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Reviewed by:
  • Louise Labé: Une créature de papier.
  • Anne-Marie Bourbon
Mireille Huchon . Louise Labé: Une créature de papier. Titre courant 34. Geneva: Librairie Droz S. A., 2006. 484 pp. index. append. illus. €22. ISBN: 2-600-00534-X.

Mireille Huchon, a serious specialist in sixteenth-century French literature, has just published her very intriguing and well-researched Louise Labé: Une créature de papier. This book, whose subtitle immediately arouses the curiosity of Labé's critics, casts doubt on the very existence of Louise Labé as a writer. By comparing texts and illustrations of that period, Huchon quite convincingly demonstrates that Labé's works amount to a literary hoax perpetrated by a group of male poets based in Lyon.

After a short introduction in which Labé is called "a mystery," mid-sixteenth-century Lyon is amply depicted, with all its magnificence, proclivity for festivities, and "poetic frenzy." Huchon describes the remarkable literary explosion which took place there in the 1540s. She also deals with three women, Louise Labé, Pernette Du Guillet, and Jeanne de Flore — whose name, it is suggested, could be a feminine pseudonym of Jehan de Flores. To the author, it remains obscure what relationship these women, considered the most important lyonnaises women writers, had with other poets. These "pseudo-writers" are cited as examples to query the "authenticity of a lyonnaise feminine writing" (69), with Maurice Scève as a central figure. Based on these premises, the assumption of a literary hoax is quite plausible to Huchon.

The second part of the book focuses on the many facets of Louise Labé. It is [End Page 1230] well known that autobiographic details on Labé are slim. The Œuvres, printed in 1555, then reprinted in 1556, were effectively ignored for two centuries until they were reprinted again in 1762 in Lyon. This, of course, adds to Labé's mystery. To Huchon, she is a "wax doll" molded by the imagination of critics and poets who wrote about her throughout the centuries. During the Renaissance, poets were fascinated by the works of the Greek poetess Sappho, and the ode in Greek which opens the Escriz de divers Poëtes in the Œuvres likens Louise Labé to a "new Sappho." Moreover, among Pierre Woeiriot's portraits of Louise Labé reprinted in this edition, the second portrait depicts Louise as a Laïs Lyonnaise: a Lyonnaise courtesan, equated with Medusa. Louise remains a legend and a paradox: is la Belle Cordière simply a beautiful courtesan who was fabricated as an author? Why this mystification?

As suggested by Clément Marot in 1542, was there a project to louer Louise (praise Louise)? Was this a scheme, in the eyes of the participants, to rival Petrarch's laudare Laure? Huchon's well-researched arguments are insightful. She analyzes and compares literary texts and demonstrates how they were manipulated, imitated, and plagiarized. They were also filled with mythological travesty, paradox, and ambiguity — all favorite literary devices used by writers of the times.

Huchon brings her book to a close with a convincing conclusion: a group of male poets contributed their writings to create the Œuvres de Louïze Labé Lionnoize, under the orchestration of Maurice Scève. Two critics, Verdun Louis Saulnier in 1948 and Keith Cameron in 1990, had earlier put into question the authenticity of the Œuvres. The Débat de Folie et d'Amour, in particular, was most likely written by Scève with the contribution of Claude de Taillemont. As early as 1584, Pierre de Saint-Julien wrote that in the Débat can be detected the "erudite bawdiness of Maurice Scève." As for the Escriz de divers Poëtes, à la louange de Louïse Labé Lionnoize, they comprise twenty-four poems, principally by anonymous writers who appear to have disguised their real identities behind masks made of anagrams, plays on words, or simple initials. Poets such as Jean-Antoine de Baïf, Olivier de Magny, Guillaume Aubert, and Charles Fontaine, among others, played a significant role in the composition of the Œuvres, which were edited by Jean de Tournes, then the most important editor in Lyon. Therefore, according to Huchon, the whole volume amounts to...


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