Born in 1728, French aristocrat Charles d'Eon de Beaumont had served his country as a diplomat, soldier, and spy for fifteen years when rumors that he was a woman began to circulate in the courts of Europe. D'Eon denied nothing and was finally compelled by Louis XVI to give up male attire and live as a woman, something d'Eon did without complaint for the next three decades. Although celebrated as one of the century's most remarkable women, d'Eon was revealed, after his death in 1810, to have been unambiguously male. Gary Kates's acclaimed biography of d'Eon recreates eighteenth-century European society in brilliant detail and offers a compelling portrait of an individual who challenged its conventions about gender and identity.
With great verve, lucidity and admirable restraint, Gary Kates guides us through the setbacks and switchbacks of the Chevalier's odd history. -- Francine Prose * Newsday * D'Eon's story comes alive in Kates' capable hands, allowing us to lose ourselves in this 18th-century gender-bender. * San Francisco Chronicle * A terrific tale, told with suspense and style and interpreted with wisdom and restraint. * The Nation * Why did d'Eon, at the age of forty-nine, let it be known that he was a woman after having cut quite a figure as a diplomat and a soldier? That is the question Gary Kates sets himself in the latest biography [of d'Eon]. It is also the best, not at all an exercise in petite histoire but a book built around questions of gender and narrated in a lively manner, which makes those questions seem anything but academic. -- Robert Darnton * New York Review of Books *