Marguerite Briet

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Marguerite Briet
Spouses Philippe Fournel, sieur de Crenne
Also known as Hélisenne de Crenne
Birth date Around 1510
Death after 25 August 1552
Biographical entries in old dictionaries
Dictionnaire Pierre-Joseph Boudier de Villemert
Dictionnaire Fortunée Briquet

Entry by Jean-Philippe Beaulieu, 2003

Little is known of the life and personality of Hélisenne de Crenne. Nevertheless, the facts assembled by such researchers as Louis Loviot at the beginning of the 19th century demonstrate that this was the pseudonym used by Marguerite Briet, a native of Abbeville in Picardy, and the wife of Philippe Fournel, whose title was de Crenne. Beyond her own texts, which have been frequently read as autobiographical, the only contemporary documents concerning her are legal ones, indicating that she and her husband were legally separated, that she was born some time around 1510 and died after August 25, 1552. Unfortunately, although contemporary witnesses refer to her erudition (e.g. the Historia Picardiae by Nicolas Rumet, dating from the last half of the 16th century, speak of her as a "perdocta mulier" living at Paris in 1540), our knowledge of her relationships with the world of literature and publishing are speculative. The factually imprecise profile we have of the author contrasts with the sometimes controversial but substantial interest (see the first chapter of D. Wood [bibliography]) which during her lifetime surrounded the texts, published repeatedly from 1538 to 1560. She was clearly a best seller, as evidenced by the appearance of her collected Oeuvres beginning in 1543 and by the stylistic "modernizing" of the collection by Claude Colet in 1550. Not at all insignificant, this edition has the double distinction of being one of the earliest devoted to the works of one author, as well as that of being the most substantial corpus of one woman's work published in French before the Marguerites of Margaret of Navarre.

The works of Hélisenne cover a wide range of approaches to narrative, while exhibiting clear thematic and stylistic unity. In fact, with the exception of the translation of the four first books of the Aeneid which appeared in 1541, but were never included in the Oeuvres, her three original texts all focus at one moment or another on the management of the personal and social consequences of adultery from a largely female point of view. It is in fact this feature which prompted a number of commentators to propose autobiographical interpretations of the texts. This is especially true of the Angoysses douloureuses (1538), a substantial novel which combines the narrative traditions of the novel of sentiment with those of the novel of adventures, presenting a "Hélisenne" who is at the same time narrator, character and authorial presence. This sort of reading, however, is less and less frequent because the paucity of biographical facts available hardly supports biographical claims. Recent research focuses instead on highlighting not only the importance of rhetoric, but also the complex literary devises of reduplication and specularity which are at play in the texts. There is, moreover, an observable progressive distancing of auto referential elements from one text to the next: the Epistres (1539) and especially the Songe (1541) transpose the issues of the novel of 1538 into progressively more and more abstract and learned discursive areas, linked, in the case of the Epistres, to the question of the access of women to writing. In this light, the invective letters of this work, and especially the third one, are often considered to be a veritable apology for women, of particular interest because they are the product of the pen of a female persona.

Despite the numerous studies which have been devoted to this group of texts in recent years, its status relative to the literary world of the first half of the 16th century still requires clarification. Although solid work has been done to illuminate the substantial borrowings from a variety of sources such as Boccaccio, Caviceo, Lemaire de Belges and others, it is clear that the whole work is more than the sum of these parts. Hélisenne's is a sustained exploration of narrative forms and didactic strategies which, by the choice of rhetorical procedures and language, such as the Latinisms for which she was criticized by E. Pasquier, seem to support the hypothesis advanced by Robert Cottrell, of a desire on the author's part to participate in the humanistic movement of the time. This hypothesis is attractive, allowing us to better understand the modulation in a variety of genres of the thematic material which serves as the central feature of the whole work, as well as to understand the goals of the play of identity which combines the single and the multiple.

(translated by Hannah Fournier)


- 1538 : Les Angoysses douloureuses qui procedent d'amours, Paris, Denys Janot -- Éd. Christine de Buzon, Paris, Honoré Champion, 1997.
- 1539 : Les Epistres familieres et invectives de ma dame Helisenne, Paris, Denys Janot -- Éd. Jean-Philippe Beaulieu et Hannah Fournier, Presses de l'Université de Montréal, 1995.
- 1540 : Le Songe de madame Helisenne, Paris, Denys Janot -- Éd. Jean-Philippe Beaulieu, Paris, Indigo & Côté-femmes, 1995.
- 1541 : Les quatre premiers livres des Eneydes, Paris, Denys Janot.
- 1543 : Les Oeuvres de ma dame Helisenne, Paris, Charles Langelier.
- 1551 : Les Oeuvres de ma dame Helisenne (texte corrigé par C. Colet), Paris, Etienne Grouleau.

Selected bibliography

  • Beaulieu, Jean-Philippe et Diane Desrosiers-Bonin (dir.). Hélisenne de Crenne. L'écriture et ses doubles. Paris, Honoré Champion (à paraître).

- Buzon, Christine de. Notice «Helisenne de Crenne», in Michel Simonin (dir.), Dictionnaire des lettres françaises. Le XVIe siècle. Paris, Fayard/Librairie générale française «La Pochothèque», 2001, p.306-309.

  • Buzon, Christine de. «Introduction» à l'édition critique des Angoysses douloureuses qui procedent d'amours (voir supra, «Oeuvres»).

- Cottrell, Robert D. «Hélisenne de Crenne's Le Songe», in Colette H. Winn et Donna Kuizenga (dir.), Women Writers in Pre-Revolutionary France. Strategies of Emancipation. New York/Londres, Garland, 1997, p.189-206.

  • Wood, Diane S. Helisenne de Crenne. At the Crossroads of Renaissance Humanism and Feminism. Madison (Wisconsin) et Teaneck (New Jersey)/Londres, Fairleigh Dickinson University Press/Associated University Presses, 2000.


- «[...] la Picardye ne reçoit peu d'honneur par l'Esprit merveilleux de sa fille Helisenne. Les Compositions de laquelle sont si souvent es mains des François se delectans de Prose, qu'il n'est besoin en faire autre discours.» (François de Billon, Le Fort inexpugnable de l'honneur du Sexe Feminin,1555).
- «Le semblable devons nous faire chacun de nous en nostre endroit, pour l'ornement de nostre langue, & nous ayder mesme du Grec et du Latin, non pour les escorcher ineptement, comme fit en nostre jeune aage Helisaine, dont notre gentil Rabelais s'est mocqué fort à propos en la personne de l'escolier Limosin, qu'il introduit parlant à Pantagruel en un langage escorche-latin [...]» (Etienne Pasquier, Lettres, livre II, lettre XII).

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