[(essay date winter 2007) In the following essay, Klosowska discusses the relationship between Ronsard and Madeleine de l'Aubespine, one of the few female poets Ronsard praised for her work.]
In 1587, the posthumous printing of Ronsard's Amours diverses included for the first time among the Gayetez a sonnet praising a woman poet quite forgotten today, Madeleine de l'Aubespine (1546-96).2 That poem is one of the very few in Ronsard's ouvre where he praised a woman for her writing.3 L'Aubespine answered by a sonnet where she compared herself to Phaeton, and called Ronsard "her Apollo" (7).4 Ronsard's reply continued the theme of Phaeton. Only the last tercet of this unpublished sonnet remains:5
Si vollant vous tombez pour me vouloir trop croire Au moings vous acquerez pour tombe ceste gloire Q'une femme a vaincu les plus doctes françois. If, flying, you fall, too willing to believe me, At least you will have earned this glory for your tomb That a woman surpassed the most learned French men.
The source of the Ronsard fragment is a nine-page handwritten description (including incipits and quotes) of the lost posthumous manuscript of l'Aubespine's poetry.6 That volume, containing over 4500 lines, disappeared in the fire of the Turin library in 1904.7 However, the description of l'Aubespine's lost volume, especially the incipits, led to the rediscovery of her works contained in other manuscripts, until now considered anonymous or attributed to other (male) poets. I will briefly describe l'Aubespine's life and major works, and then focus on her exchange with Ronsard. Rather than use the topos of feminine modesty, l'Aubespine and Ronsard fashion a national, heroic, masculine figure of the author: l'Aubespine is Ronsard's successor, the French Phaeton to his French Apollo.
Life and Works
Louise Labé, a hoax?8 If Labé has a "problem"--as Huchon's recent study claims, she may have not existed, and instead was a fictional character invented and maintained by a group of poets and an eager public that took the bait and responded to the fiction as if it was reality, at the time, and over the centuries--l'Aubespine's "problem" is the opposite: she did exist and write, but had no public that sustained the tradition of reading her works with her name attached to them, into the present time. In view of this opposition, we may ask ourselves what is a canonical author but une créature de papier, a nexus of discourses that actual presence and poetry written in an originary moment in history only anchor but do not determine? I believe we have always answered this question by editing and discussing anew certain forgotten writers, including women. The canon is not a matter of universally recognized beauty, but a matter of maintaining the old or creating new discursive fields that are trendy enough to attract attention. Once a certain critical mass of responses is reached, the field takes on a life of its own. By contrast with Labé, l'Aubespine's life in letters was limited by the...