Louise Labé, celebrated poet of the French Renaissance, enters « La Pléiade » not without controversy


Louise Labé (1524-1566) is one of the very rare authors of the XVIe century. Despite the tenuousness of her work, surprising in energy and sensuality, celebrating love, she is today one of the best known, most read and most popular poets of the French Renaissance. Some of his verses stand out in memory far beyond the circle of scholars. « I live, I die: I burn myself and drown. / I am very hot while enduring coldness: / Life is too soft and too hard for me. comes in songs. « Fuck me again, rebaise me and fuck: / Give me one of your tastiest, / Give me one of your most in love: / I’ll give you four hotter than embers » sounds familiar to many modern ears. Today, Louise Labé is entering the “Bibliothèque de la Pléiade”, at Gallimard (Complete Works, 664 p., 49 €).

The edition was entrusted to Mireille Huchon, professor at Sorbonne University and recognized specialist of the time – notably of Rabelais. She is the author of Louise Labé. A paper creature and you Labérynthe (Droz, 2006 and 2019). The two books maintain that, if it is difficult to dispute the existence of a Louise Labé in Lyon, she was only a courtesan serving as a figurehead, and that the only collection which is attributed, published by the printer Jean de Tournes in 1555, betrays the “dough” of poets from the Lyon Pleiade, in particular Maurice Scève, Pontus de Tyard or Guillaume Des Autels.

An exceptional event, this thesis spilled over into the general public and the media. Surrendering to « Pleasure to disillusion » (Virginia Woolf) or to “de-attribute”, according to the scholarly term, some hastened to greet the birth of a literary ancestor of feminism, such as Marc Fumaroli, of the French Academy (1932-2020), which concludes his review of Louise Labé. A creature of paper, in « Le Monde des livres » of May 12, 2006, by a scathing: “Exit Louise Labé. « 

In the cupboard of literary hoaxes never stale

Fifteen years later, will Louise Labé’s arrival in “La Pléiade” devote Mireille Huchon’s argument? According to the latter, the « Debate of madness and love », the three elegies and the twenty-four sonnets that the poetess left behind must be put away in the cupboard of literary hoaxes never stale, despite a few clues. The ode that closes the collection of tributes by « Various poets » to the « New Sappho », complementing the poems of Louise Labé, would constitute one. Doesn’t it count the same number of verses as those of Louise Labé, close to four? But unanimity does not reign among the “sixteenth century”, far from it, as evidenced by the thirty or so contradictory and mostly hostile articles available on the website of the International Society for the Study of Women of the Old Regime. .

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