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Reclaiming the works of early modern women: authorship, gender, and interpretation in the Nouveau recueil de lettres des dames de ce temps (1635).

Reclaiming the forgotten texts of women writers has been a major feminist undertaking of the last half-century. Indeed, believing in the importance of this sort of work, we have each spent much of our careers studying the women writers absent from our own graduate-school education. What follows, however, is a cautionary tale about discovery and reclamation: first, our discovery of what we thought was a hitherto-neglected text by eminent seventeenth-century writer Madeleine de Scudery--her Lettres amoureuses de divers auteurs de ce temps (1641); second, our discovery that the text was not (even as indexed in Gerritsen Collection of Women's History microfilm collection) authored by Scudery but was written instead by a Franciscan priest, Jacques Du Bosc. Clearly, our second discovery pointed out both our own rush to judgment as well as that of other literary scholars interested in the tenuous project of historical reclamation. In this essay, we seek to explore the implications of attribution and authorship for our cautionary tale. Does the fact that a work is not Scudery's Lettres amoureuses but instead Du Bosc's Nouveau recueil de lettres des dames de ce temps (1635) diminish its importance to the history of women's letters?

The First Discovery

We became interested in Scudery's Lettres amoureuses because of a brief description of the text in Joan DeJean's Tender Geographies, a pioneering study of women novelists of the seventeenth century. DeJean describes a one-volume work that constituted the first publication of one of the most important writers of the seventeenth century, Madeleine de Scudery. This work was a reversal of and "forceful response to" the so-called Ovidian model of epistolary fiction in which a "seduced and abandoned" woman complains in letter form about the infidelity of her male lover. In Scudery's text, however, men wrote long letters complaining about the women who did not reciprocate their love (DeJean, Tender Geographies 79).

We obtained a copy of the Lettres amoureuses from the Women's History microfilm collection, which was created in the 1970s (published 1983) in order to make available an extensive array of texts and documents relating to women's lives. We were surprised to see that all of the letters in the Lettres amoureuses were written by women--not men. Moreover, most of the letters were written by women to other women. No letters by men were included at all. Our copy of Lettres amoureuses contained letters and responses written between women, meant to show the excellence of women's writing skill. The letters discussed and debated a wide variety of topics of interest to seventeenth-century French women; more strikingly, however, they reflected a close-knit homosocial world of women who openly expressed love, devotion, desire, and longing for each other's company.

Given the differences between our copy of Lettres amoureuses and the text described by DeJean, we wondered if we were looking at the same book. Was our collection the one to which DeJean referred? Yes and no. In another DeJean article about the Lettres amoureuses, we discovered that DeJean had used a particular copy of the text, one found in the holdings of Harvard's Houghton Library. Upon first obtaining a microfilm copy of the Houghton volume, and later examining the physical book itself in Houghton's rare books room, we saw that it (unlike our own copy) did indeed contain only letters by men who complain about their female beloveds. At this point, we thought we had discovered a second volume to Scudery's work: it seemed clear to us that the Lettres amoureuses had been halved at some point in the last several centuries and that we had a chance to reunite the volumes. After all, the preface in the Houghton volume tells the reader, "Si vous receuez fauorablement ce volume, ie vous en prepare un second" ["If you receive this volume favorably, I will prepare a second one for you"] (Scudery, Lettres amoureuses n.p.). (2)

For the purposes of our project we began referring to the first volume (the Houghton volume, with letters by men) as the Lettres amoureuses and to the second volume (from the Women's History collection, with letters by women) as the Lettres des dames. Even at this point, we noticed a number of typographical differences between the two works that gave us brief pause: the running header in the Houghton volume is Lettres amoureuses, and in our volume, it is Lettres des dames; the letters in the Houghton volume do not have descriptive titles, and our volume's letters do; the font sizes differ; and the Houghton volume makes use of decorative floriation in ways that the Lettres des dames does not. At the same time, the volumes were similar enough--each beginning with the same title page and "Le Libraire au Lecteur" ["The Bookseller to the Reader"], for example--that it was understandable that the two volumes could have generated some confusion for textual scholars in the past, especially since both volumes were published under the general title of Lettres amoureuses de divers autheurs de ce temps.

While a few scholars had already worked on the Lettres amoureuses (DeJean, Catani), and others on the Lettres des dames (Donawerth and Strongson), both under the same title and preface, none of the scholars had discovered (or mentioned) that they were working on two different texts. Given the tremendous advances in databases of library catalogs and online resources of rare books over the last twenty years, it is no surprise that critics working in the 1980s (as did DeJean) might not have come across the two different versions. What is surprising is that more recent research by Donawerth and Strongson does not note the differences. In fact, Donawerth and Strongson attribute the differences between the volumes to a misreading on DeJean's part; they assume she has misread the gender of the letter writers, and they relegate the information to a footnote (Donawerth and Strongson 37).

In any case, we were excited by our discovery. Since more works by women are being rediscovered every day, we supposed that this text might be one of those works that transgressed the norms of its time. It was also tempting to view the Lettres des dames, as more than "a formulary rhetoric of letter writing" (Donawerth and Strongson 19), maybe somewhere between the letter manual and the early precursors to the epistolary novel (DeJean, "La lettre" 19). We saw the Lettres des dames as a sort of proto-epistolary fiction in its staging of "mini-dramas" involving the correspondents. In the text, the women write not just the "kinds of topics and concerns [that] are appropriate in letters between two women who share a passionate friendship" (Donawerth and Strongson 19), but also of love, passion, and desire between women. Indeed, we felt it was possible to see in this second volume a testing of the themes that would recur in Scudery's famous "Carte de tendre." (3) Therefore, we saw the Lettres des dames as a hybrid text, neither a letter manual nor a novel; because of its drama, we could situate the text within the genre of experimental fiction in which we saw Scudery exploring issues that would preoccupy her later novels and her Conversations.

We thought the Lettres des dames so compelling that we proposed to Albert Rabil, one of the editors of the Other Voice in Early Modern Europe series, translating the volume and making a critical edition. The Other Voice series, published by the University of Chicago Press, comprises translations of works by early modern women writers, in order to give voice to the women (and the men who supported them) whose contributions to society have been silenced or forgotten. This "other voice," as the series editors note, is "in contradistinction to the 'first voice,' the voice of the educated men who created Western culture" (King and Rabil xi). Our project seemed like a perfect fit, and Professor Rabil accepted it for the series.

The Second Discovery, and a New Direction

While using online databases to research the genre of the seventeenth-century letter manuals, we came upon an intriguing text titled The Secretary of Ladies, or, A New Collection of Letters and Answers Composed by Moderne Ladies and Gentlewomen, collected by Monsieur Du Bosque, a translation into English of a French text (1638). In fact, The Secretary of Ladies was a translation of the text we thought to be Scudery's Lettres des dames, the potential "missing volume" of her 1641 work. We quickly learned that Jacques Du Bosc was a Franciscan priest who had written at least three feminocentric texts, in addition to many religious ones, that contributed to the Querelle des femmes [the Woman Debate]: L'Honneste femme (first published in 1632; multiple revised editions published from the 1630s to the 1660s), the Nouveau recueil de lettres des dames (1635), and La Femme heroique ou, Les heroines comparees avec les heros en toute sorte de vertus (1645).

We then turned to establishing that the Women's History volume, the text we had been sure was a neglected work of Scudery, was in fact written by Du Bosc. We discovered that at some point in the seventeenth century, the title page and preface to Scudery's Lettres amoureuses was bound with the text of Du Bosc's Nouveau recueil. In order to verify the joined texts, we examined the books themselves at the rare book collections of the University of California, Irvine (Du Bosc's 1742 third edition of the Nouveau recueil de lettres des dames de ce temps), the Boston Public Library (Du Bosc's misattrib-uted hybrid copy with the preface and title page from Scudery's Lettres amoureuses), and Harvard's Houghton Library (the true copy of Scudery's Lettres amoureuses). We know that Augustin Courbe printed both texts and that both texts received their privilege from Valentin Conrart, so it is easy to imagine an accidental binding together of two authors' folios. Indeed, the Lettres des dames was being reprinted in 1642, around the same time as Courbe was printing Scudery's Lettres amoureuses for the first time, so it is entirely plausible that the texts were in the printer's atelier at the same time.

Establishing this attribution is important: first, because Du Bosc's text under the title Lettres amoureuses is currently attributed to Scudery; second, because recent scholarly work on Scudery has mistakenly included this misattributed text as part of Scudery's corpus; and last, because libraries worldwide list the Du Bosc hybrid copy as belonging to Scudery. This false copy is widely available on microfilm (as in the Women's History collection), whereas only one (noncirculating) copy of the real Lettres amoureuses exists, in Houghton's rare book collection. Thus, future researchers will in all likelihood continue to consult the mistakenly attributed (yet accessible) microfilm version of this text and continue to attribute it to Scudery.

Since we had already shaped our vision of this text through the work and biography of Madeleine de Scudery, we had to now consider how this new information might change our reading of what we had called Lettres des dames but now found to be the Nouveau recueil de lettres des dames de ce temps. We were quite unwilling to scrap all that we had discovered about (and within) this fascinating collection of letters, but were also unsure how our reading might change or even become invalid now that we knew that the text had been penned by a Franciscan priest rather than an eminent woman writer. We had wanted to publish the work of an early feminist woman writer, not an early religious man, even if that man had feminist leanings. Moreover, the authorship of the text cast doubt on its place in the discussion of early modern women's letters. Was this truly an "other voice" in early modern Europe, given that Du Bosc was one of the "educated men who created Western culture"? It was the Other Voice series that had encouraged Donawerth and Strongson to bring this text to light, along with others of Scudery, especially since there has been an upsurge of critical attention given to Scudery in the last few decades. When the text was thought to be Scudery's, it was included in the Gerritsen Collection of Women's History microfilm project and perceived as part of women's lost history; once the text is known to be Du Bosc's, will it still belong in that collection?

For our own immediate project, we discussed the extent to which we could square our "subversive feminist" reading of the text with the truth of its authorship, keeping in mind that a text's ideological position is never purely that of its author, and that texts often evade their authors' purposes. Clearly, then, it was (and is) still possible to see the Nouveau recueil as a text that simultaneously celebrates and expresses anxiety about women's intimacy. At the same time, we wanted to be mindful of our modern reading practices; indeed, we felt the imperative to conform our reading to what Michel Foucault describes as the author-function, in which "the meaning ascribed to [the text] and the status or value accorded it depend upon [from where ... it come(s), who wrote it, when, under what circumstance, or beginning with what design]" (180). Yet, our knowledge of Du Bosc is fragmentary at best. Du Bosc's Nouveau recueil has been cited or written about for some time, although no critic has taken the text seriously enough to analyze it as a work on its own terms; it is always glossed over in terms of actual content. (4) Moreover, Susan S. Lanser reminds us of the limitations of a too-narrow focus on authorship; she writes, "this adherence to authorship [...] encourages a tautological construction of authors and texts in which the projects of authorial identification and textual interpretation ... become circular" (82). That is, as we create the Nouveau recueil through Scudery or Du Bosc, we (re)create Scudery or Du Bosc through the Nouveau recueil (to paraphrase Lanser).

Last, as Foucault writes, the author is not a source of infinite meaning, but rather part of a larger system of beliefs that serve to limit and restrict meaning. Foucault thus tells us that we should not allow the ideas of "authorial intention" to limit what we might say about a text, nor discount our interpretations as illegitimate (186). With this idea in mind, we decided to examine the scholarship of our text under the authorship of Du Bosc and Scudery to ascertain if scholars had read them any differently. We learned that, apart from Colleen Fitzgerald, who wrote her 1996 dissertation on Du Bosc, no other scholar had found Du Bosc's work worthy of an in-depth study. Indeed, critics most often mention Du Bosc in passing, and his Nouveau recueil is cited mostly in relation to his other more well-known works, L'Honneste femme and La Femme heroique. Even Fitzgerald hardly mentions the Nouveau recueil in her chapter on Du Bosc's feminist works.

Nonetheless, we can see trends in the way that critics view the Nouveau recueil. Carolyn Lougee, the first modern critic to mention Du Bosc, sees the Franciscan as a feminist who "used the ethical egalitarianism implicit in Christianity as a basis upon which to build arguments for equal eligibility for ennoblement" (42). Lougee sees the Nouveau recueil and similar works as models of la belle civilite, directed toward members of the bourgeois milieu (55). To Lougee, Du Bosc sees a special role for women in promoting the advancement of meritorious men. In fact, in the Nouveau recueil, Du Bosc, in Letter and Response 13, does give an example of women helping a man of merit. (5) Previously, the writer of Letter 13, who is apparently a woman of high rank ("vostre condition" ["your condition"] in Response 13), has been asked by her interlocutrice to help this man in his affaires: the letter-writer is inspired to help him by "le merite de sa Personne, la justice de sa Cause, & la force de vostre Recommendation" ["his personal merit, the righteousness of his cause, and the strength of your recommendation"] (Letter 13). In the very next pair of letters, however, we see great men of power ("grands Seigneurs" ["great Noblemen"] [Letter 14]) helping a woman of merit. Therefore, while it does seem that Du Bosc favors merit over birth, it may be that Lougee picked only the letters that fit her thesis (that women had a special role in social promotion).

Other critics see Du Bosc as a kind of missing link in the history of the development of women as writers. Ian Maclean, for example, quotes Response 12 as evidence that Du Bosc wishes writing to become a socially acceptable activity for women: "Peut-estre que si plusieurs Dames de qualite entreprenoient d'escrire, elles en feroient recevoir la coustume" ["Perhaps if several ladies of quality endeavored to write, they would have the custom accepted"]. Maclean interprets this statement thus: "it would seem that this observation aptly prefigures and describes the process by which educated women became socially acceptable" (55). Similarly, Linda Timmermans, citing the same passage as Maclean, echoes the conviction that Du Bosc is recounting before the fact how women came to flourish as writers in the second half of the seventeenth century (178). Moreover, within only twenty years, Timmermans tells us, the fact that women write (albeit not usually professionally) as an established "coutume" ["custom"] is due perhaps to the favorable attitude of men such as Du Bosc and the work of women such as Madeleine de Scudery (179). To Timmermans, the Nouveau recueil is "un manuel epis-tolaire a l'usage des dames" ["an epistolary manual for women's use"] in which women are portrayed as writing and excelling at writing the only letters that they are allowed to write by the rules of bienseance [propriety]: "les 'lettres familieres,' les 'lettres de compliment' et de 'galanterie'" ["'familiar letters,' 'letters of compliment,' and of 'gallantry'"] (200). However, Timmermans also notes that Du Bosc, in L'Honneste femme, sees learning for women as a diversion, while domestic work is their primary chore (292). Moreover, Timmermans points out that Du Bosc's attitude toward women writers is ambivalent: while he tolerates women writers in the Nouveau recueil as long as they do not write books, in the third volume of L'Honneste femme he condemns women who write poetry (Timmermans 298).

Colleen Fitzgerald in her dissertation devotes an entire chapter to Du Bosc's feminocentric writings; however, in this long chapter ("Grace as Personal Virtue: The Case of Women" [109-62]), she only writes two paragraphs on the Nouveau recueil. Fitzgerald describes the work in very general terms, noting that Du Bosc's knowledge of rhetoric is demonstrated. Fitzgerald makes no distinction at all between the correspondents, preferring instead to interpret Du Bosc's purpose as depicting a single, universal woman. She contends that this woman is a kind of female version of Pascal's thinking reed, who is not coerced into being chaste and virtuous, but instead accepts her duties and responsibilities voluntarily after having reilected upon them (Fitzgerald 136-37). This reading, however, ignores the many recurring subjects debated by Du Bosc's female correspondents, as well as the bare fact of the debates themselves.

Roger Duchene is the most recent critic (whom we have found) to comment on the Nouveau recueil as a work by a man. Perhaps even more strongly than Maclean and Timmermans, Duchene argues for the value of this male-authored work as a turning point in the history of women writing letters. Duchene, like Lougee, Timmermans, and others, does not spend much time on the work itself: only three paragraphs within a twenty-page article. Duchene's thesis is that women, during the early seventeenth century, were excluded specifically from letter writing, which at that time was a "man's prerogative" (Duchene 316). Du Bosc "fight[s] against this exclusion" by publishing the Nouveau recueil; the fact that Du Bosc wrote the work yet pretended it was written by women is "resounding proof that at the time when he published his book the letter is absolutely not a woman's genre" (316, 317). Duchene, unlike previous critics of the work, notices that the female letter writers are anonymous: "No woman's name appears in the title or in the table of contents of his anthology" (317). Duchene's ultimate evaluation of the work is that it "is only a collection of sample letters," however, and he also mistakenly takes the work as a sustained correspondence between two women, an assumption for which there is no textual evidence (317).

In sum, none of the critics to identify Du Bosc as the author of the work has conducted a thorough study of the Nouveau recueil. The structure, anonymity, and themes have been sidelined. Only two letters, Reponse 12 and Reponse 13, are actually cited; these two letters elicit some interest because, taken in isolation, they can be used to support the theses of the critics who cite them. When viewed chronologically, one can discern a sustained (or growing) opinion, however, that the Nouveau recueil prefigures women's participation in writing and perhaps even makes that participation possible. The underlying interest in the text seems to be to ask the question: why? Why would Du Bosc, a man, and one who was very engaged in theological discussions, write a text in which women correspondents write to each other? Is it because his egalitarian impulses make him argue for women of high rank to help those of lower status to climb the social ladder? Or does he want to prescribe a way in which women can write--using letters very much within a system of bienseance, the notion of appropriateness and decorum in seventeenth-century France--so that women's expression will be "contained"?

It is ironic that the most thorough previous reading of this text is based on a misidentification; however, the remarks of Jane Donawerth and Julie Strongson, who anthologize a number of Du Bosc's letters from the Nouveau recueil in Madeleine de Scudery: Selected Letters, Orations and Rhetorical Dialogues, are not totally unconnected to those of the Du Bosc critics. Like Maclean and Timmermans, for example, Dona werth and Strongson see a role in the letters for bienseance: they write that Scudery "helped to construct a socially acceptable discourse of eroticism for female-female relationships" (2; emphasis added). In addition, they see the work in part as a "formulary letter manual" (36), as do Timmermans and Duchene. They agree with Duchene that the author of the text wants us to think that a single pair of women wrote the letters (35). Unlike Du Bosc's critics, however, Donawerth and Strongson discern a "novel-like construction" (16) in the text. To them, this is not quite an epistolary novel--the letters resemble a sonnet sequence more than an epistolary novel (36)--but "[a]n argument could be made that most of these letters are part of a series" (19).

Donawerth and Strongson also agree with Duchene that the Nouveau recueil represents an important innovation because the text offers models (that previously did not exist) so that women could write to one another often: "this formulary rhetoric addresses women as an audience who will need to write letters constantly and so will need models appropriate to female recipients" (20). Donawerth and Strongson also see a quite different innovation: the depiction of a female friendship that is "highly idealized [and] extremely passionate" (35). Not surprisingly, their analysis considers the text within the context of Scudery's life (particularly her choice of "Sapho" for her salon name) and within the context of other works attributed to her (particularly the "Story of Sapho," which Scudery included within her long novel Artamene ou le grand Cyrus and that valorizes female friendship). (6) And, although they seem initially surprised that the letters "sound very much like love letters, although the headings make clear that they are two women addressing each other" (19), ultimately Donawerth and Strongson see these letters as a significant contribution "to the construction of a socially acceptable erotic discourse for female-female relationships" (37).

In conclusion, the scholars looking at Du Bosc situate the Nouveau recueil within the contemporary discourses of social mobility, honnetete [civility], and the Querelle des femmes, while Donawerth and Strongson emphasize the same-sex erotics that subtend many of the letters while acknowledging the text's conventional aims for women. Under the title page of Scudery, the Nouveau recueil takes on a more subversive, nonconformist hue, especially in its depiction of women's relationships.

The English Translation: The Secretary of Ladies

The English translation, The Secretary of Ladies. Or, a New Collection of Letters and Answers composed by Moderne Ladies and Gentlewomen, collected by Monsieur Du Bosque, published only three years after the original, adds yet another twist to the letters' interpretations. While the French original finishes with Letter 65, the English translator stopped after Letter 54. As the culminating letter of the English translation, the description of Letter 54 sums up the intent of the collection itself: "She saith that her letters serve her for copies to learne to write, and that shee desires more judgement to bee more able to imitate" (270). This letter positions the text as simply a letter manual, since the writer of Letter 54 compliments her friends on her letter-writing abilities and promises to use her letters as her own models for writing. Thus, the collection itself, this last letter writer suggests, should be read as (and is intended to be) a manual for writing instruction.

What the translator, Jerome Hainhofer, omits, however, are four of the five rare letters written to men (among others). In these four letters (nos. 58, 59, 61, 64), the women letter writers break off their relationships with the men in a most celebratory fashion, claiming they prefer their freedom to the prison of love. This celebration of freedom over love stands in stark contrast to the bonds of friendship and love developed between the women of the collection, who express almost universal sadness and distress at losing their women friends. Moreover, a woman writes the ultimate letter of the French collection to her woman friend of "rares qualitez" ["rare qualities"] (Letter 65) whom she promises to emulate and admire. She rejects the reactions of other women who envy her friend and consider her competition for men's attention, and she claims she will look at her woman friend with "un autre oeil" ["a different eye"], prompting the female reader to look upon accomplished women with passionate admiration. She writes:
  [V]ous donnez de 1'amour a tous les Cavaliers, & de l'envie a toutes
  cellos de vostre Sexe. Je veux pourtant que vous m'exceptiez de ce
  nombre la, je vous regarde bien d'un autre oeil: & la connoissance de
  toutes vos rares qualitez ne produit rien en moy que le desir de vous
  servir avec un regret extreme de ne vous pouvoir ressembler, & de
  n'estre pas assez digne de vostre amitie.

  [(Y)ou make all the gentlemen love you and all those of your sex envy
  you. However, I would like you to make an exception for me because I
  see you with a different eye and the knowledge of all your rare
  qualities only produces in me a desire to serve you, with an extreme
  regret that I cannot resemble you and be worthy enough of your
  friendship.] (Letter 65)

The elimination of these letters in the English translation thus renders the text more conventional; it suggests that the Nouveau recueil was only intended to help women write more gracefully. While the French version ends on a note of female solidarity with a concurrent rejection of heterosexual love, the English translation eliminates these possible messages by removing the last ten letters. The English translation does not suggest that women might prefer to live without men or prefer other women's company to men's. While the French version ends on a libratory note for women who send their men packing, the English version eliminates the possibility that women's relationships with each other might supplant those with men. Moreover, the final French letter invites women to bond together and to regard each other in a new and positive light. Might the English translation then seek to circumscribe the more radical implications of the French text? Can we read this as a confirmation from a seventeenth-century reader that our interpretations were not so unthinkable for the period?

Questions of Attribution and Authorship

Even the volume whose provenance is now clear--Scudery's Lettres amoureuses de divers autheurs de ce temps, or what we have called the Houghton volume--has itself undergone problems of misattribution. We do know from the Houghton volume that the privilege for that text had been issued in 1641 to a "sieur de Scudery," Madeleine's brother Georges, a popular author before Madeleine began her writing career, and under whose name Madeleine published her own work until her brother's death. Because Madeleine had published so much of her own work under Georges' name, and because this was a text with a feminist or woman-centered subject, it was deduced, we assume, that this text, the Lettres amoureuses, must be the work of the sister. This assumption made in the 1970s went unchallenged for many years--for example, the attribution to Madeleine was accepted without reservations in 1991 by DeJean (Tender Geographies 79); however, it has not been fully accepted or acknowledged by more recent Scudery scholars. For example, Claude Bourqui and Alexandre Gefen, in their 2005 abridged edition of Artamene ou le Grand Cyrus, do not list the Lettres amoureuses in their bibliography as a text attributed to Madeleine. Moreover, the attribution of authorship for many texts published under Georges' name but attributed to Madeleine remains unsettled. The Bourqui/Gefen abridged Artamene ou le Grand Cyrus has as its author Madeleine and Georges de Scudery despite the fact that it was widely acknowledged by Madeleine's contemporaries that she was the author. Another text, Les Femmes illustres (1642) continues to be alternately attributed to Georges or Madeleine depending upon the edition. (7) Some editors avoid the obvious temptations afforded by attributing texts to Madeleine and prefer the cautious stance of sidestepping the question altogether. (8)

As for the Du Bosc text, its attribution to "Madeleine de Scudery" would have brought far more cultural capital with modern postreclamation readers than the real attribution would have, but the collection is not at all devoid of interest. Du Bosc was popular enough in his day to see multiple editions of all three of his feminocentric works in French and translations into English of two of them. (9) The fate of the Nouveau recueil (multiple editions, many copies available in libraries around the world) contrasts starkly with the fate of Scudery's Lettres amoureuses (one copy extant in the entire world). One can argue that the Du Bosc text was much more influential (or at the very least, better received) than Scudery's, and in this vein we would like to argue for an analysis of the text on its own terms.

In our initial interpretation of Du Bosc's Nouveau recueil, we were tempted to see the love expressed by women to each other as evidence of same-sex eroticism, as did Don-awerth and Strongson; certainly, this queer reading could have been done credibly if the text had been written by Madeleine de Scudery. However, once we discovered that the text's author was a Franciscan priest, then using the author's biography to explain the presence of what we perceived to be female homoeroticism became much more difficult. One easy reading of the text as male-authored would claim that this passionate expression between women was simply a rhetorical exercise in following writing conventions, less meaningful in terms of content than in style. However, it is in reading against this assumption that we come closer to an engagement with the question of authorship (and indeed, the question of sexual identity) as something that encompasses biography and yet far exceeds it. Our reading of Du Bosc's text must ask different questions of literature; taking our cue from Foucault, we must ask, "What are the modes of existence of this discourse? Where has it been used, how can it circulate, and who can appropriate it for himself" (187)?

Valerie Traub responds to such questions in her analysis of the rhetorical epistolary practices of genteel women of the early modern period. In women's letters, she argues, "the languages of friendship, kinship, and love overlapped in meaning" (186). Passionate expression between women was neither subversive nor transgressive, but perceived as a sort of "rehearsal" of feelings that would eventually translate into marriage with a man. Because this passionate language between women did not threaten society at large, Traub writes, it could be expressed openly; this is not to say, however, that some women did not also experience the intensity of feeling for other women that the language suggests.

In fact, Du Bosc, who cultivated the patronage of powerful women for his literary activities, might have reflected the writing habits of a group of elite women who, by some reports, maintained deep emotional ties to each other. (10) In his 1642 Nouveau recueil preface "Le Libraire aux Dames" ["The Bookseller to the Ladies"], Du Bosc dedicates his collection of letters to women because it is "un Ouvrage qui vient d'elles" ["a work which comes from them"] and which is based on "leur propre Escrit" ["their own writings"]. While we interpret this claim as a mere conceit of the author, it is true that two of Du Bosc's female patrons were reported to have written passionate letters to other women. Madame de Pisieux, to whom he dedicated the first and second editions of his Nouveau recueil, is reported to have maintained an exceptionally close relationship with Madame du Vigean, with whom she reportedly spent her days and with whom she corresponded by night, according to Tallemant de Reaux. (11) Despite Pisieux's jealous coveting of Du Vigean, another woman, Madame d'Aiguillon, the favorite niece of Cardinal Richelieu, appears to have triumphed in Du Vigean's affections. D'Aiguillon had herself been the dedicatee of Du Bosc's earlier work, L'Honneste femme. Tallemant informs us that d'Aiguillon and Du Vigean "s'ecrivoient des lettres les plus amoureuses du monde" ["wrote each other the most passionate letters in the world"] (Tallemant des Reaux 2: 32). Their bond must have indeed been strong since Du Vigean left her husband's household to take care of d'Aiguillon and remained her companion and helpmate for life. (12)

The cases of Pisieux-Du Vigean and d'Aiguillon-Du Vigean suggest that contemporaries can, at least in certain cases, interpret passionate letters between women as reflecting more than a conventional expression of affection. With these circumstances in mind, we posit biography not as a synonym for authorship, but rather as one of the multiple discourses that contributes to the author-function. Whether the letters in Du Bosc's text imitate the practices of these particular historical women, or whether we give credence to the chronicler Tallemant on the nature of these women's relationships, the letters do nonetheless show us women in society together sharing their thoughts, desires, fears, and longings for each other. (13)


The history of women's letters is, clearly, much more complicated than the question of reclaiming women authors. It also encompasses representations of women writers, constructions of models of women's writing, cultural institutions--formal and informal--that legitimize women's writing, and the material conditions under which women write. This cautionary tale of discovery and reclamation reminds us that the female biology of a writer is not the only guarantor of a feminist or "other" voice in literature. In a move quite notable given his historical time, Du Bosc adopted a proto-feminist stance and published three feminocentric texts each promoting the idea of women's equality to men. One can argue that Du Bosc merits a place within the history of women and letters since actual seventeenth-century women interacted with and responded to his particular discourse on writing. Indeed, in his notice "Aux Dames" ["To the Ladies"] in his 1658 edition of L'Honneste femme, Du Bosc wrote proudly that the women who had taken the time to read his book had also begun to pursue learning:
  Elles ont estudie avec plus de soin, elles se sont beaucoup plus
  addonnees a la lecture; Elles se sont fait enseigner la Morale &
  plusieurs autres Sciences: Elles ont apris a juger de beaux Ouvrages,
  mesme des plus relevez & des plus solides.

  [They studied more diligently; they spent more time reading; they
  sought out lessons about morality and many other disciplines. They
  learned to appreciate good books, even the most elevated and serious

We argue, then, that it is important for feminist scholars to read Jacques Du Bosc as they read other early modern women's texts. In addition to assessing how many women were publishing and at what time, we must also seek to understand the significance of "women"--both real and representational--in literary culture at a given time. The history of women's letters must include the reality of women as participants in the literary culture at large. Whether the letter writers of the Nouveau recueil were "real" women or merely representations, Du Bosc's collection provided seventeenth-century women, arguably, with the sense that there was a place for them to participate in literary culture, even if their place within that culture was problematic. Thus, the Nouveau recueil provides not only a passive model for women's letters: it also serves as an active, deliberate call to write, insisting that the world of letters is open to participation from real, embodied women. Du Bosc created a world of same-sex desire and attachment through letters, with the purpose (seemingly) of portraying a community of "accomplished" women who support and admire each other, who regard each other with "a different eye" in their solidarity and esteem for each other. Indeed, in the Nouveau recueil, Du Bosc followed the same path he set out in L'Honneste femme, in which, he claims, his work "[leur] ait en quelque sorte inspire le courage de r'entrer dans leurs droits, & de reprendre les advantages que la Nature leur donne" ["had in some way inspired (in women) the courage to reclaim their rights, and to regain the advantages that Nature gave them"] (Du Bosc, L'Honneste femme n.p.).


(1.) We would like to thank Jacqueline Rhodes for generously reading drafts of this project. Her help greatly improved our article both in content and style. We are also grateful for the encouragement of Dena Goodman and Albert Rabil to continue with this project in the face of our disappointment over our discovery of Scudery's misattribution.

(2.) All translations are by the authors.

(3.) Scudery's heroine, Clelie, draws the "Map of Tenderness" in part 1, book 1 of Clelie, histoire romaine (89-99). See also DeJean's analysis (Tender Geographies 87-90).

(4.) See Lougee, Timmermans, Maclean, Fitzgerald, Duchene, and Haroche-Bouzinac.

(5.) It should be noted that Lougee cites a letter that has nothing to do with merit; we believe she must be writing about Response 13, whose topic is merit.

(6.) Donawerth and Strongson mistakenly identify the novel in which "Story of Sapho" appears as Clelie.

(7.) As literary historians, it is quite surprising to us that seventeenth-century literary scholars have not yet settled such a question as fundamental as author attribution, especially given the scope and influence of Madeleine de Scudery's fiction on the literature of her century.

(8.) The introduction to the 2005 online version of vol. 2 of the Femmes illustres (not often discussed and difficult to find) slates that "deliberement, nous n'avons pas affronte le probleme epineux de l'attribution de l'ouvrage a Georges ou a Madeleine ou a Georges et Madeleine de Scudery" ["deliberately, we have not confronted the difficult problem of attributing the work to Georges or to Madeleine or to Georges and Madeleine de Scudery"] (Colombani n.p.).

(9.) Jean Chapelain wrote in a letter to Balzac, "Durant que son autheur a este dans le siecle, il a fait l'Honneste femme et les Lettres des dames avec asses d'applaudissement" ["While the author was alive, he wrote L'Honneste femme and the Lettres des dames and they were rather well-received"] (Chapelain 1: 734).

(10.) Du Bosc dedicated his three feminocentric texts to powerful women: parts 1 and 2 of L'Honneste femme were dedicated to Madame de Combalet, who later became the Duchesse d'Aiguillon in 1638. D'Aiguillon was called the "Princess Niece" because of her position at court as the favored relative of her powerful chief minister uncle, the Cardinal Richelieu; part 3 to Christine of France, Princess of Piedmont, Duchess of Savoy, and Queen of Cypress; the Nouveau recueil de lettres des dames to Madame de Pisieux; and La Femme heroique ou les heroines comparees avec les heros en toute sorte de vertus to the Queen Regent, Anne of Austria.

(11.) Tallemant des Reaux writes, "Elle fit une amitie etroite avec madame du Vigean qui alors logeoit a I'hotel de Sully, que son mari avoit achete de Gallet qui le fit batir. Madame de Pisieux demeuroit bien loin de la; apres avoir ete tout le jour ensemble, elles secrivoient le soir; et madame de Pisieux obligeoit l'autre a ne voir personne 1'apres-souper en son quartier, et cela par jalousie. Enfin madame d'Aiguillon 1'emporta sur elle" ["She had a close relationship with Madame du Vigean, who lived at the Hotel de Sully that her husband bought from Gallet who had had it built. Madame de Pisieux lived quite far from there. After spending the day together, they wrote to each other at night, and Madame de Pisieux obliged her not to see anyone in her neighborhood in the evenings, and that out of jealousy. In the end, Madame d'Aiguillon prevailed over her"] (Tallemant des Reaux 1: 295).

(12.) Tallemant des Reaux writes, "On a fait bien des medisances d'elle et de madame Du [sic] Vigean. Elles secrivoient des lettres les plus amoureuses du monde. Madame Du Vigean se jeta a corps perdu dans les bras de madame d'Aiguillon. C'eut ete une tigresse si elle l'eut rejetee. Elle a ete son intendante, sa secretaire, sa garde-malade, et a quitte son menage pour se donner entierement a elle" ["Many rumors were spread about (Madame d'Aiguillon) and Madame du Vigean. They wrote each other the most passionate letters in the world. Madame du Vigean threw herself into the arms of Madame d'Aiguillon. She would have been a tigress if she had rejected her. She was her steward, her secretary, her nurse maid, and Madame du Vigean left her household to dedicate herself completely to Madame d'Aiguillon"] (Tallemant des Reaux 2: 32).

A. Bonneau-Avenant, in his biography filled with admiration of the devout and virtuous Duchesse d'Aiguillon, also documents the devoted relationship between d'Aiguillon and Du Vigean. He downplays the passionate nature of the relationship by quoting the Jesuit Pere Rene Rapin's Memoires: "La duchesse d'Aiguillon et la marquise du Vigean ... vivaient comme deux soeurs au Petit-Luxembourg" ['"The Duchesse d'Aiguillon and the Marquise du Vigean ... lived like two sisters at the Petit-Luxembourg"] (qtd. in Bonneau-Avenant 397). On the other hand, Bonneau-Avenant also includes a quote by the poet Jean Renault de Segrais, who was apparently in love with Madame du Vigean, which refers to the love between the two women: "Suis-je libre depuis quelle a su vous charmer? / Parce que vous aimez, ai-je cesse d'aimer?" ["Am I free since she came to charm you? / Because you love, have I ceased to love?"] (qtd. in Bonneau-Avenant 365). Passionate or not, the relationship between them must have been quite intimate, since, in her will, d'Aiguillon left Du Vigean a considerable pension, and d'Aiguillon wrote in her will that she wanted to "recompenser l'affection sincere quelle m'a toujours lemoignee et dont je dois lui rendre des hommages publics" ["reward the sincere affection she has always shown me and for which I owe her a public homage"] (Bonneau-Avenant 464).

(13.) Tallemant des Reaux must have been fairly well informed about the relationships of Mesdames de Pisieux, du Vigean, and d'Aiguillon, as all four of them frequented the Hotel de Rambouillet (Craveri 62, 70-72). Julie d'Angennes, Catherine de Rambouillet's daughter, was an intimate friend of d'Aiguillon (Bonneau-Avenant 153). Tallemant was one of the contributors to the famous poetic collection in honor of Julie, the Guirlande de Julie, along with the other poets of the Hotel de Rambouillet (see Craveri 108-16).

Works Cited

Bonneau-Avenant, A. La Duchesse d'Aiguillon, niece du Cardinal de Richelieu: sa vie et ses oeuvres charitables, 1604-1675. Paris: Didier, 1879.

Chapelain, Jean. Lettres de Jean Chapelain. 2 vols. Paris: Ph. Tamizey de Larroque, 1880.

Colombani, Helene. Presentation. Les Femmes Illustres. Vol. 2. By M. de Scudery. Publifarum 2005. <>. Accessed September 30, 2007.

Craveri, Benedetta. Lage de la conversation. Trans. Eliane Deschamps-Pria. Paris: Gallimard, 2002.

DeJean, Joan. "La lettre amoureuse revue et corrigee: Un texte oublie de Madeleine de Scudery." Revue d'Histoire Litteraire de la France 88.1 (1988): 17-22.

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Du Bosc, Jacques. L'Honneste femme. Divisee en trois parties. Reveue, corrigee & augmentee en cette quatriesme edition. Paris: Chez Henri Le Gras et Michel Bobin, 1658.

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Duchene, Roger. "The Letter: Men's Genre/Women's Practice." Women Writers in Pre-Revolutionary France: Strategies of Emancipation. Ed. Colette H. Winn and Donna Kuizenga. New York: Garland, 1997. 315-34.

Fitzgerald, Colleen. "Authority in Ancien Regime France: The Understanding of Jacques du Bosc." Diss. U of Saskatchewan, 1996.

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Haroche-Bouzinac, Genevieve. "La lettre feminine dans les secretaires." Dix-Septieme Siecle 52.3 (2000): 465-84.

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Lanser, Susan S, "The Author's Queer Clothes: Anonymity, Sex(uality), and The Travels and Adventures of Mademoiselle de Richelieu." The Faces of Anonymity: Anonymous and Pseudonymous Publication from the Sixteenth to the Twentieth Century. Ed. Robert J. Griffin. London: Palgrave, 2003. 81-102.

Lougee, Carolyn. Le Paradis des femmes: Women, Salons, and Social Stratification in Seventeenth-Century France. New Jersey: Princeton UP, 1976.

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--, and Georges de Scudery. Lettres amoureuses de divers autheurs de ce temps. Paris: Augustin Courbe, 1641.

Tallemant de Reaux, [Gedeon]. Les Historiettes de Tallemant de Reaux. Memoires pour servir a l'Histoire du XVIIe siecle. 6 vols. Ed. MM. Monmerque, de Chateaugiron, Taschereau. Paris: Alphonse Levavasseur, 1834.

Timmermans, Linda. L'acces des femmes a la culture sous l'ancien regime. Paris: Honore Champion, 2005.

Traub, Valerie. The Renaissance of Lesbianism in Early Modern England. Cambridge: Cambridge UP, 2002.

Aurora Wolfgang


Sharon Diane Nell

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