ReSource, Volume 13, 2001 Page: 12
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U remind us yet once more of the perils
into which men have fallen in the past for
having been fascinated by women's beauty.
But ... it is not women who should be
blamed, for if men are supposed to be wiser
than women they should not deal with any-
thing they know to be harmful or dangerous.
This statement could have been made
by a 20th-century feminist, such as Gloria
Instead, the words are from one of the
letters of a 16th-century French Renais-
sance noblewoman with the pen name
Helisenne de Crenne.
Topics of her 13 personal letters and
five invective, or argumentative, letters
include female companionship, moral val-
ues, love and infidelity, and the education
of women. When published by a Paris
bookseller and printer in 1539, the letters
were widely believed to be written by a
man, says Jerry Nash, Ph.D., professor
and chair of the Department of Foreign
Languages and Literatures at the Univer-
sity of North Texas.
"They have a forceful style, and 16th-cen-
tury writers of that style were usually edu-
cated men," he says.
Nash is the author of Les epistres familieres
et invectives d'Helisenne de Crenne: Edition Cri-
tique, one of the few scholarly books about
Crenne's work and one of two books that
examine her letters in their original French.
Nash's book received a special recognition
for excellence from France's National Center
for Scholarly Research. He is writing a sec-
ond book about Crenne's writing, The Fury of
the Pen: Renaissance Misogyny, Invective Writing
and the Letters of Helisenne de Crenne.
A UNT faculty member since 1997, Nash
has primarily researched well-known French
Renaissance writers such as satirist Frangois
Rabelais and poets Maurice Sceve and
Joachim du Bellay. He has written nine books
about these writers.
In the early 1990s, he discovered Crenne's
letters through an English translation pub-
lished in 1986 by Syracuse University Press.
"I was fascinated with them and wanted
to study them in French, but then I found out
that no critical edition of them existed in
French. I decided to do my own," he says.
In response to men
After their first publication, Crenne's let-
ters proved to be popular among the French
and were reprinted five times during her
However, they were misread as fact rather
than autobiographical fiction until 1917,
when researchers identified Crenne as the lit-
erary pseudonym of Marguerite Briet,
Born in Abbeville in the Picardy region of
France around 1510, Briet took the name
"Crenne" from the surname of her husband.
By 1552, she was known to be legally sepa-
rated and living near Paris.
Nash says Crenne's letters were a
response to misogynistic literature - litera-
ture that provoked disrespect and hatred for
women - by several male writers, particu-
larly Gratien du Pont. Du Pont's Controverses
des sexes masculin et
The first page of the first
letter of the 1539 edition
of Hblisenne de Crenne's
letters, published by
Denys Janot. (Illustrations
from A Renaissance
Woman: Helisenne's Per-
sonal and Invective Letters,
translated and edited by
Marianna M. Mustacchi
and Paul J. Archambault,
Syracuse University Press,
1986, color added.)
femenin, published in
1534, is 400 pages
of "diatribes against
the offensive sexual
behavior and highly
"As far as du
Pont is concerned,
he is simply recall-
ing and recording
truth' on women
that has been put
forth and tested
from the beginning
of time," he says.
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University of North Texas. ReSource, Volume 13, 2001, periodical, 2001; Denton, Texas. (digital.library.unt.edu/ark:/67531/metadc29774/m1/12/: accessed July 25, 2017), University of North Texas Libraries, Digital Library, digital.library.unt.edu; crediting University Relations, Communications & Marketing department for UNT.