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L'exercice de l'ame vertueuse & Cabinet des saines affections. (Reviews).

Marie Le Gendre, L'exercice de l'ame vertueuse.

Ed. Colette H. Winn. (Textes de la Renaissance, 38.) Paris: Honore Champion, 2001. 198 pp. SFR 45.00. ISBN: 2-7453-0460-7.

Madeleine de L'Aubespine, Cabinet des saines affections.

Ed. Colette H. Winn. (Textes de la Renaissance, 39) Paris: Honore Champion, 2001. 133pp. n.p. ISBN: 2-7453-0461-5.

Colette Winn has edited two parallel volumes of writings by French noblewomen at the end of the sixteenth century. In 1595 these two texts were published as one volume under the name of Marie Le Gendre. However, the Cabinet, which had been previously published anonymously, was attributed by a contemporary to a woman named as Claude de L'Aubespine; since Claude was a male, Winn suggests that the writer was most likely Claude's daughter Madeleine. Although the authorship of the Cabinet remains uncertain, Winn has published it now as "attributed to Madeleine de L'Aubespine." In any case, Le Gendre's writings, or at least the parts most securely by her, were soon published separately. Both of these texts had some success in their day, especially the Cabinet, which went through five editions and two translations, while the Exercice was published three times.

Both volumes include moral essays on topics such as the virtues and vices, the choice of friends, the passions and afflictions of life, and the way one should live. These essays are brief and to the point. Citing a few classical sources and examples, they remain general rather than indicating specific contemporary events or persons. Winn points out the similarities between Le Gendre's essays and the discourses on such topics held by the Academie du Palais, which she might have known about, and contrasts them with the rambling and personal essays of Montaigne. In her introduction to the volume of Madeleine de L'Aubespine, Winn discusses the contemporary popularity of Stoic moral philosophy and L'Aubespine's addition of Christian perspectives. The fact that we cannot tell for certain whether or not these two works were written by the same person indicates their similarity; The essays are less interesting in themselves than as collections of commonplaces. Indeed, the Cabinet ends by describing the work as a glea ning of the wisdom of the ancients, and opens by offering these brief bits of wisdom as handy means to maintain our soul's tranquility. Its argument that we can strengthen our rational control of ourselves through habit and practice fits hand in hand with the title of L'exercice de l'ame vertueuse.

Much more interesting than the essays is Le Gendre's "Dialogue des chastes amours d'Eros et de Kalisti," a remarkable convergence of sentimental narrative, dialogue, and romantic drama, in which Catherine des Roches's dialogue of Love and Beauty has been expanded into seven lively scenes with narrative and lyric interludes. It indicates, for one thing, the direct influence of one woman's writing on another's. Furthermore, it adds the pleasure of dramatized personal relations and conversations to the topic of love already often treated in dialogue form. Winn indicates the connections of this piece to the neoplatonic love dialogues of the Renaissance.

Besides these pieces, Le Gendre's volume contains poetry, some on the recent death of her husband, for whom she seems to have felt sincere affection. This happy marriage may explain why her Eros and Kalisti has altered the conclusion of Catherine's dialogue from advocating a virginal dedication to study to celebrating a marriage that can combine intellectual activity and love.

Winn's introductions set forth what little is known about these two noblewomen, the publication history of their works and some of the cultural context for their writing. Her notes to the text indicate some of the ancient and contemporary sources which express similar ideas, and point out her few textual emendations. On the whole, the texts are presented unaltered, including the sometimes odd punctuation practices of their time. A brief glossary of words which have changed meaning or gone out of use and an index of names complete these editions. These two slim books contribute to the rapidly growing body of work by Renaissance women being made available to students and scholars. The Cabinet was the more popular in its own time, its author being praised by no less than Ronsard; but the variety of Le Gendre's volume, its more personal lyric expressions and its delightful romance-drama "dialogue" may well be the more attractive volume now.
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Author:Smarr, Janet L.
Publication:Renaissance Quarterly
Article Type:Book Review
Date:Dec 22, 2001
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