Even in the relatively favorable intellectual climate of mid-sixteenth century Lyon, in which Labé is inspired to explore and transform literary tradition and to preface her works with an assertive call for women’s education, the very act of writing and publishing a work of poetry about passion nonetheless meant exposure to censure and questions about her womanly virtue. Early critics read the expression of passion and sensuality in her poetry in strictly autobiographical terms and often painted a scandalous picture of the poet as a licentious woman. The 1585 account of Louise Labe in Antoine du Verdier’s Bibliothèque undoubtedly contributed to the myth of the poet as a “courtisanne” of great learning and loose morals that resurfaced in studies of her work in the ensuing centuries. More recently, scholars and critics have focused on analysis of and appreciation of the poet’s art and her use of patriarchal literary traditions to create a unique and captivating poetic voice. (See the short list of references below.)
Louise Labé was a key figure in the group of poets writing in mid-century Lyon, later referred to as the “Ecole de Lyon,” and including Maurice Scève, Pernette du Guillet and Pontus de Tyard. Their adoption of Italian models and poetic structures, their erudition (all were well-versed in the classics and Italian), and their judicious use of classical mythology combine to create a new style of French poetry, distinctly different from the works of the earlier Rhétoriqueurs and Marot, that raised the status of love poetry and of poets in France, and paved the way for the poets of the Pléïade.
Further reading (recent editions and references)
Labé, Louise. Oeuvres complète: sonnets, élégies, débat de folie et d'amour, poésies. Ed. François Rigolot. Paris: Flammarion, 1986.
Bourbon, Anne-Marie. Debate of Folly and Love: A New English Translation with the Original French Text. (History & Language. 8.) New York, NY: Peter Lang, 2000.
Baker, Deborah Lesko. The subject of desire : Petrarchan poetics and the female voice in Louise Labé. Foreword by Tom Conley. West Lafayette, Ind.:Purdue University Press, 1996.
Rigolot, François. Louise Labé Lionnaise, ou, la Renaissance au féminin. Paris: Champion, 1997.
Transcription of the 1555 Euvres de Louise Labé on the Epistemon (Cornucopie) website: http://126.96.36.199/Epistemon/cornucopie/Cornuc.asp
Sonnets de Louise Labé (site de l'Académie de Lyon). The site provides black and white images of the sonnets, a transcription of the originals, and the translation into modern French. There are also bibliographies for studies of Louise Labé and related topics, a timeline of her life, and a transcription of her 1565 testament: http://www2.ac-lyon.fr/enseigne/lettres/louise/index2.html
—Karen James, University of Virginia (2004)