- Debate of the "Romance of the Rose." The Other Voice in Early Modern Europe
David F. Hult's Debate of the "Romance of the Rose" offers specialists and non-specialists alike a remarkably erudite, yet accessible, compilation of the documents comprising "France's first literary debate" (18). Hult's book focuses on the person responsible for launching the debate of the Romance of the Rose, Christine de Pizan. Hult presents Christine and her participation in the debate soberly and justly, beginning with his introductory statement that she "is far from being the first female author in the French literary tradition" (1). He underscores her accomplishments as a writer, the notable fact that she participated in overseeing the production of her manuscripts, and her active role in the debate, yet he does not attempt to present her in an overly proto-feminist light. Hult warns against a reductionist reading of Christine's criticisms of the Rose, carefully noting that they align more so with Christian moral code rather than exclusively the defense of women. As Hult frames the debate, Christine's epistolary response to Jean de Montreuil's panegyric on the Rose and its second author Jean de Meun was its catalyst. Despite the fact that this addressee apparently did not respond to her, Christine made what Hult terms an "extraordinary gesture" not only in compiling the debate documents, but especially in doing so in such a way as to foreground her own contributions, according these privileged positions at the center and end of the collection (13).
Hult's Debate appears as part of the series The Other Voice in Early Modern Europe, edited by Margaret L. King and Albert Rabil Jr. An introduction by the editors is included at the beginning of each volume in the series and offers a compendious overview of issues and contexts related to the concept of the other voice in the period ranging from 1300 to 1700. It treats a variety of disciplines, including medical, philosophical, theological, intellectual, and literary, as well as several proto-national traditions of Western Europe and beyond. Importantly, this introduction traces the early-modern tendencies back to their classical roots. Although it does include somewhat misleading dating for the Romance of the Rose, which does not coincide with the dates used by Hult in his own introduction, it successfully provides [End Page 265] the background knowledge necessary to understand the present volume in terms of its medieval specificity and its place within broader paradigms. Most usefully for non-specialist readers, the introduction concludes with a good summary of its main points.
The introduction by David Hult further contextualizes Christine's work, her place among other writers, and her role in the Rose debate. According to Hult, what most distinguishes Christine from the other medieval women writers of French literature, and which also constitutes the crux of the importance of the debate, is "her adamant staking out of a position as a woman in the male-dominated world of letters" (1). As Hult demonstrates, Christine created for herself, both in the Rose debate and in her literary corpus, an active speaking role that stood in sharp contrast to the passive position of object to which women were relegated by the male-dominated scholarly tradition. It is thus that Hult establishes the correlation between his study and the "other voice" theme of the series.
Hult's introduction goes on to expound his interpretation of the debate and Christine's role therein. He rightly stresses that Christine's positioning and self-representation as author are extremely complex, subtle, and shifting throughout her corpus as well as within the debate documents. The introduction also features a biography of Christine's life and useful historical background on the period leading up to and during which she lived and wrote. Hult notes an interesting relationship between the particularly grim realities of life in the late fourteenth through early fifteenth centuries and a world of the imagination, which includes literary works and their corollary...