Review of Fortunes Stabilnes
Charles d'Orleans, as he properly should be called and not in the translated version as done here, did not only compose a large number of ballades, virelais, and rondeaux in Old French, but also a considerable corpus of diverse poems in fifteenth-century English during his twenty five-year [sic] long imprisonment on this island after the French had been defeated by the English in the battle of Agincourt in 1415. These English poems have never received the same attention as Charles' lyrics in his mother or rather father tongue (his mother was of Italian descent). Some of the many reasons might have been that the diplomatic editions by G. Watson Taylor in 1827 and Robert Steele and Mabel Day in 1941 and 1946 did not provide easy access to the texts. Mary-Jo Arn here offers a new attempt which combines the classical tools of critical text editing and of reader-friendly principles which facilitate the reading of Charles' poems both by philologists and the general public without intervening into the text excessively.
Fortunes Stabilnes is Arn's own title for the English corpus of Charles' oeuvre, but is taken from one of his own poems. The texts can all be found in manuscript Harley 682 in the British Library, London. The editor's emendations are limited to modern punctuation to make the texts easier to read in the rhetorical, not in the logical sense of the word. In the footnotes extensive commentaries can be found, often entire translations which are indeed helpful for the understanding of Charles' sometimes awkward or rather idiosyncratic English. Moreover, Arn added an extensive section of explanatory notes in which she discusses the appearence [sic] of the manuscript, spelling questions, interpretive items, and linguistic problems. Here she has also worked in much of the relevant research literature, although a number of noteworthy gaps are to be lamented (see my Autobiographische Lyrik des europaischen Spatmittelalters, 1991).
The introduction in itself is tantamount to a monograph on Charles' English poetry and offers a minute overview of the Duke's life and work. In many respects this introduction builds on previous scholarship and also demonstrates the extent to which the editor has gained a new understanding of Charles' literary message, biography, and of the manuscripts containing his work. The summary of the Retenue d'amours, the French equivalent of a text now lost, in Harley 682, is a welcome contribution. Next Arn explains the reasons for her choice of title which makes perfect sense considering the many references to and discussions of fortune in Charles' oeuvre. The biographical sketch is basically a summary of our current knowledge, but it reads well and is enriched with new comments on the role which his songs played in his life. Next follows a useful chronology, then a misleadingly labelled chapter on his works (only scant remarks), then an analytic chapter dealing with the state of his English and the date and provenance of the manuscript Harley 682. The section on sources and influences offers a lot of good material, but entirely shies away from the question to what extent Charles exerted an influence on his contemporaries and posterity. Undoubtedly we also want to know something about Charles' library, but the information provided here is not sufficient and could have been expanded.
The lengthy overview of Charles' literary themes and motifs in his English poems is very helpful, and so are the various chapters on his rhetorical style, the use of lyrical forms, and his compositional technique. As can be expected from any such edition, Arn also investigates the manuscript in great detail, which also includes a comparison with Charles' autograph manuscript O (Paris, Bibliotheque Nationale, ms. fr. 25458).
As appendices to the edition we find an edition of English poems not included in Harley 682 but attributed to Charles, a distribution list of ballade forms, corrections to the Steele and Day edition, a manuscript abbreviation system, and a collection of Charles' fictionalized documents in the manuscript. The bibliography of cited works is not exhaustive, and almost entirely limited to English and French studies. Some more recent titles should have been consulted, but overall Arn has consulted most of the important publications on Charles. After the bibliography follow textual notes, explanatory notes, even a glossary (!), and a list of the proper names.
Whether Charles' English poems deserve all these admirable efforts on the part of the editor is never fully discussed. But now the texts are available again, this time in a much more readable form than before and with much more information available about the context, sources, themes, motifs, and the manuscript itself. Mary-Jo Arn deserves our praise for her solid and very sound editorial work and for her careful and untiring efforts in giving us as much information about the poet and his English oeuvre in the introduction. Plus, the annotations and glossary are excellent scholarly tools for the further interpretation of Charles' Englih oeuvre.
University of Arizona
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