Story 23

November 23, 2020

Oisille tells us yet another story of mistaken identity during sex in the dark night and of a woman who prefers to die once she is dishonored. Unlike the mule-driver’s wife in the first tale Oisille tells (story 2), this woman dies by her own hand, then inadvertently kills her infant son and sets off a misunderstanding that leads her brother to kill her husband (or her husband to kill her brother, in some manuscripts). The fact that it was a Franciscan, the confessor of the woman and her husband, who dishonored the woman and caused this triple tragedy prompts Oisille to include in her narration a denunciation of Christians who place their confidence in good works like “austerity of life, fasting and chastisement” rather than in “the grace given by our good God through the merit of His Son” and “the life given to sinners through His goodness and mercy”—one of many signs of Marguerite de Navarre’s strong interest in evangelical reform.

According to Renja Salminen, this story is likely the first one that Marguerite de Navarre wrote and could not have been written before 1545, so it is an important clue in dating the composition of the collection.

Here’s the start of this story in one of the manuscript versions of the Heptameron (BN fr. 1511) from the mid-sixteenth century at the Bibliothèque nationale de France in Paris.

2 thoughts on “Story 23

  • I feel that the death of the infant shows that both the Franciscan and the woman raped are condemnable. The guilt of the Franciscan is quite evident, but the sudden, almost burlesque death of the woman’s son, whose face is crushed by his own mother’s feet, is a sign that the woman is also a sinner by taking her life. Indeed suicide is one the highliest sins. Punishing the small child, whose innocence is pointed out (“petit enfant, duquel l’innocence ne peut le garantir qu’il ne suyvist par mort sa douloureuse et dolente mere”), is showing that her mother’s act is reprehensible. This contributes to distinguish two kinds of suicide in l’Heptaméron: martyr (like Amadour – a heroical suicide) and suicide out of despair (like the mother in tale 23).
    I think that this tale could be one of the many signs of Navarre’s evangelism according which suicide is blameworthy.

  • There is definitely a different sort of dynamic in this horrific tragedy: whereas in the previous story the evil deeds of one religious man affected the lives of several individuals who did nothing wrong but fell prey to the power of the prior, here the various characters who are the victims of the evil Franciscan also fall victim to their own erroneous perceptions and a foolish tendency to act without recourse to reasonable caution or one’s own inner strength. This multiple tragic ending comes after 240 lines, so a third less than in the previous story, and this novella’s timeline is much more condensed, thus not providing the unbearable Machiavellianism of the previous story.

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