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Reviewed by:
  • Louise Labé, une créature de papier
  • Keith Cameron
Louise Labé, une créature de papier. By Mireille Huchon. (Titre courant, 34). Geneva, Droz, 2006. 484 pp. Pb €22.00.

Mireille Hichon has produced a fascinating study of the authorship of the Euvres de Louïze Labé Lionnoize. With great erudition, she takes us step by step through the texts and proposes answers to many of the questions readers of the work have raised concerning their authenticity. Her conclusion is that, although Louise Labé [End Page 72] existed, the literary production attributed to her is not of her making but the result of a literary hoax, published by Jean de Tournes, 'par des auteurs pour la plupart très liés aux réalisations de cet imprimeur' (p. 272), the main authors, in her view, being Claude de Taillemont, Maurice Scève and Olivier de Magny. Huchon's reasons for her arguments are carefully presented and the process of demystification takes us deep into the literary society of Lyons in the 1540s and 1550s. The value of her research is incontestable for the light it throws on literary production, creative practices and the transmission of ideas. With the skill of an experienced detective, she highlights the irony of a 'dédicace' to an innocent young woman by an established courtesan, the indications that the 'Débat de Folie et d'Amour' was penned by Scève, how the supporting poems are often 'tweaked' versions of verses written by their authors for others, etc. Although the case for the prosecution is argued with brio and with a wealth of supporting information, there is still a case for a 'hung jury'. For Huchon, 'les Euvres de Louïze Labé Lionnoize sont un laboratoire, oùs'élabore, en ce milieu du siècle si riche en expérimentations formelles, un véritable art poétique, avec des jeux très subtils, parodiques. C'est un texte artificiel, bien éloigné de ces accents de sincé rité et d'authenticité absolue que l'on a cru y lire' (p. 274). And yet, the case is based mostly on strong, often persuasive, arguments of probability, there being no actual hard facts to disprove Louise Labé's authorship of the poems. Even if the claims are not totally proven, Huchon has opened up a debate in such a scholarly fashion that others will no doubt follow in her footsteps and try to find such proof. As one would expect, the dethroning of an author, admired for her feminism, who was on the programme of the 'agrégation' in 2005 and about whom countless studies have appeared, has attracted great attention. Some of the reactions can be seen on the site of the 'Société Internationale pour l'Étude des Femmes de l'Ancien Régime', The extensive study is followed by facsimiles of the 1555 edition of the Euvres, the first version of the 'dédicace' of the same year and Jacques Peletier du Mans's ode to Louise Labé, in L'Art poétique of 1555. This is an outstanding book and one which should be read because of its valuable contribution to our knowledge of literary activity in mid-sixteenth century Lyons and because of its research methodology. [End Page 73]

Keith Cameron


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