Studies in the Age of Chaucer

Review of Fortunes Stabilnes

Near the end of his quarter century of captivity in England (1415-1440), Duke Charles of Orleans rendered into English a series of recently composed French lyrics and narrative poems, creating a combined work that is longer, more complex, and more coherent than the texts from which it is drawn. While Charles's French poetry has long been available in the excellent edition by Pierre Champion (Poesies [Paris: Champion, 1923]), this fascinating English compilation remained largely inaccessible to readers outside of a narrow coterie of Middle English experts because of the difficulties presented by its two previous editions (by George Watson Taylor in 1827, and an Early English Text Society [EETS] diplomatic text by Robert Steele and Mabel Day in 1941-1946). The first version, an inaccurate transcription, appeared only in forty-four copies, and the EETS version, although an improvement upon its predecessor, presents only sparse notes and apparatus and an unpunctuated text. Continuing the mission of the Medieval and Renaissance Texts and Studies series, Mary-Jo Arn has achieved an expert and readable edition that makes Charles d'Orleans's body of English poetry available to a wide readership. This handsome new edition presents the definitive discussion of Charles's social and literary contexts, a clearly organized text, and a thorough, learned commentary. It certainly fulfills the editor's wish to provide a text accessible to "a broad middle range of users: Chaucerians interested in Chauceriana, Middle English scholars with interests in the fifteenth century, in dream visions, in love literature, in courtly literature, in fixed-form verse, in the narrator . . . Old French scholars with interests in . . . the legacy of Machaut and other French writers, codicologists and scholars interested in book production, manuscript layout, transmission history, and reception, historians of the Middle Ages, and many others."

Professor Arn's 129 pages of introduction cover simply everything that an extended group of scholars could hope for. The first section, "The Poem," presents an overview of the argument of the poem, and an explanation of the title for the collection (drawn from lines 4680-4735 of a ballade in which the narrator complains that Fortune is not variable, but rather dependably malign). A detailed biographical sketch on Charles follows, including a fully documented time line of his long sojourn in captivity at the houses of various English nobles (1415-1440). Arn continues with an analysis of Charles's English and a review of past disputes over alternative authorship for his English poetry, a discussion of date and provenance, and the influence of this body of work on later English works. She then turns to literary and formal considerations, examining the poem's English sources and influences, such as Chaucer's Book of the Duchess and Troilus and Criseyde and John Gower's Confessio Amantis, and including French antecedents as well known as Machaut or as obscure as Charles's boyhood friend Jean de Garencieres. Arn discusses the Duke's rich library holdings in the course of this inquiry. The poem invokes a wide variety of popular love-poetry conventions, including the heart, lovesickness, Maying, the Flower and the Leaf, St. Valentine's Day, the games of Chess and Post and Pillar, the goddess Venus, and, of course, the influence of Fortune--all of which receive discussion here. Analyses of the poem's form and style (with keen observations on the poet's subtle humor), of Charles's preferred verse forms and of versification, and of the English poems' relation to their French counterparts round out this section. A brief overview of linguistic matters and a detailed paleographical and codicological study, including discussions of the scribe and revision, transmission history, editorial principles, and presentation of the text, conclude the editor's introduction.

The text itself is an exemplary production, combining the attractive original mise-en-page (including Gothic initials) with clear numeration of individual poems and lines, references to Charles's parallel French poems, manuscript foliation, and unobtrusive glosses (which usefully provide translations of entire phrases rather than simple English synonyms) at the foot of the page. Arn's text provides modern punctuation not found in the manuscripts, which should prove essential to most readers, but maintains original spelling (including thorn and yogh), and is only emended at places where the editor was confident the reading results from scribal error. Five appendices follow the text, covering such matters as distribution of ballad forms, corrections of the earlier editions, and Charles's use of diplomatic forms and epistolary conventions. The editor also provides a thorough bibliography, and indices of first lines, ballade refrains, and French counterparts of English poems. A complete list of textual variants is followed by 105 pages of explanatory notes, in which the editor displays both a broad erudition and specific mastery of these poems and the commentary they have engendered. A full and painstakingly organized glossary and a list of proper names conclude the volume.

This work is generously and attractively produced and printed, durably bound, and inexpensive for a text of its quality and (relatively) limited audience. Not surprisingly, it bears the Committee on Scholarly Editions seal of approval. Professor Arn's edition of these understudied poems by Charles d'Orleans provides a great service to students of late medieval literature and culture, and also sets a standard of quality for editors and publishing houses, one of which the MARTS [sic] series ought to be proud.

Michael G. Hanly
Washington State University

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Rev 11/97