Rereading Lucretia in the Angoysses douloureuses qui procedent d'amours (1538)


  • Early versions of this article were presented at seminars at the Glasgow Centre for Medieval and Renaissance Studies and the Centre for Medieval and Renaissance Studies, University of Liverpool. I am very grateful to the attendees at both of these events for the questions and comments that shaped this final draft.


This article examines the multiple resonances of the Lucretia narrative in the 1538 romance penned by Hélisenne de Crenne, the Angoysses douloureuses qui procedent d’amours. Although the work is famous for its representation of female love as sensual, irrational and tragic (qualities shared by the example of Dido) the references to Lucretia enabled readers to activate moralizing and sententious discourses that supplemented and in some cases modified the meaning of the text. Whilst certain comparisons between the protagonist and Lucretia seek to foreground the differences between sinful desire and exemplary conduct, other references to the exemplar extend beyond authorial intention, demonstrating the mulitple extra-textual agents which create meaning in early modern books. This is true of a woodcut of Lucretia possibly reused from an unrelated work, which explicitly represents the exemplar's suicide where the text itself avoids this aspect of her story that was not recommended to the contemporary female readership. Although their primary function may have been to act as a ‘moral yardstick’ by which the reader judged the actions of the female protagonist, the inclusions of Lucretia ultimately permit alternative readings of the work as a celebration rather than a condemnation of adulterous love.