Gautier's Mademoiselle de Maupin is a 19th-century retelling of Shakespeare's As You Like It, but with some differences. Gautier's novel is hardly a pastoral comic romance that ends in marriage. Instead, it is an examination of a world that involves cross-dressing, sexual ambiguity, and homoerotic love.
The novel opens with letters by Chevalier d'Albert to his friend Silvio. D'Albert explains his fantasy mistress, his ideal of beauty and femininity that no woman could possibly live up to. Because no woman meets his standards, he is eventually bored enough to take the lovely young widow, Rosette, as his mistress, although she is still not what he is looking for.
One night, a mysterious young man, Théodore, arrives to visit Rosette. It is obvious to d'Albert that she has loved Théodore for a long time, but what d'Albert doesn't expect is that he finds himself drawn to Théodore as well. Although his costume and mannerisms are masculine, Théodore has other qualities that match d'Albert's feminine ideal. He finds himself falling in love, devastated about the unnaturalness of loving a man but helpless to do anything about it.
It isn't until sometime later in the novel that Gautier gives us Théodore's perspective. He is actually a woman - Madeleine de Maupin - who is disguised as a man in order to discover man's true nature. She gets in too deep, however, and ends up having to court women, including Rosette, in order to keep up the masquerade.
It is only through a performance of As You Like It, in which Théodore ends up playing Rosalind (a woman who cross-dresses to play the male character Ganymede), that d'Albert finally suspects Théodore's true identity.
Unlike As You Like It, there is no happy ending here, although it is a fascinating take on the story. Mademoiselle de Maupin was a novel ahead of its time, and an absolutely engrossing tale.