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In 17th-century France, long before the French Revolution and the rise of bourgeois culture, Marie-Catherine Desjardins was writing and publishing best-selling books — and living openly with her lover, Villedieu.

More than 300 years later, Roxanne Lalande, professor of foreign languages and literatures, took on the task of translating two of Desjardins’ works and comparing the first, a collection of letters she wrote to Villedieu, published in 1668, with the second, her only epistolary novel, published six years later.

In Love Notes and Letters and The Letter Case, published by Fairleigh Dickinson University Press, Lalande translates the two works into English and includes an introduction that traces Desjardins’ life and career.

“The introduction is a critical analysis of the two works, examining them from a historical and a literary perspective,” she says, explaining that while most of Desjarins’ works were translated in the 19th century, the letters to Villadieu were not.

“Villadieu published her letters against her will, and she was quite upset about that,” Lalande says, explaining that Desjardins felt the publication was a betrayal of both her personal and professional lives. “She didn’t want anything to be published that didn’t have the finishing touches It was not really a literary work, but her own correspondence.”

Desjardins countered with The Letter Case in 1674, publishing as Madame Villadieu, even though her lover had since left her to marry another woman.

“It’s a series of 10 letters, and they are ‘found’ in a letter case on a park bench,” Lalande says. While the letters were fictional, Desjardins wrote them as if they were real.

Lalande says both works, along with nearly all of Desjardins’ writings, faded into obscurity after the French Revolution and didn’t resurface until late 20th-century feminists began examining them.

“Her letters have now become very important to a lot of feminist scholars,” she says.

For Lalande, the challenge of translating 17th-century French into 21st-century English proved interesting.

“The French language has not changed that much since the 17th century, but what has changed is the meaning of words,” she says, explaining that back then, people had fewer ways to express feelings and tended to do so in a convoluted, mannered form. “You have to liven it up a bit without betraying the style.”

Lalande, who wrote A Labor of Love: Critical Reflections on the Writings of Marie-Catherine Desjardins (Madame de Villedieu), published in 2000, feels that she has come to know the author.

“She was a fascinating woman, really,” Lalande says. “She was living very scandalously and openly with her lover, and she was self-sufficient, thanks to her pen She was a very important figure, despite the fact that she became lost from literature.”

Lalande received a National Endowment for the Humanities Fellowship Grant supportingwork on her book Intruders in the Play World: the Dynamics of Gender in Molière’s Comedies, chosen by Choice Magazine as one of the outstanding academic publications of 1996.

She also has shared her research through articles, book chapters, and conference presentations, including a talk at last year’s annual meeting of the North American Society for Seventeenth-Century French Literature in Columbia, S.C.

Director of Lafayette’s study abroad program, Lalande earned her Ph.D., Ed.S., M.A., and B.A. from University of Iowa.

Categorized in: Academic News