January 11, 2021
We have done it, dear readers! We have made it to the last day, and the last story, of the 72 Days of Heptameron! A moment of celebration that brings with it a sense of sorrow and some loss—no story for us tomorrow, Marguerite unable to finish her own project, her storytellers unable to bring theirs to completion and return home.
In today’s tale—which features, like story 71, a deathbed and an appearance from Marguerite—Dagoucin tells of a young nun in “what was, after Paris, the finest town in France” who is seduced by an austere but wicked monk as they attend to a dying man and lay out his corpse. Although the nun feels great remorse, the monk assures her that there is no sin if there is no public scandal, and he convinces her to repeat the act, until finally she becomes pregnant (we hear nothing of what becomes of her child). She requests, and is granted, permission to make a pilgrimage to Rome so that she can confess her sin to the pope. On her way, she stops in Lyon—returning us to the Cathédrale Saint-Jean-Baptiste—and encounters Marguerite, then Duchess of Alençon, who is there to make her own devotions. The distressed nun tells her sad tale to Marguerite, who comforts her, sends her back to her convent, and has the “scandalous monk” removed.
Hircan, not surprisingly, applauds the monk’s creativity in “[speaking] words of death while performing the works of life,” and Saffredent says it was fitting for the monk and nun “to repair what death had destroyed, to create a new body to replace the old.” Oisille and Parlamente reject their remarks, and it falls to Nomerfide to tell the next tale…
For our final image, here is a portrait by Jean Clouet of Marguerite gazing into a mirror, from the Heures de Catherine de Médicis at the Bibliothèque nationale de France (NAL 82 F. 151v).
Thank you to Marian Rothstein for having suggested this image, and a huge thanks to all of the wonderful readers of the Heptameron for keeping up with the 72 Days project and for your insightful comments and replies, to Anna Barker for the inspiration and for bringing in many more readers, and, especially, to Nora Peterson, Leanna Bridge Rezvani, Nicolas Russell, Mary McKinley, Michael Meere, Emily Butterworth, Dora Polachek, Scott Francis, and Jonathan Reid for their informative and eloquent introductions!
One thought on “Story 72”
The leitmotif of secrecy and dissimulation that we experience throughout the Heptameron appears five times in this story: first when the monk tells the nun there is no sin with a secret; then when the prior and the prioress let her go to Rome and pay her expenses, so she does not reveal what goes on in this priory; then later when the Duchesse d’Alençon is seen praying secretly her “neuvaine”; then when the nun says only the Duchess will know her secret; and finally, in an indirect manner earlier in the story when the nun goes see the prioress to ask her to get rid of the monk because he would not fail to seduce her. Nicole Cazauran commented that this was a strange occurrence (Volume 3, p. 1051, note 8) because the nun has already given in to the monk. But precisely, the nun cannot tell the truth to the prioress for fear of reprisals against herself, so this is how Marguerite uses the indirect style with an omission to let readers understand the nun cannot divulge her horrible secret, being by then pregnant…
We have a contrast here between the reprehensible secret life of the dreadful monk and of the naïve nun, and the praiseworthy secret of the Duchesse who prefers lack of ostentation when she needs to go pray.
There is an interesting discrete parallel between the Duchesse and the Virgin Mary who are the only two entities the nun chooses to tell her secret to in order to find true moral assistance.