doubts, confusion, etc. This is an extraordinary novel of transvestic fantasy, culminating in sexual reversals of the most radical kind.
Excerpted material is all copyright the original authors/translators.