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05.05.04, Jansen, trans., Anne of France

05.05.04, Jansen, trans., Anne of France

The translation of Anne of France: Lessons for my Daughter, is a valuable tool for students and professors alike. The daughter of Louis XI, sister of Charles XII and unofficial regent and advisor to the latter, Anne of France or Madame la Grande as her contemporaries called her, was one of the most influential women of her time. Her letter to her daughter, Suzanne of Bourbon, was more than mere maternal advice of how a woman of the nobility should conduct herself in the court and life overall. It also served as a guide, though somewhat clandestinely, about how a woman should become involved in, quietly and unobtrusively, the political machinations of the time. Interestingly the location of the original letter is unknown and therefore Sharon Jansen, author/ interpreter of this book, had to study versions that scholars of past had translated, e.g. A.M. Chazaud's nineteenth century copy of the piece. Accordingly, Jansen brought to attention what she considers as errors of the previous scholars and offers her determinations as to the original content and intended message of certain portions of the text. It actually at times reads like a mystery novel.

The introduction delves into a comprehensive discussion of Anne of France's lineage and educational and political background; a general description of sources that Jansen learned Anne had read and studied, thereby explaining the foundations of the information in the piece; and a short study on the grammatical and linguistic characters of the letter. In this section, Jansen purposely did not complete the biography, a clever means of enticing the reader to continue to peruse the book. The footnotes in the subsection dealing with Anne's heritage, however, were excessive which could prove confusing. Creating an appendix with a diagram of the family tree would clarify any such disarrangement.

The main section of the work embodies the letter that Anne wrote for her daughter, Suzanne. In this piece, Anne of France perpetually emphasizes her desire that Suzanne should maintain a virtuous, pious and respectable life. One intriguing subject found throughout the work concerns Anne's perception on certain women's fashion of the time. She continually expressed her disapproval of what she deemed as inappropriate dress of many women, specifically the excessively tight bodices and low necklines. This is merely one example of how Anne attempted to instruct her daughter on the proper conduct in court and in public. Her plethora of advice covers a broad range of topics including how Suzanne should follow the directives set for the traditional woman, that of wife and mother; illustrating the importance of education and how women should use it in both political and social settings; how she should express herself with her husband, with women and in mixed company; and what goals she should try to attain. Anne strengthens and bolsters her persuasions with words and ideals of great writers and philosophers of past and present such Socrates, Aristotle, Thomas Aquinas, and Leonardo d'Udine, the latter who seemed to have the greatest influence on her thought-process for she referred to him throughout the work. Consequently, Jansen footnoted these well-known individuals, such as Socrates in an elementary manner, issuing their full names, dates and their works: most certainly basic knowledge for most readers of this work. The other notations in this section, for example the technical and grammatical explanations of the text are quite useful and interesting. Nevertheless Anne's letter by itself provides an incontrovertibly valuable perspective of not only a mother's relationship with her daughter during the 15th and 16th centuries, but it also offers the readers insight into the political, intellectual, social and religious determinants that influenced women during this time.

A last chapter of this book, entitled "Interpretive Essays" unifies and completes the unfinished introduction with Anne's letter. It explains the opinions and prejudices of Anne's contemporaries regarding her power and how that influenced her. Jansen explains how, although many regard this work as a reaffirmation of woman's subordinate status during that time, in actuality it is the opposite. Anne does offer Suzanne advice on how to act as a traditional woman, yet at the same time she is also guiding her on how to be powerful in the political and social arenas without incurring the wrath of people of her time. As an example, Anne's obsession with dress, according to Jansen, was to avoid envy and thereby criticism. Note again however, that the footnotes, in this section, dealing with family lineage could prove confusing for the reader.

The publication of this piece is essential for the study not only of women in history, but also that of women during the Renaissance and the general political history of the time. Anne of France was most certainly an intriguing and influential character, and her letter further champions her significance in history.