Les Secondes oeuvres de Mes-dames Des Roches
(Click on the call number to view the digital facsimile of the book.)
Les Secondes oeuures de Mes-dames Des Roches de Poictiers, mere & fille.
A Poictiers : Pour Nicolas Courtoys, 1583.
Les Secondes oeuvres is the second of three collections of poetry and prose by Madeleine Des Roches and her daughter Catherine Des Roches. The book was published in Poitiers by Nicolas Courtoys. The women likely would have preferred to work with the prestigious Parisian printer Abel L’Angelier, who had published their first book, Les Oeuvres, as well as the anthology La Puce de Madame des-Roches. Publication in the capital usually meant a better chance of attracting a broad readership, and the Des Roches would call on L’Angelier again for their final volume, Les Missives. He may have been too busy for Les Secondes oeuvres right away, prompting the Des Roches to choose to publish locally instead.
In Les Secondes oeuvres, Madeleine and Catherine Des Roches reprint their poems from La Puce, which had been published several months earlier, and add several new poems about the flea and the Grands Jours. One goal was to correct errors from that volume, including the fact that two of Madeleine’s poems were published under Catherine’s name. They may also have wanted to separate their more serious works from the bawdiness of the men’s flea poems. Madeleine Des Roches’s “Aux poetes chante-puce”—addressed to the poets who “sing” about the flea—depicts the insect in flight and in danger. It requests the help of those men, whom Des Roches praises in elaborate anagrams and wordplays.
Separated into two parts, Les Secondes oeuvres presents Madeleine’s works followed by Catherine’s. Each woman dedicates her works to the other in a prose epistle that opens her respective section. Madeleine Des Roches’s epistle to her daughter refers to the unique bond that the two women shared, “cete union qui nous a toujours maintenues.” Contemporary portraits of the Des Roches comment on the strength of their relationship, which sometimes frustrated Catherine’s potential suitors. Here Madeleine indicates the necessity that they publish their works together. She appears to yield, perhaps reluctantly, to Catherine’s encouragement. The daughter’s insistence on joint publication shows her love and respect for her mother, and it also indicates her virtue. Publication constituted a public appearance, and the mother’s presence shielded the daughter from accusations of immodesty or impurity. The brevity of Madeleine Des Roches’s epistle may indicate her reluctance to publish, or her preoccupation with other matters such as her failing health or judicial concerns. Her contribution to the volume is indeed slight. In fifteen poems of varying length, her subject matter and tone range from steadfastness in the face of the numerous personal troubles that beset her to more affectionate, occasionally playful portraits praising the city of Poitiers and the poets who composed La Puce.
In Les Secondes oeuvres, Madeleine Des Roches draws on images of Poitiers. The city speaks in the sonnet “Poitiers a Messieurs des Grandz Jours.” Des Roches provides a selective tour of Poitiers in this list of places and people, both real and mythological. Notable markers include the Passelourdin, a rock on a precipice that was notoriously difficult to reach, and the laws—“mes sages loix”—that were crucial to the Grands Jours.
Catherine Des Roches’s dedicatory epistle notes her debt to her mother, who gave her life and whom she follows as a shadow follows a body. Compared to the brief section of Madeleine’s poems, the daughter’s contribution to Les Secondes oeuvres is substantial. Catherine’s poems include quatrain paraphrases of the Golden Verses and the Symbols of Pythagoras; a pastoral, or “Bergerie,” which dramatizes a discussion of love; and two prose dialogues on the subject of female education, one from the point of view of two older men and the other from their daughters’ perspective. In the “Dialogue de Placide, et Severe,” Placide passionately argues, against the protests of his neighbor Severe, for the education of girls. Placide gives the example of his own daughter, Pasithée, who takes up the argument with Severe’s daughter in the subsequent “Dialogue d’Iris, et Pasithée.” In these dialogues Catherine Des Roches considers questions from the controversy over women called the querelle des femmes. She adopts a strong position in favor of women’s independence that prefigures modern feminism.
Forty-six of Catherine Des Roches’s poems are gathered in a section entitled “Les Responces.” Each addresses one person or responds to a previous work. Several appeared in La Puce de Madame des-Roches, and she publishes others from the Grands Jours for the first time here. In different ways, Catherine Des Roches enters into dialogue with others. She responds directly to their poems, usually to contradict or correct, sometimes to confirm. More generally, her writings show her debt to her literary predecessors and contemporaries. These include, for example, sixteenth-century Italian women writers, local authors in Poitiers, and the Pléïade poets, especially Pierre de Ronsard.
Materials on this page were generously contributed by Kendall Tarte, Wake Forest University (2004).