Reviewed by Joel T. Rosenthal
State University of New York at Stony Brook
Mary-Jo Arn has been a leading figure in current efforts to bring Charles d'Orléans into the English literary canon and to do so, in part, by focusing on the historical (and literary) context of his 25-year captivity in England. The enterprise is somewhere between rediscovery and rehabilitation; a worthy effort, and one enjoying considerable success. This volume of essays — all written for the occasion — approaches Charles by way of his role as the most illustrious of all the Agincourt captives, as an author of a considerable body of English (as well as French) poetry of high quality, and as a writer whose literary manuscripts and library can still be studied. Some of the essays lean pretty steeply toward literary history; I am a bit over my head on these, though I will do my best.
As though Charles did not suffer enough during 25 years of genteel but genuine captivity, his ghost has had to contend with critics who denied him the authorship of his English verse. Others gave him credit for composition, but deemed this verse to be of little merit; a second-language exercise, a warm-up for his serious efforts in French, a mere time-passer to wile away the hours (and years). Lastly, Charles has suffered from being classified as a late medieval writer — admittedly a talented if traditional one — at the very time we are so eager to spot the dawn of the Renaissance. So, if he rarely fell into total obscurity and neglect, we can certainly argue that he deserves more attention, and more scholarly-cum-critical credit than has often come his way.
Why was such an important figure kept captive in England for an entire generation after the French debacle of 1415? He was clearly someone to conjure with; grandson of Charles V, nephew of Charles VI (and his son-in-law, as well), father of Louis VII, uncle of Francis I. Michael K. Jones argues ("'Gardez mon corps, sauvez ma terre' — Immunity from War and the Lands of a Captive Knight: The Siege of Orléans [1428-29] Revisited") that Charles's very prominence, plus his undoubted abilities, worked against a quick release. Had he been set free in the 1420s (or earlier) he would have emerged as a powerful figure in the peace party. Henry V, and then his brother Humphrey of Gloucester, saw this as inimical to their view of Anglo-Gallic relations. Keeping Charles locked up in England muted his voice in French political circles, drove a wedge between him and Charles VII, and nullified his diplomatic touch in the Orleanist-Burgundian feud that split France. Furthermore, the English made merry on his lands; where but to Orléans did Joan go to raise a siege? And all this time the laws of chivalry held that a prisoner of war's property and possessions were to lie untouched while he himself was unfree. Charles was both a prisoner of war and, for many years, a casualty of diplomacy and bloody-mindedness. If Jones gives us insight into why Charles was kept in England for so long, what about his jailers and his imprisonment? After Jones's paper most of the remaining ones look, not at the political situation, but at how, why, where, and when Charles used his long captivity as a kind of enforced post-doctoral literary apprenticeship.
We can turn to his jailers' influence, intellectual interests, libraries, friends, lendings and borrowings, etc. William Askins ("The Brothers Orléans and Their Keepers") unravels the shifting residential-penitential story of both Charles and his brother (and also an Agincourt prisoner), Jean of Angoulême. Much of Askins's detective work is based on tracing links between jailers' libraries and books and those that Charles is known to have either owned or read. We can hammer some nails home in this area, but always with some wayward strokes. Charles knew St Bernard's work, to be found in his keeper Richard Fleming's copy of Floras ex Sancti Bernardi operibus collecti, as he did his Chaucer (to be found in Thomas Cumberworth's copy of "The Canterbury Tales" and "Troilus and Cresyde"). But this sort of foray into the history of taste and influence always has to rest on a lot of possibilities and probabilities; intellectual and literary transmission is hard to pin down, the case often more suggestive than convincing.
The remaining ten papers look at Charles' work, role, and influence — some through a wide-angle lens, some with close focus on specific problems and segments of the literary corpus. To bridge this divide we can go to the last paper: A. E. B. Coldiron's "Translation, Canons, and Cultural Capital: Manuscripts and Reception of Charles d"Orléans' English Poetry." Coldiron traces the uphill battle Charles (as a literary figure) had to wage in (his/our?) effort to claim a serious place in the English literary canon. Shifting tastes, compounded by his royal and "foreign" identity in a culture of pervasive francophobia, have served to marginalize him, though Tudor readers were plentiful and his English verse (in British Library MS Harley 682) gives us, "the first one-author love-lyric sequence in English." While Walpole and Ritson gave him some space (if limited approval) in 18th century assessments, Charles failed to clear the gate when we look at the basic 19th century anthologies of Percy and Palgrave. Romantic taste found his sensitivity too dry, his verse stilted; he had to await recent editors and anthologists, and less insular tastes, to be the hero of a serious revival of interest. Writers and critics have been fighting the culture wars long before Gutenburg, let alone before postmodernism and hybridity.
Many of the issues and problems of reading Charles as a poet, from an aesthetic position and that of literary history, hinge on manuscript studies. A number of authors offer papers revolving around this axis, one crucial in establishing a text, setting an author against the backdrop of his contemporaries, and following the trail of his popularity and influence. Gilbert Ouy ("Charles d'Orléans and his Brother Jean d'Angoulême in England: What their Manuscripts Have to Tell") looks with great care to establish links between Charles' reading and thinking and such intellectual agendas as those of Jean Gerson, a powerful contemporary voice against an Anglo-Burgundian alliance. The bridges of intellectual peregrination are also built on what we can establish about the ownership of books, the similarity of ideas (and quotes and paraphrases) — literary detective work, of an established sort. Here too — given the gaps in the sources and the intangible nature of what we are seeking — some links must always be speculative. As Ouy is now re-editing Champion's La Librairie de Charles d'Orléans, he is on familiar if not always rock-solid ground, though such dangers go with the enterprise.
Arn confines herself ("Two Manuscripts, One Mind: Charles d'Orléans and the Production of Manuscripts in Two Languages [Paris, BN MS fr. 25458 and London, BL MS Harley 682)) to a close examination and comparison of the two manuscripts, the former containing verse in French and the latter being roughly an "englishing" of the same material. The English manuscript was compiled at Charles's behest, perhaps to signal the closure of his English years and of his anglophonic verse; the French version of what was pretty much the same material would propel him toward what was yet to come, yet to be done when he went home. Since his French verse went on to deal with new styles and problems, the ultimate distinction between that and his English writing up to 1440 seems much greater, by hindsight, than it was on the day Charles finally returned home.
Both Claudio Galderisi ("Charles d'Orléans et l''autre' langue: Ce francais que son 'cuer amer doit'") and John Fox ("Glanures") study aspects of Charles's language in close detail. Galderisi explores the extent to which 25 years in an anglophonic world leave traces in words, forms, and concepts that we can find in the later rondeaux. His findings lead him to argue for the importance of the English years in terms of literary development and style. Fox examines both language and the psychological setting of love, fortune, and destiny. The balance between autobiography and poetic or creative license is not an easy one to establish. Jean-Claude Mühlethaler ("Charles d'Orléans, une prison en porte-a-faux. Co-texte courtois et ancrage referentiel: les ballades de la captivite dans l'edition d'Antoine Verard ") compares the role of allegorical and metaphorical expression in mid-15th century verse and work done when new styles were becoming dominant. Rouben C. Cholakian ("Le monde vivant") goes back to the question of the gulf between what Charles wrote before and after 1440. With a good dose of revisionism, he argues for continuity, or at least for organic and logical development, rather than for segmentation and separation; art and life need not be mirror images. A number of papers turn from internal and prosodic issues to a larger context for creation, comparison, and appreciation. A. C. Spearing ("Dreams in The Kingis Quair and the Duke's Book") plays on the similarities (and differences) between the dream poems of Charles and of James I of Scotland — also an English prisoner and perhaps a fellow-inmate of the Tower at one time. Though both men worked from a Boethian foundation, they moved in different directions; different views of love and the lady, different approaches to their fates and (future) roles in life. Derek Pearsall ("The Literary Milieu of Charles of Orléans and the Duke of Suffolk, and the Authorship of the Fairfax Sequence") pours some welcome cold water on the heady idea that Suffolk was a major poet and a close friend of — and perhaps an influence on — Charles. Rather, the culture of literary production, and its reception by the educated and affluent gentry are the way to go.
The remaining essay is that of Janet Backhouse ("Charles of Orléans Illuminated"), an examination of British Library Royal MS 16F (also considered in Fox's paper). This is the only medieval manuscript of Charles's work that has major illuminations, including the famous one of him at work in the Tower of London. This manuscript was a royal one — owned by Edward IV and representing, through its heraldry, a sort of Yorkist (and then Tudor) dynastic assertion. It too would measure up as another up-market piece of Tudor propaganda.
The volume closes with a bibliography that is, explicitly, designed by the editor to up-date the 1990 bibliography of Deborah Nelson (and to cover a few of her omissions). So prolific is current work on Charles that Mary-Jo Arn lists some 82 works, mainly from the last decade. She covers articles, books, chapters, and general studies that give some detailed attention to "our" man. This is an impressive haul.
As an historian, I was more enlightened by papers touching Charles's historical siting, his long-term reputation and the literary canon, and his contacts with his contemporaries than I am by studies of his verse, language, and prosody. But this is a parochial, as well as an appreciative reading, resting on both familiarity and unfamiliarity with aspects of this complex and inviting figure. In his own time Charles was — or would have been, had the world been more tolerant — a man of both sides of the channel. His peculiar combination of high birth, literary ability, and political acumen may not guarantee him a sympathetic reading for his verse (though that is usually forthcoming these days), but it certainly should spike any lingering stereotypes about the narrow limits of medieval culture and social versatility. A number of authors indicate that they had been reluctant to write a paper, when first invited, and that it was the promised quality of the collection and the persuasive skills of the editor that did so much to bring this collection together. There is something for everyone interested in the world so impressively straddled, for so long, by this most attractive of all the French royal dukes.