Introduction to Day Two
By Nicolas Russell
We hope you are enjoying these stories as much as our storytellers. At the beginning of day two, the group of stranded travelers awakens eager to take up once again the daily pastime that is sustaining them while they wait to leave their isolated refuge and return to the lives they knew before the floods. But they are not alone in their enthusiasm for their storytelling. Toward the end of day two, we learn that others are silently observing their pastime: the monks of the abbey of Notre Dame de Sarrance have hidden behind the hedges surrounding the luxuriant meadow where the travelers tell their tales. The monks are so mesmerized by what they hear that they miss the beginning of vespers.
As we finish the first day of stories and advance through the second, familiar patterns emerge in the themes, characters, and settings of the intriguing stories we are reading. We have seen that the stories return repeatedly to themes of passion, infidelity, violence, and deception. However, patterns also emerge in Marguerite’s choice of characters and settings. Echoing the wish expressed in the prologue that all stories in the collection be drawn from the storytellers’ first-hand experience or from stories told to them by a person of confidence, the stories reveal numerous connections, both explicit and implicit, to Marguerite de Navarre and to her family. We’ve seen that the fourth story is arguably based on Marguerite’s own traumatic experience of an attempted rape. In day two, stories thirteen through seventeen, as well as story twenty, have direct ties to Marguerite’s brother, King Francis I, or to her mother, Louise de Savoie. The narrators of stories thirteen and twenty identify their protagonists as individuals in the service of Louise de Savoie and Francis I. In stories fifteen and seventeen, Francis I is, himself, a central character. And the protagonist of story fourteen and, most likely, of story sixteen is Guillaume Gouffier, Lord of Bonnivet, who was a childhood friend and close confidant of Francis I.
Not all stories in the Heptameron are drawn from the experiences of Marguerite and her close relations. Some, for example, are reworkings of stories found in earlier novella collections. The Heptameron’s prologue and the discussions at the end of each story are surely more products of Marguerite’s imagination than of her personal experience. And yet, Marguerite had visited the baths in Cauterets, where she sets the Heptameron’s prologue, and we can imagine that some of the storytellers’ debates were inspired by conversations Marguerite had had. With repeated references to people and places from Marguerite’s own life, the Heptameron suggests that its stories offer us a window on to the world in which Marguerite lived. This too adds to the interest and intrigue of the Heptameron’s stories.
Much of day two will return to the dramatic themes introduced in day one of the Heptameron. However, to begin the day, Parlamente asks Nomerfide to start with something lighter, and Nomerfide obliges, telling a humorous story on a scatological theme.