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. …