Canon, Period, and the Poetry of Charles of Orléans: Found in Translation. By A. E. B. Coldiron. Ann Arbor: University of Michigan Press, 2000. Pp. vi + 224; 8 illustrations. $47.50.
Charles d'Orléans in England (1415–1440). Edited by Mary-Jo Arn. Cambridge: D. S. Brewer, 2000. Pp. x + 231; 9 illustrations. $75.
These two volumes, published almost simultaneously, constitute important contributions to scholarship on Charles d'Orléans. Both are engagingly and clearly written and are richly documented. Both make a particular point of signalling new opportunities for research. Both embrace the broad intercultural, cross-period approach invited by Charles's experiments in "translation" of his lyric into English and, later, Latin.
Coldiron's study, which is the first comprehensive discussion of Charles's lyric corpus since John Fox's work in 1969, takes particular interest in the English poems as "a telling site of cultural contest and literary experimentation" (p. 13). Charles's substantial body of lyric translations reveals a poetic voice that is distinct from both contemporary French and English traditions.
An analysis of the 141 parallel English and French poems shows that Charles's practice of translation diverges from medieval translatio. Instead of aiming at a faithful reproduction of the French poems, the English texts draw their impact from linguistic and cultural discontinuities (p. 30). Charles's practice of translation, directed inward to the self, resembles early Renaissance imitatio. In the envois accompanying all of his English poems, as against only a quarter of the French, apostrophes to changing addressees draw attention to the speaking self. In the English "heart poems," Charles adopts colloquial expressions and vivid rhythms that contrast with the conventional, refined style of the French poems. Thus the lyric self is more concretely dramatized in the English than in the French series,
Turning to the reception of Charles's lyric poetry, Coldiron shows that manuscript evidence attests to a broader and more enduring readership than might have been expected. When his poetry failed to pass into print in the sixteenth century, however, he came to be remembered as a historical figure rather than as a poet. In France, Charles has never disappeared from the literary canon and from the eighteenth through the twentieth centuries his place has been assured, though sometimes due to appreciation for his lineage rather than for his poetry.
An entire chapter is devoted to Grenoble, Bibliothèque Municipale MS 873, which contains poems that Charles selected from his oeuvre, arranged, and had done into Latin in facing translations. This manuscript anthology represents an act of authorial self-representation and a new conception of the lyric book intended for a cosmopolitan readership. The poems, ordered in visually and thematically coherent groups, present the progress of initiation to, experience of, and finally renunciation of love in consideration of higher political issues such as kingship, war, and peace.
Though in France Charles's oeuvre mainly looks back to a well established poetic tradition, in England it stands out from other late-medieval English poetry and looks forward to the practices of English Renaissance poets. In his case translation has crossed not just linguistic and national boundaries but period boundaries as well. Coldiron closes with a plea to read poems for their "system-crossing attributes," thus "as they were written" (p. 190).
An appendix, "Bibliographic Observations on Grenoble Ms. 873," offers a wonderfully detailed description of this important manuscript, including comments on bindings, provenance, page numbering and quire construction, mise en page, and decoration. It closes with a section titled "Rich Possibilities for Future Research."
Coldiron balances fine close readings of Charles's English and French poems, carefully contextualized, with considerations of far-reaching questions raised by his work: for example, "What was the status of translated authorship?" (p. 14) and "What factors in addition to class, race, gender, and genre might affect the cultural capital and canonicity of literary texts" (p. 77)? There is little to criticize in this excellent study. The author characterizes medieval translatio too narrowly, as essentially "replicative," in order to contrast Charles's practice. However, free adaptation of authoritative texts enjoyed a long tradition: one thinks of Jean de Meun in the Roman de la rose, or of Christine de Pizan, whose practice of autocitation has drawn scholarly comment. When Coldiron claims that the envois in the English ballads point up the "fictive orality" of the preceding stanzas, she indicates the effect of envois in general. It would have been well to say that this effect of the envois has a special resonance in the context of Charles's concern with speech, writing, and absence. On a minor level, "particular to" is used for "peculiar to"
The collection of essays edited by Am is intended to channel attention toward a consideration of the duke's part in the "cross-channel culture" of this time (p. 2). It brings together scholars from different disciplines (French and English literature, history, and art history). The volume signals research that remains to be done as well as work in progress.
Two essays on historical subjects open the collection. Michael K. Jones debunks the notion that the duke remained silent and passive during his captivity by detailing his efforts to organize a coalition of French noblemen willing to support a peace settlement based on the treaty of Troyes. William Askins challenges assumptions that have hitherto limited research on the duke: that the years of captivity were found to be "troublesome" and even "inhospitable" (p. 27), and suggests that both Orléans brothers found congenial acquaintances among their keepers, several of whom were men of culture who collected books. The brothers came into contact with the cultural tastes of these provincial gentry, for example, in devotional works. On the other hand, the brothers' presence may have stimulated translation of French texts.
There follow two essays focusing on manuscripts, with which we will group Backhouse's contribution. Mary-Jo Arn compares the layouts of the manuscript containing his poems in French (Paris, BN fr. 25458) and the manuscript containing the English work (London, BL Harley 682). While the first manuscript is organized by lyric genre and remains open-ended in view of adding compositions, the second presents a dit-like narrative incorporating lyric sequences. The former, brought back to France by the duke when his captivity was over, is essentially a "living album," while the latter, left behind in England, is a "souvenir" (p. 78). Gilbert Ouy shows that one of the manuscripts containing texts copied by both Orléans brothers during the period they were together in London reveals a surprising connection with Gerson, whose works are rarely present in English manuscripts. Certain "slips of the pen" in Jean's copy of Gerson's Pastorium carmen indicate that it must have been made from a draft by Gerson himself, sent by the Chancellor's brother as a gift to the princes soon after the Chancellor's death. Examining the first three miniatures accompanying poems by Charles in BL Royal 16. F.ii, Janet Backhouse concludes that heraldic elements connect the manuscript with Edward IV and that their placement on the first page suggests familiarity with the organization of other manuscripts destined for Edward's library. However, the "ponderous and overbold" richness of the decoration differentiates this manuscript from the restrained style of Flemish manuscripts of the late 1470s
Four essays deal with Charles's poetic language.
Claudio Galderisi argues
that the duke's long absence from his native land and language led him to
shape a distinctive poetic language. Noting the rarity in the duke's oeuvre of poems mixing French and English, Galderisi
explains that Charles's rondeaux, written after his return to France, present this language marked
by the syntactic and rhythmic traces of English. In "Glanures,"John
Fox discusses three macaronic poems that display Charles's increasingly bold
and imaginative treatment of language, analyzes the difference it can make
to repeat one or both lines of the refrain in a rondeau, and revisits the
order of texts in BL Royal 16. F.ii to show that Charles's poems to a distant
princess echo the circumstances of Arthur, Prince of Wales, married by proxy
to Catharine of Aragon in
May 1499. Rouben C. Cholakian argues that, both in the ballad sequences written
in captivity and in the rondeaux written after his return to France, Charles uses metaphor and prosopopoeia
to describe his internal states. Jean-Claude Muhlethaler asks how one may distinguish autobiographical
reference from literary convention in poetry that develops the
Two essays discuss Charles with reference to literary tradition and context. A. C. Spearing compares and contrasts the use of the allegorical dream by James I in The Kingis Quair and by Charles in The Duke's Book. While James I uses the dream to communicate an understanding of his power to shape his own future through the practice of prudence, Charles's dreams shape the poetic sequence and relate to a love affair that is pure literary fiction. Derek Pearsall illustrates the distortions that follow when a scholar focuses on authorial attribution rather than reading poems within their cultural context. He challenges MacCracken's attribution of various poems to Suffolk and shows that MacCracken's focus on identifying Suffolk as the author has obscured the fact that a group of poems in Bodleian Library Fairfax 16 is a consciously structured sequence in the French manner but adapted to English moral tradition.
The volume closes with A. E. B. Coldiron's discussion of Charles's reception in England and in France, adapted from a chapter in her study described above. A substantial "Bibliographical Supplement" updates Deborah Nelson's 1990 bibliography.
Arn's edited collection presents the work of major scholars who focus on new avenues for research, thus giving the reader a view of what lies just over the horizon in Charles d'Orléans studies. The volume is a treasure of information—in meaty footnotes, manuscript descriptions, and bibliography. One could have wished for more of a conversation among the contributors, which would have developed the interdisciplinary potential of the collection. Several opportunities exist. Galdersi, p. 85, states that "il n'y [a] pas de traces de poèmes bilingues français-anglais" in Charles's oeuvre whereas Fox, p. 91, analyzes a poem that mixes English and French. Cholakian, p. 109, could have acknowledged Galdersi, p. 83, who does not espouse the conventional opinion that contrasts an introspective Charles during the years of captivity to a more confident Charles after his return. Pearsall, in noting that Charles's English poems occur in the post-144O portion of BN fr. 25458 "which seems to have been copied in England by a French scribe" (p. 154) could have nuanced his point by referring to Arn's detailed description of this manuscript, p. 64, which quotes Avril and Stirnemann's characterization of the decoration as English. I found only one typo, in a quoted text, "porrar" for "porrai" (p. 91). These are mere quibbles. Both of these publications are thoughtful, substantive contributions likely to generate a new wave of scholarship on Charles d'Orléans.
University of Illinois, Urbana-Champaign