Whatever the theoretical reverence for women in the lore of courtly love, the reality was quite different. For the married lady, courtly love amounted to adultery; for the unmarried, shame, as marriage was never the goal of her suitor. Pizan ( The Book of the City of Ladies ) had already criticized the thinly veiled allegory of Jean de Meun's continuation of the Roman de la Rose (ca. 1275) when around 1403 the ``Duke of True Lovers'' asked her to fashion a romance based on his affair with a married cousin. Pizan obliged him--she was, after all, a working single mother with three children--but did not betray her principles. Nestled among the courtly commonplaces (a joust, the duke's consuming passion and its tortuous slaking) is a long didactic letter from his lady's old duenna, warning her about the perils of her course. The narrative poetry that tells the story has been ably translated by Fenster into accessible prose, which serves to emphasize Margolis's verse translations of the ballades, rondeaux and virelais. The introduction provides a useful literary setting but only that: readers who want to know more, indeed anything, about the patron will be disappointed. ( Feb. )
De Pizan, married at 15, widowed at 23 in 1390, and the first woman of letters to live by her pen, here recounts a tale of love with all the stock devices of courtly romance. It is not until the lady receives a letter from her former governess warning her of the lost honor ensuing from her clandestine affair with the duke that it is evident that de Pizan is anti-courtly with a feminist point of view. The couple's dilemma is never resolved, and the lyric poems following the duke's tale illustrate the couple's suffering and suggest de Pizan's disapproval of adulterous relationships. Fenster and Margolis successfully eliminate the English archaisms of the Alice Kemp-Welch 1906 edition (reprinted in 1966) which omits the lyric poems, and present a vivid, suspenseful tale, entertaining for all ages.-- Bob Ivey, Memphis State Univ., Tenn.