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X-Rated Letters : when the ABC turns you on

Type of publication Peer-reviewed
Publikationsform Contribution to book (peer-reviewed)
Author Uhlig Marion,
Project Jeux de lettres et d'esprit dans la poésie manuscrite en français (XIIe-XVIe siècles)
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Contribution to book (peer-reviewed)

Book Obscene Means: The Politics of Obscenity at the Age of the Gutenberg Revolution
Editor , Labère/Frei Nelly/Peter
Publisher Routledge, New York
Page(s) 60 - 78
ISBN 9780367537357
Title of proceedings Obscene Means: The Politics of Obscenity at the Age of the Gutenberg Revolution
DOI 10.4324/9781003083214-6

Open Access


This chapter aims at reading two obscene ABC poems in Middle French of the fifteenth and sixteenth centuries: the anonymous Ballade de l’ABC and the Alphabet du temps présent falsely attributed to Clément Marot. The first one, obviously the model for the second, was composed before the invention of printing and is hence designed to be transmitted through handwritten manuscripts, whereas the second one, composed afterwards, was meant to be printed from the moment of its composition around 1530. For what narrative, political and cultural purposes did the authors of these poems abandon the spiritual tradition of ABC prayers in order to focus on much more earthly realities? And what about the correlation between, on the one hand, the symbolism of the letters, and on the other hand the media for writing in the age of the Gutenbergian revolution? The chapter intends to answer these questions by analyzing and comparing both poems in close reading. In order to decipher, sometimes even to decode, the naughty, “bon-vivants”, and even scabrous puns hidden beneath the letters of the alphabet—much less innocent than one might have thought!—it mobilizes intertextual references to the medieval vogue of poetical ABCs and primers of the thirteenth–sixteenth centuries.