Thaeophile Gautier's Mademoiselle de Maupin: Toward a Definition of the "Androgynous Discourse"

Thaeophile Gautier's Mademoiselle de Maupin: Toward a Definition of the "Androgynous Discourse"

Thaeophile Gautier's Mademoiselle de Maupin: Toward a Definition of the "Androgynous Discourse"

Thaeophile Gautier's Mademoiselle de Maupin: Toward a Definition of the "Androgynous Discourse"

Synopsis

"Theophile Gautier explores language in Mademoiselle de Maupin; therein lies his modernity. He is seeking a language that can express a truth that is not partial and therefore embeds in the novel the mythic figure of the androgyne to evoke a theory of perfect expression, or "the androgynous discourse." Gautier has this recalcitrant referent hovering in the interstices of repetitions and the interplay of signs to demonstrate that the androgyne is non-demonstrable but that it exists as an idea and that the text of the androgyne is a narrative on the irremediable limitations of language." "Gautier's concern in Mademoiselle de Maupin, however, is not limited to the expression of the writer's inevitable frustration when confronted with the unrepresentable. He also gives voice to a longing which is larger in scope, namely, the wish for completeness in oneself. The myth of the androgyne, evoked in Mademoiselle de Maupin, serves to point to the universal story of the human striving for wholeness." Title Summary field provided by Blackwell North America, Inc. All Rights Reserved

Excerpt

The myth of the androgyne, emblematic of a profound nostalgia for a lost unity and for a perfect completion of the self, has survived through the ages and across cultures. This powerful myth expresses a desire to transcend the self through the transgression of limits in order to reach plenitude. Although an impossible task, the journey in quest of this ideal has taken myriad forms. The Hermetists, for example, for whom the androgyne was the symbol of human and divine perfection, spoke of “the way of Hermes,” a practical, spiritual way culminating in rebirth deriving from self-knowledge, attaining a new plane of existence and the “perception of an inalienable kinship with the divine” (Fowden 108).

In Gautier’s Mademoiselle de Maupin (1834), we find the myth of the androgyne figuring as the main underlying structure of the novel, alluding to the counterbalancing of opposing principles . This sensualist novel, written by Gautier when he was only twenty-three years old, caused an uproar upon its publication and was attacked again in 1880 sparking a cause célèbre. At first glance, it strikes one as being merely a titillating tale. I seek to show that a more universal story is embedded in that surface structure: the story of the human striving for wholeness.

The androgyne embodies the Idea which does not submit to language. This study presents the manner in which Gautier creates the illusion of the androgyne, in Mademoiselle de Maupin, by indicating its lack. He has this recalcitrant referent hovering in the interstices of repetitions and the interplay of signs to demonstrate that the androgyne is non-demonstrable, but that it exists as an Idea and that the text of the androgyne is a narrative on the irremediable limitations of language. Moreover, I suggest that Gautier’s concern, in Mademoiselle de Maupin, is not limited to the expression of the writer’s inevitable frustration when confronted with the unrepresentable, but that he is also giving voice to a human longing which is larger in scope, namely, the wish for completeness in oneself.

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