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Erudition and Aphasia in Hélisenne de Crenne’s Les Angoysses douloureuses qui procèdent d’amours Jean-Philippe Beaulieu T HE FIRST FRENCH NOVEL written by a woman, LesAngoysses douloureuses qui procèdent d’amours, composed by Marguerite Briet and published for the first time in 1538 under the nom de plume of Hélisenne de Crenne, displays a potentially interesting textual phenomenon: in the first part of the novel, the narrator and the heroine are identified as one and the same person. In the narrative, Hélisenne places herselfboth as the speaking persona (lesujetparlant) and the sub­ ject matter of writing (l’objet d’écriture), telling in the first person of the unfortunate experiences she had when she became involved in an adulter­ ous relationship. In this early novel often described as autobiographical,1 the first third of the narrative superimposes two textual identities which have very different verbal characteristics: as a narrator, Hélisenne does prove to be erudite while as a character she is episodically aphasiac, that is, speechless. It is this dissociation narrator/heroine—corresponding to the opposition erudition/aphasia—that will be presented here as the textual transposition of the contradictions experienced by a French woman of the early sixteenth century, as far as access to social expres­ sion is concerned. In such a perspective, the contrast between the charac­ ter’s speechlessness and the narrator’s mastery of language illustrates the near impossibility for an educated woman of that time to make herself heard on social matters: therefore, the narrator has recourse to writing by way of compensation for an insolvable conflictual situation in the character’s vécu. Examination of the text shows that this kind of conflict is repeatedly resolved in such compensatory self-expression. As a narrator, Hélisenne’s purpose is to inform her women readers— the book is indeed dedicated to women—about her personal experience which proves, she claims, that it is preferable to avoid “l’amour sen­ suel,” source of psychological, marital and social difficulties. In the first part of Les Angoysses, Hélisenne explains the different steps of a per­ sonal and dramatic love affair which she presents for the edification of the reader and especially so that the “honnestes Dames” will avoid “toute vaine et impudicque amour.” 2During this narrative, Hélisenne 36 Fa ll 1989 Beaulieu shows her considerable erudition, on the one hand, in the many intertextual references and, on the other, in the rhetorical and stylistic devices that she uses. Intertextuality is the functional dimension through which the text is articulated and characterized in relation to previous texts. This dimen­ sion is rather important in the first part of Les Angoysses where the influence of identifiable Italian and French texts is manifest. After hav­ ing studied the nature and importance of these influences, Paule Demats asserts: “La part de l’imitation dans Les Angoysses apparaît (lonc con­ sidérable [...]” (Demats, p. xxiii). The imitation alluded to is La Com­ plainte des tristes amours de Flamette by Boccaccio, Le Pérégrin by Caviceo,3to which we must add Les Illustrationsde Gaule et Singularitez de Troie by Lemaire de Belges, Jehan de Saintré and even Le Roman de la Rose (Demats, p. xx). The influence of these works, however, is felt more on the level of expression than that of the action. For Hélisenne mainly uses mythological examples, images and quotations for the most part from the sources that have just been mentioned, and she borrows very few elements pertaining to their narrative and didactic organization (Demats, p. xxiii). The literal borrowings from the French translations of Boccaccio and Caviceo, respectively published in 1532 and 1527, are numerous. In fact, Demats identified more than 250 quotations of dif­ ferent length coming from the writings of the two Italians, Lemaire de Belges, Ovid and Virgil (Demats, pp. 104-24). This impressive number of borrowings imply the meticulous work of inserting the quoted sentences in the appropriate original contexts. Such a combination of new material and literary influences on the narrative expression level can be inter­ preted in several ways: one could simply reproach the author for pla­ giarizing; some others could...


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