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23.05.11 Devaux et al. (eds.), Écrire le voyage au temps des ducs de Bourgogne

23.05.11 Devaux et al. (eds.), Écrire le voyage au temps des ducs de Bourgogne

Over the last decades medieval travel literature has become a methodological battlefield for historians and literary scholars, a testing ground for anthropological, new historicist, post-colonial or global historical approaches. Arguably, all these new perspectives and the debates they triggered contributed significantly to a better understanding of medieval travelling, both as actual practice and as textual discourse. Nonetheless, from a certain point onwards, this over-conceptualized line of scholarly inquiry seemed to wear off, as it got further away from the sources into the quagmires of never-ending methodological controversies. Écrire le voyage au temps des ducs de Bourgogne overtly refuses this path. The book’s title is a nod to Marie-Christine Gomez-Géraud’s seminal work Écrire le voyage au XVIe siècle en France and, following in her footsteps, all chapters share the view of medieval travel literature as a flexible genre (“genre mal défini,” “genre sans loi”). Freed of conceptual superimpositions and methodological constraints, the contributors, including Gomez-Géraud herself, privilege a tool-box approach, searching for the most useful analytical instruments to tackle particular problems, within specific contexts.

Consistent with the all-inclusive approach on which the entire volume is based, Écrire le voyage au temps des ducs de Bourgogne analyses a staggering variety of primary sources, of different purposes and forms. They include not only widely-discussed Burgundian authors and texts (Bertrandon de la Broquière, Guillbert de Lannoy, Georges Lengherand or Cent Nouvelles nouvelles), but also lesser-known ones (Eustache Delafosse, David Willart, Jean de Tournai, Jacques Lesaige, Jan Taccoen, La Descripcion poetique de Rémi Dupuis, the Burgundian versions of Florimont, Paris et Vienne, Florent et Octavien and Florence de Rome, the romances of Histoire des seigneures de Gavre and Le Roman de Gillion de Trazegnies or the poem Hodoeporicum Byzantium). The volume’s strong point is the contributors’ choice to engage with primary source materials, especially with manuscripts. Even when revisiting well-trodden topics, such as the travel narratives connected to the sixteenth-century Habsburg embassies to the Ottoman Sultan, the contributors bring new insights by focusing on rarely discussed sources. Thus, Alain Servantie departs from the ambassadors’ correspondence and travel accounts, focusing instead on a visual report of the 1533-1534 embassy by the tapestry designer Pieter Coecke and on a Latin humanist poem on the 1545-1547 missions written by Hugo Favolio.

The chronological span and the geographical range of the volume is well defined, without becoming a Procrustean bed. “In the times of the dukes of Burgundy” is a label that stretches from Philip the Good’s reign to that of Charles Quint, from the 1420s to the 1540s, to include French, Flemish and Latin sources. The fictitious or historical travels discussed throughout the volume are generally confined to Europe, with the predictable exception of the Holy Land pilgrimage and a rather surprising travelogue to Guinea. The main destination is the Mediterranean world, from Constantinople and the Greek archipelago to the Italian and Iberic peninsulas. The New World is almost entirely absent and Jacques Paviot’s attempt to look at the Portuguese expansion through the lenses of Burgundian travel narratives achieves modest results. With such an assortment of subjects and sources, the volume could have easily turned into an anthology of disparate, unrelated pieces. This is not the case, as Écrire le voyage au temps des ducs de Bourgogne is a remarkably articulated volume, with all the different case-studies assembled into a coherent mosaic.

The overall design of the volume is three-fold, with the first part dedicated to the pilgrimage accounts, the second to the intricate links between history and travel writing, and the third to literary travel fiction. The nineteen chapters are relatively short (with an average of a dozen pages) and well-balanced (the longest article is only nineteen pages, while the shortest one is seven). A general bibliography that collects all references throughout the volume, even adding substantially to them, is provided at the end, and the specialized reader will certainly find it most useful. [1] The introduction fits the same pattern of concision, as the editors condensed in just nine pages a presentation of the volume, which they place at the intersection of cultural and literary history. The overall outcome is a fast-paced book, made of snippets of case studies that together create something of a pointillistic collage. Much of the volume’s coherence is given by the few distinct threads that run through all chapters: (1) individuality and modernity; (2) construction of identity; (3) intertextuality of different genres of travel writing.

The self of the traveller and the birth of modernity is probably the main common theme. From the very first chapter, Marie-Christine Gomez-Géraud’s article on Bertrandon de la Broquière builds a persuasive case for the emergence of the modern gaze. The travel account of a pilgrim-knight-spy posing as a translator in between Muslim and Western European cultures reveals a “secularized gaze” that privileges personal comments, even sensorial ones, at the expense of devotional tropes. Bertrandon de la Broquière, along with Guillebert de Lannoy, was usually viewed by scholars as the typical Burgundian pilgrim-knight, whose reasons for travel were chivalric and political rather than spiritual. If this might be true for Bertrandon, Guillebert seems to fall into a different category. Jaroslav Svátek’s analysis of his travels, to the Holy Land and to Bohemia, plays down their diplomatic and chivalric significance, emphasising instead their religious motivations. Unlike Bertrandon, Guillebert de Lannoy was first and foremost a pilgrim who desired to amass as many indulgences as possible. The chivalric voyages are an important part of the volume, but the merchant travellers are also considered in the debate on individuality and modernity. Such is the case of Jean de Tournai, the author of a first-person narrative of a late fifteenth-century pilgrimage, analysed by Béatrice Dansette. His pilgrimage, which briefly turned into business travel during a detour through Naples, reveals an individual caught between two political spheres (the Empire and Burgundy), two social milieux (nobility and merchants) and two mindsets (devotional and pragmatic). Jean de Tournai’s decision to transcribe liturgical texts in his travel account for the benefit of his brother, an abbot, adds a personal and familial note to his narrative. The case of the Douai merchant, Jacques Le Saige, studied by Alexandra Velissariou (one of the editors of the volume, which is dedicated to her memory) reveals another “modern” traveller, a material and sensorial one. Le Saige’s 1519 voyage through the Greek islands is a collection of stories, many with a humorous twist, triggered by various auditory, gustatory, and olfactory stimuli. Thus, the Levant becomes the background in the sensorial traveller’s quest for self. With a different take on the same subject, Anne-Sophie de Franceschi suggests an intriguing hypothesis that links textual subjectivity to the differences between manuscript and print circulation. In response to the early printed travel accounts, which constantly removed any personal note from the texts, the manuscript narratives explored the ego’s perspective. The different textual strategies of the self are meticulously explored in Jean Devaux’s study of Filip the Fair’s sea travel to Spain from 1506. By comparing three different narratives of this princely voyage by sea, a travelogue and two chronicles, Devaux points to the rhetoric of subjectivity. Although they continued to rely heavily on the literary tropes of “the fear of the sea,” the authors also drew on their personal travelling experience.

The second key theme of the volume is, to my view, the intricate link between travel-writing and the rhetoric of identity and alterity. Each narrator-traveller had to navigate between multiple group-identities, defined socially, religiously, linguistically, politically, or topographically. The starting point of Anne-Sophie de Franceschi’s chapter is a pointed question: was there such a thing as a “Burgundian” pilgrimage account? The answer is rather no, as pilgrims were emphasising their linguistic appurtenance and local identity, rather than their political subjecthood to the Burgundian dukes. De Franceschi even suggests that for urban pilgrims, such as Eustache Delafosse, the travel narrative not only mirrored the construction of a local identity, but also served the practical purpose of reintegrating travellers to their community. Travel accounts circulated within social circles and contributed to a “memory of a local community of voyagers.” The role played by travelogues in the making of an urban community of pilgrim readers and authors is also investigated by Gilles Docquier in his chapter on Georges Lengherand. The performative nature of the travel account shaped its content, as the social and professional identity of Lengherand (“a man of law”) was ever-present under the pilgrim’s cloak. Nonetheless, in some other sources, more ideologically driven, the Burgundian political identity moves into the forefront. Rémi Dupuis’s poem on Charles Quint’s first travel to Spain is a composite text, a mixture of oneiric political visions and thalassocratic ceremonial treaties. The poem carefully constructs a Burgundian identity, drawing on political and geographical features, interwoven with classical references. Charles’s double travel, the mythological one to Neptune’s court and the historical one to the Spanish kingdoms, is a mis-en-scène of the Burgundian identity (exacerbated to the extent of claiming that the Habsburg-Burgundian house was a ducal dynasty that rose to the imperial and royal thrones). The question of identity in relation to travel was also explored in late medieval Burgundian literature, as Stéphanie Bulthé persuasively argues in her study on the ambiguous figure of Gillion, the hero of a fictitious chivalric biography. The adventurers of this exemplary crusader turn unexpectedly into a story of integration into the complex religious and political Oriental landscape. The literary figures of the fixers analysed by Zrinka Stahuljak pinpoint a category of polyglot and culturally adaptable characters, experts in dissimulation, who became key figures in the Burgundian crusading imaginary. The experience of voyage could shape the identity not only of travellers, but also of those who remain home. In a provocative approach, Catherine Emerson investigates how husbands’ travels are reflected upon their wives in the most famous Burgundian medieval collection of stories.

The third overarching theme of the volume is the intertextuality of different genres of travel writing. Almost each chapter offers new insights into intertextual borrowings and influences between travel narratives and some other genres, such as pilgrimage guides (Gilles Docquier), chronicles (Jean Devaux), inscriptions (Jaroslav Svátek) or financial accounts (Alain Marchandisse and Bertrand Schnerb). This latter chapter investigates a diplomatic and ceremonial travel narrative transcribed in the protocols of the chapter of the Order of the Golden Fleece, whose author was Jean Lefèvre de Saint-Remy, entrusted to deliver the collar to the king of Aragon. The most interesting examples of intertextual influences are provided by a cluster of studies that develop a compelling argument for cross-hybridisation between chivalric romances and travel narratives at mid-fifteenth century Burgundian ducal court. Danielle Quéruel’s close reading of the Burgundian version of the Paris and Vienne chivalric romance reveals an effort to adapt the story to the Burgundian audience by adding new details on the Levantine adventures. Jehan de Wavrin’s workshop seems to have been a place where chivalric romances, crusading projects and travel narratives “contaminated” one another. This hypothesis is endorsed by Marie-Madeleine Castellani in her study of the Burgundian version of Florimont. To the original romance the Burgundian author added a Wallachian episode, most likely directly inspired by Waleran de Wavrin’s adventures in this realm (an interpretation also supported by another contributor to the volume, Zrinka Stahuljak). Le Roman de Gillion de Trazegnies, a chivalric romance written in mid-fifteenth century Burgundy, even outlined a pragmatic crusading strategy. The story of a pilgrimage that degenerated into an exile depicts the frontier regions in between Western Christendom and Islam (Egypt, Barbary, and Sclavonia) as highly fragmented and politically unstable. In Stéphanie Bulthé’s reading, the half-oriental, half-occidental hero of the romance, Gillion, hinted at the necessity of a temporary alliance with Islamic polities. The revised versions were usually connected to crusading propaganda, but sometimes the textual alterations were simply meant to create a more realistic effect. This seems to be the case in the Burgundian prose version of two chansons de geste merged under the title Livre des haulx fais et vaillances de l’empereur Othovyen. Lexicological analysis of the sea-travel vocabulary reveals an in-depth knowledge of navigation terminology. According to Matthieu Marchal, the anonymous author accessed this knowledge through the impressive corpus of travel accounts circulating in Burgundian literary circles. Nonetheless, the strategy of refining the travel vocabulary or of updating the Oriental political landscape was far from consistent. As Catherine Gaullier-Bougassas argues, even a Burgundian author connected to Jehan de Wavrin’s scriptorium could go the other direction. Such was the case of a romance whose subject was the adventures of a Burgundian-turned-Greek who brought under his rule the Occidental county of Flanders and the Oriental dukedom of Athens. Despite its tempting subject, there were no present-day allusions, as the Burgundian author deliberately refused to depict Greece and the Balkans as crusading lands. The intertextual borrowings among chivalric romance, crusading literature, travel narratives, and chronicle writing are also explored by Elena Koroleva. Her study is an insightful analysis of portraits of the classical heroes Jason and Alexander, as depicted in a Burgundian universal chronicle. Although the chronicler and the illuminator had different preferences, they both used the theme of travel to valorise their favourite hero.

In conclusion, Écrire le voyage provides an excellent reading of a cluster of late medieval and Renaissance travel narratives related to the Burgundian court. Scholars of Burgundy will certainly find this volume extremely useful, while the mixture of different genres of historical and fictional travels makes it relevant to any historian interested in fifteenth- and sixteenth-century travel literature. As for those scholars interested in broad topics such as the invention of the individual or the eclectic nature of genres related to travel writing, the different contributions of the volume will stimulate further reflection by providing poignant case studies. Écrire le voyage is one of the rather rare scholarly collective volumes resulting from a conference proceeding in which the whole is greater than the sum of the parts.



1. The only drawback of this otherwise excellent volume is the authors’ tendency to rely rather too heavily on familiar scholarship, mostly French, and to neglect some important contributions in the field, mostly Anglo-Saxon. The volume would have gained if the contributors had considered important monographs such as Justin Stagl’s History of Curiosity, Joan-Pau Rubiés’s Travel and Ethnology or Jennifer Goodman’s Chivalry and Exploration. Loïc Chollet’s Voyage chevaleresque and Rosalind Brown-Grant’s monograph on the Wavrin Master, Visualising Justice in Burgundian Prose Romance, were probably published too late to be consulted.