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.