- Sin and Salvation in Early Modern France: Three Women's Stories by Marguerite d'Auge, Renée Burlamacchi
Sin and Salvation in Early Modern France: Three Women's Stories, translated by Nicholas van Handel and Colette H. Winn, is a welcome addition to The Other Voice in Early Modern Europe series, offering vivid glimpses of the lives of three very different women of the merchant and professional classes in early modern France. While sin and salvation are indeed important themes, the texts are particularly valuable for the insights they offer into early modern families and the roles of women therein.
Renée Burlamacchi's Memoirs Concerning Her Father's Family (1623) and Jeanne du Laurens's The Genealogy of the du Laurens (1631) are nicely matched accounts by proud daughters of their birth families. Burlamacchi's family were Protestants from Lucca, Italy, and her Memoirs Concerning Her Father's Family recount their journey, led by her father Michele, into exile in France and from one refuge to another (Paris, Montargis, Sedan) to escape persecution. They eventually arrived in Geneva, where they joined a community of Italian Protestant exiles. Jeanne du Laurens's family were Catholic, based in Arles, France. Laurens's story centers on the valiant and remarkably successful efforts of her widowed mother, Louise, to arrange for the proper education and placement of her many children, especially her sons.
In both accounts, God plays a central role. For Burlamacchi, a Calvinist, hardships were signs that God was testing the elect, and triumphs revealed that God's grace was upholding them, even when using Catholics such as the Duke de Guise to ensure their safety. For the Catholic Laurens, faith in God was accompanied by the use of God-given talents to achieve success. Laurens and her mother were proud that four of her nine brothers became either priests or monks. Both Burlamacchi's and Laurens's works remained in manuscript, appropriately since they were intended as memorials and advice for their immediate families.
Marguerite d'Auge's Pitiful and Macabre Regrets (1600) is the anomaly here. Like the other two, it focuses on a family but, in this case, a fatally dysfunctional one. Published as a broadsheet, Pitiful and Macabre Regrets claims to report the words of repentance spoken by d'Auge, a notorious adulteress who plotted with her lover to murder her husband and was condemned to death. The case was infamous, with court records and another account also available, and the broadsheet is clearly written to [End Page 197] sell to a public eager for a vivid account of violence and passion. It is not actually clear whose voice is recorded in the broadsheet; are the words really d'Auge's or are they attributed to her by an anonymous male author? Much of the rhetoric echoes attacks on women surrounding the querelle des femmes (the woman question). The image of d'Auge, as Winn points out, reflects contemporary depictions of the penitent harlot. The lady does indeed protest too much and in too much gory detail, urging other young women to eschew her example. Yet the language of Pitiful and Macabre Regrets does echo d'Auge's own plea as recorded in her trial account, a plea no doubt crafted to win the pity of her judges.
All three texts are translated from recent editions of the originals.1 For d'Auge and Laurens, there exists only one original version. For Burlamacchi, the choice of a base text is more complicated. Two manuscripts written in Italian by the author survive, as well as three translations into French. Van Handel and Winn have chosen one of the French translations as their base text rather than one of the original Italian ones; the reasons for this choice and the...