A. E. B. Coldiron, Canon, Period, and the Poetry of Charles of Orleans: Found
Ann Arbor, MI: University of Michigan Press, 2000. vi + 8 pls. + 224 pp. $47.50. ISBN: 0-472-11146-9.
"Different aspects of my self are contained in different rooms of language . . . Having been transplanted from my native soil . . . and having had to construct an identity in response to a double set of demands . . . have become permanently 'other'." These words of the Belgian author Luc Santé, quoted by Coldiron, admirably introduce the excitement and the difficulty of reading and studying that princely poet and "cultural amphibian," Charles, Duke of Orleans.
Charles, pulled from a heap of corpses after Agincourt in 1415, was taken back to England by Henry V and spent the next quarter-century in "captivity" there. As Michael Jones ('Gardez mon corps, sauvez ma terre'") and William Askins ("The Brothers Orléans and their Keepers") show in Mary-Jo Arn's fine collection, his stay with eight different noblemen and gentlemen during that period was clearly not one of unrelieved gloom, although that older tradition ("la dure réalité de sa condition de prisonnier"; "twenty-five traumatic years") still surfaces in Claudio Galderisi's "Charles D'Orléans et l''autre' langue" and Rouben Cholakian's "Le Monde vivant". He wrote a very large body of lyrics in two languages, French and English, had them copied into two handsome but sober manuscripts, one French, one English (MSS BnF fr. 25458 and BL Harley 682 respectively), and eventually commissioned his secretary, the humanist Antonio Astesano, to translate most of them into Latin and put them in a kind of Selected Works aimed at an international readership and posterity (MS Grenoble 873).
Mary-Jo Arn, one of the handful of dedicated and expert Auréliens working in English (virtually all of them are represented in her book), has edited a collection of articles by French and English-speaking scholars which both introduces the neophyte to Charles and stimulates the connoisseur by dealing with contentious issues and solving intriguing problems. Michael Jones explains in detail the potential and active roles played by the captive Charles during the tense period leading up to the siege of Orléans in 1428 and after, and shows how this "man of impressive bearing: intelligent and politically astute" (to his enemy, Duke Humphrey of Gloucester, "a great and felle-witted man") might have succeeded in bringing France to recognize Henry VI. William Askins closely examines the milieux and libraries of all Charles's keepers, and concludes that Charles's literary stimulation was certainly not limited to the three-and-a-half years spent with the Duke of Suffolk: while politically in a difficult position, he seems to have got along well with his guardians and written poetry in pleasant country-house surroundings for most of his very long stay. In "Charles d'Orléans and his Brother Jean d'Angouleme in England: What their Manuscripts Have to Tell," Gilbert Ouy, a noted emeritus Charles manuscript scholar, reminds us of his first piece of research, which established that the two brothers had stayed together at Lord Fanhope's in 1429-32, had received letters and manuscripts from the Celestine Jean Gerson, eponymous younger brother of the great scholar, and had together written a small autograph book of prayers which survives as MS BnF lat. 1203. Mary-Jo Arn compares the French and English manuscripts of Charles's lyrics, and observes that while they are similar in being modest and of useful traveling and reading size, the French manuscript is open-ended—the beginning of a life's work, as it were—while the English is a properly-finished whole in the form of a dit, and was quite possibly intended as a gift to one of Charles's English keepers.
Claudio Galderisi's essay, very much a tribute to Daniel Poirion, reminds the Anglo-Saxon reader how different French critical approaches can still be from English and American. Poetically written, it traces the poetic consciousness of Charles after his return to France, in his "Chartreuse" at Blois, and characterizes it as a translatio of both traditional courtly poetry toward the more realistic language of the fifteenth century, and between his three languages &emdash; his early French, his in-between English, and the changed French he found upon his return. John Fox, another laureled Aurelian, was persuaded to contribute some "Glanures" which examine small and specific problems. Three macaronic rondeaux of Charles's maturity are elegantly re-interpreted; an English version is shown to be a recreation, not a translation; discussion of a refrain's length reveals the role of "Hope" in Charles's poetry; and the beautiful MS Royal 16 F ii's addressee, Prince Arthur, is used to confirm the distant princess—"mieulx que femme, déesse"—as probably Charles's wife Bonne d'Armagnac. Rouben Cholakian's "Un monde vivant," written in English but French in spirit, asks whether the captive Charles is a different poetic personality from the repatriated Charles, and concludes that in both periods the Duke consistently internalizes the outside world.
A.C. Spearing's "Dreams in The Kingis Quair and the Duke's Book" compares one literary dream by the Scottish prisoner-poet with two by his French acquaintance, and concludes that James's dream in its vagueness is conscious of its own and its poem's public scope, while Charles's more detailed dreams, are more playful and more consciously poetic. Derek Pearsall's "The Literary Milieu of Charles of Orleans and the Duke of Suffolk, and the Authorship of the Fairfax Sequence" gives a useful sketch of Charles's friendliest English keeper as an occasional poet, but concludes that his authorship of the "Fairfax sequence" (a group of twenty poems in Bodleian MS Fairfax 16) is supported by only circumstantial evidence. Pearsall's hope is that future readers and scholars will recognize and appreciate the poems as a sequence by a single author. Janet Backhouse, examining the art-work of MS Royal 16 F ii in "Charles d'Orléans, Illuminated," suggests that the manuscript originated in Calais in the time of Edward IV, and was adapted and completed in the reign of Henry VII. Jean-Claude Mühlethaler's "Charles d'Orléans, une prison en porte-à-faux. Co- texte courtois et ancrage référentiel: les ballades de la captivité dans l'édition d'Antoine Vérard (1509)" shows Charles's first print editor to have been motivated in his choices by considerations not of biography but of "courtesy," eliminating the poems he considered too close to the real world.
The final essay in the collection, A. E. B. Coldiron's "Translation, Canons, and Cultural Capital: Manuscripts and Reception of Charles d'Orleans's English Poetry," provides a bridge to Coldiron's own book, in which a slightly revised version makes up Coldiron's Chapter 4. Canon, Period and the Poetry of Charles of Orleans splendidly complements and extends the Arn collection. In the latter, the English-oriented reader occasionally regrets the little attention paid to Charles's English verse: only Arn, Spearing and Coldiron herself deal with it more than glancingly. Coldiron's book deliberately and ambitiously sets itself to treat of "a poet crossing between nations, among languages, and between literary traditions, negotiating several sorts of conflict and finally establishing a voice and poetics in English that might best be read as an illuminating tertium quid."(3) It is to Coldiron's credit that she consistently maintains this polycultural viewpoint: her book's chapters, at first sight independent but in the reading revealed as a cumulative argument, deal with such topics as the nature of Charles's verse as translatio, the unusual phenomenon of self-translation and its place in the development of the early modern lyric "I," "Cultural capital," creating "World Lyric," and periodization.
This is a book from which one is tempted to quote, not only because it is well- written but because Coldiron often makes her points more compactly than could a paraphrase. What sets it apart from much other work is its recognition of, and engagement with, the fact that "the poet is a different poet, the subjectivity a different subjectivity, in French and English, even when the content is essentially the same."(4) Time and again, in her generous quotation and analysis of parallel texts, she shows us how the French version is smoother, more conventionally elegant, while the English is more experimental, more particular, and closer to the langage of everyday. In his "heart" poems, she speculates, "the concrete, colloquial English tone may be a result of Charles's effort to bring into the poems not a French poetics but the actual speaking voices he heard around him during his captivity . . . clearly, where the French split between speaker and heart is more conventionally formal, the English split is more intimate, colloquial, rough, and specific."(66)
Coldiron sets Charles in both synchronie and diachronic contexts and spends some time on his way of dealing with experience—more like English poets of the 1580s and 1590s than those of his own time. In France, Charles is usually regarded as the last of the medieval poets; yet, for a variety of reasons, "Charles's English lyric book is something new to England, and there is no love-lyric sequence as large or with as much literary self-consciousness until Watson's 1582 Hekatompathia."(147).
This diachronic approach leads Coldiron to deal at considerable length with matters of reception: why has Charles been so comparatively neglected in the history of English lyric verse? She sees the answer in a variety of factors. In the eighteenth century, Charles was seen as historically and nationally liminary and a victim of his period's unfortunate poetic manner; in the nineteenth, as a player of sterile formalist games rather than an inspired communicator of Truth. Also, the nineteenth century's "Burckhardian wall of periodization" did Charles, a forward-looking lyricist in a transitional age, no good at all. Our own time, Coldiron suggests, has in its globalization the seeds of a newer and, for Charles more fortunate outlook. "I for one am trying to use Charles and his curious reception history as a stimulus to a more globalized way of thinking of early modern poetics."(110)
Such a vision is tempting, but perhaps optimistic. For globalization is accompanied by "growing monolingualism," and Charles's third and last great manuscript, Grenoble 873 (the subject of "Creating World Lyric") is a prime victim: "the most canonically marginalized part of Charles's work (his several hundred parallel Latin poems) is effectively invisible to modern readers."(111) We are reminded of the vast parallel literature of the early modern period, often by the same poets: the Neo-Latin, now slowly and belatedly coming under scrutiny in a society that has abandoned the language of an earlier globalization. For Charles, it was this version "which, at the end of his life, he took the greatest care to translate so as to seek permanent fame"(111).
These two books are a rich addition to our knowledge of Charles of Orleans in his English context and leave one with few quibbles. Arn's collection suffers, as such collections will, from the diversity imposed by the selection of (august) contributors, and in it the "two solitudes" of French and English meet only in the most restrained and gingerly way. Coldiron's book has the weaknesses of its strengths: its insistent concern with canon-formation may not be shared by readers outside the combative professional arena of the American academy. One question which remains unanswered in both books is this: while Charles's authorship of his English poems is now pretty well beyond dispute, the assumption that in the case of parallel poems the French version is always the original seems unquestioned though unproved.
For English scholars hitherto victims of their canon, both these books will be a welcome introduction to an entirely fascinating poet. Coldiron's book in particular is bold and exciting, and deserves to have a wide readership ready to follow where she leads.
Renaissance Quarterly, vol. liv, number 4.2, Winter 2001, pp. 1609-12