November 1, 2020
Here we go!
We begin our reading adventure with one of the most complicated stories in the Heptaméron, a tale told by Simontaut that involves infidelity, murder, witchcraft—and Marguerite de Navarre herself, the Duchess of Alençon in this story, who steps in at the end with an act of compassion that spares the life of the man named Saint-Aignan who has tried to bring about her own death. Simontaut says that he tells this story to avenge himself on a woman who has rejected his advances, presumably Parlamente, another one of our storytellers (who is also often identified with Marguerite de Navarre), although he also says that the suffering she inflicts upon him is “a Hell far more delightful to me than any Paradise that any other woman could offer.”
Oisille, the group’s spiritual leader, says she will have to come up with a good story to counter this one!
9 thoughts on “Story One”
Oisille chooses to get back at the first story teller in a way by telling the tale of a virtuous woman, I assume. I was a bit disappointed because I was hoping she would choose to tell the story of a male scoundrel.
Stay tuned … many male scoundrels to come!
Well, she kind of does – the servant isn’t the focus of Nouvelle 2 per se, but he’s certainly a scoundrel! And a scoundrel driven to horrific crimes by passion, to boot. But we can save that discussion for tomorrow.
What a scabrous story and so “Hallowenian” with its darkness, scary parts, and escalating somber consequences on many characters, primary or secondary…!!! Maybe that is why Marguerite brings in the Duchesse d’Alençon almost as a Deus ex machina to restore some justice…I really enjoyed Parlemente’s response to Simontault about him not minding the devil who put him in him romantic hell, thus marking a clear difference between women and the devil!!! Well done, Parlemente, to highlight the twisted rhetoric of misogynistic scoundrels…
Yeah, Parlamente isn’t fooled in the least as to what this story is REALLY supposed to be about. Let’s see, we have a woman who has a husband (Saint-Aignan) and two lovers, a bishop and the young, handsome Du Mesnil, who dies a victim of his own sincere love for a woman who doesn’t deserve him… I wonder what made Simontaut think of this? And he prefaces the patently misogynistic tale as an airing of grievances: “Ladies, I have been so ill rewarded for my long and devoted service that, in order to avenge myself on Love and on the woman who is so cruel to me, I shall do my utmost to collect together all the accounts of foul deeds perpetrated by women on us poor men” (trans. Chilton, p. 70). It’s why I like to think of this tale (anachronistically) as incel fanfiction: it’s meant to reflect badly on Parlamente, but ultimately, it reflects badly on Simontaut and reveals the pettiness and sense of entitlement behind misogynistic discourse.
Although Simontaut seeks to focus primarily on the “depraved wife” and her “foul deeds”, Marguerite’s story draws attention to the moral failings of men through her portrayal of a corrupt bishop, professional assassins, and especially the dastardly husband. She notes that Saint-Aignan “thrust a dagger a dozen or so times into the body of the man on whom he would never have dared lay a finger had he been alive”. In an attempt to keep his crime from being known, he tries to seize an old woman and he coerces a young girl into a brothel in order to discredit her as a witness. As if those actions weren’t horrific enough, he turns to the occult to threaten the lives of his victim’s father, his own wife, and Marguerite de Navarre. Even though he wanted Marguerite dead “because she knew so much about Saint-Aignan’s evil doings that if she too did not die, he … could not hope to live”, she mercifully spares his life when he is sentenced to death. Thus, Marguerite’s actions clearly disprove Simontaut’s declaration that, “women have taken it upon themselves to torture men, kill them and damn them to hell”.
I’ve always been intrigued by the appearance of the sorcerer in this opening tale, without particular comment, as if it were completely normal to go to a practitioner of the occult to deal with those you consider your enemies. It’s like a small window that opens briefly to give a glimpse of a whole other Renaissance France, that remains hardly explored.
I find it interesting how the first tale is based on a cheating wife. I felt throughout my reading that the feelings if the proctor’s wife were abnormally fluctuant, changing from a lover to another in a little amount of time. It felt like it was exaggerated, maybe to depict the medieval woman as being untrustworthy on a general basis. The lack of justification towards her feelings switching reinforces this idea, the same way as an evil character in many novels are just portrayed as being “evil” for no other reason other than “evil” being part of them.
This is a bit of a side-track and not central to interpreting the story, but I think Marguerite was settling a score in this nouvelle with Jacques de Silly, Bishop of Seéz (d. 1539). She and the bishop had history. His ecclesiastical jurisdiction included parts of the Duchy of Alençon and he had taken direct action against a number of the clerics she sponsored, including importantly those caught up in a massive heresy prosecution in the duchy in 1533-1534. She had fought mightily to fend off the inquisition, which resulted in several death sentences. In any case, it is notable she has casts this bishop in a bad light.
It is further worth noting that Jacques de Silly was the brother-in-law of her dame d’honneur, Aimée de La Fayette, supposedly the figure behind Longarine, and thus uncle of Aimée’s daughter, Anne de Silly, who may be the figure behind Nomerfide. I may have missed it, but I have not seen his relationship to Marguerite and members of her household signaled in the notes of the few editions of the Heptameron I have consulted.
Apologies for this very late post. I only twigged about these resonances between story and Marguerite’s career when comparing it with the two nouvelles of Day Eight, which also puts Marguerite into the action.