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97.02.14, Fenster, ed., Le Livre du Duc des Vrais Amans

97.02.14, Fenster, ed., Le Livre du Duc des Vrais Amans

Four years after the appearance of her translation, Christine de Pizan: The Book of the Duke of True Lovers (translated with an introduction by Thelma S. Fenster, with lyric poetry translated by Nadia Margolis, NY: Persea Books 1991, 24.95/trade cloth, 11.95/trade paper), Prof. Fenster has presented us withfa critical edition of the original text, with a number of useful added features. In addition to the text, taken from the Harley Manuscripts, 4431 in the British Library (R edition, or Reine edition) she has included an informative introduction placing the text in relation to the courtly love poets, traditions, and forms, and the other works of Christine de Pizan, both in an historical and a formal sense. She has based her edition on this manuscript version, prepared between 1410 and 1415, as she explains in her introduction (p. 39), because there is historical evidence that Christine de Pizan herself supervised much of its preparation and may have even transcribed parts of it in her own hand.

Fenster's work falls within the time-period of a revival of interest in Christine de Pizan in the publishing, if not the scholarly world, which has also seen two of Charity Willard's general works on Christine de Pizan (alternate spelling: Christine de Pisan) printed in the last ten years, but is also of great use to feminist scholars who, for the past twenty years, have sought to recover female scholars from our past. Both authors are to be commended for their efforts which have made this important writer and the full body of her work more accessible to the general reader as well as the scholar of women's and medieval French writing. However, Fenster's is the only annotated edition of the original Le livre du duc des vrais amans (alternate spelling: Le livre du duc des vrais amants (Chatto and Windus, 1909; Livre du duc des vrays amans, Chatto and Windus, 1908), to be currently in print, with an earlier edition appearing in 1886-96 (Le livre du duc des vrais amans: Oeuvres poetiques de Christine de Pizan, ed. Maurice Roy. 3 vols, Paris: Firmin Didot, v. 3, 59-208). This edition, long out of print, is virtually inaccessible to a general reader who cannot visit the few places it is held. Translations of the work are also few, with the original and reprint by Alice Kemp-Welch, Chatto and Windus, 1908 (reprinted 1966) being the only one that appears widely available in libraries. Thankfully, Fenster's work is already held by at least 125 libraries in the U.S. and Britain. The work is both available widely and, in its is relatively inexpensive edition, it facilitates the addition of this work to undergraduate library collections alongside the more popularly known Livre de la cite des dames, and as a companion to her volume translation.

This volume includes an introduction, summarizing the sense of the whole piece, a discussion of the poetry of courtly love of the time just before, during, and after her works appeared, the work in the context of her other works, both listing them historically and discussing the comparative formal elements, notes on the individual forms and the versification, as well as a short commentary on the narrative form in the poems which is an expansion of Fenster's introduction to the 1991 translation text.

Of particular interest in the context of this volume is the section on versification (pp. 34-38), which can be coordinated with a reading of the collated text (pp. 67-218). It details the form of the frame narrative and the eight letters between the Duc and his lady, and the lady and her old (and older, wiser) friend, Dame de la Tour, nineteen lyric poems, fifteen ballades, three rondeaux and one virelay. The lithography of this text, and its overall layout, facilitate a lay-person's appreciation of those forms so outlined.

Her selected bibliography of related works is also extremely useful, divided into ten sections, and listing, as stated, almost exclusively works published since 1965. Short sections include two reference works, a previous edition, recent modern editions in French, selected translators of Christine de Pizan's works into English or modern French, studies of or related to the Livre du duc de vrais amans, biographical studies, literary studies, related literature and literary studies, general and historical works and manuscript studies. For this carefully compiled bibliography alone, which allows a reader to update and expand their knowledge of Christine de sizan and medieval French writing while bypassing the arduous task of researching the best texts, she is to be congratulated.

The critical edition of the poem itself, carefully compiled and annotated with over 20 pages of notes, (pp. 218-244) is useful to the scholar interested in this specific text. While clearly stating that she has relied on the R version rather than the D version of the manuscript of Christine de Pizan's collected writings, she has thoughtfully included page notes on the alternative readings of the MS so that readers can judge for themselves what implications the alternative reading might have and what influence they might have had on the interpretation of Christine de Pizan's works.

It is equally comforting to presume that we can depend on her translation of 1991 as likely based on this same original compilation of variant texts which she must have been working on while making the translation. The two as companion volumes are thus even more useful.

Also intriguing here and in the 1991 translation volume are Fenster's short comments on Christine de Pizan's "voice" as a medieval woman wo used her poetry to protest the conventions of courtly love which were glorifying for men and, as she says, in Christine's opinion, ruinous to women. It is hoped Professor Fenster will be able, now that her long labors of translation and editing have been so creditably accomplished, to give us an expansion and substantiation of this intriguing thesis. This work should be in any library which is attempting to support the teaching and scholarship on Christine de Pizan's works and of late medieval French literature. On the whole, this volume is a valuable and affordable addition to the private or library collection which supports an interest in medieval French literature and women's studies.