Thursday, November 24, 2011

Off Topic: Charles, Duke of Orleans and Historical Fiction

Charles, the Duke of Orleans was born on November 24, 1394. His father, Louis, the Duke of Orleans was assasinated by Jean sans Peur, the Duke of Burgundy. Jean's eponymous tower is a tourist sight in Paris today. Charles and his brothers swore an oath of vengeance against the house of Burgundy and this oath, according to Hella Haasse's extraordinary historical novel In a Dark Wood Wandering, dominated and directed his life.

Charles was a great poet and composed most of his poems while held a prisoner of war in England after the Battle of Agincourt for 24 years. When the English laid siege to Orleans--the occasion of St. Joan of Arc's great victory--it was a transgression of the contemporary military code, since its ruler was being held captive. I remember reading Haasse's novel soon after I'd graduated from WSU with my BA. (Note that Haasse died in September this year, known as the "Grand Old Lady" of Dutch literature.) After all the required reading for my degree, I was thrilled with her historical fiction. At the time, it was a great publishing event, because of the source of the English translation. I read the book again a few years ago, and had the same experience of being completely transported to that time and era, being involved in the struggles of the characters and yet (I was an English major, after all) noticing some of the technique Haasse and her translators used. For instance, the section depicting Charles's 24 years in captivity in England is written in the historical present, as though time stood still. The text included some of his poetry, in French and English. Here is an English translation of a rondel composed by Charles, the Duke of Orleans:

Strengthen, my Love, this castle of my heart,
And with some store of pleasure give me aid,
For Jealousy, with all them of his part,
Strong siege about the weary tower has laid.
Nay, if to break his bands thou art afraid,
Too weak to make his cruel force depart,
Strengthen at least this castle of my heart,
And with some store of pleasure give me aid.
Nay, let not Jealousy, for all his art
Be master, and the tower in ruin laid,
That still, ah Love! thy gracious rule obeyed.
Advance, and give me succour of thy part;
Strengthen, my Love, this castle of my heart.

HAPPY THANKSGIVING to all my U.S. readers!

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