In 2011, I had the good fortune to spend an extended period of time in Occitania, working on my own research and meeting a good number of scholars. This sojourn was very productive; it also served to make me aware of how much research was being conducted in Europe on Occitan literature written after the medieval period.
Given my bibliographic experience, I should not have been surprised. I had found 485 entries by primary authors or literary critics of the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries, published between 1977-2007 in my bibliography of Occitan literary scholarship for that period. Nonetheless, I was struck by how much activity was being devoted to these centuries in European Occitan studies. In North America, I had seen nothing comparable.
I took advantage of my position as editor to invite a select group of individuals to contribute to this special issue of Tenso, devoted to the literature of the Occitan Renaissance and specifically to poet Bellaud de la Bellaudière. Each individual was chosen for a specific reason and each contributes his/her own ideas to this common discussion of a period not well-known even to many Tenso readers.
Louis Bellaud de la Bellaudière was born in Grasse, during the second quarter of the sixteenth century.1 He had a joyous youth in Provence before embarking on adventure; between 1561 and 1572, we have no trace of him. He reappears, however, in 1572, when he was in Bordeaux, hoping to join the French fleet heading to fight the Spanish. That naval expedition was abandoned, and Louis attempted to return to Provence. 1572 was the year of the St Bartholemew massacre and the direct route home (the Garonne valley) was blocked by the Protestants, so the poet took a northern detour and was arrested en route. By the end of the year, he was in prison in Moulins, where he would stay for about eighteen months. We do not know the reasons for his arrest, but we do know that only the king could free him, so Bellaud encouraged his friends and relations to appeal on his behalf to Paris. [End Page 1]
During this prison stay, Bellaud composed a good deal of poetry, much of it published after his death. Once released from prison in 1574, he returned to Aix-en-Provence where he found an protector in Henry of Angoulême, who was killed in 1586. Without a patron, Bellaud retired and died shortly later. After the poet’s death in 1588, Pierre Paul, himself an Occitan author, published the complete works of Bellaud de la Bellaudière in several volumes, notably the Sonnets et autres rimes de la prison (1595), le Dondon infernal (first extant edition 1588)2 and Lous Passatens (1595).
Some call Bellaud de la Bellaudière the heir of the troubadours and the precursor of the Félibres; such a description limits the poet to the world of Occitan. His prison poetry compares favorably to that of Villon, as well as to that of more recent authors. His vision of Provence and his use of language put him firmly in the Renaissance world of copia, of linguistic exploration and discovery. I find it remarkable that his prison poetry was composed in Occitan, when the prison and certainly his jailors were in a French-speaking region—we may have an early example of linguistic defiance.
In celebration of this Renaissance lyricist, Tenso is pleased to participate in the rebirth of interest in Bellaud. The first essay is by Jean-François Courouau, whose books and articles on Renaisssance Occitan literature are obligatory reading for those who seek to understand the period and its authors. In 2011, Courouau was lecturing at the Université de Toulouse-Le Mirail on Renaissance authors; I knew vaguely that he was working on another book (which has just appeared) and that his interest in Renaissance authors was perhaps unquenchable. It was imperative that he contribute an essay to this collection, an analysis of the self in Bellaud’s sonnets and how the poet presents and hides himself behind the subject pronoun.
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