Academic journal article Fifteenth Century Studies

Charles d'Orléans: Un Lyrisme Entre Moyen ÂGe et Modernité

Academic journal article Fifteenth Century Studies

Charles d'Orléans: Un Lyrisme Entre Moyen ÂGe et Modernité

Article excerpt

Mühlethaler, Jean-Claude. Charles d'Orléans: un lyrisme entre Moyen Age et modernité. Paris: Garnier, 2010. Pp. 246.

Lady Fortune did not smile on Charles d'Orléans (1394-1465). His childhood was cut short by the brutal murder of his father in 1407; within two years his mother (d. 1408) and his first wife (d. 1409) were also dead. At the Battle of Agincourt in 1415 he was captured by Henry V and taken back to England, where he would remain a prisoner of the crown for the next twenty-five years, a period which also saw the passing of his second wife (d. circa 1430-5) and his first child (d. 1432). Upon his return to France in 1440, his attempts to restart his political career repeatedly ran aground and his retirement to his family home at Blois in the early 1450s is typically interpreted as a tacit admission of defeat. Reading Charles's writing as a reflection on these disappointments and misadventures, critics have traditionally praised the poet's verses for the intensity with which they appear to record his personal suffering. It is against this tendency that Jean-Claude Mühlethaler argues in the twelve essays which have been revised for republication in this collection; together they constitute an eloquent testimony to the frnitfulness of Mühlethaler's engagement with the duke over the past twenty years.

In the Introduction Mühlethaler provides a concise statement of the conviction guiding his interpretation of Charles's poetry. Those who read the author's work as autobiography, he argues, miss the "veine ludique indéniable" (p. 12) [undeniable ludic vein] which runs through the writing. Rather than approaching Charles's text as if it were a private diary, Mühlethaler suggests, it will be more profitable to read the ballades and rondeaux as "une investigation des possibilités offertes par le langage poétique à l'aube des temps modernes d'exprimer la subjectivité, de mettre en scène son wKJtpour s'en amuser entre amis" (p. 13) [an investigation of the possibilities offered by poetic language at the dawn of the modern era to express subjectivity and to stage one's "I" as part of a game among friends]. While this approach is not without its own limitations, it has the benefit of highlighting aspects of the duke's poetry which have often been overlooked, and it is successfully realized here in a series of thought-provoking analyses. These have been sorted into four sections dealing with: (i) Charles's engagement with the literary tradition he inherits (Chapters 1 and 2), (ii) his poetic art (Chapters 3-7), (iii) the place occupied by his work in the history of lyric writing in Europe (Chapters 8 and 9), and (iv) the reception of his poetry in the Middle Ages and beyond (Chapters 10-12).

Many of these essays argue persuasively for the re-evaluation of one or more of the duke's French texts along the lines set out in the Introduction (the English poetry is discussed only in passing). Thus Chapter 1 examines La Retenue d'Amours, the narrative allegory that opens Charles's personal collection of his French poetry, Paris, BnF, MS fr. 25458. Whereas this text has often been disparaged as an uncritical imitation of Guillaume de Lorris's section of the Roman de la rose, Mühlethaler demonstrates that the excessively litigious handling of Amours's commandments here bears witness to a comic spirit and a fundamental distrust of speech which are absent in Guillaume's poem. In Chapter 2 a fresh approach is likewise brought to the duke's neglected verse exchanges with René d'Anjou (rondeaux IX-XV) and his courtier at Blois, Guillaume (?) Fredet (ballades QV-CTV3 and rondeaux CXXXV-H) , which Mühlethaler re-reads within the context of the late-metheval tradition of the poetic debate (my numbering of Charles's poems follows that given in Champion's edition). Subsequent essays offer new interpretations of texts which have traditionally proven more popular: the fundamental polyvocality of poems which we might be tempted to read as instances of authorial selfexpression is stressed both in Chapter 3, which discusses rondeaux CLHI and CCCLXIV, and in Chapter 4, which departs from an analysis of rondeau LXV; a lively analysis of the intersections between culinary, erotic, and medical discourses in rondeau CCLXXXHI is provided in Chapter 5, and Chapter 6 deals with the duke's glancing evocations of the myths of Melusine and Philomela in rondeau XXXVII and ballade CIV.

The sense of Charles's self-conscious artistry which emerges over the course of these stuthes is crystallized in three essays at the book's center which examine the poet's distrust of the sigh (Chapter 7) and offer comparisons between his approach to lyric composition and mat of Villon (Chapter 8) and of Petrarch (Chapter 9). In the first and third of these essays in particular, Mühlethaler is keen to expose the fallacy of reading late-metheval poetry as a faithful record of lived feeling: both Charles and Petrarch present the lover who is incapable of mastering his emotions as an object of derision (p. 129); indeed, Mühlethaler argues, these writers subscribe to "une poétique de la maîtrise" (p. 169) [a poetics of control] whereby their goal is to achieve the rationalization of sentiment by poetry. What distinguishes Charles from Petrarch is his amused skepticism regarding the possibility of definitively attaining this mastery; for Mühlethaler, this is something which allies the duke with Villon: "alors que d'autres partent à la conquête du laurier [...]. François Villon et Charles d'Orléans doutent" (p. 137) [while others set out to reap the laurel, François Villon and Charles d'Orléans give voice to their doubts] . In the work of both poets, Mühlethaler concludes, "la parole est fragile, elle est contestable et contestée" (p. 154) [speech is fragile; it is contestable and contested]. This assertion is well supported, and Mühlethaler's sensitivity to the metapoetic element in Charles's verse here and throughout these studies is admirable because this perspective allows him to shed much new light on the duke's rondeaux in particular. Nevertheless, my one problem with this collection is that Mühlethaler's interest in Charles's writing about writing leads him to overlook those moments when the poet appears to have attempted to use his verses to affect his extra-textual situation. Whereas the later poems may archly elaborate upon a "flou référentiel" (p. 65) [referential indetenninacy], I find it less easy to detect this kind of deliberate semantic obfuscation in, for example, the ballades written around 1440 in which Charles negotiates his new relationship with Philippe de Bourgogne (LXXXVÏ-IX and XCIII-IV). In the final instance, Mühlethaler's presentation of Charles's poetry as a game among friends may only be able to take us part of the way towards a full understanding of the complexity of his work.

This reservation in no way detracts from the success of the collection's final section. In the first two essays included here, Mühlethaler examines Antoine Vérard's unattributed edition of Charles's poetry, La Chasse et le depart d'Amours (1509), arguing that Vérard selects and reorganizes the duke's verses in an attempt to use his poetry to recuperate the courtly ideal (Chapter 10) and that he considers the success of this project to depend upon the rewriting or excision of those moments which point too directly to the identity of their author (Chapter 11). These essays are remarkable for their combination of savvy close reading with detailed bibliographic work and look likely to prove the most enduringly influential pieces in the collection. Chapter 12 concludes the volume with a survey of Charles's reception by a selection of nineteenth-century French intellectuals (Michelet and Larousse) and poets (Banville and Rimbaud; a series of hitherto unrecognized Aurelian intertexts is posited for Le Dormeur du val [p. 221]). The last word goes to the twenty-first-century poet Christine Brusson, whose use of Charles's text in her rondeau Songe en complainte (2010) reveals an understanding of the duke's work which is thoroughly of a piece with the irreverent, experimental, and fundamentally playful poet described by Mühlethaler in these essays.

[Author Affiliation]

Rory G. Critten, University of Groningen

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