ReSource, Volume 13, 2001 Page: 13
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Personal and invective
All of Crenne's letters are addressed not to
actual people, but to fictional characters who
may have been based on people Briet knew,
Nash says. The personal letters are written
to friends, relatives, an abbess and a gentle-
man who wants to give a friend confidential
information about Crenne.
"These letters gave Crenne forums to
approach different subjects," Nash says.
"One tries to persuade a friend to end an
illicit love affair, while another, addressed to a
friend who lost some of his wealth, reminds
us that happiness is not based on wealth."
Crenne's fourth personal letter is written
to a nobleman who was banished from the
French court because other courtiers
accused him of slander. Crenne tells him that
his rank will be restored "by the power of
truth" but quotes the Bible in asking him not
to take revenge on the others.
"In order to root out this unreasonable
intention, you should keep in mind what has
been said in the words of the Psalmist, that
the man moved to bloodshed will not see the
end of his days," she writes.
Crenne also uses biblical and literary allu-
sions in her invective letters. Nash says the
purpose of these letters is to debate misogy-
"The hallmark of Crenne's letters is equal-
ity feminism, which is accepted today but
vas extremely radical back in the 1520s and
30s. Most men then thought women were
ncapable of being educated and writing lit-
erature," he says.
n defense of women
Nash says Crenne's strongest argument
:or the education of women is in her fourth
invective letter. The letter denounces the
liews of a man named Elenot, who may
have been a former lover of Briet's, he says.
"Crenne staunchly defends the ability,
,apacity and right of women to perform in
the public domain by naming certain
women as examples of what women
are capable of," Nash says.
Crenne calls Marguerite, queen of
Navarre and author of several works,
a "most illustrious and distinguished
princess" whose brilliance "enhances
all of womankind." She lists several
female philosophers in ancient
Greece, including Aspasia - "filled
with such great knowledge that
Socrates did not blush at learning
anything from her." She mentions
Deborah of the Old Testament, who
became magistrate over the people of
"Crenne had the skill of interweav-
ing biblical and classical allusions to
support her arguments," Nash says.
She highlights the virility of both
Judith, a biblical heroine who saved
the Israelites by assassinating their
enemy's general, and Dido from the Aeneid,
who founded and became queen of Carthage.
"For Crenne, the accomplishment of
'manly' or heroic works is not in the rela-
tionship to gender but to individual ability
and performance," Nash says. "She also
believed female beauty and chastity can lead
to much more than just ethical behavior.
They can be instruments of political assassi-
nation, of biblical good triumphing over evil,
of the biblical tradition of God manifesting
his power by choosing to work through the
Nash describes Crenne's writing style as
"extremely Latinate," since she uses Latin
words and syntax. This was the same style
used by Rabelais and other male French
Renaissance writers, he says.
"It is a bit of overdoing, but I think
Crenne was trying to make a point - that a
woman could write in this manly style
developed by Cicero and other ancient
philosophers," Nash says.
Title page of the second
section of Les Oeuvres de
ma dame Helisenne, pub-
lished by Charles Langelier
After their final printing in 1560, Crenne's
letters, as well as Crenne herself, faded into
obscurity. Until her identity as Marguerite
Briet was confirmed 357 years later, male
scholars either deleted Crenne from literary
history or attributed her work to well-known
Since the English translation of her letters
appeared in 1986, Crenne's work has been
widely read by students in women's studies
programs, Nash says. But he adds that her
letters hold appeal for many others.
"French majors should study her in regard
to reviving marginalized writings. However, I
don't want to call Crenne a minor writer
because she did influence writers who came
after her," he says. "Her letters are also
interesting to anyone studying humanist
writing or early modern European misogyny.
They truly give insight into what France was
like in the 16th century."
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University of North Texas. ReSource, Volume 13, 2001, periodical, 2001; Denton, Texas. (digital.library.unt.edu/ark:/67531/metadc29774/m1/13/: accessed September 20, 2017), University of North Texas Libraries, Digital Library, digital.library.unt.edu; crediting University Relations, Communications & Marketing department for UNT.