Introduction to Day Seven
By Scott Francis
For those seeking to get a sense of Marguerite’s overarching goals and intentions for her unfinished collection,the prologue to the seventh day spent at Notre-Dame-de-Sarrance is rich with promising clues and tantalizing possibilities. As usual, the group spends the morning reading the Bible, then heads to mass before convening in the meadow for their afternoon entertainment, but the choice of reading and services is particularly telling. Oisille reads from Acts and holds up the Apostles as representatives of a purer age next to which the corrupt present day can only seem warped in comparison. Her interpretation should not come as a surprise to readers, who are by now well aware of Marguerite’s penchant for revealing the darker side of human nature in the absence of divine grace. Yet, Oisille also holds up the Apostles as a model of unity, entreating the other discussants to join her for services in the same union exhibited by the Apostles in prayer. Her readings and spiritual leadership seem to be accomplishing something which the telling of tales has not, at least thus far: creating an atmosphere of harmony and mutual affection among the discussants, who, as is made abundantly clear on the first day, are given to bickering, infighting, and pursuing their own individual agendas through the tales they choose to tell and the interpretations they offer.
In church, the group attends the Mass of the Holy Spirit, which was typically performed during Pentecost. Of course, this holiday calls to mind the tongues of fire and the Apostles speaking in tongues as described in Acts, an apt metaphor for Marguerite’s group of discussants who use their own form of speech to spread the Gospel (and one that is mentioned explicitly in the prologue to Day Eight), but given that the frame narrative takes place in September, Pentecost (the seventh Sunday after Easter) is a long way off. Rather, this is a votive mass being said for a specific reason (although we never find out what that reason might be), and as Nicole Cazauran has pointed out, this mass in particular tended to occur on Thursdays in its votive form. If it is indeed true that Day Seven is a Thursday, then the Heptaméron would have concluded on a Sunday if Marguerite had made it all the way to Day Ten.
After the mass, something remarkable happens. The discussants are so enraptured by it and by the reading from Acts that after lunch, they seem to forget their usual afternoon pastime. Only when Nomerfide, the youngest of the group, reminds them of it do they return to their war of words in the meadow. In other words, the prologue of Day Seven paints a clear picture of spiritual ascent from the very worldly pastime of telling tales – one that is rather at odds with the usual business that takes up the rest of the day! Was Marguerite building toward a culmination suffused with divine grace, one in which the discussants would go forth into the world to spread the Gospel and its lessons much like the Apostles did? We may never know for sure, but the signs are there.
Essentially, the group picks up exactly where they left off the previous day, with Saffredent flirting with Longarine by pretending to flirt with Ennasuite (the mark of a shrewd and skillful serviteur) and then telling a tale (Nouvelle 61) whose plot is noticeably similar to that of Nouvelle 60 in that it also revolves around a woman who fakes her own death in order to abandon her husband for a churchman. From there, Day Seven’s tales run the gamut from short and lighthearted (Nouvelles 65, 66, 68, and 69) to elaborate and tragic, as the day concludes with Nouvelle 70, a retelling of the late 13th-century Chastelaine de Vergy that openly departs from the agreed-upon rule to tell only true stories and that recasts the classic medieval tale of love, duty, and betrayal in an evangelical light. So moved are the discussants that at the close of the day, they say a De profundis for the heroine and her lover!
The prominent themes of Day Seven’s tales should ring a bell for readers who’ve already made it through the previous six days: marital strife and infidelity (Nouvelles 61, 68, 69, and 70), the pressing need to dissimulate or to keep one’s love life under wraps and away from the prying eyes of the court (Nouvelles 62, 63, and 70), heartbreak and its dire consequences (Nouvelles 64, 68, and 70), and ecclesiastical corruption (Nouvelles 61, 65, and 66). Aside from the aforementioned Nouvelle 70, the day contains some real jewels that are not to be missed:
– Nouvelle 62 is cast as a comedic tale about a woman who tries to amuse the court by telling the tale of her rape at the hands of her neighbor in the third person, only to reveal the victim’s identity by a slip of the tongue. The discussants’ reactions notwithstanding, the tale is read today in the context of Marguerite’s preoccupation with sexual violence in the collection, and can be seen as a dramatization of the impossibility of seeking justice or even speaking about trauma in an environment that imposes silence on women and largely blames them for the violence they suffer at the hands of men.
– Nouvelle 65, the shortest of the collection, is on its surface a simple tale about an old woman who mistakes a sleeping soldier for a statue and tries to stick a votive candle on his forehead. However, the tale gives way to one of the more telling discussions of doctrinal matters in the entire collection, one that can give us a clearer sense of how Marguerite reconciled traditional Catholic ceremony with evangelical reform.
– Nouvelle 67 is based on the story found in multiple other accounts of a mutineer and his wife marooned by Jean-François de la Rocque de Roberval on a small island off the coast of Canada in the early 1540’s. The husband dies, but driven by faith, the wife survives and is rescued.
Enjoy, and consider this a reminder from Nomerfide to make time for these tales and the discussions that they never fail to spark!