Extraordinary Women of the Medieval and Renaissance World: A Biographical Dictionary

By Carole Levin; Debra Barrett-Graves et al. | Go to book overview

HÉLISENNE DE CRENNE
(Marguerite Briet)
(ca. 1510/1520-ca. 1552)

France
Author and Defender of Women

Hélisenne de Crenne is the pseudonym of one of the most important female authors of the French Renaissance. She is the author of what has been called the first sentimental novel in French; she also wrote a dream allegory, a collection of letters, and a translation of Virgil Aeneid.

We have very few biographical facts about Hélisenne de Crenne; even the dates of her birth and death are uncertain. Her real name was Marguerite Briet, and she was born in Abbeville, a small village in Picardy. At a young age she married Philippe Fournel, who was a country squire of the area of Crasnes or Crenne, thus the last part of her pen name. It appears that Hélisenne, who was from a wealthy family, brought a considerable dowry to the marriage. They had a son, but we do not know any other information about their marriage other than the fact that it appeared to be very unhappy. A document from 1552 indicates that sometime before that year Hélisenne and her husband had legally separated and that she still maintained her property. For some time she resided in Paris, where her works were published. Much of the biographical information about Hélisenne is surmised from her writings, although scholars still debate how much of her writing is autobiographical and how much of it is fictional.

Hélisenne first major work, Les Angoysses douloureuses qui procedent d'amours (The Torments of Love), is a long novel about a young girl named Hélisenne who is married to a husband for whom she initially felt some affection. The first part of the novel describes how she falls in love with another young man named Guenelic; out of despair and jealousy, her husband, whom she refers to as Argus after the mythological giant of a hundred eyes, imprisons her in one of his castles. The first part of the novel focuses on the nature and conse-

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