For my parents
Accipito datum placide dantis que memento
Sic quod non vento des quod tibi corde precatur.
(fol. 41v, UCB MS 109)
- 1 I wish to thank Professors Jesús Rodríguez-Velasco and David Hult for their comments on earlier dr (...)
1In argumentation, interrelation, and possible impact, the texts that comprise what is often called the Querelle, or the debate that ensued over interpretations of the Roman de la Rose between Christine de Pizan, Jean Gerson, Jean de Montreuil, Gontier Col, and Pierre Col between 1401 and 1402, are exceedingly rich.1 This debate and its participants are remembered for the myriad questions and confusions that these documents raise and for the celebrity and historic importance of the participants, perhaps much to the delight of the composer of the message in Latin cited above. The set of texts in their entirety, and also Christine de Pizan’s selection of texts, her dossier presented to Isabel of Bavaria, Queen of France and Guillaume de Tignonville, Provost of Paris, posit readings and viewpoints regarding the meaning and moral worth of the Rose; in effect, they present a theory of reading and interpretation and an event of literary criticism. This paper will present a reading of the second redaction of Christine de Pizan’s dossier Les epistres du debat sus le romant de la rose, her arrangement given to the Queen and the Provost of Paris, as presented in University of California, Berkeley Bancroft Library MS 109 (UCB 109). A reading of this dossier involves complex hermeneutics, navigation of the many layers of Christine’s commentary on the debate in book form, and study of the unique chronology she creates. There is a strange intertextuality within Christine’s selection; these documents engage in a form of rewriting; they are in conversation with the Roman de la Rose, a text written more than a century prior to the start of the debate, but also with other interpretations of the Rose and with the entire collection of debate documents, including those omitted from her selection. Reading her dossier and examining the manuscript, one finds that conventional notions of time, letter, text, sender, recipient, and addressee are disrupted. It becomes clear that we must look to see what conceptions of these categories this text, the documents contained therein, and the physical object, are creating.
2The focus of the present study is neither an attempt to study Christine’s motivations for participating in the debate, nor a move to illuminate intricacies of the Rose by means of a close reading of the debate documents. While it is important to note that Christine’s presentation of a controlled, carefully chosen selection of documents is a literal acting act out of her position as clerk and author, and while a great deal about the Rose and the personalities of the participants might be learned from these documents, there are other key questions raised in her compilation and diffusion of a book of letters, in two separate redactions. Beginning with a brief discussion of Bancroft MS 109 and drawing on theories of medieval notions about letters and authorship and modern theories and readings of letters, sending, and receiving, including Jacques Derrida’s deconstruction of categories of sender and recipient, I will examine the Bancroft manuscript in both its material aspects and text. In the process, this study will develop provisional answers to the following questions: 1) what kind of “letters” are the documents presented in Christine’s dossier? 2) What happens to notions of authorship, scribe, and categories of sender and recipient when a book of letters that were once exchanged in “real life” is created? 3) How is Christine’s dossier, which seems to resist and even reject linear chronology, able to constitute itself as truth? Included at the end of this paper is a codicological description of UCB 109 which details material aspects of the manuscript and provides a comprehensive list of its contents.
- 2 It should be noted, however, that Harley 4431, often called the “Queen’s manuscript”, does not inc (...)
- 3 Carla Bozzolo, “L’humaniste Gontier Col et la traduction française des lettres d’Abélard et d’Hélo (...)
- 4 See M. Meiss and S. Off, “The Bookkeeping of Robinet d’Estampes and the Chronology of Jean de Berr (...)
3A terminus post quem for Bancroft 109 is October 2, 1402, the date of Christine’s lengthy letter to Pierre Col. This manuscript contains the same order of documents as Bibliothèque Nationale (B.N.) fr. 835 and British Library, Harley 4431, the other extant manuscripts belonging to the second redaction of Christine’s dossier.2 The documents contained therein include two dedicatory epistles, 1) one to Isabeau of Bavaria, Queen of France, dated February 1, 1402, Tres haulte tres puissant et tres redoubtee dame, (fol. 1r-2r). 2) another to Guillaume de Tignonville, Provost of Paris, bearing no date, A vous monsigneur le preuost de paris, (fol. 2r-3r); 3) an indication of an exchange of letters between Jean de Montreuil, Christine de Pizan, and Gontier Col, (fol. 3r-v); 4) Gontier Col’s first letter to Christine de Pizan, “Femme de hault et esleue entendement”, dated September 13, 1402, (fol. 3v-5r); 5) Christine’s letter to Jean de Montreuil bearing no date, “Reuerance honneur auec recommandacion”, (fol. 5r-13r); 6) Gontier Col’s second letter to Christine de Pizan, “Por ce que la diuine escripture nous enseigne”, dated September 15, with no year indicated, (13r-14r); 7) Christine de Pizan’s letter to Gontier Col, “O clerc soubtil dentendement philosophique”, bearing no date, (fol. 14r-15v); and 8) Christine de Pizan’s letter to Pierre Col, “Pour ce que entendement humain”, dated October 2, 1402, (16r-40r). As demonstrated by Carla Bozzolo, the manuscript is in the careful hand of Gontier Col, secretary of Jean, Duke de Berry, (1402-1410).3 Although the Bancroft manuscript does not figure in his inventories, this volume belonged to the Duke, evidenced by his signature of ownership on the last folio, legible using ultraviolet light. Although it is impossible to know why the Bancroft manuscript was not recorded in his inventory, it is known that the Duke acquired a complete set of Christine’s works in 1408 or 1409, now catalogued and bound as 5 separate volumes in the Bibliothèque Nationale, France.4 He may have given the simple, unadorned manuscript away after acquiring the lavish presentation manuscript, complete with 128 miniatures.
- 5 Pierre Col’s letter is extant in one manuscript, B.N. fr. 1563, a codex that presents the Querelle (...)
4The Bancroft MS is undoubtedly an incredible artifact: the only extant manuscript that contains only Christine’s dossier, written in the hand of her opponent Gontier Col, author of two of the dossier documents. Perhaps at the request of the Duke, Gontier Col did not add any documents to the dossier. He neglects, for example, as David Hult notes, to add Pierre Col’s letter that solicited Christine’s response; inclusion of this letter would help counteract some of the strategies Christine employs to bolster her argument, including rearrangement of letters and the omission of key counterarguments.5 What further complicates the unique situation of this manuscript is the message in Latin on the verso of the last folio, in what I interpret as the same hand as the rest of the manuscript:
- 6 Remember the giver. / Kindly accept the gift and remember the giver / so that you may not give to (...)
Memento dantis / Accipito datum placide dantis que memento / sic quod non vento des quod tibi corde precatur.6
5To whom is this message directed? Who composed the message? Was it without question Gontier Col who transcribed it? Who should remember? The reader? The Duke? Gontier Col? All of Christine’s adversaries? Certainly Christine seems a likely candidate for the person to be remembered. Yet, it is indeed provocative that she be remembered in the lettre bâtarde of one of her adversaries. While these questions are at this point unanswerable, this inscription, three lines found on the verso of the last folio of a complete quire, raises many of the questions that this paper seeks to address, in particular the complication of notions of authorship, scribe, and categories of sender and recipient, but also the potential and often very real gap between composition and transcription.
- 7 A useful idea to understand value vocabulary is Richard Rorty’s notion of “final vocabulary”, or w (...)
6From the first dedicatory epistles, it becomes evident that the dossier documents should be read as any work of literature or scholarly criticism: carefully and with a critical eye. Employing a rhetoric of humility, Christine establishes a connection between virtue, good morals, and wisdom and projects these values on to the Queen. She writes a reader making use of the type of valued vocabulary (virtuous, true, wise, good, worthy) that she employs throughout her documents.7 Christine presents herself throughout the texts not only as a champion of women, but also as a defender of virtue. Establishing a clear link between the Queen and virtue, to the point at which the Queen becomes synonymous with virtue, Christine essentially lays the Queen under an obligation to accept her position; not to do so would be to reject her very self:
- 8 For all citations from documents of Christine’s dossier, I have cited directly from the Bancroft M (...)
Et comme ie aye entendu que vostre tres noble excellance se delicte a oyr lire dictiez de choses vertueuses et bien dictes, laquelle chose est acroiscement de vertus et bonnes meurs a vostre noble persone, car si comme dit un saige: ‘Vertus auec vertus, sagece auec noblece rendent la persone reuerand’, qui peut estre entendue parfeite (fol. 1r, lines 3-9).8
7Christine also appeals to the Queen as a woman, saying that in her dossier and in other works, she dedicates herself to the feminine cause,
…comme de verite meue, ainssy comme ie sçay de certaine science leur bon droit estre digne de deffence, mon petit entendement a voulu et veult soy employer, comme ycy appert et en aultres miens dictiez, a debatre leur contraires et accusans. (1v. lines 17-21).
8While it may be true that Christine has decided to participate in the debate in order to help the feminine cause and to defend virtue, a reader might be well to be wary of taking these statements and the others that come after at face value. In reading the remainder of the documents, it becomes abundantly clear that while Christine may expose some of her purposes for entering in debate with Gontier Col and Pierre Col, and some of what appear to be very honest opinions on the Rose and its impact, she is far from making a plain presentation of the particulars of her conjointure, of both the context of the materials she selects and the details of their putting together. While Christine is a woman, she is also author, creator, and scholar. She reminds us, for example, in her letter to Montreuil, that she debates not simply out of feminine bias, but rather because she also wishes to uphold the pure truth, “pure verite” (fol. 11r, line 2).
9What Christine specifically means by “pure verité” is itself subject to debate and will be discussed at a later point. Perhaps we are less likely to question or to read these documents critically because they conform in large part to our expectations of fact-bearing, official letters. The spatial, physical presentation of most of the documents, in particular the two seemingly official dedicatory epistles, may lead to that assessment. One can note, for example, the wide space between the salutation, “A tres excellent tres haulte et tres redoubtee princesse…” and the start of the letter, or the second salutation in the body of the letter. Also, between the last words of the text and the start of the signature, “La toute vostre tres humble creature Christine de Pizan”, there is ample space. Particularly in these two dedicatory epistles, there is no perceived desire to make these texts look like anything but letters. At the same time, it is clear that, despite the indication of a specific and important addressee, these letters are also sent and in the process of being sent not only to the Queen, the Provost of Paris, and to the other participants in the debate, but also to any reader who may pick up the manuscript.
- 9 James Jerome Murphy, Rhetoric in the Middle Ages: a history of rhetorical theory from Saint August (...)
- 10 Giles Constable, Letters and Letter-Collections (Turnhout: Éditions Brepols, 1976) 12, 17
- 11 Ibid. 43-45.
- 12 J. de Ghellinck, Patristique et Moyen Âge; études d’histoire littéraire et doctrinale v. 2 (Gemb (...)
10Before moving to the second dedicatory epistle which brings to the forefront problems with categories of sender/recipient, and sent/delivered, it is prudent to reflect briefly on the character of letters in the Middle Ages. Since Antiquity, although admittedly less so in the later Middle Ages and in the Early Modern Period, it was often intended that letters should be read by more than one person, even at the time of being sent. Often, letters were simply read aloud to the addressee, indicating that the aim of the letter was to communicate the desired message accurately, not to maintain its original form.9 In addition, as Giles Constable, L. Genicot and others have noted, even when there was great interest throughout Europe in the ars dictaminis, a medieval institution that drew on, but also modified, the Ciceronian oratio, not all letters were written in this form; with some frequency, well-known letter writers disregarded these rules.10 In terms of authorship, again, we are met with complexity: most letters were dictated, and some only partially composed, a simple outline being given to the scribe that he was expected to elaborate.11 In his Patristique et Moyen Âge; études d’histoire littéraire et doctrinale, J. de Ghellinck provides information regarding the concept of “ownership” of the text of a letter, which, while specifically addressing practices in Antiquity, might illuminate the verses found on the verso of the final folio of Bancroft 109. Letters were considered gifts to the recipient and the dominium, or ownership, passed from sender to recipient, unless the sender indicated otherwise.12 The new “owner” of the text had the right to modify it, or to insert it, for that matter, into an epistolary collection. Again, while the identity of the “giver” indicated in the message on the last folio cannot be known with absolute certainty, it is nevertheless an intriguing text through which questions regarding Christine’s authorship of the dossier might be posited. Could it be said, for example, that Christine interpreted herself as the “new owner” of the Querelle documents and thus saw fit to do with them as she pleased?
11The possibility that Christine views herself as the new owner with privileges of editing and redirecting certainly seems plausible upon reading her letter to Guillaume de Tignonville. In this letter, Christine calls the debate good-humored, an example of a difference of opinion between worthy persons (“le debat gracieux et non hayneux meu par oppinions contraires entre solemnelles personnes”), including Gontier Col, and Jean de Montreuil (2v, lines 4-5). What is especially provocative about this letter, in addition to her calling the debate “gracieux et non hayneux”, which might seem contradictory given the aggressiveness of her approach, is Christine’s affirmation that Guillaume de Tignonville will be able to understand the nature of the debate by reading the letters that have been exchanged:
duquel dit debat vous pourres oyr les premisses par les epistres enuoyees entre nous et par les memoires qui de ce feront cy apres mencion” (2v, lines 8-10).
12Christine goes on to ask the Provost to hear the facts, or “raisons” of the debate:
ie supplie vostre humblece que non obstant les labourieuses occuppacions de plus grans et neccessaires negoces, vous plaise par maniere de soulas vouloir entendre les raisons de noz descors (fol. 2v, lines 11-15).
13From these statements, Christine appears to suggest that the letters presented in the dossier constitute the “raisons” of the debate. This comment would in turn lead us to believe that these letters should speak for themselves and require little decoding. It is clear, however, in the brief description of the exchange of letters between Jean de Montreuil, Christine de Pizan, and Gontier Col that follows her letter to Guillaume de Tignonville and in the documents that come after, that Christine’s careful mediation runs through the dossier. In the note that follows the letter, Christine gives a chronology of the start of the debate, explaining: 1) the initiation of communications with Jean de Montreuil and her writing in response to a letter that he wrote regarding matters of the Rose that was not explicitly addressed to her, 2) the Provost’s response in the form of forwarding Christine a copy of a letter he wrote to another critic of the Rose, 3) Christine’s response to Montreuil, which she notes is included in the dossier, and 4) Gontier Col’s response, about which Christine notes that the Gontier became angry with her after hearing that she wrote against the Rose:
maistre Gontier Col, que la dicte Cristine auoit escript contre Le Rommant de la Rose, lequel, comme inanimez contre luy, escript la presente epistre qui s’ensuit… (3v, lines 12-15).
- 13 B.N. fr. 835 and British Library, Harley 4431 update the chronology with the name of Pierre Col.
- 14 Hult 355.
14Despite her inclusion of this chronology, which, at least in part, constitutes an indication that she will follow linear time in her dossier, her arrangement of the letters makes its own time. She starts with Gontier Col’s first letter, instead of her response to Montreuil, and it should be noted that she does not include Montreuil’s initial text praising the merits of the Rose, a text now lost. Neither does she indicate her inclusion of two letters by Gontier Col. To further complicate matters, in Bancroft 109, despite the inclusion of Christine’s lengthy response to Pierre Col in the manuscript, Pierre Col is not even mentioned in the chronology, nor does his lengthy letter, which solicited Christine’s response, appear in her dossier.13 As David Hult has indicated, Christine’s motivation and manipulation of this debate should not be underestimated; neither should idealistic portraits of Christine be entertained without skepticism.14 Further it is important to note that in Bancroft 109, as in the other debate manuscripts, the reader passes from dedicatory letter to her chronology without seeing a signature from Christine de Pizan. Christine’s chronology acts as a type of signature, as the temporary stop point before the first of the debate documents, Gontier Col’s first letter.
15It is thus essential to read Christine’s dossier not simply as a reading, but as a clever manipulation, an edition and commentary on the Querelle, and an aggressive one at that. Her constant affirmations of humility are in my view somewhat ironic, particularly in the face of Pierre Col’s accusations that she critiques the Rose out of envy and because she has become presumptuous from past praise she has received; there is little meekness in the way in which she creates a case for herself. While Kevin Brownlee sees Christine as distinct from her opponents in that, unlike them, she does not “write directives” nor does she share their goal to convince, to make them change their minds, or to “recant opinions,” in her letter to the Provost of Paris Christine asks him to exercise sound judgment and to support her cause:
- 15 See Kevin Brownlee, “Discourses of the Self: Christine de Pizan and the Rose.” Reprinted in Rethin (...)
Et auec ce supply la bonne discrete consideracion de vostre sauoir que vueille discuter et proprement eslire le bon droit de mon oppinion (fol. 2v, lines 15-17).15
16Further, what, really, is the difference between representing one’s opinion, as Brownlee calls it, and a type of convincing? Christine’s giving of one chronology and then her subsequent rearrangement of the letters is not a passive gesture, but rather a forceful attempt not only to create a reading, but also to guide the reader’s reading. If Christine can be considered a giver, she gifts not only a book, but also a hermeneutics, one that originates in her two carefully constructed dedicatory epistles and chronology.
- 16 Marilynn Desmond, “The Querelle de la Rose and the Ethics of Reading,” in Christine de Pizan: A Ca (...)
17As a result of Christine’s careful arrangement, the letters of the dossier are not haphazard. The letters that comprise Christine’s collection are skillfully readdressed to two important recipients (the Queen and Guillaume de Tignonville), as well as to any reader; they are placed in a new sequence, and engaged in a new process of sending. As Marilynn Desmond16 does in an article on the debate, I also cite Derrida’s Envois, but with a different conclusion in mind:
- 17 Jacques Derrida, La carte postale: de Socrate à Freud et au-delà (Paris: Flammarion, 1980), 27-8. (...)
Voudrais ne m’adresser, tout droit, directement, sans courrier, qu’à toi je n’y arrive pas et c’est le fond du malheur. Une tragédie, mon amour, de la destination. Tout redevient carte postale, lisible pour l’autre, même s’il n’y comprend rien. Et s’il n’y comprend rien, assuré a l’instant du contraire, ça peut toujours t’arriver, à toi aussi, de n’y rien comprendre, et donc à moi, et donc ne pas arriver, je veux dire à destination. Je voudrais t’arriver, arriver jusqu’à toi, mon unique destinée, et je cours je cours et je tombe tout le temps, d’une foulée à l’autre, car il y aura eu, si tôt, bien avant nous.17
18Envois, like Christine’s dossier, is a selection of a correspondence (in the case of the former, the texts included are the remains of a recently destroyed correspondence, “les restes d’une correspondance récemment détruite”).18 These selections, or group of postcards, like individual pieces of post, have the capacity to arrive or to not arrive. Despite a postcard’s ability to be read by all, since it travels outside an envelope, it only manifests itself as a message with impact at the moment when it reaches its intended recipient, its planned destination. It is by reaching its particular recipient or destination that the card is truly able to be read, understood, and its message activated. While in the citation above the writer expresses his frustration with his present inability to address his interlocutor directly, his comments highlight what it is to arrive and also, albeit indirectly, that to arrive (or not to arrive) is somewhat of a choice. In Envois, the person with whom Derrida is corresponding, I will call her “she” for the sake of simplicity, is said to threaten to effect a determinism, a decision that could end their relationship:
Tu reviens ta ‘décision,’ ta détermination, et je m’y prépare sans savoir comme un condamné dans sa cellule.19
19The tragedy of destination, then, is that only by avoiding direct address and letters with clear messages, and thereby understanding and arrival, can he avoid her determination and they remain together. Unlike in Envois, the letters contained in Bancroft 109 have new intended recipients that they clearly aim to reach. In both dedicatory epistles Christine asks that her letters be accepted and in the case of Guillaume de Tignonville, as has already been noted, she requests that he choose her cause. If they did not possess this capacity to arrive, or if they were not, in fact, arriving, Christine’s dossier would not constitute such a powerful statement. We cannot be sure how her book was received, but evidently she considered it successful enough to produce a second redaction. Others, including collectors like the Duke de Berry, considered her dossier worthy of ownership, and another yet, such as the composer and possible author of the Memento dantis citation, worthy of being given, and its giver remembered. Furthermore, while it cannot be known exactly how the letters arrived and to what extent they impacted their recipients, it is certain that Christine, through her dedicatory epistles, chronology, and subsequent rearrangement, certainly worked to give them a most specific effect and impact.
20Evidence of Christine’s careful arrangement and desire to produce a specific impact is apparent in her arrangement of the first letters in the dossier. Instead of beginning with her response to Montreuil, or Montreuil’s letter for that matter, as might be expected from her chronology and the actual dates of the letters, she presents Gontier Col’s first letter, in which he requests a copy of her response to Montreuil. The letter bears the date of September 13, 1401 in the Bancroft manuscript. In placing Gontier Col’s first letter before Montreuil’s, Christine’s response to Montreuil seems very legitimately solicited, or “doubly solicited” as Brownlee notes.20 In its original context outside her dossier, Christine’s letter to Montreuil may have appeared in part, unprovoked, since Christine initially writes to Montreuil in response to a letter that he sent to another critic of the Rose, but here her letter is clearly necessary. Gontier Col’s words mark the importance of her initial tract and first entry in the debate proper:
Et pour ce que les denonciateurs de ceste chose tiennent et gardent—les aulcuns par auenture comme enuieus sur les fais du dit feu maistre Iehan—ta dicte inuettiue comme chose singuliere et haultement composee, et ediffiee et conduite a leur plaisir et intencion, si que de eulx n’en puis auoir coppie ne original, te pry et requier sur l’amour que tu as a science que ta dicte œuure telle que elle est me vueilles enuoyer par cest mien message ou aultre tel comme il te plaira... (4r, lines 21-24—4v, lines 1-5).
21What is also interesting about this first letter from Gontier Col is that it raises questions of editing and amendment of a text given as a gift. Gontier sends her an additional work of Jean de Meun, Le Tresor de maistre Jehan de Meung ou les Septs Articles de la Foi, so that she and others who wish to continue to critique Meun will have material to fuel future writings. By noting that there are errors in the copy of the Tresor that he is sending, errors that result from the scribe’s lack of understanding of the text, Col is able to signal Christine’s miscorrection of the Rose. He suggests that while Christine is capable of correcting the scribal errors in the Tresor, she has stepped outside of her abilities in correcting and criticizing the Rose, a much longer and more complex work:
t’enuoye patentement et hastiuement un peu de Tresor qu’il compilla pour estre de ses enuieux et des aultres congneu a sa mort (lequel est incorrect par faulte d’escripuain qui pas ne l’entendy, comme il y pert, et n’ay eu espace ne loisir de le veoir ne corrigier au long pour la haste et ardeur que ie ay de veoir ton dessus dit œuure, et mesmement qu’il est a supposer que bien sauras les faultes de l’escripuain en ceste brieve compillacion corrigier et entendre). Et quant en ce qu’il fist du liure de la Rose, ou plus a lectres et sentences estranges et diuerses (l’as voulu ou ose chargier, corrigier et reprendre, comme ilz dient)… (4v lines 18-24; 5r lines 1-4).
22Ironically, however, in sending Christine the Tresor and signaling what he presumed to be her limitations as a reader and corrector, but at the same time asking her to perform the job of scribe and to correct the errors of a less complex text, he encourages her to edit, to make new, and in a sense, to overwrite.
23In her impressive response to Montreuil, in which she elaborates a critique of the characters Raison, La Vieille, Genius, and La Jaloux, and the episode of the Taking of the Rose, there is again evidence of a desire to make new, and to re-argue:
et, au fort, chose qui est dicte par oppinion et non de loy commandee se peut redarguer sanz preiudice (6r, lines 8-10).
24This is literature and the assertions made about the Rose have not been justified or declared unlawful by the law. Yet it is clear from her firm views on the characters of the Rose and constant use of a vocabulary, a finalvocabulary in Rortian terms, of good, evil, moral, amoral, and above all true, that there is only one set of conclusions at which the reader should arrive as a result of this rearguing: hers. The end of her letter makes possible a powerful transition to Gontier’s second letter. His second letter is much more aggressive in tone than his first, most likely because Christine did not correct or retract her statements as he had requested in his first letter. Christine’s assertion at the end of her letter to Montreuil presents her as a victim, and most specifically, the victim of the original sender (Gontier Col) of the letter that follows (Gontier Col’s second letter):
Mais sanz parler a volente, disons de quelz grans crimes on peut accuser mesmes les pires et qui plus decoipuent: que peuent elles faire, ne de quoy te decoipuent? Se elles te demandent de l’argent de ta bourse, dont ne le t’emblent ou tollent elles pas: ne leur bailles mie se tu ne veulz! Et se tu dis que tu en es assotez, si ne t’en assotes mie! Te vont elles en ton hostel querir, prier ou prendre a force? Bon seroit sauoir comment elles te decoipuent. (9v, lines 18-24; 10r, lines 1-2).
25Several paragraphs after her forceful statement that she is harmless, she affirms that she seeks to uphold the “pure truth.” Yet, it is clear that this is her “pure truth”, one that involves, on the one hand, a statement to Guillaume de Tignonville that he will be able to understand the nature of the debate by the letters that have been exchanged, and on the other, the placing of a careful, specifically ordered selection before him. Although Christine’s dossier likely constituted and still constitutes a powerful statement, it is possible that she is unable to reap maximum benefit from her discourse of pure truth when at the same time she presents the documents in a new order, if not mis-, or dis-order. Ironically, it is the order of the documents, at least in part, that gives them their impact; at every moment, they have the potential to be noticed or interpreted as fulfilling only her version of the “pure verité”. Do her accusations that the Rose’s mixing of erudite material and lewd content has the potential to cause confusion for the reader lose force when she herself does not fully disclose her project, the “pure verite”?
26At least part of the difficulty in assessing Christine’s “pure verité” lies in the impossibility of recovering another narrative, one with a start and finish, that could serve as a verité and one by which hers might be judged. Christine’s is the only extant arrangement of the debate documents. Further, in large part, the debate is extant today as a result of her dossier, which in essence constitutes an archive of the debate. Apart from her rhetorical skill, and beyond her dedication to defend women, part of the power of her text and the tension that resides within it is that it endeavors to supplant some original, initial, and at the same time, unrecoverable discourse that, to recall the message on the last folio, has been thrown to the wind, or alternatively, that never was. Returning for a moment to La Carte postale, perhaps there is insight in Derrida’s critique of Lacan and in an effort, on our part, to find a middle ground in their positions. Derrida writes of Lacan:
Lacan nous reconduit vers la vérité, vers une vérité qui, elle ne se perd pas. Il rapporte la letre, montre que la letre se rapporte vers son lieu propre par un trajet propre et, comme il le note expressément, c’est cette destination qui l’intéresse, le destin comme destination. Le significant a son lieu dans la lettre et celle-ci retrouve son sens propre dans son lieu propre. Une certain réapporpriation et une certaine réadéquation vont reconstituer le propre, le lieu, le sens, la vérité d’eux-mêmes éloignés le temps d’un detour et d’une souffrance.21
27While Derrida’s critique complicates the notion that a letter will always arrive with the concepts of dissemination, theft, and loss, there is something to be said for the ability of Christine’s dossier to serve as a convincing archive, a place in which the letters are not only gathered together, but are also capable and indeed encouraged to serve as a truth. In the absence of another published commentary of the Querelle, Christine is able to take possession and to make her truth, her convincing selection, at least a very good candidate for the given text. Questions aiming to define the particulars of that truth seem to have both a simple and a complex answer: the truth is Christine’s and it is also, although Derrida would certainly not agree, at least in the frame of the manuscript, if not the only truth certainly the most visible one. Reconstituted or not, her text of reappropriated documents becomes the text proper.
- 22 Sylvia Huot, The Romance of the Rose and its Medieval Readers: Interpretation, Reception, Manuscri (...)
28It is perhaps in Christine’s letter to Gontier Col’s brother, Pierre Col, which occupies over half of the Bancroft manuscript, (fols. 16r-40r) where it becomes most clear that Christine’s arrangement, her book, desires to mark a clear end to the debate and to effect delivery. Whether it constitutes “pure verité” or not in this new context, Christine’s letter to Pierre Col is a powerful statement. She responds to Pierre Col’s notions that the instances of erotic material found in Jean de Meun’s text should be interpreted as those of his characters. For Pierre Col, the Rose is a satirical text, but also, in part, a helpful one. As Sylvia Huot22 has observed, he goes as far to say that Jean de Meun helps women to defend their castles by providing them with detailed information on the invaders and the methods of attack:
…car de tant come il recite diverses manieres d’assaillir, de tant advise il plus les gardes du chastel pour eulx en deffendre: et a celle fin le fist il.23
29One of the most interesting parts of Christine’s response is her statement at the end of the letter:
Et quant a moy, plus n’en pense faire escripture, qui que m’en escripse, car ie n’ay pas empris Saine a boire: ce que i’ay escript est escript. Non mie taire pour doubte de mesprendre quant a oppinion, combien que faulte d’engin et de sauoir me tolt beaul stille, mais mieulx me plaist excerciter en aultre matiere mieulx a ma plaisance. Si pry tous ceulx qui mes petis dictiez verront, que ilz vueillent supployer le deffault de mon scauoir par consideracion de la persone, et prendre tout a bonne fin et entencion pure, —sans laquelle ne vouldroye aucune chose mettre auant. Si feray fin a mon dictie du debat non hayneux commencie, continue et fine par maniere de soulas sanz indignacion a persone. (fol. 39v, lines 12-23).
30Brownlee reads this citation as Christine’s final gesture of control and as an effort to put an end to her dossier. If this is a final act of control, as he suggests, it is a dual and quite complex one. The statement is found in the last document of the second redaction of her dossier and marks a final point of this sequence of sending. It does more than close her dossier, however. Whether or not her arrangement of the Querelle documents arrives for the reader, this statement speaks. If her arrangement indeed arrives for the reader and produces a powerful impact, then it might be interpreted as a simple summary of her involvement in the debate and decision not to continue. If her arrangement does not convince the reader then she, the possible giver, most certainly editor, has given herself a way out: that she knew all along that the debate could not continue in this manner and that it would end. Arguably, this statement disqualifies some of her argument in the sense that the citation comments not on the futility of literary debates, but of the impossibility of arguing in value terms which, for Christine and her fellow debaters, appear to be quite fixed. What is questioned, and indeed at stake in the end, is not so much who is right or wrong, or even if the Rose is good or evil, but how and in what terms literature should be discussed.
31What motivated Christine to propose such an arrangement cannot be known, nor can we ever find out what, exactly, was the meaning she wanted to convey. What I hope to have shown, however, is that Christine’s dossier is not a case of floating letters whose recipients have gone missing. If her messages directed to Guillaume de Tignonville and Isabel of Bavaria, or her statements regarding the good-hearted spirit of the Querelle at the end of her letter to Pierre Col are read uncritically, it might be deduced that Christine simply wanted to state her case in a friendly, fairly straightforward manner: in a “little book,” as she called it. It is quite possible that when she composed her lengthy response to Pierre Col, she had no intention of placing it in a second redaction of her dossier. The fact remains, however, is that she did make the decision to include it, deciding also to exclude Pierre Col’s lengthy letter, to separate Gontier Col’s letters, and to produce two redactions of her corpus.
32Reading Christine’s letter to Pierre Col it is evident that it would surely be inaccurate to suggest that for Christine, participation in this debate was purely an attempt to defend all women. But neither would it be accurate to affirm that her role was entirely a type of self-fashioning, nor simply a clever, highly selective edition of the Querelle. The Rose clearly stirred her inner core and values. More than likely, all of these reasons entered in some way in Christine’s decision to take part in the debate, but it can never be known for certain. I return to Derrida once more, to a passage at the start of LaCarte postale in which he poses questions to himself and acts out a process of not being able to answer them, as if in anticipation of exasperation and complaints of confusion from his readers. This type of defense or apology, be it ironic or not, is reminiscent of Christine’s at the end of her response to Pierre Col:
Qui écrit? A qui? Et pour envoyer, destiner, expédier quoi? A quelle adresse? Sans aucun désir de surprendre, et par là de capter l’attention à force d’obscurité, je dois à ce qui me reste d’honnêteté de dire que finalement je ne le sais pas. Surtout je n’aurais pas accordé le moindre intérêt à cette correspondance et à ce découpage, je veux dire à leur publication, si quelque certitude m’avait à ce sujet satisfait.24
33The reasons behind Christine’s desire to put this cross-section together may not have been clear even to her. The act of publication may be an attempt to understand one’s work and one’s own doubts by means of public response, or an act of self-promotion or promotion of one’s sex. This is certainly a provocative problem, yet also, and most often, an unanswerable one. Speculation about her feminist motivations, while not entirely unproductive, might be better engaged in discussing possible answers to other questions that the debate raises: notions of what constitutes a “letter” and definitions of authorship and scribe, all of which the Bancroft manuscript quite clearly brings to our attention. Further, we might wonder why this debate and in particular, her version of it, attracted the attention of so many then and now and of what, exactly, Christine’s truth was comprised. In the end, the artifact we possess is a book of letters skillfully put together by Christine and transcribed by her adversary with Memento dantis on the verso of the last folio. We can learn from the ambiguities surrounding this inscription in Bancroft 109 and Christine’s assessment towards the end of her letter to Pierre Col that literary debate is opinion and the most pressing answerable and unanswerable questions are in the book. Whether in our own commentary on this dossier we remember Christine, chronology, or pure verité, we must always think and wonder about the possible givers in the Querelle and the roles which they might have played in this debate.