||Gordon 1556 .L25
on the call number to view the digital facsimile of
Euvres de Louize Labe Lionnoize,
Reuues & corrigees par ladite dame.
A Lion: Par Ian de Tournes, 1556.
Nicknamed “La belle cordière” (The beautiful
ropemaker), Louise Labé was the daughter and wife
of ropemakers in the city of Lyon. She received an extensive
education in the classics and Italian humanism, unusual
for women in her day. In 1555, the noted Lyon printer, Jean
de Tournes, published the first edition of her Oeuvres.
The Gordon Collection copy is from an edition published
by the same printer one year later, “Reuues &
corrigees par ladite dame.” This book’s title
page is a wonderful example of the elegant typographical
elements employed by Jean de Tournes, from the ornate arabesque
border to the refined roman and italic typefaces.
In her dedicatory epistle to a friend, Clémence
de Bourges, Louise Labé exhorts women to raise
their gazes above their spindles and distaffs, to
pursue and value knowledge and its rewards rather
than jewelry and expensive clothes, and to pick up
their pens to put their thoughts in writing (“mettons
par escrit nos conceptions”).
The Debat de la folie et de l’amour opens
with a quarrel between Love and Folly, who have both
arrived at the palace gates for a feast of the Gods,
convened by Jupiter. In the struggle over who will
enter first, Folly blinds (and blindfolds) Love. Jupiter
calls on Apollo and Mercury to debate the merits of
each party in the conflict. Apollo presents Love’s
defense, Mercury defends Folly, and their prose speeches
represent most of the work. In the end, Jupiter defers
his judgement of the difficult case for many centuries,
and declares that Love and Folly will have to get
along together. Labé transforms the medieval
forms of debate and allegory to present a learned,
yet lively and light-hearted treatment of two popular
Renaissance topics, the defense of love and the praise
24 love sonnets (the first one in Italian)
follow three verse elegies on the effects of passionate
love. Modern readers of Louise Labé know her
best for the sonnets, inspired by Petrarchan tradition
and successfully evoking intense feelings of passion
and of the suffering caused by love not returned.
Her use of Petrarchan elements (the lute motif, the
themes of night, solitude, death, and the distance
separating lover and beloved, for example), as well
her particular use of sonnet structure and rhetorical
forms, combine to convey the tumultuous effects of
love through the suffering voice of the lyric “I”.
Even in the relatively favorable intellectual climate of
mid-sixteenth century Lyon, in which Labé is inspired
to explore and transform literary tradition and to preface
her works with an assertive call for women’s education,
the very act of writing and publishing a work of poetry
about passion nonetheless meant exposure to censure and
questions about her womanly virtue. Early critics read the
expression of passion and sensuality in her poetry in strictly
autobiographical terms and often painted a scandalous picture
of the poet as a licentious woman. The 1585
account of Louise Labe in Antoine du Verdier’s Bibliothèque
undoubtedly contributed to the myth of the poet as
a “courtisanne” of great learning and loose
morals that resurfaced in studies of her work in the ensuing
centuries. More recently, scholars and critics have focused
on analysis of and appreciation of the poet’s art
and her use of patriarchal literary traditions to create
a unique and captivating poetic voice. (See the short list
of references below.)
Louise Labé was a key figure in the group of poets
writing in mid-century Lyon, later referred to as the “Ecole
de Lyon,” and including Maurice
Scève, Pernette du Guillet and Pontus
de Tyard. Their adoption of Italian models and poetic structures,
their erudition (all were well-versed in the classics and
Italian), and their judicious use of classical mythology
combine to create a new style of French poetry, distinctly
different from the works of the earlier Rhétoriqueurs
and Marot, that raised the status of love
poetry and of poets in France, and paved the way for the
poets of the Pléïade.
Further reading (recent editions and references):
Labé, Louise. Oeuvres complète:
sonnets, élégies, débat de
folie et d'amour, poésies. Ed. François
Rigolot. Paris: Flammarion, 1986.
Bourbon, Anne-Marie. Debate of Folly and Love:
A New English Translation with the Original French
Text. (History & Language. 8.) New York,
NY: Peter Lang, 2000.
Baker, Deborah Lesko. The subject of desire
: Petrarchan poetics and the female voice in Louise
Labé. Foreword by Tom Conley. West Lafayette,
Ind.:Purdue University Press, 1996.
Rigolot, François. Louise Labé
Lionnaise, ou, la Renaissance au féminin.
Paris: Champion, 1997.
Transcription of the 1555 Euvres de Louise Labé on the Epistemon website: http://www.cesr.univ-tours.fr/Epistemon/index.htm
Sonnets de Louise Labé (site de l'Académie de Lyon).
The site provides black and white images of the sonnets, a transcription
of the originals, and the translation into modern French. There are
also bibliographies for studies of Louise Labé and related topics,
a timeline of her life, and a transcription of her 1565 testament.
Oeuvres de Louise Labé : an electronic transcription. Prepared
by The Early Modern French Women Writers Project. Text based
on the 1924 edition of Labé's Euvres ,
edited by Joseph Aynard in the collection, LES POËTES LYONNAIS:
Précurseurs de la Pléiade . (Éditions Bossard,
Paris, 924, pp. 155 - 284.)
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