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  • Le Chant de la douleur dans les poésies de Christine de Pizan: Essai
  • Stephanie L. Hathaway
Kosta-Théfaine, Jean-François, Le Chant de la douleur dans les poésies de Christine de Pizan: Essai (Collections ‘Le tunnel de Platon’), Nantes, Éditions du Petit Véhicule, 2007; pp. 158; paperback; R.R.P. €16.00; ISBN 9782842735715.

This short volume focuses on the motif of grief and suffering in select lyric poems of Christine de Pizan, posing several new approaches to the theme and texts. Kosta-Théfaine’s book consists of essentially three essays that explore [End Page 210] the expression of grief and suffering in the courtly idiom, suggesting a less gender-oriented reading, as well as a renewal of courtly themes in Christine’s novel expression. The reader is well served by ample textual passages and a selection of the poems is included in the appendices.

The first section suggests grouping the selected ballades, rondeaux and virelais according to theme, not form. Kosta-Théfaine outlines that those poems he has chosen for this study, though they were not all written at the same time, are concerned with the feelings of grief and sorrow, deuil and douleur. In his brief survey, he asserts that lyric helps Christine overcome her loss, just as it does for the general grief felt over the loss of figures in the community, in that literature is seen as internally purifying. The following section deals with the oscillation between lamentation lyric and courtly lyric, and Kosta-Théfaine touches, albeit not always convincingly, on what he sees as French patriotism in the form of courtly verse as a vehicle for the expression of grief and lament. The final section looks cleverly at the courtly elements of this lyric poetry, suggesting both historical and contemporary perspectives in reading.

Kosta-Théfaine identifies the elements in Christine’s poems that correspond to the courtly themes of the twelfth- and thirteenth-century troubadours, such as the lover admiring his lady from afar, and the necessity of the lover to paint himself as inferior in order to describe his lady as both superior and unique. Here the interesting point is made that, while traditional courtly lyric expressed the lamentation in the masculine voice, Christine’s not only expresses the lamenting of the lady in the act of love, but also that the masculine and feminine voices seem to be interchangeable. The conclusion is that there is no pleasure in love, but only suffering, and that as the masculine and feminine voices appear interchangeable, both the lady and the lover suffer equally and death is the only release.

Comparisons are made to other poets such as Ovid and Machaut throughout, as well as engagement with secondary literature, but in some sections the reader would certainly benefit from more thorough commentary. On the whole, however, this is a valuable survey of a theme that contributes to the study of Christine’s works and life, as well as interpretation of medieval French poetry and medieval courtly poetry in general. [End Page 211]

Stephanie L. Hathaway
Departments of French and Germanic Studies
University of Sydney


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