Letters From Hell: the Underworld and the Verse Epistle in the Works of Jean Lemaire de Belges and Clément Marot

Skrainka, Sarah Lynn, Department of French, University of Virginia
McKinley, Mary, Department of French, University of Virginia
Lyons, John, Department of French, University of Virginia
Ogden, Amy, Department of French, University of Virginia

My dissertation examines the representation of hell and its relationship to the evolution of the verse epistle in the poetry of Jean Lemaire de Belges and Clement Marot. While both authors participate in the literary tradition of a human descent into hell, a tradition established in part by the poetry of Virgil and Dante, they depart from conventional representations. Although their predecessors used infernal imagery as a means of commenting on contemporary society, Lemaire and Marot depict a world that does not merely resemble hell, it is hell. In particular, both poets exploit images of the underworld to express the constraints imposed on writers by the patronage system. Lemaire revitalizes the theme of hell in the literature of Renaissance France with his Epitres de l 'amam‘ vert, an account of the otherworldly travels of a parrot. Marot develops hell into an elaborate metaphor for the corrupt legal system and the persecutions suffered by the early evangelical religious reformers. His composition of "L'Enfer" (c. 1526) forever changed his writing and personal life. It transformed him into the man capable of writing the mature epistles for which he remains famous. However, the poem's criticism of the Sorbonne's theologians exacerbated the ecclesiastical animosity that caused him to flee France twice. Lemaire and Marot view the verse epistle in relation to the late - Rhétoriqueur poets who often used the form when requesting funds from their patrons. Because of the resulting association of the epistle with literary convention and authorial dependence, Lemaire and Marot innovate with the form, transforming it into a space of personal and poetic freedom. Marrying form to function, they detail a symbolic liberation from hell while enacting a literal liberation from the confinement of previous notions of iV genre and trope. Through their Versions of hell, both men contribute to the evolution of the epistle. As the doctrinal conflicts leading up to the Wars of Religion worsen, Marot turns away from the epistle and focuses on less overtly personal forms like the epigram, as well as his translations of the Psalms.

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PHD (Doctor of Philosophy)
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