Mathilde was a daughter of the Duc de Morny and grand-daughter, from the first marriage, of Josephine Beauharnais, consort of Napoleon. She was briefly the wife of the Marquis de Belboeuf.
The novelist Sidonie-Gabrielle Colette (1873 – 1954) had a six-year affair with Mathilde after the end of her first marriage. Colette was making a living as a music-hall dancer and mime, and sometimes Mathilde would play a minor male dance role in the troop. In 1907 the two performed Rêve d'Égypte at the Moulin Rouge: their onstage kiss caused a riot, and the police were called.
Mathilde had 'the solid build of a man, reserved and rather timid'. She looked like a distinguished, refined, no-longer-young man, for she always wore men's clothes, indeed she wore many of them at once which made her look plump. To hide her 'effeminate' figure she wore several woolen waistcoats and shirts, and several pairs of socks to fill up her men's shoes. She had a hysterectomy and had her breasts removed. She was addressed as 'Monsieur le Marquis'.
Monsieur le Marquis moved in the FTM transvestite circles in Paris, and lived a life of fine wines, long cigars, photographs of horsemen. When one of her brothers died, feeling that she should not be disrespectful to the dead, she attended the funeral in a veil and a black dress. The family thought that she looked like 'a man dressed as a woman' and begged her to change to her male attire.
She committed suicide during the German occupation, when she was ruined and desperate.
With the hysterectomy and mastectomy she was as physically close to being a transsexual as was available for her generation, and it seems strange to use female pronouns for the latter part of her life, but none of the sources that I have consulted uses male pronouns. This is presumably partly due to her life happening at an early stage in the social construction of transsexuality, but also due to her class position and wealth. If she had to work for a living, passing, rather than just playing with gender roles, would have been essential.
- Fernande Gontier et Claude Francis. Mathilde de Morny: La scandaleuse marquise et son temps. Paris:Perrin 330 pp 2000.
- Fernande Gontier. Homme ou femme? La confusion des sexes. Paris: Perrin 218 pp 2006: chp 8.