Occasionally history renders fiction almost unnecessary. This was especially true in the case of Julie d’Aubigny, who blazed her way through Parisian society in the final years of the 17th century. She was a striking, swashbuckling, cross-dressing contralto; a lover of handsome men and beautiful women; a formidable duellist; and the toast of the Paris Opéra, where she was better known under her husband’s surname as Mademoiselle de Maupin. That’s how I was first introduced to her, by Théophile Gautier, on a sunny afternoon several years ago during a university holiday. At the time I was just charmed by the way that Gautier had created a plot which so cleverly mimicked that of As You Like It (a performance of which is at the heart of the novel), but I had no idea that de Maupin had been a real person. Nor did I have any inkling of her fabulous, roistering life, until I read Gardiner’s engaging book. It’s been quite a revelation, and she has been immediately fast-tracked onto my list of favoured historical ‘uppity women’.