I am sixty years old, and although Gautier became one of my favorite writers when I was around eighteen years old, I never got around to reading his masterpiece until now. The long preface of this novel is more famous than the novel itself, but let us talk about the novel. It is not clear just when the action takes place, somewhere between 1650 and 1835, but it doesn't really take place in a particular period, nor does it take place in the real world. It is a sort of fantasy in spite of not having any supernatural elements. It is based in part on Shakespeare's As You Like It, with Rosalind and Orlando being replaced by Maupin and D'Albert. It is somewhat confusing, as the author switches viewpoints from chapter to chapter without warning. Sometimes it is Maupin speaking, sometimes D'Albert, sometimes the author. Gautier worshipped the beauty of the physical and artistic worlds, which is the whole point of the novel. He tends to identify beauty with female beauty, but there are also swans and roses and nightingales and the moon and so much else. It is the most romantic novel ever written. Some readers may be annoyed by Gautier's penchant for description. In one passage, he takes two whole pages just to describe an old tapestry which has nothing to do with the plot. One needs some footnotes if one is not perfectly familiar with all of the learned references that are scattered throughout the novel. In one passage, Gautier mentions a seraglio and a handkerchief being dropped. This refers to the habit of the Turkish sultan of going to his seraglio or harem and dropping a handkerchief in front of the bed partner he has chosen for the night. But Gautier assumes that the reader knows about this and doesn't explain it. There is a lot of what might be called pseudo-homosexuality in the novel, men and women falling in love with women who are disguised as men, only to find out in the end their true sexual identity. The anguish of D'Albert upon thinking that he is in love with a man reads awfully silly to modern audiences that find nothing wrong with this. But it turns out that everybody in the novel is really heterosexual. There is a sex scene at the end, but this novel is far from being pornographic. It used to have a reputation of being a Dirty French Novel, but faded from popularity in the United States after real pornography made people realize how tame Gautier is in comparison. He seems to have been more interested in art than life. He can think of nothing better to compare a beautiful woman to than a statue or painting of a woman. There is not the slightest vulgarity or lapse of taste anywhere in the novel. Some passages are breathtaking. It is a shame that this novel failed to catch fire when Joanna Richardson translated it for Penguin Classics in the early 1980s. It had previously been in Random House's Modern Library series with a dust jacket showing two pairs of shoes, one male and one female, left outside a hotel room door to be cleaned. Gautier's humor is dry and charming. I love this book, but don't expect to find hordes buying it. It is for the few.