reciprocity & revolution

As Baker's article discusses, there seems to be more reciprocity, or at least the hope for it, in Labé's poems than in some of the others we've encountered. Love is not a one-way street, with the poet's steadily accumulating desire met only with the beloved's silent refusal. For Labé, loving often follows logically, even grammatically, from being beloved (Sonnet X: "Tant de vertus qui te font être aimé, ... Ne te pourraient aussi bien faire aimer?").  Love is based on equity even when it goes wrong. In Sonnet XXIII the poet, abandoned by a lover who used to heap praise on her, hopes that he suffers "autant que moi."

But before we start celebrating a paradigm of mutual fulfillment and gender equality, there's still some unredeemed unrequited love, and Labé isn't always very fair to her sex. In Elégie I, Labé makes a mockery of the "pareille pour pareille" reciprocity some older women, who scorned love in their youth, eventually receive. Love (the male-gendered god) even takes pleasure at requiting love with not-love: "Ainsi Amour prend son plaisir à faire / Que le veuil d'un soit à l'autre contraire. / Tel n'aime point, qu'une Dame aimera; / Tel aime aussi, qui aimé ne sera" (E.I). If you're one of those elderly unloved women, however, it's not so fun: you'll be stuck struggling to hide your gray hair with an ill-fitting wig and somehow get rid of the wrinkles "gravé" on your face, and the men you love will be embarrassed at how ugly you are (E.I). It was surprising to me to see a female poet painting such a grim caricature of a woman. Probably naively, I was expecting Labé to speak for her fellow "Dames Lyonnoises," or women in general; but did anyone else think she seemed to think of herself as distinctly different, or better, than other women?

If you're a female poet, after all, instead of having lines engraved on your face, you can have your lines "engravés" in marble (end of E.II). In her preface, Labé contrasts feminine "beauté" against "science et vertu," and she seems to be claiming for women a positive, "manly" virtù -- the kind that's about writing, rather than being written on or about. But that phrase ("...de le [le sexe féminin] non en beauté seulment, mais en science et vertu passer ou égaler les hommes...," pp. 93-94) is couched in a long sentence of concessives, negations, and self-effacements; not exactly an unequivocal call to arms. And why the invocation to "surpass or equal" men? It's almost as if she's scaling back, or self-correcting: "let's surpass--I mean, hold on, let's not go crazy, let's just try to be equal to men." So how revolutionary and subversive is Labé, really? And if she is, how much, if anything, is she doing for her fellow women?