Mathilde de Morny

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Mathilde "Missy" de Morny

Mathilde de Morny (26 May 1863 – 29 June 1944) was a French noblewoman and artist. She was also known by the nickname "Missy" or her pseudonym as an artist, "Yssim" (an anagram of Missy), "Max", "Uncle Max" (French: Oncle Max) and "Monsieur le Marquis". Active as a sculptor and painter, she studied under Comte Saint-Cène and the sculptor Édouard-Gustave-Louis Millet de Marcilly.


She was the fourth and final child of Charles de Morny, Duke of Morny and Sofia Sergeyevna Trubetskaya. Her father was the half-brother of Napoleon III, whilst her mother may have been the illegitimate daughter of Nicholas I of Russia.

Her extravagant conduct made her a celebrity of the Belle Époque and despite her 1881 marriage to the known homosexual Jacques Godart, 6th Marquis de Belbeuf (1850–1906) – whom she divorced in 1903 – she was open that her sexual preference was for women. Though lesbian love was then fashionable, she was still attacked for this, especially due to her very masculine dress and attitude. At this time a woman wearing trousers could still scandalise even if she had been legally authorised to do so, as in the case of Rosa Bonheur (who sought police permission to wear trousers to make it easier for her to paint in the countryside). Missy wore a full three-piece suit (which, as with trousers, was forbidden to women in France[1]), wore her hair short, and smoked a cigar. Contrary to some claims, no evidence supports the theory that she underwent a hysterectomy or a mastectomy.[2]

One of the most well-respected scholars on de Morny, Dr. Kadji Amin, considered the difficulties in labelling Missy as "transgender": "Recent historians have claimed that Max de Morny as a transsexual, based on a single, unverified, and never-duplicated claim by Simone Wiel, who, moreover, was not one of de Morny's intimates. It seems unlikely, though not impossible, that someone as notorious and as subject to gossip as de Morny could have had her ovaries and breast tissue surgically removed, as Wiel claims, without anyone else having taken note."[2]

As a teenager, Missy adhered to sartorial convention. An 1882 magazine article describes the newlywed marquise wearing "a dress of the very palest mauve, mixed tulle and silk," adding that she "is not exactly pretty, but has a most original face, being very pale, with a very set expression, the darkest eyes possible, and quantities of very fair hair."[3]

Colette and Mathilde "Missy" de Morny

Missy became a lover of several women in Paris, including Liane de Pougy and Colette. From summer 1906 onwards she and Colette lived together in the 'Belle Plage' villa in Le Crotoy, where Colette wrote Les Vrilles de la vigne and La Vagabonde which would be adapted for the screen by Musidora. On 3 January 1907 Missy and Colette put on a pantomime entitled Rêve d'Égypte ('Dream of Egypt') at the Moulin Rouge, in which Missy caused a scandal by playing an Egyptologist during a lesbian love scene – a kiss between them almost caused a riot and the production was stopped by the prefect of police Louis Lépine. From then on they could no longer live together openly, though the relationship lasted until 1912.[4][5][6] Missy also inspired the character 'La Chevalière' in Colette's novel Le Pur et l'impur, described as "in dark masculine attire, belying any notion of gaiety or bravado... High born, she slummed it like a prince."

On 21 June 1910 the couple bought the manor of Rozven at Saint-Coulomb in Brittany (its owner, baron du Crest, refused the sale because Mathilde was dressed as a man and so Colette signed the deed instead) – on the same day the first chamber of the 'tribunal de grande instance' for the Seine departement pronounced Colette's divorce from Henry Gauthier-Villars. When they separated a year later, Colette kept the house.[7]

At the end of May 1944 Missy attempted hara-kiri but was prevented. She ultimately died from suicide on 29 June 1944, aged 81.


  1. ^ Crane, Diana (1999). "Clothing Behavior as Non-Verbal Resistance: Marginal Women and Alternative Dress in the Nineteenth Century". Fashion Theory. Berg Publishers. 3 (2): 241–268. doi:10.2752/136270499779155078. ISSN 1362-704X. Retrieved 16 March 2019. (pdf p.16)
  2. ^ a b Amin, Kadji (Spring 2013). "Ghosting Transgender Historicity in Colette's The Pure and the Impure". L'Esprit Créateur. Johns Hopkins University Press. 53 (1): 114–130. doi:10.1353/esp.2013.0012. ISSN 0014-0767. (via Project MUSE)
  3. ^ "Things in Paris," Vanity Fair, 13 May 1882, page 275
  4. ^ Flower, John (2013). Historical Dictionary of French Literature. Scarecrow Press, page 145
  5. ^ Rodriguez, Suzanne (2002). Wild Heart: Natalie Clifford Barney and the Decadence of Literary Paris. Harper Collins, p 131
  6. ^ Benstock, Shari (1986). Women of the Left Bank: Paris, 1900-1940. University of Texas Press, pages 48-49
  7. ^ Frédéric Maget, president of the Société des Amis de Colette, « Colette en ses demeures », in La Marche de l'Histoire, 28 November 2011


  • Fernande Gontier et Claude Francis, Mathilde de Morny. La Scandaleuse Marquise et son temps, Perrin, 2005.
  • Fernande Gontier, Homme ou femme ? La confusion des sexes, chapter 8, Paris, Perrin, 2006.
  • Colette, Lettres à Missy. Edited and annotated by Samia Bordji and Frédéric Maget, Paris, Flammarion, 2009.