La nuit trouve enfin la clarté: Captivity and Life Writing in the Poetry of Charles d’Orléans and Théophile de Viau

Rivkah Zim


This article seeks to broaden literary and historical approaches to poetry written by Charles d’Orléans (circa 1433–1440) and Théophile de Viau (1623–1626) by focussing on their respective achievements as prison poets in dialogue with the outside world; it examines the precise impact of each writer’s verse epistles in terms of rhetorical strategies associated with the figure of the prisoner for targeted and pragmatic purposes; it defines and analyzes each writer’s affective means of rhetorical persuasion in evoking the consolations of memory and friendship to mitigate suffering and, most importantly, in addressing specific recipients and readers of his verse. In these ways both poets insist on an underlying truth to life in one of the most artificial, yet neglected, forms of life writing: verse epistles read as instrumental forms of political lobbying and self defence. The artistic quality of their work has ensured that both poets are still known and read. What has not so far been made apparent is how both poets secured their freedom by appealing as prisoners to specific readers of their verse epistles. Their choice of genre and the external evidence of the earliest witnesses to their texts make these prisoners’ poems invaluable case studies for life writing.


Captivity; French verse epistle; political lobbying; dialogue; target readers

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European Journal of Life Writing - ISSN 1876-8156 - is an open access initiative supported by the VU University Library.