The Maiden of Tonnerre: The Vicissitudes of the Chevalier and the Chevaliaere d'Eon

The Maiden of Tonnerre: The Vicissitudes of the Chevalier and the Chevaliaere d'Eon


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"The Chevalier Charles-Geneviève-Louise-Auguste-André-Thimothée d'Eon, after a distinguished career as a soldier, diplomat, and secret agent for the Government of King Louis XV of France, told the world that he was a woman who had disguised herself as a man. But d'Eon was lying. In fact he was a man pretending to be a woman who was now admitting to be a man. Why he did that and what happened to him as a result are the main dishes on Mr. Kates's rich banquet table." -- Richard Bernstein, New York Times, reviewing Monsieur d'Eon Is a Woman by Gary Kates

Chevalier d'Eon de Beaumont was born in 1728. Raised as a boy, he was educated as a lawyer and entered the service of Louis XV as a diplomat. In 1756 he was sent to the Russian imperial court as a spy and was said to have dressed as a young woman to gain the confidence of the Empress Elizabeth. He later served in Russia (as a man) as secretary to the French ambassador. Returning to France in 1761, he was appointed a captain of the elite Dragoons, and, after the Treaty of Paris in 1762, went to England as a diplomat and spy. During that time persistent rumors that he was in fact a woman arose, and he did nothing to dispel them. By 1777 he was officially recognized as female in both England and France. Recalled to France, he was reluctantly compelled by Louis XVI to give up his male attire. In 1785 he began to compose his autobiography, which presented much of his experience in religious terms, and he moved back to London. He lived there as a woman until his death in 1810, at which time his body was discovered to be unambiguously male.

This volume includes the first English translations of d'Eon'sautobiography (or "historical epistle") and other writings by d'Eon on his life, religious beliefs, and stories of women who concealed their sex to enter religious orders. As historian Gary Kates notes in the introduction, d'Eon's writing can be read on at least two levels: while it ostensibly tells the story of a woman who spent half her life as a man, it is in fact also the story of a man who spent half his life as a woman. As such it demonstrates both the construction and transgression of gender boundaries in personal and historical narrative.

Product Details

ISBN-13: 9780801866876
Publisher: Johns Hopkins University Press
Publication date: 10/01/2001
Pages: 240
Product dimensions: 6.42(w) x 9.24(h) x 0.86(d)

About the Author

Charles-Geneviève-Louise-Auguste-André-Timothée d'Eon de Beaumont (1728--1810) was a well-known statesman, diplomat, spy, author, and military officer. Roland A. Champagne is a professor of French and chair of the Department of Foreign Languages and Literatures at the University of Missouri-St. Louis. His many books include Georges Bataille and The Ethics of Reading According to Emmanuel Levinas. Nina Ekstein is a professor of French at Trinity University in San Antonio, Texas. She is the author of Dramatic Narrative: Racine's Récits. Gary Kates is dean of the college and vice president for academic affairs at Pomona College. He is the author of Monsieur d'Eon Is a Woman: A Tale of Political Intrigue and Sexual Masquerade.

Read an Excerpt

I always treated my body harshly in order to eliminate any desire it might have to rebel against me. As long as I was engaged in warfare as a dragoon with the volunteers of the army, I never got in a bed whether in winter or in summer without undressing... Thanks to God, the law, and the King, I no longer fight either hand to hand or from a distance, since I have begun to wear a dress and have adopted a new body at the Convent of the Virgins of Holy Mary.The Chevalière d'Eon, in a letter to Madame the Duchess de Montmorenci-Bouteville, 1778 [ms. pp. 203-204]

Table of Contents




I The Great Historical Epistle by Chevalière d'Eon, Written in 1785

II Other Autobiographical Writings and Fragments

III Historical Precedents Found by d'Eon


Biographical Glossary


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