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


  • Rivkah Zim King's College, London



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


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.

Author Biography

Rivkah Zim, King's College, London

Dr Rivkah ZIM, senior lecturer in the Department of English Language and Literature, King’s College London; formerly, fellow and college lecturer in English, Fitzwilliam College, Cambridge (1980–1984) and Pembroke College, Cambridge (1985–1989), Visiting Professor in English, University of Pennsylvania (1995). Other teaching posts in the University of Leeds and Keble College, Oxford (1975–1979). Co-convenor of the Tudor-Stuart research seminar, Institute of Historical Research, University of London.

Publications include:  

  • English Metrical Psalms: Poetry as Praise and Prayer 1535–1601 (Cambridge University Press,1987 and 2011);
  • (with M.B. Parkes) ‘“Sacvyles olde age”, a newly discovered poem by Thomas Sackville, Earl of Dorset’, Review of English Studies (1989);
  • ‘Dialogue and Discretion: Thomas Sackville, Catherine de Medici and the Anjou Marriage Proposal 1571’, Historical Journal, 40 (1997);
  • Five articles for The Oxford Dictionary of National Biography (2004), as well as further articles in e.g., Historical Research (2006),  English Historical Review (2007) and Huntington Library Quarterly (2009).
  • Co-editor (with P.R. Robinson) of two books of collected essays on medieval palaeography (1997 and 2012).

Current research includes early-modern English history, and comparative literature including the reception of classical and biblical traditions in English literature. A wide-ranging study of European literature by intellectuals in confinement, The Consolations of Writing: Literary Strategies of Resistance from Boethius to Primo Levi, is forthcoming from Princeton University Press (spring, 2014).