- Complete Poetry and Prose: A Bilingual Edition, and: From Mother to Daughter: Poems, Dialogues, and Letters of Les Dames des Roches
The Other Voice series, edited by Margaret King and Albert Rabil, and printed by The University of Chicago Press, has been publishing translations (and in some cases dual-language editions) of early modern European women writers for around ten years. During this time the size and scope of the series has grown from a modest list of mostly Italian Renaissance women writers, and an overall series bibliography of around six pages, to a much larger and varied list, including Spanish, German, and French authors, and extending into the seventeenth century. The "Series Editors' Bibliography" now extends to sixteen pages, and the volume editors generally add their own lists of eight or nine pages. Clearly this series is doing something right, and is meeting a need for English translations of fairly little-known works by early modern European women writers, which may have been previously hard to find even in their original languages.
Two of the most recent additions to the series are Deborah Lesko Baker and Annie Finch's bilingual edition of the complete poetry and prose of Louise Labé (1520-66) and Anne Larsen's edition and translation of selected works by Madeleine (1520-87) and Catherine (1542-87) des Roches. Louise Labé has been fairly well known as a contemporary of Maurice Scève and member of the Lyon group of Italianate poets in the first half of the sixteenth century. Her life has inspired much speculation, from Calvin's calling her a prostitute to the most recent theory that she did not actually write the works attributed to her (Huchon, 2006). The mother and daughter Dames des Roches, from Poitiers, have been less well-known except for the famous series of comical poems, by a variety of male authors, celebrating the flea which alighted on Catherine's bosom in 1579. The [End Page 1232] Des Roches have become much better-known since Anne Larsen's editions of their works with Droz, in 1993 (Les Oeuvres of 1579), 1998 (Les Secondes Oeuvres of 1583), and 1999 (Les Missives of 1586).
Deborah Lesko Baker's translation and edition of the complete poetry and prose of Louise Labé (1555) should be read in tandem with Lesko Baker's earlier book on Labé, The Subject of Desire (Purdue University Press, 1996), recently reprinted in paperback (2004). Clearly, Lesko Baker was the right person to edit this volume. She has written introductions to the "Dedicatory Letter," "Debate of Folly and Love," "Elegies," and "Sonnets," and has translated the prose works ("Letter" and "Debate") into English; while the poet-translator Annie Finch has translated the poetry ("Elegies" and "Sonnets"). As in her earlier work, we see Lesko Baker's special contribution to Labé studies in the elucidation of the difficult prose works; and she has once again demonstrated her skill in textual analysis. But now she also moves on to a more evaluative mode, assessing the important place of Labé in the canon of early modern women writers. The extensive bibliography to this book shows that Lesko Baker has mastered the critical works in English and French on Labé, as well as on Renaissance humanism, feminism, Petrarch, and on French Renaissance poetry in general.
The entire Labé volume is dual-language, with English and French on facing pages. Lesko Baker is painstaking in her translations, and frequently compares her own word-choice with that of earlier translators, explaining her rationale in footnotes. Even for a reader already familiar with these works in their original sixteenth-century French, the clarification...