FAQs: Goddess and Julie d’Aubigny

Here’s what everyone wants to know about the book Goddess, and about Julie d’Aubigny.

Was she real?

Yep. Hard to believe, I know. But here’s a summary of her real life story.

But how much did you make up?

Many of the stories told about Julie are impossible to verify. I spent years researching her life, and still don’t know what’s true and what isn’t. But I’ve based the life on what seems credible and those stories that, even if they aren’t true, are now part of her legend.

I made up most of the conversations and details – the incidents in the ‘duel’ with Thevenard, for example, and of course the interior worlds of Julie and the people around her.  The only main character I invented was the Comtesse, who is based on several society women of the time.

What we don’t know, and what I had to imagine or interpret, was what kind of person Julie really was, how she felt about her life and how the people around her responded – all those facets of a person’s emotional life. Everyone loves the story of the convent arson and escape, for example, but I wanted to explore how she might actually feel after trying to burn down a convent, going on the run, and eventually losing the first person she loved. The legend doesn’t bother with the aftermath: I imagined grief and guilt and remorse. Sure, it’s all terribly exciting. But how would you feel later – weary, hungry, condemned to death, and eventually alone?

What kind of research did you do?

I spent five years on this project, researching and writing. I researched all the usual aspects of the past we need to know when we write historical fiction: people, places,  food, vocabulary, religion, and in this case opera and performance, swords and fencing styles, and fashion.

I visited Paris, Versailles, Aix-en-Provence, Avignon, Marseille and Brussels; I explored theatres and palaces and laneways and convents; I spent hundreds of hours in archives, museums and libraries in France, England and Australia; and I walked the streets and towns where she might have walked to try to see or imagine the buildings, the perspective, she might have seen.

Importantly, for this project, I also investigated theoretical approaches to the history of gender and sexuality, literary histories around stories of warrior women and cross-dressing; and academic studies from many fields of fashion, Baroque performance and attitudes to women – especially women like La Maupin, through history and in the early modern era.

I have also documented her opera performances, more comprehensively than has ever been done before.

How did you find out about her?


I fenced when I was young and am a bit obsessed with swords and fencing, so I have lots of books about the history of duels and technique. She’s in many of them, often portrayed in the nineteenth century texts as some kind of monster who dared raise a sword against noblemen.


How come I’ve never heard of her?


Julie’s fame has waxed and waned over the centuries. She was very famous in her lifetime – infamous, perhaps – and in the decades after her death.
Here’s a list of different portrayals on the page, stage and screen.
In 1853, Gautier wrote Mademoiselle de Maupin, based not so much on her life story but on the ideal of her – the beautiful, transgressive, elusive symbol of romance. The book was banned in many countries for its depiction of bisexuality and sensuous love.  Again, she became incredibly famous, and there were many biographies of her in the nineteencth century. Some, like that by Bram Stoker of Dracula fame, were quite hostile. At this point, the stories became not so much about her career on stage but her more sensational exploits, which horrified many people. Then by the late twentieth century, she began to be reclaimed as a heroine by feminist and queer writers. More recently, she’s an internet sensation and occasional meme – again, focused on her exploits.


Why isn’t there a movie or game or TV show about her?


I often see pleas online for a new movie version of Julie’s life (there are fan campaigns on tumblr for a movie starring Natalie Dormer – or Hayley Atwell), or for her as a figure in the new Assassin’s Creed (even though it’s set much later).
There have been many portrayals of her on stage and on screen, though not for a while and not in English. There was a French TV mini-series, based on Anne-France Dauthville’s novel Julie, Chevalier de Maupin, and earlier an Italian film Madamigella di Maupin – both versions included sub-plots or settings that had little to do with reality. There have been plays and ballets, though not, strangely, an opera (but I would love to write one!).
There are some sensational new interpretations like Corpse Talk, Rejected Princesses and this neat animation by Katie Elle.
 If you have any other questions, drop them into a comment (below) and I’ll answer them here.