Lettering the Self in Medieval and Early Modern France

Lettering the Self in Medieval and Early Modern France

Katherine Kong





A history of the letter in pre-modern French culture.
Lettering the Self argues that letters in medieval and early-modern France reveal the contours of the pre-modern self. Letters in this period were complicated compositions which, in addition to their administrative and artistic functions, represented the self in relation to its various others: social superiors and subordinates; friends and lovers; teachers and students; allies and adversaries; patrons and supplicants. These relationships were expressed in the content and form of letters: the rule-bound medieval discipline of letter writing structured the expression of interpersonal relationships in exacting ways, and writers navigated its rules to express contradictory and even illicit relations.
Each chapter focuses on a particular epistolary exchange in its intellectual and cultural context, from Baudri of Bourgueil and Constance of Angers, through Heloise and Abelard, Christine de Pizan's participation in the querelle du Roman de la rose, Marguerite de Navarre and Guillaume Briçonnet, to Michel de Montaigne and Étienne de La Boétie, emphasizing the importance of letter-writing in pre-modern French culture and tracing a selective yet significant history of the letter, contributing to our understanding of the development of the epistolary genre, and the pre-modern self.

KATHERINE KONG is an Assistant Professor of French at the University of Tennessee, Knoxville.


July 2010
286 pages
23.4x15.6 cm
ISBN: 9781843842316
Format: Hardback
Library eBook
BISAC LIT011000, LIT004150
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Table of Contents

Love Letters in the Monastery: Ambiguous Lessons and Epistolary Play in the Verses of Baudri of Bourgueil and Constance of Angers
Writing the Subjunctive into the Indicative: Commanding Performances in the Letters of Abelard and Heloise
Virilis femina: Christine de Pizan and the Gender of Letters
The Pursuit of Spiritual Quietude in the Correspondence of Marguerite de Navarre and Guillaume Briçonnet
The Foedus Amicitiae of Etienne de la Boétie and Michel de Montaigne
Conclusion: Conducting Oneself Through Letters


A valuable study of letter writing in the premodern period. The argument is founded on often masterly close textual analysis enriched with relevant examples of fictional letter writing, turning what could have been a rather dry tome into a lively and approachable discussion that should appeal to a wide readership. LIBRARY

A useful and wide-ranging study, which challenges us to re-examine preconceptions about the role of the constitution and presentation of the self in the Middle Ages and in the Renaissance. MEDIUM AEVUM

Not only brings to light an often neglected realm of French literary culture but also offers new insights into medieval epistolarity and the performativity of letters in expressing the modern self. RENAISSANCE QUARTERLY

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