Lynn Ramey

title.none: Richards, ed., Christine de Pizan and Medieval French Lyric (Lynn Ramey)

identifier.other: baj9928.0108.004 01.08.04

identifier.issn: 1096-746X

description.statementofresponsibility: Lynn Ramey, University of Montevallo,

publisher.none: .

date.issued: 2001

identifier.citation: Richards, Earl Jeffrey. Christine de Pizan and Medieval French Lyric. Gainsville, FL: University of Florida Press, 1998. Pp. x, 241. $55.00. ISBN: 0-813-01618-5.

type.none: Review

relation.ispartof: The Medieval Review

The Medieval Review 01.08.04

Richards, Earl Jeffrey. Christine de Pizan and Medieval French Lyric. Gainsville, FL: University of Florida Press, 1998. Pp. x, 241. $55.00. ISBN: 0-813-01618-5.

Reviewed by:

Lynn Ramey
University of Montevallo

In his introduction to Christine de Pizan and Medieval French Lyric, Earl Jeffrey Richards rightly points out that recent Christine de Pizan studies have neglected her work with lyric in order to highlight the prose writings that have come to define her as political thinker and feminist. This volume of nine essays by established Christine scholars attempts to redirect the focus of Christine studies, returning to an examination of her impact on French lyric. Unlike the earliest studies of Christine's lyric work, however, these essays contextualize her lyric, seeking "whether there is a correlation between Christine's formal freedom as a lyric poet and the way in which she addressed the questions of authority, experience, and women's place in 'the field of letters.'" (2)

The book is divided into four sections, treating the themes of generic transformation, the relationship between lyric and narrative, self-representation, and Christine as social critic. Not to be overlooked, however, is Richards' substantial introduction to the volume, which makes a significant contribution on its own. Richards sketches a brief history of Christine's relationship to lyric and shows how she has been read (and sometimes mis-read) by modern scholars. This introduction not only lays out the plan for the volume, it gives readers who might not be familiar with the history of French lyric a way to understand the importance of Christine's work. This essay alone would make an excellent handout for a course dealing with Christine as poet.

William Paden's chapter "Christine de Pizan and the Transformation of Late Medieval Lyrical Genres" stands alone in the section on generic transformation. While all of the other essays could arguably be said to address the question of Christine's relationship to established generic convention, Paden focuses adeptly and precisely on genre. He questions the received notion that medieval lyric was composed of fixed forms by showing the extent to which Christine innovates in her own lyric. While providing an essential view of Christine's importance to French lyric, the essay makes larger claims about the dynamic nature of Middle French lyric. Paden's mastery of lyric scholarship and his painstaking structural analysis of Christine's poetic output both prove his point and provide excellent reference material for future work on generic conventions of Middle French lyric.

The next section, treating the relationship between Christine's lyric and narrative production, contains essays by James C. Laidlaw, Barbara K. Altmann, and co-authors Judith Laird and Earl Jeffrey Richards. Laidlaw's work on Christine's Cent Balades furthers Paden's work by investigating the form of the ballads, and in particular their order and relationship to each other, in Christine's collection. He demonstrates how Christine plays with generic convention, creating from a series of ballads a narrative that challenges the male-centered narrative that audiences would have expected. According to Laidlaw, Christine uses her pen to encourage spiritual love, rather than the earthly variety advanced by "knightly authors".

Altmann moves her focus farther out, looking at order within Christine's lifetime of lyric work. She sees Christine's final lyric poem in her presentation copy of her works as particularly significant. Altmann reads this last poem, the Lay de Dame, as a commentary on and conclusion to the Cent ballades d'Amant et de Dame. For Altmann, this lay, in which a woman dying from the result of her misguided love curses the god of love, serves as a final viewpoint that the author wishes to leave with her audience.

Laird and Richards team up to look at the question of voice in the Livre du Duc des vrais amans. They find that Christine employs a series of dialogues in this work to give voice to many points of view. Laird and Richards illustrate through Christine's use of rhetorical strategy that she identifies herself with a certain character in the text. By analyzing the words of this character, Sebille, Laird and Richards note a condemnation of courtly society on the part of Christine. Since Sebille is a character located within the courtly world, Christine's appropriation of her voice to criticize courtly culture is particularly effective.

Section three looks at Christine's view of herself in essays by Nadia Margolis, Lori Walters, and Christine McWebb. Margolis finds that Christine masterfully uses rhetorical devices to imitate various masculine modes of discourse. By appropriating other voices, namely courtly and clerkly, Christine steps outside of expected female discourse and claims authority in spheres normally reserved for men.

Walters returns Christine to her Italian roots, showing that Christine positions herself as uniquely capable of bearing the torch of translatio studii because of the chain of connections relating her to Petrarch, Cicero and Plato (and others). By giving herself such authority, Walters claims, Christine makes her readers take note of her ideas on politics and society.

McWebb compares female speaking voices in Cent ballades d'Amant et de Dame and Jean Froissart's Ballades et rondeaux. McWebb finds Christine's lady to be active in contrast to Froissart's passive female. When the woman of the Lay de Dame dies, McWebb reads that as Christine's indictment of traditional courtly code, which does not portray the final outcome of courtly love for women. By lending a voice to women, McWebb states, Christine deconstructs courtly language and comments on the destructive nature of courtly love.

The final section of this collection is comprised of two essays by Benjamin Semple and Earl Jeffrey Richards. Semple reads Christine's views on beauty against traditional medieval aesthetics. While Jean de Meun depicts the beauty of the garden as a place of sensuality, Christine imbues the explicitly beautiful setting in the Chemin de long estude with moral beauty. By equating good and beauty, Christine again distances herself from the Roman de la Rose and uses beauty to allow for contemplation of the divine. More important, contemplation of beauty allows one to move closer to spiritual perfection.

Richards' final essay concludes the collection by tying together many of the themes explored by earlier essays. Richards sees the generic division between prose and verse a false distinction in Christine's work. For Richards, Christine's main interest lay in distinguishing her work as truth, contrary to the falsehoods spread by authors of courtly fiction. Her concern with voice and self-representation are again ways of showing the authority and truth of her writings.

This collection of essays is a tightly woven exploration of the complex relationship that Christine de Pizan had with her lyric production. The essays work well together and follow a logical sequence that speaks well of the editing of the volume. While only the introduction seems suitable for all readers, the essays in this volume will prove essential reading for serious Christine scholars. Each essay is well researched and well written. Earl Jeffrey Richards deserves particular commendation for his work, not only in coordinating the volume but also in his scholarly contributions in his introduction and other two essays.