CRENNE, Helisenne de

(c. 1510-1552)
Helisenne de Crenne is the pen name of one of the most important female authors of the French Renaissance. She wrote the first novel of romantic passion in French, a collection of letters, a dream allegory, and a translation of Virgil.
Verifiable biographical facts about Helisenne are few. She was born Margue­rite de Briet in Abbeville, a small village in Picardy. Around 1530 she married Philippe Fournel, a country squire who was seigneur of the area of Crasnes; they had a son, Pierre. A 1552 document attests to her legal separation from her husband, though the separation probably occurred much earlier. Additional information about Helisenne's life is problematic since most of it has been de­rived from her two major literary works, which appear to be part fiction and part autobiography.
Her first major work, Les angoysses douloureuses qui procedent d'amours (The Torments of Love), describes the marriage of a girl named Helisenne whose family arranges for her to be married at a young age. After her marriage, Helisenne falls in love with another man; her husband spies on her, beats her, and ultimately imprisons her. The Helisenne of the novel eventually dies of a fatal illness. This long semiautobiographical novel is also indebted to the popular literary tradition of tragic love tales. Upon its publication in 1538, Les angoysses was immediately successful, but it was also criticized for an excessive and pre­tentious style.
Though the author had put Helisenne to death in her first work, she continued to write and publish under that pen name. In 1539 her second work appeared, Les epistres familieres et invectives (Personal and invective letters), a series of eighteen letters that again recounts the story of her marriage, the publication of Les angoysses, and her husband's furious reaction to that novel. Scholars con­sider this work a significant contribution to the debate about women that took place in sixteenth-century France. Her third work, Le songe de Madame Heli­senne (The Dream of Madame Helisenne) was published in 1540. In the tradition of the allegorical dream vision of fifteenth-century writer Christine de Pizan, Helisenne's dream describes a debate over questions of virtue and dignity in men and women. Helisenne's final publication, Les quatres premiers livres des Eneydes (The first four books of the Aeneid, 1541), was the first known una­bridged translation of these books into French. Her works were reprinted fre­quently in her lifetime, but after the sixteenth century her writings fell into obscurity.
Bibliography
Helisenne de Crenne, A Renaissance Woman: Helisenne's Personal and Invective Letters, trans. M. Mustacchi and P. Archambault, 1986.
Helisenne de Crenne, The Torments of Love, trans. L. Neal and S. Rendall, 1996.
Jo Eldridge Carney

Renaissance and Reformation 1500-1620: A Biographical Dictionary. . 2001.

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