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Louis Labe Lyonnaise, ou la Renaissance au feminin.

Louise Labe Lyonnaise, ou la Renaissance au feminin. By FRANCOIS RIGOLOT. (Etudes et Essais sur la Renaissance, 15) Paris: Champion. 1997. 345 pp.

Francois Rigolot's new book is a fascinating excavation of the intertextual layers of Louise Labe's OEuvres (1555), including those of the tributary 'Escriz de divers poetes a la louenge de Louize Labe'. What this excavation reveals is a stratification of voices, bestowed, appropriated, and refused, and it is a serial consideration of these voices that structures the book.

Rigolot's introduction deftly establishes the cultural climate in Lyons in the mid-sixteenth century, so necessary to our understanding of her strategy of self-expression, and especially of 'l'aspect catachretique de l'utilisation des grandes figures feminines', or 'la facon particuliere dont Louise Labe remotive les fictions d'autrefois avec des intentions et dans une langue qui ne sont plus celles de ces devancieres' (pp. 28-29). Rigolot goes on to assess what is implied by the projection of Labe as a second Sappho; her evocation, by the 'alternance des postulations contraires', of the lover's self-alienation, echoes the comments made by pseudo-Longinus about Sappho's 'Ode to the Loved One' (Robortello's edition of On the Sublime had appeared in 1554).

Labe's second voice is a voice bestowed on Petrarch's silent Laura, a device that allows Rigolot to investigate Labe's use of parodic quotation, her contempt for Petrarch's soft soap, and her studied rewriting of the grammar of 'amour'. Next, Labe rejects the role of the divine 'tisseuse', Pallas Athene, to identify herself with the deranged aspirations of the goddess's Lydian rival, Arachne. Chapter 4 deals with Labe's legitimization of the voice of Venus, the presiding deity of Lyons. At the end of an itinerary that includes reflections on the Lucretian and Ficinian versions of Venus, encounters with the Babylonian queen, Semiramis, and Ariosto's Bradamante, and a disquisition on 'erreur', Rigolot concludes that thanks to Labe, 'sur la colline de Fourviere [Forum Veneris] s'instaure une phenomenologie de la presence qui regenere la tradition venerienne tout en s'exposant au risque de sombrer dans l'Erreur de la Folie' (p. 198).

Not surprisingly, Labe's voicing of 'folie' is the subject of the next chapter. After delineating the contemporary horizon of expectation, Rigolot undertakes a thorough analysis, first of 'Le Debat de Folie et d'Amour', showing how 'Folie' subverts the masculine rhetoric of her spokesman, Mercury, and then of Sonnet XVIII, the sonnet of the kiss, of the lips; this is absorbingly related to the tributary Latin ode 'De Aloysae Labaeae Osculis' (Antoine Fumee?), and to a variety of biblical texts (Proverbs, Song of Songs, Babel, Pentecostal tongues). Finally, we return to 'Le Debat', to discover whether Labe's Orpheus is Apollonian or Mercurial. But more important than to weigh the evidence and decide is to acknowledge the desire to embody both aspects in the poetry of an Orpheus newly feminized.

The summarizing conclusion is followed by a usefully comprehensive bibliography compiled by D. E. Lorraine Sterritt. All in all, this book manages, intriguingly and compellingly, to reveal a Louise Labe who is both urgently a self and a cluster of personae, whose ability to speak herself depends heavily on her ventriloquial gifts.

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Title Annotation:Review
Author:Scott, Clive
Publication:The Modern Language Review
Article Type:Book Review
Date:Oct 1, 1999
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