Labé (circa 1520-1565)

Portrait de Louise LabéPortrait de Louise Labé


Louise Labé was born between 1520 and 1522 in Lyon, the daughter of a wealthy ropemaker, Pierre Charly. Though both her father and her stepmother were illiterate, they allowed Labé to be schooled, along with her brothers, in the typically “male” domains of ancient and modern languages, as well as the traditionally feminine arts of needlework and music. This blurring of class distinctions, characteristic of the progressive Lyons, by which certain prosperous bourgeois citizens could benefit from an education normally reserved for aristocrats, allowed Labé, noble neither by birth nor by marriage, to publish her work and participate in the intellectual conversations of a male-dominated literary circle. Between 1542 and 1545 she married Ennemond Perrin, also a ropemaker.
Frequenting and occasionally hosting meetings of the city’s established literary circles, she forged friendships with well-known Lyonnaise poets of the time, including Maurice Scève and Pernette de Guillet, and also came into contact with such poets as Clément Marot, Pierre de Ronsard, Pontus de Taïf, Olivier de Magny and Jean-Antoine de Baïf. She published her own volume of collected works, Les Euvres de Louize Labé Lionnaise, in 1555 under the highly regarded printing establishment of Jean de Tournes, who also published Scève, Tyard and Petrarch’s works. The prefatory “Espitle” is perhaps the first feminist manifesto urging women to write and publish works of their own. The volume contains a “Debat de Folie et d’Amour”, three elegies and 24 love sonnets, and followed by 24 poems in praise of Labé written by her male contemporaries.
Labé remained a controversial figure throughout her short lifetime: while Calvin and Lyon historian Rubys vilified her reputation, others, such as Scève, Taillemont, Peletier and later biographer Lacroix du Maine praised her poetic and musical gifts. Her defiance of conventional gender roles has attracted the critical attention of gender and feminist studies fairly recently, first in the United States and then in France, where she has now become a polemical figure after the publication by Professor Mireille Huchon’s book claiming that the publication of her “works” under her name was an hoax designed by a circle of male authors.
In 1565 she retired to the home of her friend Thomas Fortin, and died one year later.


Selected Bibliography

Works by Labé

Louise Labé, Euvres, Lyon, Jean de Tournes, 1555.

Louise Labé, Oeuvres complètes, éd. par François Rigolot, Paris, Flammarion «G.-F.», 2004.

Critical Works
BAKER, Deborah Lesko, The Subject of Desire : Petrarchan Poetics and the Female Voice in Louise Labé, with a preface by Tom Conley, West Lafayette, Purdue University Press, 1996.
CAMERON, Keith, Louise Labé : Renaissance Poet and Feminist, Berg Women’s Series, New York, Berg, 1990.

DEMERSON, Guy (éd.), Louise Labé : les voix du lyrisme, Saint-Étienne, Université de Saint-Étienne, 1990.

HUCHON, Mireille, Louise Labé: une créature de papier, Droz, 2006.

JONES, Ann Rosalind, The Currency of Eros. Women’s Love Lyric in Europe, 1540-1620, Bloomington, Indiana, Indiana University Press, 1991.

MARTIN, Daniel, Signes d'Amante. L'agencement des EUVRES de Loïze Labé Lionnoise, Paris, Honoré Champion, 1999.
Louise Labé : Les Voix du lyrisme, édité et préfacé par Guy Demerson, Paris, CNRS, 1990.
RIGOLOT, François, Louise Labé Lyonnaise ou La Renaissance au féminin, Paris, H. Champion, 1997.
Rewriting the Renaissance : The Discourses of Sexual Difference in Early Modern Europe, éd. par Margaret W. Ferguson, Maureen Quilligan et Nancy J. Vickers, Chicago, University of Chicago Press, 1986.

Online ressources

Sur la polémique suscitée par le livre de Mireille Huchon: Louise Labé attaquée! (recueil d'articles)

Le recueil poétique de 1556: University of Virginia Gordon Collection

Le texte de 1555 sur le site Epistemon du CESR