November 5, 2020
In today’s story, Geburon tells of another woman—a humble ferrywoman this time—who manages to avoid being raped by two men not by physical resistance but by quick and clever thinking. Her would-be assailants are Franciscan friars. This tale marks the first of numerous appearances of lustful Franciscans in the Heptameron, as Marguerite de Navarre takes aim at corruption in the Church, joining with the many voices calling for religious reform in this period. Two of Geburon’s female listeners lighten the mood with their own critiques, as Longarine claims not to know “how anyone could possibly feel any affection” for a friar, and Nomerfide says she would “rather be thrown in the river any day, than go to bed with a friar!”
The story begins at the port of Coulon, near the Atlantic coast, in what is now a marshy area known as the marais poitevin or, informally, the Venise verte. Visitors to this region today can rent small rowboats and ferry themselves through the canals and from bank to bank!
3 thoughts on “Story Five”
Thank you for this beautiful photo of part of the Marais Poitevin, where the stretch reminds us of how impossible it must have been for a ferrywoman to feel safe…This story is a favorite of many, because wit, cool, and self-assertion of a woman who is at the opposite spectrum of the nobility go hand in hand with a gracious attitude that completely fools the foolish friars…The constant play on words with religious terms only adds to the comic tone of this satire of the clergy, and the happy ending fosters not only poetic justice, but also public shame and judicial action, not to mention condemnation by the local church authority. The discussion that ensues among the devisants is the longest so far, with a long diatribe against corrupted clergymen and the usual comic relief, this time between Oisille and Nomerfide.
Yes, this is the first intimation that the Franciscans are formidable foes and that part of their threat is their licence to roam the country. The setting is brilliant for pointing this out: they are mobile, the ferrywoman is rooted in place, by her job and her condition; but she turns this around by marooning them on separate islands, neutralising that mobility. But the Heptameron of course is full of stories in which Franciscans are given licence to go even into the most private places – often by the very people who are supposed to be keeping women safe.
Despite the fact that two Franciscans threaten to rape a ferrywoman and throw her in the river if she resists, this wonderfully crafted story is arguably one of the most humorous of the entire collection. Brigitte makes an excellent point about Marguerite’s clever use of several religious terms for comic effect.
I also appreciate how Marguerite avoids blanket categorizations with this tale. By having Geburon recount this story of a witty, virtuous woman, she avoids a situation where all the male storytellers follow Simontaut’s example. And while the story sheds light on the shocking behavior of two wayward Franciscans, she also portrays the Father Superior as a “worthy man” and recalls the exemplary founder of the Franciscan order.