Academic journal article The Romanic Review

Clothing "Dame Helisenne": The Staging of Female Authorship and the Production of the 1538 Angoysses Douloureuses Qqui Procedent D'amours

Academic journal article The Romanic Review

Clothing "Dame Helisenne": The Staging of Female Authorship and the Production of the 1538 Angoysses Douloureuses Qqui Procedent D'amours

Article excerpt

In Les Angoysses Douloureuses qui procedent d'amours (Paris, 1538), the protagonist Dame Helisenne owns a white cloak of which she is particularly fond: "J'estois fort curieuse en habillemens, c'estoit la chose ou je prenoye singulier plaisir," (1) she recalls, describing the garment on which her lover, Guenelic, indiscreetly steps, a transgression that Dame Helisenne finds nonetheless quite pleasurable. By the end of the story another white wrapping appears, this time clothing a little book that Dame Helisenne leaves behind after her death. Helisenne's white cloak, a mask of purity that ironically comes to mark the erotic desire that it initially tries to conceal, is transmitted to the book. This book's neat exterior packaging and title, a moralistic warning against love, belie its real lesson: that no advice or social stricture can deter women and men from the hazards of love. (2)

The Angoysses Douloureuses is a fictional, novel-like text attributed to the author now known as "Helisenne de Crenne." The book enjoyed enormous success, undergoing over six separate editions in the sixteenth century. (3) However, we know almost nothing about its author. Critics generally agree that "Helisenne de Crenne" is a persona, perhaps the pseudonym of Marguerite Briet, a historical woman of the lesser French aristocracy who was married to a Philippe Fournel de Crenne. Nevertheless, the attribution of the work to Briet remains more or less an assumption since extant documentation of her life is sparse, and critical efforts to fill in the blanks have relied mostly on the extrapolation of her "biography" from the first part of the Angoysses Douloureuses. In this sense, "Marguerite Briet" is almost as much a construct as "Helisenne de Crenne"; both are devices serving a modern critical need to organize texts around an authorial identity, however fictive that identity might be. (4) Nevertheless, because so little is known about the book's writer, the Angoysses Douloureuses offer a convenient text to think about the construction of the author figure. This article explores how the narrative and the material process of printing the 1538 edition together play with the authorial construct, in a period when printers exercised enormous influence over the production of texts, and when the concept of authorial primacy did not yet exist.

Helisenne's white cloak in the story is particularly intriguing because it represents a juncture between the "fiction" of the narrative and the "nonfiction" of the process that generates the material volume of the Angoysses Douloureuses. When the pure white silk reappears covering Helisenne's book at the end of the tale, it suggests that, like the cloak, the book will project one image of Helisenne--her purity, or her warning against love--while secretly harboring her erotic desires. Indeed, the 1538 volume published in Paris by Denys Janot, wears yet another cloak of dissimulation, this time in the form of the title page, which both represents and misrepresents the book's author. For, as the principal character in the plot who also narrates the story and passes for the author of the book, Dame Helisenne occupies a largely fictive and uncertain position. (5) The title page announces that she has composed the work, and yet as the volume progresses, her authenticity as one of the book's producers becomes increasingly suspicious, especially since she dies before the end of the story. The title page becomes the site of a guessing game of authorial identity and function, and of fiction versus truth, played among the book's producers and the readers. To explore the relations in this game, I return to Helisenne's white cloak. The episode in which it appears orchestrates a contest between male and female figures around the question of Dame Helisenne's representation, and offers a framework for analyzing the dynamics between author and printer figures in the 1538 publication. In the second half of the article, I will turn to the particular case of the title page in the 1538 Angoysses Douloureuses to discuss the construction of authorial identity through the paratextual "clothing" of the first edition. …

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