Deborah Lesko Baker on Louise Labé:
Louise Labé was a provocative early modern French woman writer, born around 1520 into a bourgeois family in Lyon, France’s cultural capital in the mid-sixteenth century. Her father was a ropemaker, who, although illiterate himself, saw to it that his daughter’s upbringing went beyond home and hearth, and had her educated in Classical and modern languages. Thanks to the active civic role of its bourgeois merchants, Lyon took a flexible stance toward certain class and gender conventions – namely that women had to be confined to the domestic sphere.
However, paternally arranged marriages remained the norm, and her father’s progressive educational ideas didn’t stop him from giving Louise’s hand in marriage around 1542 to an older Lyonnais ropemaker. Still, Lyon’s progressive social strand allowed Labé to write and publish in its urban literary circles. Her pride in her Lyonnais heritage is clear on the title page, where she is identified as Louise Labé Lyonnaise. Her volume includes a now famous letter advocating women’s education and writing, together with a prose debate on the problems of male-female relations, three Latin-inspired love elegies, and twenty-four love sonnets inspired by Petrarch’s Italian lyric tradition.
Perhaps nowhere is Labé’s original voice more striking than in her love sonnets. Her female speaker is no longer the inaccessible object of Petrarchan male desire, but a self-declared subject of desire who extols a vision of mutual physical and spiritual love between a man and a woman in the here and now. For a woman writing in the sixteenth century this is a revolutionary stance indeed.
Deborah Lesko Baker is Professor of French at Georgetown University. She is the author of The Subject of Desire: Petrarchan Poetics & the Female Voice in Louise Labé and Narcissus & the Lover: Recovery & Reinvention in Maurice Scève’s ‘Délie’, as well as articles on Renaissance poetry and mythic structures in literary texts. She is the editor and co-translator of the first bilingual critical edition of Louise Labé’s 1555 Complete Works, published by the University of Chicago Press in 2006.
Case 5 -- Lady Anne Southwell >>>