Complete Poetry and Prose: A Bilingual Edition.
Ed. and Trans. Deborah Lesko Baker. The Other Voice in Early Modern Europe. Chicago: The University of Chicago Press, 2006. x + 274 pp. index. illus. bibl. $25. ISBN: 0-226-46715-5.
Madeleine and Catherine des Roches. From Mother to Daughter: Poems, Dialogues, and Letters of Les Dames des Roches.
Ed. Anne R. Larsen. The Other Voice in Early Modern Europe. Chicago: The University of Chicago Press, 2006. x + 320 pp. index. bibl. $24. ISBN: 0-226-72338-0.
The Other Voice series, edited by Margaret King and Albert Rabil, and printed by The University of Chicago Press, has been publishing translations (and in some cases dual-language editions) of early modern European women writers for around ten years. During this time the size and scope of the series has grown from a modest list of mostly Italian Renaissance women writers, and an overall series bibliography of around six pages, to a much larger and varied list, including Spanish, German, and French authors, and extending into the seventeenth century. The "Series Editors' Bibliography" now extends to sixteen pages, and the volume editors generally add their own lists of eight or nine pages. Clearly this series is doing something right, and is meeting a need for English translations of fairly little-known works by early modern European women writers, which may have been previously hard to find even in their original languages.
Two of the most recent additions to the series are Deborah Lesko Baker and Annie Finch's bilingual edition of the complete poetry and prose of Louise Labe (1520-66) and Anne Larsen's edition and translation of selected works by Madeleine (1520-87) and Catherine (1542-87) des Roches. Louise Labe has been fairly well known as a contemporary of Maurice Sceve and member of the Lyon group of Italianate poets in the first half of the sixteenth century. Her life has inspired much speculation, from Calvin's calling her a prostitute to the most recent theory that she did not actually write the works attributed to her (Huchon, 2006). The mother and daughter Dames des Roches, from Poitiers, have been less well-known except for the famous series of comical poems, by a variety of male authors, celebrating the flea which alighted on Catherine's bosom in 1579. The Des Roches have become much better-known since Anne Larsen's editions of their works with Droz, in 1993 (Les Oeuvres of 1579), 1998 (Les Secondes Oeuvres of 1583), and 1999 (Les Missives of 1586).
Deborah Lesko Baker's translation and edition of the complete poetry and prose of Louise Labe (1555) should be read in tandem with Lesko Baker's earlier book on Labe, The Subject of Desire (Purdue University Press, 1996), recently reprinted in paperback (2004). Clearly, Lesko Baker was the right person to edit this volume. She has written introductions to the "Dedicatory Letter," "Debate of Folly and Love," "Elegies," and "Sonnets," and has translated the prose works ("Letter" and "Debate") into English; while the poet-translator Annie Finch has translated the poetry ("Elegies" and "Sonnets"). As in her earlier work, we see Lesko Baker's special contribution to Labe studies in the elucidation of the difficult prose works; and she has once again demonstrated her skill in textual analysis. But now she also moves on to a more evaluative mode, assessing the important place of Labe in the canon of early modern women writers. The extensive bibliography to this book shows that Lesko Baker has mastered the critical works in English and French on Labe, as well as on Renaissance humanism, feminism, Petrarch, and on French Renaissance poetry in general.
The entire Labe volume is dual-language, with English and French on facing pages. Lesko Baker is painstaking in her translations, and frequently compares her own word-choice with that of earlier translators, explaining her rationale in footnotes. Even for a reader already familiar with these works in their original sixteenth-century French, the clarification and interpretation achieved by the translations are extremely helpful.
The translations by Annie Finch are also superb. Finch has kept Labe's rhyme scheme in her translations and has added new titles of her own. Even poems which are very familiar to French-speaking readers take on new meaning when translated. This is particularly true for the long and complex elegies, but also sonnets such as the well-known "O beaux yeus bruns" ("Handsome Brown Eyes"), which benefits from Finch's emphasis on Labe's feelings and on her disillusionment with the Petrarchan tradition.
The most recent volume in this series is Anne Larsen's edition and translation of the selected works of the Dames des Roches. As with the Labe volume, the Other Voice editors have selected the foremost scholar of the Des Roches to prepare this text, and it does not disappoint. The Des Roches lived and worked in Poitiers in the second half of the sixteenth century and were more concerned with political and social themes, such as the wars of religion, than was Labe, who wrote largely in a mythological context. Unlike Labe, who was constantly preoccupied with the theme of love, the Des Roches (especially Catherine) are quite negative in their treatment of amorous passion, and they stress the theme of women's empowerment through education to a greater extent than Labe. The Des Roches wrote in a larger variety of genres than did Labe, and so Larsen's volume includes selections from poetry, prose dialogues, and letters by both Madeleine and Catherine, who wrote in all genres (except for the prose dialogues, which are only by Catherine).
The volume, like the Labe edition, is extremely scholarly, and helps the reader with explanations of classical references, contemporary historical and social background, and attention to the later "fortunes" of the Dames des Roches. The bibliography is excellent, and includes both the best-known and lesser-known works by and about women in the French Renaissance.
The prose "Dialogues" of Catherine are presented only in English, as is true for the prose letters of Madeleine and Catherine. The translations of poetry are in verse, but are not rhymed. The translations are very readable and give the flavor of the originals. Whereas Madeleine often talks about problems such as illness or her legal affairs, Catherine's major theme is her status as a single, learned woman who dares to publish. One of the best-known poems of Catherine is "A ma quenouille" ("To my distaff"), which concludes that she would like to hold both the spindle and the pen, showing that she does not see a conflict between the demands of housework and of writing.
In reading through the entire collection, one gets a good sense of just how involved these women were with their community. We find poems to friends and relatives, to scholars such as Odet de Turnebe and Estienne Pasquier, and to nobles such as Jeanne de Bourbon and even to the king. The prose "Dialogues" pursue the theme of women's education, but in an allegorical or mythological format. There are some similarities here to Labe's "Debate," which the Des Roches may have known. The prose "Letters," published a year before the death of both women from the plague, show that both wrote letters, and the collection begins with epistles by each to the other, reinforcing the theme of mother-daughter love found throughout the volume. Several letters are to their publisher, Abel L'Angelier, one may be to Ronsard, and several express relief that the hostilities of the wars of religion appear to be over (another frequent theme of their writing).
It is difficult to do justice to these two translations in a short review. Students and scholars alike will benefit from the creativity and erudition displayed in both volumes. We will look forward to future additions to the Other Voice series.
CATHLEEN M. BAUSCHATZ
University of Maine
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|Title Annotation:||From Mother to Daughter: Poems, Dialogues, and Letters of Les Dames des Roches; The Other Voice in Early Modern Europe|
|Author:||Bauschatz, Cathleen M.|
|Article Type:||Book review|
|Date:||Dec 22, 2006|
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