November 22, 2020
Geburon’s story is about a steadfast and fearless young nun, Marie Héroët, who resists the repeated assaults of a lying and lascivious prior (not a Franciscan this time, but a Benedictine). At one point, the prior urges Marie Héroët to sleep with him in order to heal him of an illness that “doctors say is incurable unless I indulge myself and take my pleasure with a woman whom I love passionately,” an allusion to the medical theory of therapeutic intercourse that was controversial but circulating at the time, as Judy Kem discusses in her analysis of Marguerite de Navarre’s stories in Pathologies of Love (University of Nebraska Press, 2019).
It is Marguerite de Navarre herself who brings about the resolution to this tale, as Marie Héroët’s story reaches her after the nun writes an account of what has transpired and slips it to her brother when he comes to visit her, and the brother sends it to their mother, who shows it to the Queen of Navarre. The prior is sent for and shamed, and he dies in less than a year, and Marie Héroët ends up as an abbess who brings reformation to her abbey and lives the rest of her life “full of the spirit of God.”
The characters in this story are historically identifiable. The Benedictine is Étienne Le Gentil, the feared and respected prior of Saint Martin des Champs in Paris, and Marie Héroët is the younger sister of poet Antoine Héroët, a close friend of Marguerite de Navarre.
One thought on “Story 22”
How interesting that this story follows the one about Rolandine! The parallels between the prior’s attitude here and that of the king and the queen in story 21 are striking: the multiple deceitful acts, the repeated efforts to bend the young person’s will, the violent rhetoric against each young woman, and the lack of respect of their true spirituality really try the reader’s patience and resilience… Meanwhile, both young women resist with equal magnanimity, courage, eloquence, and firm belief in true spiritual love. After 363 lines of this torture (in the Cazauran edition), the reader is granted a happy ending for the young nun, and a quasi-unanimous condemnation of not only this prior, but also monks in general by the devisants.