- Writing/Creating in the Feminine in Early Modern France:Recent Initiatives to Uncover the Past
In spring 1990, L'Esprit Créateur published a special issue by guest editor François Rigolot titled "Writing in the Feminine in the Renaissance / Écrire au féminin à la Renaissance." In his introductory essay, Rigolot describes how the prevailing critical interest in women's studies led scholars in the 1970s and 1980s to rediscover, edit, and interpret forgotten women writers, and to reread with new lenses the canonical works marked by femininity. Some three decades after this seminal issue, scholars of early modern French women continue to rediscover, edit, and interpret women's texts and productions, as well as contextualize them alongside canonical male works. But they are also probing new critical approaches. In 2017, at a colloquium in memory of Isidore Silver held at Washington University in St. Louis, scholars from the US and Canada addressed the present state of studies on early modern French women. Two overarching themes emerged from the papers and corresponding discussions, which contributors to the present issue pursue here.
The first of these themes involves how one can best evaluate and appreciate their singularity without projecting onto them an anachronistic ideology. What 'new' approaches can one adopt that respect their historicity, contexts, and poetics? Nancy Frelick uses the psychoanalytic concept of transference here, reminding us of the temptation all readers face to project their readerly desire(s) onto the text to reconstitute and appropriate it. She examines two interpretive readings of transference concerning the uncertain case of Louise Labé for whom few biographical data are extant, the first in Fernand Zamaron's Louise Labé, dame de franchise, and the second in Mireille Huchon's Louise Labé, une créature de papier.1 Zamaron, a retired police detective, reconstructs Labé's story by mixing fact and fantasy with a liberal dose of emotional involvement for a subject with whom he has quite literally fallen in love. Unaware of his romantic projections of transference, he attempts to rescue his love object from misogynistic detractors and mythologizers. While he seems reasonably historical in some of his assessments, his take is necessarily 'flawed' in his overlooking his own blind spots. Huchon's 'detective' investigation leads her, however, in the opposite direction. In her view, not [End Page 1] only were Labé and her contemporary Lyonnais peer, Pernette du Guillet, "straw women" whose historicity is not in question but about whom one could conjure up just about anything, but their writings were the product of a collaborative literary hoax by a group of Lyonnais male poets led by Maurice Scève. Unlike Zamaron who attempts to debunk the misogynistic claims of Labé's detractors, Huchon lends credence to them by adopting a rhetorical strategy of "overdetermination." Her erudition, argues Frelick, is a kind of smoke screen intended to distract readers from the paucity of evidence. Huchon's Labé is a "wax dummy fashioned by the phantasms of each era" minus the awareness of transference. Frelick leaves us with a well-posed question: "Is every reading equally valid?"
For Kendall Tarte, Huchon's very resistance to the biographical narrative of a woman writer's life and œuvre presents a new, refreshing, and unexplored opportunity to rethink the function of female authorship. What if we were to separate the historical figure from her production in order to reconceive authorial creative impulses in new contexts? Indeed, in a discusson of Labé, Leah Chang provocatively queries: "Does one have to be a writer in order to be an author?"2 Apparently not in the case of Labé and Hélisenne de Crenne whom Chang analyses as productions of printers interested primarily in the commercial novelty and effect of female authorial figures. This is less the case for Madeleine and Catherine des Roches, mère et fille, whom Tarte reexamines, asking how we can read them anew in the twenty-first century. As writers and salonnières who controlled their literary production by strategizing both their mother-daughter collaboration and Catherine's non-negotiable chastity and refusal to marry, the Des Roches boldly affirmed their authorial identity. But if examined...